Communication essential to keeping project on track

DEAR DESIGNER: This is the first time I’ve hired a designer to help me remodel my bedroom. Now that the work has begun, I am concerned that his style isn’t quite what I will like living with in my home.

Is it appropriate for me to tell my designer that I don’t like some of the things he is installing? I’m concerned that I will offend him and he’ll quit, or he will simply say "No." I don’t want to spend lots of money to later find out that I don’t like the end result. Can you tell me a good way to approach my designer without offending him? — Chanda.

DEAR CHANDA: I believe that honesty is the best policy. Good design, happy clients and proud designers all come about when there is open communication between the parties. The scenario you propose happens often between homeowners and designers. Communicating your vision to your designer can be more difficult than you anticipated, but it is a necessary ingredient to achieving a good result.

The homeowner and the designer may be having thoughts like these:

Homeowner: I think my designer is confident, talented and does great design. But, I don’t like some of the things he/she has shown me. Why can’t my designer just throw out the things I don’t want and put in things that I recommend? I’m worried he/she is making big mistakes at my expense. I’m frustrated because it’s my home, my money and the bottom line is, I should make the final decision. I’m wondering why I even hired a designer.

Designer: My clients have great taste, but they aren’t seeing the whole picture. They are asking me to make changes in my design that will compromise the overall plan and not allow me to give them the best possible design. I understand I’m decorating their home and ultimately it must appeal to their taste, but every change that is made will affect another part of the plan and eventually it could look like a jumbled mess. I’m not sure I’ll want to put my name and reputation on the design after all these changes. My initial design has changed so much, I’m wondering why they hired a designer in the first place.

I can personally relate to your position as a homeowner when I apply the same scenario to landscaping. I don’t know much about landscaping so I hire a professional. Unless I’ve worked with a particular landscape designer many times and he knows my likes and dislikes, what kind of quality I expect, and where I put value in a project, I wouldn’t hire him and say, "OK, just do it."

The designer’s interpretation of what a great landscape should look like can be very different than mine. I understand that although he is the professional, he will need direction from me in order to make my yard look like something I want. This will mean that I, as a homeowner, must do my homework and define what I want long before I meet with him.

If I want my landscape to be professionally designed, but I want it to appeal to my personal tastes, I will tear out pictures in magazines to show my landscape designer lots of things that I like and what I don’t like. I expect the professional to take my limited knowledge of landscape and organize it into a plan that I could not have thought up on my own. I also expect that he will show me pictures and drawings of his vision for my yard, before he lifts a shovel. This will give me the chance to let him know if he has captured my taste, and if he hasn’t, it’s still an easy fix at this stage. Once final drawings are approved, I can be confident that we are on the same page.

The same applies to hiring a designer. It is the designer’s job to find out what appeals to you and then create a plan to showcase your home in its best light, while infusing your family’s needs and personality. It is the homeowners’ job to be sure to communicate any details they can think of that will help the designer design a space they will love.

Since the details you suggest were not covered before the design was started, it would be good to call a meeting with your designer to clarify his plans and reasons for installing the things that concern you. There might be a simple explanation that will set your heart at ease.

It sounds as though you still have respect for your designer since you don’t want to offend him. When telling your designer things you don’t like, be careful not to personally attack him or his talent. Try to define the things that you dislike and be specific. If you don’t like the paint color on a wall you can say something like, "Wow, I thought I was going to love that, but now that I see it in my room, I know I won’t be able to live with that. How will it change the overall picture if you were to choose a different color? What do you recommend we do?" Most times, when you throw the decision back to the designer, they will come up with a workable solution to accommodate your request.

Designers understand that people’s tastes vary and that design, like art, is subjective. It’s not that I am right and you are wrong, or vice versa. There are varying opinions and different tastes. Most designers are not personally offended when you tell them you don’t like something.

What you wouldn’t want to do is say this: "This design is bad. Why would anyone put that color on a wall?" This statement attacks the designer and his talent. It may put him in a defensive mode.

As with all communication, a well-thought out approach is best. When you think past the problem to the solution, you will accomplish what you are setting out to do. Be straightforward, don’t blame or accuse. Ask your designer to help you find a suitable solution. This will keep the lines of communication and creativity open for some very rewarding possibilities.


Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, as well as a licensed contractor. E-mail questions to her at or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at

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