Just as anyone does, I've grown in my career over the years, and graduated from offering certain services. I have always and will always say that there are seasons to offer various levels of design services, but as my business grows (and I grow and evolve), I think it's important to be transparent with future clients, as well as former clients who may return later on to work on another project together.
I'd love to share this information with new designers as well - not to convince you one way or another is better, but to point out what you should consider before choosing what to offer in your own design business, in the season of life you're currently in. Here at NLI, we have transitioned to full service whole room, multi-room and whole house design projects, where we handle everything design from concept to fruition including procurement, installation, and final styling.
While we are flexible with the projects we take on, i.e. we don't make you get rid of every stick of furniture in your space and start over from scratch, we have learned over time and through experience, what some of our non-negotiables are.
Why We No Longer Offer...
Many moons ago, I was lucky enough to learn about the other side of furniture sourcing from designer friends, various trade reps in vendor showrooms, and by attending markets like High Point. By far, the biggest reason we no longer offer retail sourcing is the lack of customer service. With to the trade only vendors, I have been able to develop long term relationships with my reps, and they are very proactive about updating us about backorders, or out of stock options, or delivery issues.
When I was totally fresh to running my own interior design business, I started where most do - sourcing retail furniture. This is totally understandable since this is where I, as a homeowner myself, was used to shopping and where I was able to easily find a large variety of options.
But guess what? That means everyone and their brother is able to find the same variety of options at retail stores. Although many stores have come a long way with their available offerings, you still can't beat the customization, quality, variety, exclusivity, and customer service you receive from to-the-trade vendors. You're far more likely to find or create exactly what you need (and what a client wants) working with to the trade only vendors.
I'm also sure you know the feeling of ordering something from a big box retail store, being led to believe that it's in stock, and then being emailed a few days later that it actually won't be shipping immediately after all, and NO you cannot cancel, but yes, they'll keep all of your money in the meantime. Little did you know when you pushed the add to cart button online that you'd spend the next 3 to 6+ months chasing down information as to where your order actually stands. Do that a few times, and you'll be done with retail purchasing too!
I'm not saying you can't find a perfect piece in a retail store - far from it! But I personally far prefer now to only look for accessories that are in store and that I can walk out with in that moment when absolutely necessary, and trust any upholstery and case good pieces to my trade vendors.
Piecemeal Styling Projects
Early on, I did offer to style spaces to do that 'final layer' of accessorizing that many people feel is missing from their homes.
It soon became apparent that those who requested this service didn't realize how long it would actually take to search for their requested items, i.e. the one piece of art, or new pillows for a sofa and one chair for the other room, that would work perfectly with everything else they already had.
And this type of service inherently has the underlying assumption from the clients that the bones of their space are cohesive, scaled correctly, harmonious in color, etc. Adding accessories to a space that isn't optimized for their lifestyle, or a space with oversized or undersized furniture in undertones and colors that don't work with the existing paint colors and hard finishes in their house won't make it feel more complete or 'right.'
That is different from keeping a vintage piece that your grandparents had for years, and was passed down to you. Keeping what's important to you is important to us, because you have to love where you live long after we've finished working with you.
Making a full, cohesive design plan for a space ensures that our creativity is operating at its highest state for our clients, and that they will be happy with the end result! Make a detailed design plan first, then work the plan, y'all!
It is also by experience that I can say we have had clients for whom we have developed full service design plans and at final presentation, even though we were within the approved budget, a couple of former clients suddenly declared they wanted to purchase in stages over the course of months to a year.
As I'm sure you're well aware by now, stock issues and product availability are a constantly changing variable. If clients wait to purchase, there is no doubt items will need to be re-selected, for which we have to charge additional fees since we have already completed our design plan in full. We have also had one or two former clients decide after our final presentation, now with the final design plan in hand, to go rogue and purchase what they thought were similar items at retail because they wanted to save on design fees or they wanted to buy things on sale that they liked and thought could work.
For this I would refer you back to the previous section to read some of the travails of their decision to do so and would reiterate that this is not what true full service clients do, nor does it result in a happy client (or designer) experience or, more importantly, a fully completed design outcome.
Room Design Boards + Procurement by the Clients
This was a middle-of-the-road service we once offered to meet clients where they were, allowing them to get a thoughtful design plan with the clients themselves handling the heavy lifting of taking our design blueprint and pulling their space together on their own. Most of our design plan only customers LOVED this service and would kindly send photos after they finished following their plans and excited emails about how proud they were of their new spaces.
While this service did save clients with regards to fees for the phases post-design plan, it is most definitely an investment for them in time and temperament. The behind the scenes follow up work that we as designers take on during the procurement and installation phases, and that a full service design client never really sees, sadly became overwhelming and frustrating to deal with for some of our quasi-DIY clients.
If orders were missing, furniture arrived damaged, or something didn't fit because they measured things incorrectly, it would take a lot time to track everything down or fix the problem, and for some it was more than they could handle in the end. They loved the idea that they could save money doing it on their own only to realize how much time, talent, thought, and hard work actually goes into pulling off great design work. In fact, more than one happy client emailed us to say things like "wow, I didn't realize doing all this was like a full-time job!" We know, we know ;)
While I have learned to never say never, due to the number of full service design projects we have ongoing at this time, e-design or room design only blueprints is not a service we currently offer. Now, I do occasionally create shoppable "inspired by" rooms on our blog with links similar to what clients would find in these past room design boards. These are strictly done as a fun design exercise that gives me an outlet to have fun and try new ideas, and anyone reading our blog can take inspiration directly from it!
What's On the Horizon
When working with us, we want you to love your home and what we create for you AND we want all of us to enjoy working together with open communication, mutual respect and trust. After all, we become a big part of each other's lives for an extended period of time. Having the 100% trust of our clients to understand who they are as individuals and as a family then anticipate and plan for what will work for them in the long term in their homes brings me and my team the greatest joy. I am excited to say we are currently working on multiple full home renovations, a new build and several complete whole room and multi-room full service design projects, and I personally have never been as busy or as happy.
If you're looking for help with a full service project like these, please feel free to reach out and book a complimentary discovery phone chat! We are currently booking projects with start dates in mid to late summer. We do also offer one time Chit Chat Design consultations for those who are not ready for full service design projects at this time.