Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

Have you ever had this happen to you? You hire a designer, consult with them on all the decisions you need to make. All is well. They leave, and then the contractor, painter, tiler. . . in other words the trades who will be executing your project, arrive on the scene.

You tell them what you want and they say “That can’t be done or that’s a bad idea, or I’ve never done it that way before”. . . and then, you change the decision you made with the designer because you think maybe the person who installs it every day must know better.

Or another phenomenon happens. You have this great guy taking out your bathroom and installing a new one.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

You see him every day.

You buy him coffee and donuts.

You’re pals.

After all, you want him to like you, you want him to think you respect his opinion because you want him to do a good job for you.

So you ask for his point of view. After all, he knows this is not your area of expertise.

And he gives it to you. The designer is not around, so you go with your contractors opinion.

And then, in the end, it’s not as perfect as it should have been.

Well the same thing happened to me, except I know the pitfalls and I know exactly what to do.


This is what you say when your contractor, painter, tiler, hardwood floor installer offers up  his opinion.

You say “This is the way my designer wants it done”.

The end.

That’s how you get what you want and at the same time, still be pals with the guy getting the job done.

Make the designer the heavy. It’s perfectly fine. It’s the way it should be done.

The trades will roll their eyes because the designer is not the one actually doing the job, therefore, she/he has no compassion.

It doesn’t matter, it still ends up looking the way that it should if you listen to your designer.

If you don’t do that, it’s just your opinion, vs. his. The guy who does this every day. It’s harder to win that one on your own (maybe).
Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

In the Spring of 2013, we installed a brand new garden.

See this concrete above and this bald spot in the cedar? Well we had a huge Rhododendron sitting in the middle of the backyard (above right) and my LA, Mary Anne and I had decided the best solution to cover this area was to move it right in front of the big empty spot that you see here.

Before we hired Kyle Dupuis, the awesome landscaper who did our installation, we had other contractors come by to give us quotes and discuss our project.

After we told one contractor what we were doing with the Rhododendron he said:

“If you move that shrub over to the area where the concrete was, it will kill the Rhododendron!”.

“Oh really? I said, “I’m really glad you told us that”.

So then I called MaryAnne and told her what happened.

She said “How long has that concrete been sitting there?”

“About 7-8 years”, I said.

“Well any lime that will have leached out into the soil will be long gone, how many Rhododendrons have you seen sitting beside concrete walls or beside sidewalks? she asked.

“Oh. Well good”. I said.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

Before the vegetable garden fence was installed.

Danger: The Designer has Left the Building

Here’s how it looks now. It wasn’t always this pretty. When the contractor who did the demolition moved it, I was out of town leading my Colour Training in Toronto. 

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


When I came back and saw how it had been installed (above), I asked him to come over with his excavator and move it again.

It took probably around 1 1/2 hours to get it exactly right. As you can see by the first image, it’s the size of a tree so the only way it could be moved was using a bobcat. And It was actually three shrubs that had grown together and that’s the way I liked it.

So that’s the way it looked in the end but it wasn’t without a little drama, haha. He was totally great about it.

Why was it so important that it be positioned just perfectly?

Because we look at it every single day from the family room and kitchen which face the backyard.

You might think something your contractor is doing is “No big deal” in the moment. But trust me, you pay hundreds and thousands of dollars and it ends up being installed wrong or it’s the wrong colour? Now you’re cranky.

Much easier to live with something ugly that you inherited from the previous homeowner, rather than something ugly you’ve paid for with your hard, earned money.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


MaryAnne says you look less like a farmer if you install a fence to define your vegetable garden from the flower garden. Not that there’s anything wrong with looking like a farmer. I’ll save that for my next property. Everything is so visual from the house here.

Our Brand New Vegetable Garden: Before & After

The fence had just been installed when I had some clients arrive to work with me in my studio for the afternoon.

They asked if the shed in the corner of the garden was a guest house. No one asked me that before the fence was installed ; )

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

These are Knockout Roses, they bloom until Christmas. Terreeia complained that we didn’t have any colour in our white garden so Maryanne said, “Get the yellow ones”. We love them!

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


See the burgundy leaves from the Japanese plum tree? This corner of the garden is North and the huge purple tree just made it darker in the winter. Last fall when Terreeia and I were raking and raking and raking the leaves, I said to her “Do you like this tree?” She said “No, I hate it”.

