Caring for Our Clients - The Sacred Agreement

In the spirit of penning a Valentine’s Day blogpost, I had planned to share how I really care about the projects and the clients, with whom I work. I’m passionate about giving clients a gorgeous home, customized for their families, in which to welcome guests and to help them reflect who they are.  I consider being invited into their homes, and to be included in their personal lives, as a sacred thing.  With some recent industry events, I decided to edit this post.

   Ballantyne Living Room - Wanda S. Horton - Photo: Dustin Peck

Ballantyne Living Room - Wanda S. Horton - Photo: Dustin Peck

One of the definitions of sacred is:  "secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right:  sacred oaths; sacred rights."  This means I come to clients with the understanding I will respect their privacy and the data we create from their projects and will do my very best to protect it.  It means we want to carefully vet people and processes that will be part of their projects, too.   

We want our clients to know one of the key values we bring, other than our creative collateral, is how we take on the role of advocacy, on their behalf, whether it’s tracking a shipment of furniture, making sure the workroom understands their specs and drawings, or measuring twice for a picture to be properly placed in proportion to its location.  We are their last point of project resolution. 

Some changes occurred for the interior design community, this week.  There were a few big announcements which created a conundrum as to where designers can place their trust.  It’s a long story but one of the news flashes was regarding an interior design project management and financial platform and that it was sold to a large industry entity, leaving many feeling vulnerable.  (To read about it, click <here>. “Houzz acquires IvyMark to expand into services for designers.”)  More than 2,400 designers had invested in IvyMark and there are over 200,000 designers on Houzz, globally.  (Figures taken from one of the Houzz co-founders.)

It has created quite a stir, to say the least.  If you’re an interior designer reading this, you’ve probably been part of this big discussion.  If you're a consumer, the shift in our industry is also important to you, as you consider addressing your home's design.  

After many exchanges and reading Terms of Use and Privacy Policies, I pondered why consumers might actually care about this, too?  After all, haven’t these kind of companies been around for a while and made it clear there’s an expected exchange for anything being “free”?  It also depends on what is regarded as privacy or ownership of information.  It’s important to note, these Terms and Conditions can be changed at any time, meaning when you first subscribed to a service or platform, it may not still be applicable to the original proposition.  (By the way, interior designers had to pay to use the IvyMark program, which Houzz purchased.)  Essentially, though still being debated, it's becoming more clear there's a different price being paid in this information age.  And we have a choice in it.  Or I at least think we should.

   Sedgefield Owner's Bath - Wanda S. Horton - Photo:&nbsp; Whitney Gray

Sedgefield Owner's Bath - Wanda S. Horton - Photo:  Whitney Gray

The fine print can be a long and boring read and because it seems everyone else has given a thumb’s up, why not join in, right?  That’s until it becomes like a Facebook post, going viral, that has been proven to be false, and your friends begin pointing you to the Snopes or news articles refuting it.  One of those egg-on-the-face moments.  I don’t want to make light of this.  Trust is tough to gain back, once it’s been broken.  Think of some of the corporations who’ve had to take responsibility for breaching their customers’ good faith.

In the beginning, some of these platforms were to provide inspirational and aspirational design and as a means to connect the public with professionals.  They were to provide a method for the consumer to be able to collect images, communicate preferences when technical terms might not be part of their everyday vocabulary.  (In the “old days”, designers asked clients to bookmark magazines or hardback publications to help express their style or to point to a specific element.)  Today, all you have to do is search for something on your computer or phone, and suddenly that object appears in an advertisement on a social media site or when a website allows Google ads to run.  It begins to filter what you see as it makes choices for you.  Feels a little invasive, doesn’t it?

   Ballantyne Dining Room - Wanda S. Horton - Photo:&nbsp; Whitney Gray

Ballantyne Dining Room - Wanda S. Horton - Photo:  Whitney Gray

Time will tell how all of this flushes out.  In examining between the legalese lines, it reads as if the door has been left wide open for the collection of information, designers' work being shared for sourcing, as well as the policy for images being the property of that big entity to do with them as they wish.  Photographers may have a say in this for use in advertising and I hope they will. 

I work hard for my clients.  I am a high touch designer.  My focus is to make the design process more calming, more organized, and to protect clients' interests while also getting the job done.  The less I jump into subscribe to the “next big thing”, which ultimately may become disruptive and/or falls short on application, the more consistent I’ll be at focusing on doing my best job. 

