Many design contracts have a clause that says the designer must have approval of all samples, or that the client is not to shop on their own for the project. If you have a designer who assures you that they want to listen to you and embrace your style, this can feel like a serious contradiction. Maybe even a red flag.
But there are good reasons why your designer wants that control.
Design, space, budget
Recently, we were at a client’s house on a planning meeting. As we walked out the door, we bumped against an old-fashioned pencil sharpener mounted to the wall. Both of us exclaimed in delight, having had a similar sharpener when we were young. The entry room is one we are redesigning and so one of the clients said something about how the pencil sharpener is always in the way and that now they would get rid of it.
In response, Lenore said: “Do you like it? If you want to keep it, just tell me, and I’ll find a place for it where it works and no one bumps into it.”
The clients were surprised. But Lenore assured them: this is the level of detail you can get with a professional design. But the trade off for this level of detail is that the designer has to know everything that is in the room, down to the centimetre.
The word design is often used to describe how things look. But when you hire a designer, what you are getting is a coordinated plan that includes both visible and invisible details. Design is distinct from decorating because it includes structural things like where electrical outlets and lights are placed, how big and where windows and doors are, and the form of built-in features like cabinets and moulding.
All of these details have an impact on each other. Colour tones are coordinated, sizing is considered. Zones are created using furniture layout and built-in structures (like lighting) to improve flow and to ensure comfort in a space.
If you change the floor tile, it can mean the counter top and the wall colours don’t work well. Changing the size of room elements can interrupt the flow or mean that important items no longer fit into the room. So changing the size or shape of your couch, even by a few inches, can affect the whole room layout. The size, shape, and colour of things can have unexpected impacts on how the space functions as well as how it looks.
Good designers are open to working with you and with your contractors, but they must be kept in the loop. They have the big picture in mind, and they will be able to think through all of the impacts of a particular change.
Design is all about balance. Whether the effect is symmetrical, asymmetrical or in proportion with the room, the designer is taking balance and proportion into account with every decision.
If you buy a light fixture on sale without telling the designer it could easily be too big or too small, and look wrong in the room even though it looks great on its own.
If a mirror specified at 21″ but the client buys one that is 24″, the sconces look squashed up to the frame and the whole area suddenly looks cramped.
If a furniture piece is specified at 70″, switching to an 80″ piece could mean the door doesn’t open or the desk doesn’t fit.
Because a designer is coordinating everything from the lighting and electrical designs to the built-in features of the room to the placement of the furniture, the details matter.
Often your contractor will bring in a supplier or take you somewhere to get something cheaper. This can be great! But when the designer is not involved it can have a negative impact the design.
Most designers will provide you with a list of specifications if want to go shopping on your own. If you fall in love with something you see, snap a photo and text or email it to them. If your contractor wants to change all the tiles, get samples for the designer, or have them come along. There is nothing wrong with exploring options, and a clause for final approval doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make suggestions!
For us, there’s nothing more disappointing than hearing from the client that they wish they had not followed a contractors recommended switch because they spend so much money on a renovation and now it looks cheap, or not how they had envisioned it. The contractor has moved on to their next job blissfully unaware of the situation they have created, and generally there is no option other than redoing it or living with it.
These experiences are why our Lenore Brooks Design contracts now have a clause that requires we have final approval of all samples. In our experience the compromises of a “cheap” alternative are often not worth it. Instead, we strive to design your home or room within your budget by balancing the overall costs: splurging where appropriate and finding inexpensive options where they make sense.