When Bea from our team hosted a panel discussion at 100% Design, looking at the changing role of the interior designer, we knew we’d want to share some of the thoughts from the session.
The two panellists were Lyndall Fernie, an interior designer with over 20 years of experience who also teaches college students, and co-founder and CEO of Homewings, Cornelia De Ruiter. Homewings is a service that aims to open up the world of interior design by making it easy for clients to connect with designers who can offer a cost-effective solution, as well as offering a flat fee per room.
Both of these industry experts had some fascinating insights on how to be successful in today’s interior design industry – here are our three favourite points from the day.
Personality is important
While more and more people are turning to designers to help create a beautiful home, and have a greater appreciation of the importance of getting interiors right, gone are the days when people chose who they worked with based solely on a particular aesthetic.
Increasingly, clients come to the table with their own ideas and looking for someone with the personality type that will help them get the result they want. This is something that Cornelia sees a lot first hand.
“People come to us with conflicting ideas, or sometimes they are confused about how to start or manage a project. Sometimes you can see from a brief that they need a designer who can be quite forceful, outspoken and strong on the recommendations because that client would really appreciate guidance. And in other cases you see that someone is looking for a sparring partner – to have a more of a collaborative relationship where they can bounce ideas around, rather than letting the designer take the lead.
“We make sure to match the client’s brief with a designer who will not only give them a finished look they’ll love, but will also work well with them – we do not assign designers at random”.
But just as it’s important that a client finds the right person for them, a designer also needs to ensure that they are adept at client management – both Lyndall and Cornelia see this as key skill for successful projects.
“Confidence is key”, Lyndall states. “When I first started out, I used to have to make lots of changes to my designs, which were frustrating and time-consuming. Now, I walk into a room knowing that the design is the absolute best one the client can have, and I hit that home. And they pick up on this confidence straightaway. I don’t make many changes anymore”.
Smaller projects can offer more scope
The rise in more collaborative projects means that many interior designers need to be more flexible and offer different packages that cater to the client’s needs. And there are some excellent opportunities to come out of the rise of the smaller project, as Lyndall was keen to share.
“Don’t think that taking smaller, less lucrative jobs, or indeed just chatting through an idea with a client will not lead onto bigger things. Sometimes people just want to meet me for two hours so that they can brainstorm and bounce ideas off me. It may just be a fun few hours of collaboration, or they may come back when they have more budget or a bigger project – I could end up designing their entire house!”
These smaller projects are not only a lot less work for a designer, they also enable them work across a large breadth and depth of projects. “I like to do lots of different things, and I want new challenges and to work in a range of styles”, says Lyndall. “Every job is different and it stops me from becoming bored.”
Plus, with the rise of online inspiration sites Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz showcasing design trends, there’s been an increase in how often people want to update their homes. “With more and more products at really affordable price points, we’re definitely seeing more people want to mix up their interiors either partially or entirely,” Cornelia told us. So there are definitely opportunities for repeat business – with clients returning every few years to keep their interiors looking fresh.
The key to pricing is communication and flexibility
One hot topic of discussion within the eporta community – and something that we discussed in a journal post from earlier in the year – is pricing. While it would seem that there is no hard and fast rule on the ideal way to charge clients, there has definitely been a shift towards offering cheaper packages in order to entice more people to use interior designers.
In the spirit of making our industry more inclusive, Cornelia and the Homewings team aim to offer the more basic advisory services for the lowest prices possible. “And ultimately we would like to be able to give people access to expert interior design advice for free – making our money from the purchases generated through the interior designers work.”
Be sure to explain to your client the value of allowing you to take care of all purchasing – such as offering a hassle-free experience for them by managing multiple suppliers as well as all the admin that goes alongside that – and make it clear how this arrangement benefits you both.
“You need to be very open and honest about how you make your money”, Lyndall states. “Clients are very aware of the discounts designers get and want a part of that – if you’re getting 40% off, they want to see that benefit trickle down to them. So don’t be tempted to undercut them, as all trust will be lost. Discuss options with your client and let them decide how they want to manage payments”.
However, as well as being transparent with our clients, we also need to be honest with ourselves. Lyndall makes it clear that you should be able to turn down a job if it’s not going to work out for you – financially or otherwise. “If the project isn’t right, we need to walk away. Ultimately, we choose clients as much as they choose us.”
What success looks like, as well as what to do to make it, are topics that could be debated forever – and we know we’ve only captured the thoughts of two people from our industry. So let us know what you think. We want to hear your tips for the top!