2 Weeks in the Life of a SMALL Interior Design Job (Part 5)

SOOOO, It's been 11 days since I met with my client, Elvira on the evening she moved to Arizona and her one bedroom apartment in Tempe is now completed. We met all of our deadlines within the space and she cannot be happier with the results. Here's how it all went down.

Monday, May 28th- Met my new client for the first time and signed our design contract to begin the "design" portion of her project. This did not include items for her space that I had not yet planned. (Separate contract)

Wednesday, May 30th- Met with Elvira for the second time to review her design for her space. (This is the fastest design plan I have ever created for a client EVER, but I was able to do so because the space was SO small, required a minimal amount of stock furnishings that were easy to shop for and researched mostly online. We signed contract to make purchases.

Thursday, May 31st- Purchases and work began in her apartment. We painted the apple green box where her click clack sofa would sit and furnishings were assembled. The shelf liner I found (an unexpected touch) was installed on the wall with just an additional reinforcement of wallpaper paste along the edges.

Friday, June 1st- All items for the apartment were completed, minus one bookcase that I ordered and had not yet shipped. 

Thursday, June 7th- Bookcase delivered and set up with the remaining accessories, leaving a few small areas for her to incorporate her own pieces over time. This is an important part of what I do with my clients. Yes, I create a complete space but I also allow for your own personalization as time goes on. Through educating my clients throughout my entire process, they get to learn their style and the right pieces to add to their space, should they ever find one that fits their fancy. This makes it your own home, rather than a home that "Michelle designed". That means a lot to me.


Here is the dining area of the apartment. Her unit wasn't available to measure, so I took pics of the adjacent unit (a reverse of her floorplan). Based on this pic, the room appears narrow, small and dark.

Mid- remodel and the space is much larger looking now. A shelf liner in a great aqua print adds the perfect touch of temporary color to this apartment. SCALE IS EVERYTHING in design. (I cannot stress this enough). One of the largest mistakes I see when I meet homeowners is furniture that is either too large or too small for a room. This dining area was only 8' wide. I found the perfect table, narrower than the average, at just 38" wide. It's just enough for a place setting and perfect for 4 to sit comfortably and dine. Simple, pretty canvas prints with our color scheme of aqua, teal and apple green are a great fit for this tall wall.

The room is light and airy now. Elvira, my client, would like to fill the hurricane jars herself. (This was prior to ironing the linens, lol)

Elvira wanted happy colors. She was initially unsure of her style, which we got to learn was 'Modern'. This space proves modern, clean lines can also be comfortable. She wanted a futon suitable for a guest on the rare occasion that one will come and stay with her. I opted for a click clack sofa, which has more of a true sofa feel. This one boasts a sexy opening in the back, which was perfect to highlight the one box we painted behind it. 

The apartment community that she moved into allows her to paint her walls, but most renters don't have this luxury. I minimized the expense of painting a full wall and added a great way to highlight a piece of art, by painting one square behind her sofa, large enough to "frame" the art above it. The fun peek-a-boo effect it gives in the open back of the sofa is an added stylish, bonus. 

Although I used neutrals for all of the base furnishings, I love to add accent furnishings in a great print or bold color. Here I brought in the apple green in ottomans with tops that flip over to become trays. Be a more daring than just using pops of color in throw pillows! Accent furniture is cheap enough to have fun with and then ditch in the future if your color preferences change.

Speaking of pillows... check out the fantastic ones I picked up at Pier 1 between $19.95 and $35.95. The aqua pillow at the end is down filled. 

The massive canvas pic of The Flat Iron Building in NY is my favorite thing in the room. It was purchased by my client the day she moved here and could not have been more perfect for this wall! Nesting tables provide additional space for family photos in small frames.

The final piece and well worth the wait... this funky bookcase has multiple box shelves at different heights and areas, preventing it from ever being a bore!

Sometimes the most rewarding projects are the smallest ones. I don't often get to do apartments or condos, but it was a refreshing depart from my design norm. My team laughed and joked about how the mad rush to complete this space felt like an episode of an HGTV show. We had fun and seeing the look on Elvira's face as she came home to her new apartment for the first time was priceless. It's my natural high to please my clients with their dream home, big or small. I got to do it again!


2 Weeks in the Life of a SMALL Interior Design Job (Part 3)

So, it's now been a few days since I have seen my new client. Yesterday was my shopping day. I found many pieces that I can incorporate into my design.

