Education in design perpetuates good design  

(Contd.) You seem to speak strongly against having a builder assist with the design of their client’s home. Why is this?
JB: My background is laced with construction experience which I gained after I obtained my bachelor’s degree and started working in the field of interior design. In fact I had a general contracting company in California. This is unusual for an interior design firm and I feel it gives us first hand knowledge as to how difficult a job the builder has in coordinating all of their subs, ordering and getting all of the building materials to the site in a timely manner, making sure that they are installed properly and with craftsmanship, making sure that the project stays on budget as well as schedule. I personally gave up this side of the business because I found it was too time consuming to handle the construction side of very large projects as well as the interior design side and still give my clients the appropriate time to create a unique design for them based upon their needs. Thus I feel that if you do both without the proper staff, current knowledge of design trends and space planning expertise then you are doing your client a disservice.

You used the word “unique” a little while ago. I also note that you use this word in a slogan for your firm. What do you mean by this?
JB: Interior designers are in the business of helping their clients create an environment that will suit their needs as well as reflect their lifestyle and personality. As we all know, people are different in thought process, opinions, likes, dislikes, etc. Therefore, I prefer to use the word “unique” as opposed to “one of a kind” or “tailored to your needs” because I feel that it best describes one’s individuality.

Why do you think HGTV is so popular?
JB: Wow! The industry has come a long way since Bob Villa’s This Old House hasn’t it? I feel that the do-it-yourself craze has extended past building projects and is now occupying do-it-yourself design. I also feel that while these shows are very entertaining, they are only intended for education as to minor home repairs and decorating projects; not major undertakings of home construction or remodeling which should be left to the professionals.

Earlier you talked about educating your clients. What would typically be a “first lesson” with a new client?
JB: I feel a very important first lesson is how to establish a realistic budget. Did you know that depending on where you live the average cost of a new home will range from $130.00 to $300.00 a square foot and up? This is a huge expense and in many cases a once in a lifetime expense and experience for most.
So, I typically like my first lesson to include an analysis of cost and the discussion of “shall we be a penny wise or a dollar poor?” If this is not the original saying then I would like for it to be. What I mean by this is that basically the cost of construction and building are fixed; it is the finishes, the items that “make your home unique” which are the variables of the cost per square foot. It is also important to note in this lesson that the “finishes” also delineate the difference in the quality of a home and will place it into one of the following categories: tract home, spec home, a semi custom home and a custom home.
I advise my clients to spend money on the items that they are only going to do once. For instance, don’t think that it is okay to buy that inexpensive tile with the theory that in a few years you will change it out. This type of thought is a waste of time and money because if you allow this to happen you have just wasted money on the labor to install that inexpensive tile. Then if you ever get around to changing it out for the item that you wanted in the first place you will not only have to purchase the new material but then you will have to pay for the labor to have the inexpensive tile removed and the new material installed. If this is the path you follow then you have just incurred a double labor cost and wasted the money on the inexpensive material.
Lets stay with this line of thought while I explain that the labor to install your windows will be the same whether they are aluminum, clad or wood; the plumber will charge the same to install those builder grade sinks and faucets as they will to install Rohl, Jado or Herbeau; the electrician will charge the same to install lights that have been specified for your particular style and needs as he will to install the builder’s standard package. I could go on [and with my clients I do] until we reach the budget that they are comfortable with where they are getting the quality they want and can afford the first time around.

What do you think is the most overlooked and least thought about aspect in design and home building today?
JB: Besides quality and details, I would have to say personality. I see it constantly when I am hired to do work after a home is built. The first thing a client wants me to do is “authenticate” the home; help define its style and create an ambiance that speaks to my client’s personality and lifestyle. This could have been achieved in the first place had the right professionals been sought out at the beginning of the project and not at the end. This also refers back to my “penny wise or a dollar poor” philosophy of installing the appropriate quality materials the first time. I guess this is why I continually find myself sitting in a new client’s home and listening to them state, “I don’t know why they did it this way; its not what I wanted or thought it would be.”

Would you ever go back into the construction portion of the industry?
JB: For myself, yes. I prefer to run my personal projects since I know exactly what I want and it is easy for me to convey it to the sub-contractors. For clients, my firm is better served to fill the role as their designer and project manager to assist in the decisions that will create the look and ambience of the home. We excel at the selection and specification of materials to be used, the coordination of the installation of the finishes specified and then we move into the final touches with regard to the selection and specification of window treatments, furniture and accessories.
Let the builder “bake it” and my firm will go and get all of the ingredients to create it and together with our client we’ll make something that they will enjoy coming home to day after day after day.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the field of interior design?
JB: Getting the general public to understand exactly what we do and how our services will best benefit their needs. This is why I created a Design Segment Guideline for my firm, or as we call it; an A La Carte Design Service Menu. This way our clients can hire us to handle the entire project or choose segments that they need us to assist them with. We can basically fit into almost any budget whether we are just hired to create a color palette; assist with the kitchen layout; review the flow/space plan of your home before the architect takes it into construction drawings; create an electrical lighting plan, etc.
Please take note and remember great interior designers are trained space planners and problem solvers first with the aesthetics following second as this is the easy part and what truly comes natural to talented designers. It is easier for me and less expensive for my clients to solve the “problem” while it is still on paper then it will be when it has already been built.

Q: Any final words?
A: I would like to end this by stating that I feel there is a huge misunderstanding between the difference of an interior designer and a decorator. If an interior designer creates a custom piece whether it is a fireplace mantel or a large sectional sofa they will be able to tell you exactly how to make it; they will have thought about the height, proportion, color, finish, and installation process, as well as its correlation to other pieces that will occupy the same space. Interior designers are trained to create cohesiveness; a flow. We are all about the ergonomics [functionality of the space] while creating an environment that the client identifies with. We have been educated and professionally trained to design and detail.

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Photo: John Ellis




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