Interior designers aren’t widely known as an accommodating group of folks. Personally, I love collaborating with my clients; they push me creatively and challenge me to stick to my guns. But when it comes to running a project, albeit in their home, I have learned after much trial and tribulation (er, getting burned) that having full control over a project is ideal. So when a client asks if they can shop on their own (yes, but with my approval) at a major retailer (yes, but again with my approval and not necessarily with my discount) or wants to use their own vendor (ummmmmm, say what?) what is the best way to handle the situation professionally?
Most high-end designers will not accommodate such requests by delivering a firm N.O. Sure, this tactic simplifies things, but what if you have a client on a budget (gasp!) or a client working on a second home or guest house? How do you navigate such dilemmas? My short answer? Very, very carefully.
I have found that the best way to handle such situations is with clear and direct communication, preferably in writing. Leave zero opportunity for your client to feel confused about how things will go down. If your client insists on working with their own vendor:
Do not mark up the vendor’s labor or product. Let the client receive whatever price the vendor offers. If you think the price is unreasonable or too good to be true, by all means communicate this information to your client privately.
Do not communicate with the vendor without your client’s participation or sign off.
If working with this vendor requires you to purchase materials such as wallpaper, fabric or paint, review your specifications with the client and vendor simultaneously, and be sure to charge for your time accordingly. No one is entitled to your expertise for free.
Ultimately, your level of involvement is up to you. Newbie designers can easily fall prey to being overly accommodating. Remedying a bad paint job or an improperly upholstered sectional are not an expense you want to absorb. Remember, when things go sideways, the more you have specified, the more responsibility you will bear.
Julie Goldman was born and raised in New Orleans, where she learned early on how to mix it up. As likely to be found fishing the marshlands with her dad as browsing Christie’s catalogs with her art collector grandmother, Julie has a deep appreciation for the beauty that lies just beneath the surface. After graduating with a degree in Art History from Tufts University, Julie returned to her hometown to work for renowned interior design firm Holden and Dupuy. She launched J. Latter Design in 2000 in Los Angeles and more recently got her real estate license and joined Compass as an agent. Her motivation for diversification is rooted in a genuine desire to help clients love how they live. Follow Julie on Instagram at @jlatterdesign.