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Why it is so difficult to express what people want in a project?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the relationship with your design professional in terms of feeling, budget, and timeline? 


Let’s backtrack a little bit.  A client who shall remain nameless met with me recently to discuss a project.  The scope was the renovation of a rather dated house on the bay with a very awkward layout.  Over the years it had also had some pretty horrific additions.  An awful tubular elevator, a bedroom that had been pressed into service as a huge closet with nothing more than clothing racks installed, and a narrow, dark, dated kitchen to name but a few.  When I tried to suss out a conceptual direction, I was met with resistance and frankly with what I consider to be rather cagey answers that were lacking in transparency.

I talked to them about what they wanted the house to feel like and the answer was really quite specific.  I want a wine cellar.  I want his and hers master baths.  I want a media room.  These are nice things to want, but they sadly did not answer my question.  When I ask what a home should feel like to you, the answer shouldn't be a laundry list of wants.  Tha comes later during functional discussions.  The answer to this question is I want it to feel light, airy, and clean.  Or homey, unpretentious, and easy.  Sure, they are two different answers but what they have in common is that they provide contextual clues for a designer to begin to understand the client at a deeper level.  I won’t propose a deep aubergine dining room if you want light, airy, and clean.  I won’t propose chrome furniture if homey is your buzzword.  What this does is to help narrow down the potential styles we could use and begins to create a direction for a concept for the project. 

This went further when we talked about budget.  “Oh, I don’t know” was the retort.  "Everyone has a budget," I quipped, “even Bill gates.”  I was trying to coax a number out of them to assess the reasonability of their wish list.  Don’t get me wrong, this was a beautiful bayfront house in Miami, not exactly a budget property, but still you need to be mindful of your client’s needs and wants.  If your pain threshold for a dining table is $5,000, we will not be looking at priceless antiques, or even contemporary artist made pieces that can run into the tens of thousands.I thi nk the fear of discussing a budget that is deemed too low is real with most clients.Some have the opposite problem and think if they quote a high number they will be taken advantage of. Nonsense!  Knowing what dollar amount we have to work with lets us know where to put the dollars and what we can afford to do with the project.  I believe in Architect/Client privilege and what is discussed here stays here!

Both of these discussions are important to have at the beginning of a project, as is the third prong of this post.  The timeline.  With a timeline in mind, we can reasonably set expectations and establish if the scope of work is reasonable in the time allotted.  I recently saw a celebrity post claiming she had gutted and finished an entire apartment in a month. In New York City!  This is impossible as getting plans past your condo or co-op board often takes longer. A sofa takes 8-10 weeks. If she did indeed accomplish this, the planning phase must have been far longer and she was not upfront about the scope of work that was achieved.  I call this HGTV syndrome.  A lot of people think that design works like it does on TV.  You have half an hour to complete a project and it turns out just fine in the end!  Don’t get me started on some of those spaces, but the low budgets and compressed timelines they portray do more harm than good to the design industry.  

If we had followed my line of questioning it would have led pretty quickly to an assessment of what needed to be done to that house, what style could be achieved based on budget and timeline, (And of course the ever important existing elements of the house, and would have made for a smooth project because we would all know what we are getting into.  this work is complicated and it comes down to execution and expertise.  When we are all aware of the project parameters, we will not only meet but exceed expectations.


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