How do I get clients to the point of choosing their fabrics?
Getting clients to make a decision regarding fabric can be a challenge. I usually start by asking clients to provide three photos of rooms that they like the “feeling” of and three rooms that they dislike. Make sure to explain what you mean by the “feeling” of a room, as often clients hit a snag because they may like the feeling of a room, but dislike the side table. Explain to them that no room they find in a magazine is likely to be what they would consider perfect, and that is why you are designing a room especially for them.
Take notes when they explain the reasons why they like certain rooms and why they don’t like others. If working with a couple, I usually ask them to both participate in this exercise so I can understand their differences. Then I may study the photos to understand the mood that they are both trying to achieve. Husbands can be reluctant, so I try to lighten the mood by joking with them. “Pink and ruffles it is!” They usually change their minds. Then I get serious again and explain that I want to make them both happy and the home should represent a sanctuary for both.
Taking ideas from both into consideration is important to a couple because they are spending money and do want to be represented in the design. Some men love the style their wives choose and really do not want to participate. Then you have the opposite type of man who does not trust anything his wife chooses, number one because she is very opposite his style and number two because he only trusts a professional. Also, I have had the reverse where the man has all the style and the wife knows it!
After I understand the use of the room and the desired mood or feeling that they would like to accomplish, the fabric selection becomes much easier. My next step is to understand our color scheme and then find out if they are partial to patterns. If they desire pattern on their fabrics or are they asking me to work with something with a pattern, such as an antique area rug or bold art, this should be determined before choosing the fabrics. If they love pattern then you will push forward to determine whether it is small patterns, large patterns, graphics, florals, etc.
Once you have closed in on a pattern, then you will decide on the color scheme. Often this is a good time to take your clients to a design center or fabric store. Gathering their samples and discussing them with the clients will help you hear their comments and help them be more decisive about what it is that they like. This process usually flows quite well if you keep them on track for the room for which they are shopping. If they decided on a monochromatic color scheme with textures and no pattern, but then the husband shouts out during your shopping spree that the hounds tooth black and white patterned wool would be perfect for the sofa, what should you do? First, look at the wife! If she is mortified then discuss using this as an accent or using the fabric in his den. If she is not mortified and nothing has been purchased, ask both are comfortable with changing the plan.
Usually, once they have reached this point with the desired looks from their photos, they end up going back to their monochromatic scheme or their initial decision. Keep them on track – no silk on the kitchen chairs when they have three young children. This just does not work as it will stain, tear and have to be replaced in three months. If they insist, note on the invoice that you disagree with this idea. I know that it sounds harsh, but in three months when the kitchen chair fabric looks horrible, believe me they will forget that you disagreed and they will ask you why you allowed them to do this if you are a professional!
For example, sometimes a professional is called in because a couple is in disagreement. Study the photos they are working with to make their decisions. Sometimes the only difference is the color and you can reach a compromise. I had one couple who called me because they had lived in their empty new home for a year because every time they shopped they fought. They called another interior designer who only agreed with the husband. The wife fired her. They called me and I started my process of having them collect photos and explain why they each chose their particular photos. The husband enjoyed very clean lines, slightly retro. The wife loved color and carved woods leaning towards ornate. What to do? First of all, their South Florida home was Mediterranean with arched doorways. They had purchased the home in a very upscale area because they really cared about social status. While they were speaking with me this was evident. So, the fun begins!
I explained to the husband that the harsh lines of his ultra modern style would clash with the curves of his Mediterranean home. The wife smiled. Then it was her turn. She was actually a bit too ornate and working against the given style of their typical Mediterranean home. In addition, her fabrics and colors were too heavy for the tropical weather of South Florida. I reminded her that her goal for the feeling of the room was light and breezy. What I neglected to tell you is that after meeting with them I left and gathered as many examples as possible of what I was trying to explain to them. This is referred to as “ammunition.” I returned to their home and explained that, while their photos were helpful, we did need to discuss their desired goals. I used the photos they had chosen as a tool to explain the issues. On my previous visit, I had listened to them discuss their rooms and this time I presented photos that shared both of their likes. The rooms I showed them eased up on the patterns she had chosen and kept clean lines for the gentleman. I was able to bring fabric samples with me that they both enjoyed and photos of light fixtures and furniture that would work for them both. I incorporated the wife’s love of the ornate by using an interacting light fixture and area rug and keeping the beautiful clean lines and solid colors on the furniture to please the husband. This was a very happy ending.
The questions below are also helpful as a starting point. I have had clients with $24 million houses start out with this method, choosing three photos that they like and three that they dislike. This may sound silly, but what a great way to get inside their heads! You are there to please them and explain to them that the sooner they come to decisions the less money they will spend for your time and expertise. After 20 plus years in this industry I have not found another system that has helped me more. If the clients choose brightly colored rooms with large graphics and the rooms they hate are soft monochromatic color palettes, what do we know from this? They may say that they are traditional and every photo that they show you is eclectic. You are the professional and they are your puzzle. Your goal is to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together andend up with a very satisfied client, with all their puzzle pieces in place.