So I emailed MaryAnne and asked her if we should just have it removed. The subject line of her return email said “Off with her head!”

It looks so much better gone. Since we removed the tree I noticed that almost every house I drive by has a burgundy tree in the yard so one day I asked her “Are purple trees to you like espresso brown sofas are to me?” She said. yes. And then wrote a post about it here.

Our Brand New Vegetable Garden: Before & After


MaryAnne designed the garden bed to go around the existing maple tree. She does not draw circles around trees. I love the curves she designed all over my garden. She says she’s obsessed with them.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


This corner used to be full of mossy grass because it doesn’t get any sun in the winter. Now it’s a lovely garden bed with a little pathway to the gate at the side of the house.

Our Brand New Vegetable Garden: Before & After

See this wrought iron obelisk? I’m currently getting two made that look like this these (below). One will replace the black one and the other is 7 ft tall and it will stand in the garden.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


Accessories for the garden MaryAnne says.

When you see the before pictures of our front and back yard, you’d have thought I had this vision before we bought the house!!

But I did not. Luckily, MaryAnne did have vision.

You can contact her here.

Related posts:

The Three Most Important Words in a Consultation

How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Designers

Ugly Costs the Same as Pretty



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  1. You are so right on with this post! I am a perfectionist but not as assertive as I would like when demanding work to my precise standards because I don’t like to feel like the bad guy. I’m curious, did the contractor charge extra to come back because it wasn’t spelled out (or marked out) the exact location for him to transplant the rhododendron or did you feel obligated to tip him extra for coming back to correct the job? Unfortunately, I’m a perfectionist who thinks too much of what other people think of me- and as a result, think less of myself when I pay and accept for a service that is not exactly what I had in mind.

    • He did not charge extra as I had asked him to make sure one of us was there when he moved it and that did not happen.
      It’s a balancing act for sure but if something isn’t right, the time to fix it is in the moment!

      • Absolutely. I use to be a designer in another field so I felt confident that I could design my kitchen remodel but because I wasn’t a kitchen designer and the tradespeople were the “pros”, I didn’t micromanage them as I wished I had. Why do they fight with you when you are the one with the checkbook? Why do I feel the need to micromanage the “pros” when they’re suppose to know how to do their stuff? Just saying.

  2. OMG, Maria…this transformation is INCREDIBLE! That fence is exquisite. Mary Ann’s work is beautiful! I am quite fortunate to have a very talented landscape designer with a very similar aesthetic to hers in my own family-my mom! Fabulous. My ‘cozy house’ might just end up with a garden that looks like yours, just as this one’s kitchen does. Love it. What beauty for you and Terreia to enjoy. And, I am SO glad you made that installer fix the trees-it’s a huge difference in aesthetics. 🙂

  3. Just gorgeous! That fence is the crowning glory. What a transformation. And thank you for reminding me to stick to my guns rather than cave to second guessing. I had a contractor plead with me not to put in white subway tile in my white kitchen. He thought it was too much white, and not interesting. Thankfully I didn’t listen, and I LOVE my classic backsplash! Best, Beth C.

    • Beth,
      My tile guy did the same thing when I chose white subway tile and grout for a bathroom; he was begging me to get an accent color to break up all the white! But he didn’t see the whole vision for the bathroom – the light fixtures, shower curtain, faucets, hardware, etc. That is where I am bringing in some fun and color! Keep it simple and classy, even though it’s hard to stay on track with so many opinions. I begin to second guess myself sometimes 🙂

  4. That fence looks amazing! Love the whole thing. Your so right about the contractors. Everytime I left the house something got done wrong (or the way “they always do it”)!

  5. Wow!!! You have made that house such a charmer!!! I love that advice to. Fortunately, my carpenter has great taste and really gets my vision. I will have to use that line with other contractors though. 🙂

  6. absolutely beautiful transformation Maria.. I love the white fence seperating veggie garden from flower bed, curves and all.. I love yellow roses too 🙂

  7. Looks amazing! Anyone have a problem with a customer not listening to YOU as a designer? I am working with a person who has a galley kitchen, seal and laquer maple cabinets (90’s) rose colored laminate tops, light bamboo floors, white walls, bad lighting and some windows on either end of room in a 100 year old house! Could it get any worse! She wants it to be brighter and function better. I suggest white cabinets…of course! She REALLY REALLY loves wood (picked out cherry) and feels like cherry won’t date the house, but keeps asking me to see if I can add windows to make it brighter. I have explained why physically we can’t install windows about 5x’s (weird roof pitch add on’s to house) and why white would be better. I’ve showed her pictures, sent her your posting on white cabinets, explained the light reflecting off the white cabinets. I’ve asked her what her main objection is-better function or more light or both? ( I haven’t heard back from her on this) I am afraid I’m making her mad at this point. At what point do you let it go and let her do what I think is totally wrong for the space. As you said in this piece-she is spending so much money to have update her kitchen, that I hate to have her make the wrong decision.

