Having been in this industry a long time. I wish someone would have given me a list of questions or a guideline of what to ask a potential client from the beginning. I know that I certainly have not covered all the questions and I am sure I do not know everything. I am just hoping I can help one or two of you (perhaps hundreds, lol) with these questions I have come up with. I have a great friend who is a plastic surgeon (I know, no relation to interior design except creativity) who once said to me, “I have a three page questionnaire for first time clients”. I thought to myself, “wow”, that’s excessive. He then explained to me that the questions he asked basically asked the same question just in different ways to really get the true answer. Anyone who had ever said they had plastic surgery before and was happy or not…he knew at the end of the questionnaire! With that said, I have learned a lot from that and so my first question always is:
1. Have you worked with a designer before? If the answer is “yes”, then logically the next question would be, “why are you changing designers”? If they have a lot of bad things to say about a former designer, it is important to listen to the reasons why and maybe ask the same type of question, just in a different way. Make sure that it was actually the designer who was not giving them what they wanted and not the client who is maybe a little difficult.
2. Who makes the decisions on this project? It can get tricky if you are working with a couple! Asking this question while both partners are there will help you to get an honest answer. This will help your project move faster and run more smoothly in the long run. I have run into the occasion where one says, “oh he/she doesn’t care” and yet they very much do! Everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to their home and money. Also keep in mind, sometimes one partner controls the style direction of the home and the other controls the checkbook. You need both to get the job done.
3. What’s your budget? Ugh! I know, some designers are afraid to talk budget early on. But, why waste everyone’s time if their budget isn’t consistent with the products and services you provide? You need to at least determine that they are in a realistic budget “range” that will allow you to give them what they are asking for.
4. What do you consider Expensive? Inexpensive? Everyone’s idea of cost/value is different. One client may think a $1,000 sofa is a bargain and another client may think it’s extravagant. Simply ask, “When buying a sofa, what do you consider a reasonable price range”? Continue the same questions for carpets, artwork, etc. Some people value parts of a project and not others, so don’t confuse a sofa budget with a window treatment budget, they may not be consistent.
5. What is your timeframe? “Oh we aren’t in a rush, we want to finish this room by the holidays”. Well, the holidays are 8 weeks away. It is likely this client has an unrealistic idea of how long a quality design project takes. Make sure that you aren’t committing to an unrealistic time to make them happy, it will set you up for an unhappy client and a whole lot of Tums!
6. Do you make decisions quickly or do you need time to think about things? Clients who are indecisive can drain the profits from your project!! So it’s good to know their decision-making habits before you price the job.
7. How do you imagine the design process taking place? If your client imagines lovely shopping outings, style discussions over lunch or dinner and a drink (or two, lol), then you need to understand that before working with them. Your design process might be to select and create the design for them and then present it. If you are not on the same page, one of you is likely to be disappointed! Be sure your expectations of each other are discussed.
8. What is your design style? Many clients don’t know and/or in the process of “changing” what they used to have. If they are young, often I hear, “it reminds me of my mother or my grandmother”. Sometimes people associate a color or item with a design ascetic. Example, “my mom’s whole house was burgundy and it was so country”. Well, the color does not mean country, it can simply be just the association. If they haven’t done their homework, then they just might not know what their style is…take it to #9…
9. Do you use Pinterest or Houzz? Pinterest and Houzz have become a valuable tool for understanding what a client wants. If they don’t already pin or have an account on Houzz, then I suggest you invite them to. They can create pin boards and/or save their favorite items/rooms. Honestly, it makes my job a little easier because I can access their boards anytime day or night. Most times I can get a real true understanding of what the client is looking for based on the pictures they select.
10. What kind of feeling do they want the space to have? Here’s where paint color, fabrics, moldings, etc. can be used in different ways to create the perfect mood for the room.
11. How will you be using this space most of the time? Will it be a room for family activity, just relaxing, or for working?
12. What other uses might you want to include in this space? If they have a guest room but are also going to use this as an office, this needs to be discussed and planned.
13. Will this be a busy area, and if so, is there enough room for people to move through this area? Knowing the location of the area you can determine if it can be used as they would like without interrupting a natural traffic flow. For example, having the only bathroom on a level that you are on and you have to go through a bedroom to get to it, is not ideal. The person who occupies that bedroom feels a sense of invasion and the person using that bathroom is uncomfortable too!
14. What type of lighting do they want or need in this space? Do they need bright lights for games and activity, warm subtle light for quiet times, a pot light to shine on their valuable art or perhaps some of each? It is so important and often times overlooked! High hats that are not on dimmers, having no outlets or any real space for lamps, etc. can change the mood and ascetic of a room.
15. Will they need additional mechanical elements such as electrical, heating or plumbing? These aspects tend to be costly and in some cases structurally impossible to install. It’s best to know right from the start if that’s the case. Other times, builders can be outlet happy! Be sure to go through the home with your client and make sure all lighting in each room makes sense and is needed.
Like I said earlier, I am sure that I missed very valuable questions and I would love to hear the ones that you feel are necessary! I hope in some small way this helped.
Stay Happy and Healthy, 🙂 Nancy