I hope designers will consider this to be a positive catalyst, though it’s not my place to advise on how to handle their own business practices.  Some will continue to embrace these platforms and others will steer clear.  I would suggest taking time to read, read, read and investigate before investing in another program or system.  Find out from others if they've seen a return on their investment, both time-wise and financially.  In times of upheaval, take care with those who might take advantage.  

What I do know is my firm will continue to use systems we’ve customized for our own client management, (in-house), and for billings and financial documentation.  Having owned my firm for 20+ years, I’ve tried many different things and the bottom line is it’s all about having a process in place - to keep it simple for the client even if we have to go the extra mile to develop it.  That's our sacred agreement.  

All my best! ~ Wanda

 

*Note:  All of the beautiful floral arrangements, above, were created by my friend, Kim Rushing, the owner and fabulous floral designer of August Lily Florist.  

From Wanda's Desk: It's Business, It's Not Personal. It's ALSO Personal.

In the fall of 2017, I decided to do something unprecedented for my interior design firm.  I scheduled a month off.  Though it took a little juggling to make it happen, I sat down with the calendar and began blocking off the days.  I was at a carry-over point of a large project and had just stepped into a long-distance remodel, where both clients agreed to wait for my return, among a few other project inquiries.  It was both liberating and anxiety-ridden.  You see, it’s been a very long span since I’ve taken off any real length of time, much less a whole four weeks!  Though we’ve had the typical holiday closings, there was always a place to be or I used it as time to play catch-up on projects when they had begun to overlap.  I came back not at all rested or enthusiastic about diving back into creative mode.  It began to feel more like production mode.  Not my happy place!

  This is one of my happy place images.&nbsp; An event where we were charged to create a uniquely individual setting.&nbsp; One of my favorite collaborators and decorative artists, Whitney Preslar, brought my vision to light by hand-painting the mirrored chargers and the table cloth.&nbsp; My vintage china was a starting point.&nbsp; The love of flowers and gardening was infused in the setting with arrangements by David Wynn of Elizabeth House Flowers.&nbsp; Photography by Chanda Pope.

This is one of my happy place images.  An event where we were charged to create a uniquely individual setting.  One of my favorite collaborators and decorative artists, Whitney Preslar, brought my vision to light by hand-painting the mirrored chargers and the table cloth.  My vintage china was a starting point.  The love of flowers and gardening was infused in the setting with arrangements by David Wynn of Elizabeth House Flowers.  Photography by Chanda Pope.

I had read about how burn-out impacts many creatives and/or small business owners.   Some colleagues shared their personal stories of hitting the wall.  Being determined not to become a statistic, I knew this break would bring a vital advantage for my company, moving into 2018. (Okay, mainly for the head chef and bottle washer, who has been at this for over twenty years.)   Still, I wondered if clients or potential clients would understand and be supportive.

  Another happy image!&nbsp; A long-time client helped her daughter update her first home, a quaint townhouse in Charlotte.&nbsp; We totally gutted and remodeled the kitchen, among other areas.&nbsp; The inspiration began with her collection of Fiestaware in all of her favorite colors.&nbsp; We had to be smart about storage.&nbsp; On photoshoot day, my client's granddaughter happened to be present and as you can see, she became a darling part of the feature.&nbsp; I ended 2017 helping my client move into a new home, closer to this now much taller young lady and her sister, as well as her daughter who has since gotten married and had her own wee one.&nbsp; Yes, we did eat the cupcakes, afterwards!&nbsp; Deb's Sweet Cakes makes the best and many of my clients now go to her.&nbsp; (Photography by Whitney Gray)&nbsp;

Another happy image!  A long-time client helped her daughter update her first home, a quaint townhouse in Charlotte.  We totally gutted and remodeled the kitchen, among other areas.  The inspiration began with her collection of Fiestaware in all of her favorite colors.  We had to be smart about storage.  On photoshoot day, my client's granddaughter happened to be present and as you can see, she became a darling part of the feature.  I ended 2017 helping my client move into a new home, closer to this now much taller young lady and her sister, as well as her daughter who has since gotten married and had her own wee one.  Yes, we did eat the cupcakes, afterwards!  Deb's Sweet Cakes makes the best and many of my clients now go to her.  (Photography by Whitney Gray) 

Interior designers, unbeknownst to what may be portrayed in perfect worlds of Instagram, TV shows, or from general perception, do way more than produce “pretty”.  I’m as guilty as the next of wanting to showcase everything beautiful, because it is my intention to make a positive impact in how people can live in their homes.  Let me tell you, though, just as in life, it rarely begins in picture-perfect mode.  That’s why I’m called in - The interior fixer, counselor, organizer, solution-finder, make-it-happen, renovator of homes and of life/spaces.  Depending on what is needed, I wear a lot of hats.  It was time to put some of them away and to decide the ones to keep - the ones I’ve enjoyed wearing more often.  Of course, there's always a new style or two to try.  As we evolve into different life stages, so does our work and the meaning it holds as we seek the best fit.