    • Here’s what I say “I have given you my best pitch for a white kitchen so if you still want a wood stained kitchen, it’s your house, you should have it”.
      I have only left one consult where this happened and a week later she emailed me and said “I’m installing a white kitchen.

      • Hi Maria & Pryan, I think Maria’s advice is perfect. IMHO, if your client wants stained wood and LOVES it–it’s not the ‘wrong decision’ for her. One other thing, the house is a 100 years old…houses built in the early 1900s often had lots of wood (wainscoting, built-ins.) If that is the case in your client’s house, I’d be discussing how (if) the cherry cabinets will relate to fixed elements. If cherry does not relate, I’d present other stained wood that will. Then, I’d work at incorporating the stained cabinets into the update using gloss of backsplash tile and countertops along with ‘reflective’ accessories (glass) to brighten the space. Perhaps some open shelving–maybe a skylight! Good luck!

    • Getting clients to listen requires quite a bit of skill, not everyone is open to hearing your point of view. I work in sales, two books that have been invaluable
      “Secrets of question based selling”
      and “Getting past no” William Ury
      no point in being talented and not having the skill to negotiate through the difficult consultations !

      • I agree with Susan about relating the wood to existing fixed elements. Maybe the client could have the best of both worlds – a painted white kitchen with a bespoke timber island or dresser etc. I’ve done this in my kitchen and it looks great.

  8. Excellent advice, Maria! Thank you.

    Love the transformation of your BY and your fence within a fence. Speaking of which another tip is to communicate with your partner in event you may not be around when things are being said or done. Long story short; when landscaping our yard our neighbour was kind enough to allow access to our property via theirs on the condition we would replace ‘the grass’ which between me and you (and your readers) would be an upgrade to their property. However unknowingly …… some time during the interim my husband when approached a second time HE agreed to the request of providing gravel instead as they wanted to extend the length of their laneway. Result; I now not only have a line up vehicles parked right up against ‘our’ fence with no green to be seen but they literally fry most of my plants in my flower bed due to the Southern exposure plus …. all their shoveled snow is now put on our side of the property because it is convenient. As for the paved section they also now blow it on to our property as well …… rather than their front lawn. Arrrrrgh! -Brenda-
    P.S: Apologize for the rant but if I have taught a lesson then hopefully I am forgiven. ☺

    • Good advice!! Is there anyway you could put a fence up? Even a 3 foot solid fence (not too unfriendly) would at least keep them from blowing leaves or putting snow on your property.

      • I agree about the fence. Although a snow blower could easily blow snow over a three foot fence. With all the problems you’re having, I’d go to six feet. Be really careful about observing the property line, and if your neighbors complain about the fence, just say that you prefer not seeing the cars lined up in their driveway and the fence gives you greater scope for landscaping.

    • @ Maggie & Kay below: Thank you so much ladies as fully appreciate your suggestions.

      Actually the present fence is a wrought-iron one and too expensive to replace so I making an attempt to grow grape vines to block out the view of the vehicles and provide shade for the flower beds. (They have very large leaves and grow like crazy so I am told so I’m keeping my fingers crossed it will be a solution.)

      As far as them dumping their snow, plan to ‘cross that bridge when we come to it’ definitely this winter. With that said, does anyone know how to build a twenty foot high snow wall? Winks …

  9. Amazing transformation! Your yard looks lovely. Thanks for the advice about trades. You are SO correct. We allow them to bully us because they do it everyday. Just simple yet brilliant insight. In the words of Tina Turner, “You’re the best. Simply the best, Better than all the rest.” 🙂

  10. Maria, I love the transformation of your yard. Is the fence around your vegetable garden wooden or PVC? The style is fabulous.

