Designers pride themselves on having the guts to speak up when a client’s idea isn’t working. But not every client is willing to listen—or willing to hear the word no. And when you’re collaborating on the home of somebody else’s dreams, things can get pretty dramatic, says Tamara Eaton, an interior designer in New York City. “It’s hard to stand up to a client sometimes because it is their house and their money.” Fortunately, things don’t have to get heated. We asked a few of our favorite interior experts how to avoid the most common conflicts.
The Issue: Dwelling on Every Detail
“I think clients have a really hard time knowing when they’re slowing down the process,” says Eaton, who’s dealt with her fair share of nitpickers. “Some completely understand collaborative work, but I think a lot of times clients overthink and ponder and pontificate on each individual item,” which can slow down the timeline and balloon the budget.
The Fix: Let Go of Perfection
Instead of obsessing over every last detail, let go of perfection, advises Eaton. “People struggle with [the idea of getting to] 100 percent, and perfect is never done. 80 percent and done can be a really beautiful thing.”
The Issue: Not Being Realistic
“Clients can have totally opposing desires,” says Tali Roth, an Australian interior designer based in New York City. For example: Wanting a high-end space on a shoestring budget or lusting after Calacatta marble countertops despite loathing the way they look once they (inevitably) stain and ding.
The Fix: Prioritize
For the designer, the solution is often as simple as showing several amazing alternatives like suggesting stain-resistant, nonporous stainless steel or an interesting quartz instead of the marble. For the client, it helps to get honest about what they really want and what they can live without, or in the case of countertops, live with.
The Issue: Getting Impatient
“I’ve had clients get angry at me for something arriving late, vendors screwing up or contractors not doing things,” says Eaton. Once, when a bench she upholstered for a family in New Jersey broke, she had to explain it would take four months to repair it. That didn’t go over well.
The Fix: See the Big Picture
No one likes having to wait in the era of Amazon. It helps to set realistic expectations at the outset of a project, especially if custom materials or pieces are at play, that long lead times and delays are almost always a sure thing. Eaton also suggests informing clients, in a non-patronizing way, when certain factors that they may not have considered are impacting their timelines, like when the region where their handwoven rug is being made loses cell phone service because of a labor strike or when flooding washes out a part of a major highway. According to Eaton, a little world perspective usually goes a long way.
The Issue: Fear of Color
“Many clients are drawn to our colorful, eccentric portfolio, though their comfort zone is a neutral palette, perhaps with pops of color,” says Elena Frampton, another interior designer in New York City. To expand clients’ perception of living with new hues, Frampton tries to inject coloor in small doses to keep it from being overwhelming.
The Fix: Embrace Art
When it comes to embracing color, working art into the interior can often be helpful, says Frampton, who designs and selects art in tandem. “By selecting work that speaks to our clients, we create a personal and often surprising interior.”
The Issue: Chasing a White Whale
Everyone has their thing: quirky Entler Studio light fixtures, painterly de Gournay wallpaper panels. But sometimes an item isn’t meant to be, whether due to its style, its price, its availability or the space’s construction.
The Fix: Be Flexible
“You need to sit back and think, ‘Am I being principled or is this really important?’,” says Eaton. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff. Being able to pivot is a skill worth mastering.