It's pretty much agreed among most designers that the measure for success seems to be to design for the upscale, high-end client with lots of money.
It's kind of like this, once you get this client, you have hit the pinnacle to some degree. We all know that's never enough and once you get there, you'll need the next level of success, building a design firm, perhaps a furniture or fabric line, etc.
Now there is nothing wrong with that model whatsoever. And a big reason it's out there, is because hiring a designer is still perceived as a luxury instead of a necessity.
But there's another model and it's the one I use and teach and that works well for me.
My first design business was called One Day Design. At the time, it was about re-design (before staging had even been invented), 'We use what you have to create incredible, affordable interiors" was my tag line.
So, no surprise that, fast forward, almost 15 years later, I still mostly do that kind of design.
My niche is knowing how to decorate and pull a room together using colour (not just on the walls) specifying materials and finishes for renovations and putting the final touch on an interior with the right styling and accessories.
I love the instant gratification of shopping with a client for an entire day and how just by using the right accessories and lighting you can suddenly transform a space in just one day.
See how very little has changed from the beginning of my career.
I love the challenge of looking at a space and being able to advise my client, usually with a single glance, whats bothering them about their space and what to do about it. Which order is right for their updates or entire renovation and where to spend their money first.
Where I save my clients the most money, and where my fee gets paid many times over is when I save them from making the wrong purchase or from doing the wrong renovation.
You might be in love with a particular style of house but the one you end up buying is not it. Maybe it's in the right neighbourhood or it fits your price range and then you decide you're still going to install that modern, linear fireplace insert in your 70's brick fireplace, like one lovely client of mine.
As I went through her whole house I inquired "Are you changing out all the traditional moulding?"
"What about the French Country mullions on all your windows? Are they being replaced?"
"Well, no", she said.
"Then consider that the fireplace insert is probably too modern".
By the way, this is no different than the romantic image I had of the puddling drapes I talked about for my living room a few weeks ago. I was so in love with that image, I couldn't see past it to get that my living room was way to clean and contemporary to pull it off. And it was like you were all my designers then because the overwhelming response was "NO WAY MARIA, WHAT THE HECK WERE YOU THINKING?"
I am convinced this is the reason there are so many odd-ball renovations that do-it-yourselfers get caught up in. Without an experienced colour consultant or designer to give you the reasons why your particular fantasy or trend you've fallen in love with should or should not be carried out, you can really go down the rabbit trail of building on one mistake over another. We've all been in or inherited houses where there were many different, unrelated renovations that did not work together at all.
I spoke to one client this week who said the biggest reason she was paralyzed from making even a simple decision on a wall colour was she knew if she chose the wrong colour for the walls, she would have to include that in all the rest of her choices as she shopped for all the other items she needed to finish decorating her living room.
So what does all this mean? It means that there is a market for a designer who specializes in short-term colour consulting for the do-it-yourselfer. We have graduated from the 80's when we just painted one accent wall, to hiring a colour consultant to choose all our colours before we move into our next home.
Colour consulting has come such a long way since then. Before designers started getting trained in the business of specifying colour correctly, people would hire a designer to decorate or they just would go without one because hiring one seemed to fit into the category of purchasing an expensive hand-bag.
The handbag however, is a luxury, a colour consultant who walks you through your house, creates a decorating plan for your living room, consults with you on the order of your renovation to avoid the common mistake of combining yesterday with today. Well that in the end is not a luxury but an absolute necessity.
Can you be a colour consultant and not actually like to decorate? No. Although in the beginning of your career, choosing primarily wall colour will be the bigger part of the service you provide until you learn how to advise your clients on every area of their decorating or renovation.
And your fee will reflect the service you provide. What used to take me 2 hours to figure out now takes minutes. Literally thousands of consultations will get you to that place.
A higher hourly or flat rate (depending on how you handle your fees) means someone else paid for the knowledge you now have, at a lower rate of course.
Choosing wall colour is the smallest percentage of what I do. I can pick a colour for the walls in 30 seconds, and in most cases I choose it last. The first part of the consultation is about creating the look and feel of the interior. And that takes training and experience just like any other type of design business.
What colour should the countertop, flooring, cabinets, backsplash be?
I work with a large range of clients, some are high end but the biggest percentage of my clients are just like me. Middle class. I have no idea about fine art. Really. No one consults with me on which $16,000 piece of art they should stick in their living room. Unless it's the same one I want in my house here.
If an $1000 Ektorp Sectional is the one that will fit the budget, I specify it. If a $135 colourful table lamp will suddenly transform the corner of your living room into a thing of beauty and joy to behold, you'll know about it.
For a long time I was secretly worried that I was not in the same race as everyone else to decorate for the high-end client but then I realized that without even really planning it, I was doing exactly the kind of decorating and consulting that worked for me and that I was really good at and at the same time, made a great living doing it!
Now with the internet it's easier than ever to reach the client that's right for us and easier for your ideal client to find you. Not everyone is my client and not everyone is yours. Instead of trying to do something you think you should do because everyone else is doing it, find your niche instead.
The question to ask yourself is "What do you love to do?" And then figure out how to get yourself trained so that you do exactly that.
The Three Most Important Words in a Colour Consultation
You Don't Suck if you Don't Book Every Client
How I Became a True Expert
If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert™. Early bird discount for Vancouver, September 25-27 ends Wednesday.