  More happy photos?&nbsp; But of course!&nbsp; When clients are open to pushing beyond a comfort zone with statement pieces, like this chandelier from Currey &amp; Company, knowing it will elevate their design to a new level, my heart dances!&nbsp; This one almost didn't make the cut, not because of the style, but exposed bulbs would have given one of them migraines.&nbsp; We rose to the challenge with silk-wrapped, candle bulbs and by adding a dimmer switch.&nbsp; One of my favorite dining rooms, ever!&nbsp; We were also honored to have this room published in Charlotte Home +&nbsp;Garden Magazine, March 2017.&nbsp; (Photography by Dustin Peck)

More happy photos?  But of course!  When clients are open to pushing beyond a comfort zone with statement pieces, like this chandelier from Currey & Company, knowing it will elevate their design to a new level, my heart dances!  This one almost didn't make the cut, not because of the style, but exposed bulbs would have given one of them migraines.  We rose to the challenge with silk-wrapped, candle bulbs and by adding a dimmer switch.  One of my favorite dining rooms, ever!  We were also honored to have this room published in Charlotte Home + Garden Magazine, March 2017.  (Photography by Dustin Peck)

Today, as I’m getting ready for reentry into my new year, albeit a few weeks later than others,  I don’t know that I have all of the answers, but I’ve come to some epiphanies , both small and large.  I’ll be writing about a few, in between some design posts, because I realize writing for this blog can be both about business and personal.  

Which brings me to:

Interior design is a business.  Money is a big topic, sometimes even over and above a design.  Project management and organization are key elements.  Design tools are necessary.  Results are expected to be delivered.  Overhead and business expenses are not an afterthought.  Profitability keeps us sustainable.   We have a plan.

Interior design is also personal.  It may sound lofty but lives are impacted daily by it.  How one lives and works in their spaces.  How they function.  If it’s healthy.  If it invigorates.  If it soothes.  If it’s productive.  And that’s totally subjective to each and every individual.  Design is about relationships.  We work in your homes, amongst you and your families, and sometimes friends.  We work with a team.  We form loyalties.   We believe in human connection. 

  I love pieces with a history.&nbsp; And I love having a history with whom I work.&nbsp; Before these clients relocated, we finished a guest bedroom by marrying some vintage and new pieces.&nbsp; This chair is one of a pair I found in one of my special "no-tell" spots.&nbsp; (Yes, it's sacred time for designers to curate and develop trades sources.)&nbsp; These happened to come from a well-known family estate and were covered in a faded and torn apricot silk.&nbsp; They had a modern edge and the carved wood insert - OMG so perfect!&nbsp; Our upholsterers, brothers,&nbsp;were used to handling antiques so I scooped them up.&nbsp; We had a long history together.&nbsp; Sadly, in late 2017, one of them lost their battle with cancer and the shop is now closed.&nbsp; We've had to move on to address our client's needs, but I'm thinking of his family with a heavy heart as we began working with his father, at the start-up of our firm, and know how much they're missing him.&nbsp; Business IS personal.

I love pieces with a history.  And I love having a history with whom I work.  Before these clients relocated, we finished a guest bedroom by marrying some vintage and new pieces.  This chair is one of a pair I found in one of my special "no-tell" spots.  (Yes, it's sacred time for designers to curate and develop trades sources.)  These happened to come from a well-known family estate and were covered in a faded and torn apricot silk.  They had a modern edge and the carved wood insert - OMG so perfect!  Our upholsterers, brothers, were used to handling antiques so I scooped them up.  We had a long history together.  Sadly, in late 2017, one of them lost their battle with cancer and the shop is now closed.  We've had to move on to address our client's needs, but I'm thinking of his family with a heavy heart as we began working with his father, at the start-up of our firm, and know how much they're missing him.  Business IS personal.

There are stories created because of all of the above.  More of those stories will be shared in the coming weeks and months.

In the end, this is what I know for sure:  (Sorry Oprah, I just had to say it.)  For me, design is both business and personal.  Balancing it requires emotional intelligence, respect - for self and for others, realistic expectations, agility, handkerchiefs, humor, and daily planking. 

I also know this:  I’m ever appreciative of my best clients/vendors/partners.  Thank you for being you and I’ll see everyone, soon!  

All my best! - Wanda