First time working with a home designer. Are our expectations off?
January 22, 2020 7:50 PM   Subscribe

We moved to a new house late last year. The new home is double the size of the old one and we've brought in a designer from a well-known local firm to help us with plans and decisions. We have lots of small to medium projects and wanted help planning them out and guidance making decisions since we haven't done most of this before. The house is much newer than our last house and we want to make it beautiful and to represent our style.

Our designer is giving us some opinions, but only when we ask for them. She's giving us direction, but only when we ask. So far we're feeling a little like perhaps she's just a person with good taste but not maybe no more expertise than we have.

When it came to choosing paint, she brought out a few colors to start with and gave positive feedback to anything we said we liked.

When it came to wall sconces for the stairwell we did the research, she helped us narrow down the options. We ordered the lights and had an electrician install them only to then realize that since the bottom of the sconces are open we can see the light bulbs as we walk up the stairs. So in this situation - should she have realized the sconces we were looking at wouldn't work? I feel like we could have asked any friend or family member for opinions and received the same quality of advice - basically just opinion, no real guidance.

So what should our expectations be here? Should we expect a designer to be experienced and guide us towards good decisions? Or is a designer someone with good taste, good at decorating, and who we pay to do research and find options for us?
posted by rglass to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
my designer recommended tiles for my kitchen backsplash which I found out - after installing - were not meant to be used in kitchens, and are damn near impossible to get grease off of.

posted by fingersandtoes at 8:07 PM on January 22

I don’t trust designers unless I’ve seen a fair amount of their work. I don’t need a cheerleader, I need someone who is an insider beyond what I have seen and read in design blogs and seen in niche manufacturer and designer Instagrams, etc. In your place, I’d pull back and slow the timeline of the projects so that I could do more of my own research and refine my own decisions. I wouldn’t consider what you’ve experienced so far to be confidence-building.
posted by quince at 8:37 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]

My aunt is a designer and she basically does it all. You give her your style /colors / lifestyle info and she makes all the decisions then runs them by you. She 100% wouldn't have let you buy those scones.

A good designer should ask a LOT of questions (pets, children, cleaning schedule, socializing plans), hash out your actual needs vs wants and also do most of the work of picking things and getting them installed. They should be telling you no to bad or impractical ideas for sure, that's their job
posted by fshgrl at 9:12 PM on January 22 [14 favorites]

I was in a similar situation and had a rather disappointing experience with a design professional, not unlike yours.

What actually did help was the book "Use what you have decorating" by Lauri Ward. She explained good basic principles of putting rooms together.

I ended up getting a few pieces at a time, then sat back to see how they feel. For the big room, I had a defining piece of artwork and got the color palette and style from that. Also, places like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn have free design advisors that you can bounce ideas off, or get a basic sanity check.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:32 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

I have worked with a few designers (not privately, I interpreted for them) and the ones I have seen were very concerned about which materials can be used where, sightlines, durability etc.
Maybe you need to find someone else?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 11:03 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

There's almost no barrier to entry to calling yourself a designer -- it's not like you are claiming to be a civil engineer or a pharmacist. So, you may well have to sort through a variety of poorly-qualified and -skilled people to find someone good.

Your expectations are not unreasonable and it sounds like the person you have been trying to work with can't provide the level of expertise that you need.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:29 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]

Hello, I am a qualified interior designer - although caveat I do not practice aside from my own renovation/investment projects.

There is a difference between designers and decorators - I am concerned with space, durability, electrical outlet placements, fire ratings and more, rather than only colours.

"Our designer is giving us some opinions, but only when we ask for them. She's giving us direction, but only when we ask."

This sounds like you don't have a brief in place. Have you gone through the house room by room? Answered a survey about your needs, wants, deal breakers? Discussed your objectives and outcomes? Sounds like a lot more rigour is needed.

As an aside what's bothering you about the seeing the bulbs? Aesthetics? Too bright? Lower watt may help, or there is a wide range of LED, yet stylish bulbs on the market now if you hate the look.
posted by teststrip at 1:01 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

If she's part of a firm, you should ask for another designer. It's just business.

It's ok that you're not happy with the services you're getting. You don't like this person's work, and you want something else. That's fine - cut the cord now. It's not going to get better.
posted by hydra77 at 8:33 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the person you hired is just not very competent or experienced.

I've worked with some really talented designers/decorators. You know it when you see someone with imaginative visual sense. Everything just comes together naturally. They make it look easy.

(Don't get me started about TV makeover shows. Some of them are just homewreckers with really ugly ideas who bamboozle their clients for entertainment purposes.)
posted by ovvl at 8:41 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

I agree with everyone else that you should certainly feel free to find someone else if you're not clicking with this designer for whatever reason.

To answer your specific question "Should we expect a designer to be experienced and guide us towards good decisions," the answer is yes, absolutely. For example, for a kitchen-painting project, I had initially suggested some greenish-grays. My designers gently redirected me toward a much more appropriate light blue that they had already used in the foyer :) So I don't think your expectations are off, although perhaps it's possible you're inadvertently giving her some signals that you want to have more control over the work than you actually do want?

Since I'm not quite certain what the scopes of your projects are, I'll just throw in the fact that I've had the best end results (beautiful, breathtaking results) from my designers when they overhaul an entire room at once. When I've worked with them on smaller piecemeal things like replacing some bar stools or the aforementioned repainting of the kitchen, it never comes out quite as good. I think that's just the nature of the beast --- it's a lot harder to find one new piece that fits in perfectly with a whole bunch of existing stuff than it is to big-bang it.
posted by slenderloris at 12:59 PM on January 23

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