My biggest dilemma has been selecting the accent color for her space. She loves all colors, happy colors. I typically ask my clients what colors they dislike, then create a palette from what's left. Why do I ask what colors you dislike? So often you ask a client what colors they like. They don't often know. They will list two or three colors but neglect to mention others because they just don't realize how much they like them. Usually they own several articles of clothing in these other colors but have never considered them for their walls of home decor. It's often difficult to expand a personal view of something you feel you just "know". This usually requires expanding that perception by seeing a color scheme with those colors to agree. One thing you always know, however, is the one or two colors you hate! You have strong feelings about them and can recite them quickly. Think about it... You can see a cute pair of shoes in the store but pass them over because you don't like red. You can look through your whole closet and not find one green outfit. You can proclaim to the mountains that you can't stand yellow. Your likes may be a bit wishy washy, but your dislikes are FIRM!

Now, one of the most important aspects of this design plan is scale. It's one of the most important parts of any design plan but even more so with a smaller space. It's also the most under planned concept by homeowners and the one they get wrong the most. I would say that seventy percent of all homes I see have furniture that's way too large for the space and another twenty percent has furniture that's just too small. That only leaves ten percent who actually get it right. It's not entirely your fault. There is a bit of math and science to it all. That's part of why people hire professionals. You may love a piece of furniture but that doesn't mean it's the right sized piece to live in your home. 

In my client's case, she needs smaller pieces, narrower in depth. I have found a great dining table that is a narrow oval and will be a great fit for her smaller width dining area. I have found a click clack that doesn't scream dorm room and a nice bookcase that I can either place on the wall or use as a room dividing knee wall to visually break up the space. I just haven't figured out which I am doing yet...

I'll keep you posted. Today, I put it all together and meet with my client at 5 to present my ideas.


2 Weeks in the Life of a SMALL Interior Design Job (Part 2)

Yesterday I got to meet my new client from CA. I arrived when she was still in the medst of paperwork to secure her new apartment. The leasing agent was nice enough to allow us to coduct our work first and she could come back to complete her lease package later. However, when we went to see her new apartment, we both agreed that the online floorplan was a bit deceiving and was way smaller than she had hoped for. So, it was a back and forth looking at a fw different spaces until she found the one she wants.

Now, I have to admit that this situation is a bit unusual for me, as I got to play real estate agent again. I am glad I was there to assist her in her choice because I had a good grasp of what she was looking for and it is difficult for many to interpret an empty space. The other unusual factor for this job is the time frame. My client will be moving in by next Friday. Tomorrow is a holiday and I have several jobs I am attending to at the same time. Typically, when working with your designer, it will take a week or two to meet again with a finished design plan and presentation, then the work begins after the client has signed off and given the appropriate deposits for their purchases. In this case (again beyond my norm), I am completing a good majority of the work, if not all of it- IN ONE WEEK! I am only able to do this because of the current status of several of my jobs, because I have a good grasp of what I will be doing in her small space and because I am purchasing a very small amount of stock furnishings and accessories to make the space work.

Here is her new floorplan.

Meeting Information-

In meeting with my new client I learned a few things. 1. She's lovely and we get along very well. (This is crucial for establishing a designer/ client working relationship). 2. She trusts me completely and will defer to me on options for her space (Trust again, VERY IMPORTANT). 3. Her budget is $4,000. For the type of furnishings and the amount she needs, this is completely do-able. If this were a one bedroom home- a permanent space, this would be FAR TO SMALL a budget. If this were a home I would be procuring higher end furnishings that would become lasting pieces. My client is looking for a comfy, yet temporary space for now. If she likes AZ and decides to make this her permanent residence, she may move after she gets the lay of the land and is unsure if it will be to another apartment or if she'll buy a home. She works A LOT, but outside of work, will never be home. She is an active woman who enjoys fitness and fun activities. She will mainly be home to sleep. She has no family in the area, but at times would like to have her sister come visit from California. In this small space, she requested a futon, as opposed to a sofa bed, which can be cumbersome and difficult to operate in a small space. I will entertain this thought, but I am going towards a click clack sofa which will be easier to convert from sofa to bed, by a simple click up and flattening of the back.

My client and I have an understanding of the type of furnishings she is seeking for her space. The level of quality at this price point is average. A designer usually does not work with this type of furnishings because the construction is not at the standards that we approve of and can't ensure the longevity of the piece. In this case, longevity is not a necessity. Nevertheless, in any case where I am weary about a selection or a client is choosing something beyond my recommendation, I have them sign a waiver of liability. This waiver holds me harmless if the item or selection has any problems beyond the coverage in the warranty or any issues that are beyond my control. Considering that we are using items below a quality that I would normally work with, she is comfortable with signing this waiver.  