  11. Kristi from Minnesota

    Amazing!! Absolutely gorgeous!!! It’s pictures like this that demonstrate the importance of investing in great designers with knowledge and vision. Enjoy your beautiful gardens!

  12. The yard looks so great, Maria! I know you must be so thrilled. I tell my clients all the time: “Don’t let the painter talk you out of such-and-such that I suggested.” Just because they don’t normally do it that way, doesn’t mean it isn’t what they should do. When you take things up a notch, it is out of the norm – which is a good thing!

  13. THIS IS SO FUNNY: I asked her “Are purple trees to you like espresso brown sofas are to me?” She said. yes.
    I AGREE!!
    I loved purple trees up until like two years ago. I used to think they were so “classy and different”.
    Now they just seem to clash. And I have the same kind of tree you did. Now I don’t feel badly about wanting to take it down. Convincing my DH won’t be as easy.

    I TOO love the fence.
    AND the yellow roses. So happy you and Terreeria
    have such a beautiful yard to enjoy.
    Mary in Ohio 😉

  14. Hi Maria:

    RE: your privacy fence: Is it set upon a concrete foundation with a mower edge? If yes, is it something that you had done or was it already in place? It appears in the photos that the fence sits upon the concrete & that there is a concrete mower edge–a great way to control grass/vegetation. I like that!

    Also, I love your backyard–beautiful! Could you post the schematic/drawing of your backyard?

    Thanks a bunch.

  15. Absolutely gorgeous, Maria – morning coffee in your home must be a delightful exercise in musical chairs – today the kitchen/family room, tomorrow the bedroom, the next day your studio – every day a lovely view. You had the dream, MaryAnne had the vision and it all came wonderfully true.

    Great post on working with a variety of “experts” when designing or remodeling your home. The client has it tough sometimes, I think. She hires the designer who is an expert (because she’s not one herself), but unfortunately the designer can’t be on hand for the project execution, or, unlike HGTV, doesn’t command or work with the contractors and trades, and so the poor client is left dealing with each one who thinks he/she is the expert and in charge. Maybe designers need to “empower” their client more with the vision (here’s the design, this is why we’re doing it, here are pictures of the execution – to share with the contractors, and here’s the designer’s phone number if you have questions or concerns. The designer might still be the heavy, but at least some of the trades might realize that, although the designer isn’t doing the actual work, if there wasn’t a designer in the first place, there might not be as much work for the trades to do.

  16. Maria your yard looks incredible!!!

    I know about the topic of your post – I can’t tell you how many times it happened to my clients and once to myself when my kitchen was going in.

    And – how many times I was called in after a contractor did work – wrong color tiles and granite etc!! Why contractors have difficulty recommending designers “before” the renovation…is beyond me.


  17. Everything looks lovely. If it was my yard, I would be outside all the time with a book & a glass of wine.
    Are you cutting some of your yellow roses to bring inside?

  18. Maria, Hi friend! Long time no chat. 🙂 I love love love your garden.. and the fence is just beautiful! So charming and delightful. I just wanted to say Hey and also, how true that is about contractors! My son and his wife broke ground on their lovely country home in Kentucky and they know.. you have to stand your ground. My mom had trouble too. I love the idea of making the designer the ‘heavy’. Great post! Miss you. 🙂

  19. wonderful installation in your yard. Super vision.

    Regarding contractors & trades. So true. Some can be helpful. But another wrinkle can be that many folks follow their neighbors or sisters or dry-cleaners advise, giving them more credibility than the professionals.

    It can be a real tug a war. I suppose it comes down to a trust issue & folks wanting to please those around them.

  20. Oh, yeah – contractors…I wanted a white kitchen. My first contractor (who I’d worked with before and liked – enough to buy him doughnuts!) kept insisting I should have maple. He was full of horror stories about white cabinets. I said “white (please)”. He said “maple”. After some more friendly discussions and I stuck to my desire for white, he simply vanished into thin air. I never heard from him again and he failed to return calls. I now have a white kitchen and love it. Same thing happened with the subway tile backsplash. I don’t know if some contractors assume they are dealing with a woman and can do what they want, or don’t understand there is a plan to be followed, or that they are not building for themselves. I value input from my contractors, but sometimes found it very hard to get what I wanted vs what they wanted. Persistence paid off.

  21. Your landscaping is absolutely beautiful! The fence is perfect and your advice re: working with contractors is great. I love the yellow rose–reminds me of your yellow couch 🙂