K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Jun 04 2010

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It looks good on paper

Today I was listening to an hour-long webinar by my friend and colleague, Sarah Susanka. I have known Sarah for several years now, and in recent years have designed the interiors for two of her show houses at the International Builders’ Show.

When I was first introduced to Sarah and her philosophy of building smaller, well-designed high-quality homes, I felt this immediate kinship and a sort of sense of relief that there were actually a lot of people out there that felt the same way I did about the current state of building in America. The McMansion was a fixture on the building scene, and it always bothered me that people actually liked the idea that they were walking into what I believed to be a bus or train station instead of their foyer or living room. As an interior designer, there’s nothing more challenging than trying to take a room with a 20-ft. ceiling and making it not only livable but cozy.

More than 10 years later, we’ve come a long way and there are millions of people who actually GET IT and understand the value of good building and design, and what it means to live sustainably. What I am still confounded about is the number of people who DON’T get it.

A good example of what I mean is something that came up last week with a contractor friend of mine. His clients are embarking on a kitchen renovation, and he asked me if I would look over the new design and layout and render an opinion, as he had concerns about it. Now I normally do not ever critique another designer’s work, so I told him I would look at the plan, but any comments I made were confidential, and he could decide for himself if his concerns were valid, and then inform his client.

The new design wasn’t very good and had a couple of really bad flaws, like placing a 36-in. refrigerator directly behind a cooktop, so whoever was cooking would literally have to move out of the way to let someone use the refrigerator. I think it’s pretty scary that a design professional with several affiliations (ASID, etc.) and the like could make such an error. I don’t blame the homeowner at all, as dumb as that sounds. I think they figured if they pay someone with credentials a considerable fee and get a glitzy 3D dollhouse rendering of the kitchen, that it’s a “good plan.”

One of the other problems with the design was the appliance selection. The homeowner had selected very high-end appliances, and a LOT of them. In an 11 x 13 space, there was a double oven, peninsula downdraft cooktop, 36-in. single-door refrigerator, 27-in. full-height freezer, microwave and a warming drawer. Hmmm. So there are people out there who still feel it necessary to buy every expensive “status” appliance available that has every bell and whistle, and try to jam it all into a space that’s way too small.

I think it’s so important that the design professional, whoever they are, take a step back and evaluate exactly what the heck they are doing for their clients. I understand that there’s money to be made on expensive design packages, but letting your client know that they simply cannot fit all those appliances into such a small space should be the FIRST thing they do.

I’m not saying that they’ll get a good response; some homeowners are stubborn and immovable, and some are downright irritating. But having a client spend well over $60,000 on a kitchen renovation and not having it function properly at all can be a real liability. I don’t know if there would be any legal recourse when it comes to accepting and implementing a bad design, but I do know that if I paid that kind of money for a renovation that didn’t work well, I’d be really angry.

So what am I getting at? There are design professionals who are going to make a mistake and clients who will pay no matter what. But we, as those design professionals, have an obligation to our clients to try to not only deliver a good, strong design, but also advise them if you feel what they want simply will not work.

And try not to let a large sale blind you to the obvious bottom line—delivering the best, most professional design possible, even if it means that compromises have to be made. You can still make money, even though the number of appliances have been reduced. By using high-quality cabinetry, lighting and materials, and eliminating just a couple of appliances, your design can still be a high-end one. But first and foremost, it will be a GOOD ONE.

Patricia Gaylor

This entry was posted on Friday, June 4th, 2010 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Green. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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