Inspiration for Design-

My client has no color preferences. This is a rarity and also makes my job much easier and faster to achive her end result. THIS NEVER HAPPENS! She purchased 2 pieces of photo art that she would like to use in her home and she doesn't care where they go. They will be my inspiration to some extent. Happily enough, they are in muted sepia tones, which allows me to use any color to compliment the space. 

It's a Sunday and I don't normally work today but I have a few errands near a furniture store where I know I can get a great click clack for her space. Stay tuned for what I come up with in Part 3. Happy Memorial Day! 


2 Weeks in the Life of a SMALL Interior Design Job (Part 1)

Today I am meeting a new client whom I have been chatting with for the last few weeks by phone and email. I always get excited to meet new clients. Each one is unique and their perspective on design is often times far different than the reality of what we do, so I enjoy the education I provide to my clients by giving them a thorough understanding and appreciation for the design process.

My new client is relocating to AZ from San Jose, CA for work and is seeking to reside close to her place of business. After her first apartment didn't work out I helped her to find a new place to live by providing her several options within 10 miles of her company. I highlighted some favorites and she secured a great space. The building is modern and fun, right off of Tempe Town Lake and a few seconds from the highway. Now, I don't normally add real estate agent to my resume, but when you begin that designer/ client relationship and your end goal is the best for your client, it doesn't take much effort to go that extra mile. 

As a designer I work in a few different pay scales with my clients. I can do the standard hourly rate, but this is becoming less and less the preferred method for design, as clients seek transparency when working with a designer. An hourly fee is an open-ended contract and, although I am truthful, it can take far more hours than you can imagine to do all that is required to design and then implement your space and can be an overwhelming thought to a new client in this economic time. A little over a year ago I adopted a "Value Based Fee System" used by thousands of designers across the country that takes into account the estimated hours to design, plan and implement your design project and present that to my clients as a flat design fee. This takes the guess work out of how much my time will cost and allows them to focus on the bare bones of their project.

The Space-

My client's apartment is an 864 square foot, 1 bedroom, 1 bath space. Being an apartment, I have limitations in certain areas- I cannot change the flooring, I cannot paint the walls and I have to work with the existing cabinetry and layout. My client will be living in a hotel for the week and then moving into her home when the week is done. She is bringing nothing with her, so I will need to buy everything for her. Here is her layout.

The apartment community has this computer generated floorplan on their website and for the most part, many items placed on the plan- like the bed positioning- will have to remain the same, as there is no other way to place them. The importance here is not where things go, but what those things will be. My client has hired me because she doesn't know the area and wants a comfortable and tranquil space to come home to after a long day of work. She wants to walk into her new space and have it all done for her versus taking the many weeks it would take for her to do what I can do in way less time.

The Cost-

I estimate that it will take me 4-5 visits to her home to complete this job and combining that with the time it will take for initial consultation, presentation, and implementation of this design I have set my flat fee for this space at 17 hours. At a rate of $125.00 per hour, the fee for this job is $2,125.00. My normal rate is $150.00 per hour. Many times, working with stock products versus custom pieces creates far more work for us as designers because you are running from store to store trying to acquire just the right pieces, at the right price to make the space work. However, in this instance, I have such a clear plan for what I am doing in her home, that I am charging a lesser rate for her small amount of space.

DISCLAIMER: This is the way I work and that doesn't mean that the way your designer works is wrong because it is different. Every designer had their own method of charging and fees involved with what they do. 

Payment Method-

When you work with a designer, always expect that you will pay a portion of your design fee up front. What we do is creative, as well as intellectual service and it begins the second we enter your home... ideas are already brewing. A retainer is always a requirement. For my flat fee, I require half down of the design fee to get started on your job. The balance of the design fee is paid upon completion of your project. The design fee is the work involved to create your space, but does not inculde the actual products that will be within your space. These will depend on your budget and your desires for your home. 

In this client's case, she is seeking to  be within her space comfortably within a week. This means that I must get the most important areas of her home completed prior to her move in. These areas would be her counter where she will be able to eat, even if I do not get a dining table into her space by then, the living room and her bedroom- as she needs a bed and furniture to store her clothing. Because of this, we are looking for stock furnishings that are in stock and can be delivered quickly. 

Our Initial Consultation-

Today's first meeting will be to finally get to see each other face to face, get a feel for her new surroundings, sign our new work contract, pick up my deposit and discuss her budget and look at the two inspiration pieces she is buying today. When she was last down here she found two art pieces in downtown Tempe that she loved and hoped I could work with in my design. I can't wait to see them.

Now that we have covered all of the basics- stay tuned for my next post tomorrow, after I meet my new friend!