Many homeowners’ busy lives prevent them from being style-conscious, causing them to use the wrong terminology when referring to their personal taste or claim they are not particular. How can a designer best help these homeowners who may never have given a thought to what they ideally would want in their homes through this overwhelming process?
Here are some tips from some experts:
1. Get visual. Assemble a binder, PowerPoint or PDF you can keep on your desktop or tablet. In it, have images of five different style kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, accessories and maybe pieces of furniture as a conversation-starter exercise.
“If someone seems to have little opinion, I will show them two choices and ask, ‘Which do you like better?’” said Kate Brady, manager of showroom operations for General Plumbing Supply in Walnut Creek, Calif., and president of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association. “People have trouble making choices when offered more than two options at a time, so keeping it simple works. Doing that four to five times gives me a good idea of what direction they are going. It is a simple method that always works.”
2. Give them homework. Alternatively, you could ask your client to bring along blueprints, sketches and their “Idea Book.” “The idea book is usually made up of pages torn from a magazine or a print-out from one of the online social media design sites like Houzz,” said John Murphy of Redlon & Johnson, a leading New England wholesale distributor of plumbing products, and president of the National Association of Plumbing Showroom Professionals. “Their taste can be made clear by pointing out what they like in the picture and, of equal importance, what they don’t like.
3. Look for clues. Observe details such as whether the individual is right-handed or left-handed and what colors they are wearing. “Clients wear colors that they like and are partial to,” said Murphy. “Do not be surprised as the client leaves if they have chosen paint, tile, fabrics and fixtures that will match the clothing they are wearing when they visit your showroom. And physical observance of motor skills can impact everything from the location of faucet handles in the kitchen to flush handles on toilets or hand-held showers in the bathroom.”
Transitional Style Gaining Speed
”Transitional is a style that appeals to both younger and older consumers,” said Brady. “We’ve moved away from a highly decorative style and gold finishes that were popular before 2008 toward a design style that is plain, simple and easy to maintain. Consumers want to create spaces that are more flexible and will have a longer life. That’s what’s fashionable now. Generally speaking, younger consumers favor a more modern design, and older consumers favor more traditional design, but transitional design tends to appeal to both.”
Brady has noticed geographic differences in design preferences as well. “I worked in Florida from 2004-2008, and the East Coast tends to skew more modern or contemporary,” she said. “The community I work in now tends to be more traditional, but not far away in Napa you’ll find more fans of contemporary design, so I guess the best advice I could give someone in terms of identifying their client’s style is to treat them like an individual, not a stereotype.”
Murphy agrees. “It’s a challenge to identify someone’s personal design style,” he said. “The same client who owns more than one home may even have several different styles depending on where those homes are located,” he added, noting the same regional differences on which Brady commented. “Someone living in Santa Fe is going to have a different approach to personal design than someone living in Boston.
“Along the coastline from Maine to the mid-Atlantic, you’ll find the cottage style is more popular. It’s less formal, less ornate. It favors brushed finishes vs. polished. It’s more conservative and less stylized,” said Murphy. “In more metropolitan areas like Manhattan, Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, the contemporary style is more popular. It’s very current and sophisticated.”
“When it comes to the kitchen, consumers want choices that complement their main faucet,” said Jack Backstrom, director of global water products planning for InSinkErator. “Their preferences regarding the size of their water dispenser, for instance, depend on the size of their traditional tap. Generally speaking, consumers want their water dispenser to be understated…they don’t want it competing or contrasting with their main faucet.”