You Want an Interior Designer Who Tells You “No”

Hello! This is a “choose your own adventure” of an article. You can watch the video below, or if you prefer reading it you can also scroll below that to read the article. Enjoy!


…And why the best designers know that your happiness is more important than our portfolio.
Opinion alert! That last part of the statement is purely my opinion (and the opinion of interior designers, decorators and stylists I know and admire), but it’s an important distinction.

Let’s start with that title up there. What do you mean I want my interior designer to tell me, “No”? I thought I wanted a designer I get along with?

Yes, but that’s a subject for a future blog post! This is right along those lines though. Isn’t your real best friend the one that tells you that you have something in your teeth, or your shirt has ridden up on the back, or quietly tucks your tag into your shirt? A really great relationship with your designer also means they care enough to tell you when your choices are the best for your design or your home.

Why? Here at Sanura Design, our reason stems from a deep reason- I want you to love your space so much it makes you happy every time you see it. I’m not doing my job if you just get the picture you pointed out in the magazine.

A prime example can be seen above in our material palettes. These are all for our beloved Project Christiani in South Mississauga. Our client had visions of neutrals throughout, and immediately said she didn’t like wallpaper (and had visions of that awful 70s wallpaper that made us all hate wallpaper). We pushed her boundaries and put unexpected things in front of her- she ended up falling in love with two wallpapers, one for the powder room, and another a blue textured beauty that was installed in her office. We also found out a deep regret (after getting to know her), was a simple orange leather chair she passed up at a store years ago. She STILL thought about it.

You guessed it, we paired that orange leather chair with that blue wallpaper (well the image above is spoilers!), and she loves that space (paired with great wood textures). We never would have gotten to that design had I just taken her word for it and not pushed her a bit to show her a few things.

Here’s a little peek at the office:

So, we care about our clients, but what does that have to do with saying no? Well, this subject came up unexpectedly after we made a visit to our favourite showroom to choose cushions for our client’s sofa.

We had gone through the cushions to see what the client liked, and when she paired a few together that really didn’t go with the design vision, I told her so. I didn’t just say “no”, I told her why it didn’t go and suggested something that would go better. We ended up with a couple of great cushions for the sofa.

Our next visit, we discussed that exchange and my response was- isn’t that what she’s paying me for? It’s my job to tell her if what she’s picking out doesn’t go with the overall design. We’re never rude, but wouldn’t you rather I tell you the cushions don’t look that great, then me be too shy to say anything and your friends and family tell you they don’t look that great?

All that said, here’s where this article’s title comes in. In the end, if we explain why it’s not right for the space (providing there isn’t any safety concerns- those are different!), and you still just love it. Ok, let’s use it. Even if this makes for “bad portfolio photos”, your happiness as my client is much more important than my photos. We’ll then look at integrating that into the design, and as long as you love the space- it doesn’t matter what I think.

This welcoming, airy space is conference central for a Toronto firm

It’s true … Better questions, yield better answers. When our professional services client asked us to develop a landmark facility that supports their lines of business, employee engagement and much needed event and client experience space, our minds, as designers, leapt to the countless ways their brand could be emphasized in the new space.  

Interior Designer: Lori Urwin, ARIDO

Design Team: Daniela Barbon, ARIDO; Meagan Buchanan, ARIDO; Susan Tienhaara, ARIDO;
Kaitlin McElroy, ARIDO

Design Firm: HOK

Project Photographer: Karl Hipolito

Our designers worked intimately with the client to create a classic, yet timeless space where events, dinners and educational forums can take place and showcase the firm’s innovation, knowledge and value to its clients. Expansive city views, tech-enabled boardrooms, collaborative meeting areas and a vibrant event space can all be found on the penthouse floor of a Toronto high rise with spectacular 360-degree views of the city and beyond.

Infused with daylight during the day and alluring mood lighting at night, the space accommodates all types of employee and client interactions. Plenty of gathering space for focused conversation was included to take advantage of the vistas, as well as provide additional breakout and quiet zones.

As the elevator doors open on the 40th floor, employees and guest are met with a highly polished and comfortable space, akin to a hotel venue. Prisms of light at entryways and across walls, clad in leather and metal screening, subtly reference the company’s logo. Twelve-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows complemented by clerestories and a glass ceiling invite daylight into the space and highlight the wood, leather, cool limestone and soft furnishings. Embracing a sense of light, air and space, the calm interiors are a backdrop for the stunning views of the city and lake beyond.

This newly constituted workplace for this firm has simplified operations, decreasing overall conference costs and enhancing the organization’s stature amongst employees, clients and the competition.

What your designer is dying to know before your renovation . . .

We use the word ‘intuitive’ in our firm description very deliberately.  I believe there is an instinct in what we do as designers; in knowing exactly what a space, a client, a custom piece needs.  That said, we aren’t mind-readers.  Here are a few things you should definitely share with your designer to ensure a successful renovation.

Full Scope

A bright living room designed by Maia Roffey.

photo credit: Scott Norsworthy

If you are planning to renovate in phases, it is very important to share that information.  Your designer can help you establish a master plan and recommend the order to undertake the changes.  Once, after gut renovating three floors of a house in Playter Estates, my clients told me they would also like to do their 2nd floor guest bathroom.  It had a unique layout with a sink in an anteroom that led to a full bathroom beyond.  Because we had just finished renovating the room below, we were stuck with the existing drain locations.  While I am very happy with how the space turned out, if I had known about this room ahead of time, we would have relocated the toilet stack while we were working on the floor below.

Long-Term Plans

MaiaRoffeyStephanieBuchman

photo credit: Stephani Buchman

Your plans for the future are also important to discuss.  If you only intend to be in the house for a few years, resale value will play a vital role in decision-making.  For this home in the Beaches, we knew from the outset that our clients intended to move on within five years.  With that in mind, we stuck to a clean and minimal design, avoiding anything too personalized or trendy, and kept a careful eye on the budget.  Our changes were so effective that the clients were able to move up the real estate ladder more quickly than expected and sold within the year – for $335,000 more than they had paid.

Lifestyle

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photo credit: Scott Norsworthy

At our initial consults, potential clients are always apologising for the state of their homes, “Don’t mind the toys.”  “Sorry, we can’t fit anymore in that closet.  I’ll just hang your coat here.”  But we really don’t mind.  A clear idea of how you are living informs the design process.  Don’t try to gloss over the issues you need resolved in your home.  For this family of four in Summerhill, the parents wanted an elevated space, but they were also very realistic about their desperate need for more toy storage.  Because we knew this, we incorporated an upholstered bench and wall-to-wall custom bookshelves to provide ample hiding spaces to keep things tidy.

Budget

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photo credit: Stephani Buchman

I will never understand when a potential client will not disclose their budget. I think there is a fear that we will set out to spend all of it – and then some!  (I always picture this nefarious designer twirling the ends of her mustache and laughing “mwahahahaha.”)  Budgets are a reality and we are here to help.  This project in Lawrence Park hit snag after snag as we uncovered the inherited issues of a previous renovation.  Our budget was stretched thin, so rather than use a pricy wallcovering in the powder room, we swapped it out for a chic metallic paint.  Nobody would know that wasn’t the original design.