Another Question: In-Home Design Offices

We're still at the beach & I've been going to bed & waking up earlier & ealier. Today it was around 5 something when I actually gave up on trying to go back to sleep & decided to turn on the computer and I ended up going to one of my favorite places, The Skirted Roundtable to listen to 3 of my favorite bloggers. Well, I was so surprised when a favorite design icon, Vicente Wolf was the interviewee!!! (haha LOTS of "favorites!") You've got to go check it out here.

Anyway, I was just so impressed with Vicente's confidence (okay, I think I'd be really confident if I were him too! ;) & willingness to share his experience with other designers. As a lot of us know, this industry can be really competitive, which is why I think so many of us like-minded designers have begun to blog. Blogworld is a place where we can come and connect with other professionals who want to share knowledge & experience with each other. We like it when good things happen to other designers & we support each other & help each other become better. Anyway, Vincente seems to share in this philosophy and if you check out his blog, you'll see just how generous he is with his experience & design practices. (SO much valuable information!! image below from Vicente Wolf Home)
One of the things Vicente brought up at The Skirted Roundtable was that when you first meet a potential client you BOTH have to want to work together. It's not just, "Oh please pick me!!"... it has just as much to do with you wanting to take on the client as it does with them wanting to hire you. I think the confidence to make this clearer to potential clients comes with experience & also with reputation. It's important to have a balance of power when client & designer first meet so you're on equal playing ground & respect one another.

Another aspect that plays into this balance of power is having the first meeting (and possibly other meetings) with clients in your office, not their homes... even if your office is in your home. (It MUST be completely professional dedicated space & he said you need to show that you're serious about your work & the office must convey this.) Currently, I meet with clients only at their homes, but as my house is nearing completion, I've been considering having them come to my office at home. (There's a conference table & also a seating area but below is my old office without all of that... will be showing pics of my new one soon- promise!!)

So my question is, what if your house is really just a "normal" house? A modest home in a modest neighborhood... Not a big beautiful showhouse in an affluent neighborhood? Do you still invite the client for the first meeting at your home office? (I'm sure many of us use our homes to showcase some of our best work and people usually walk in & love it, but what about potential clients??) If they have a huge, expensive home, will they be turned off by your "normal" albeit beautifully-done modest house??? (image below of random house, not mine)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Designers, what do you do? Non-designers, how do you think you'd feel as a potential client? Would potential clients be turned off by a "normal" house?

*** Let me also say that I will most likely never have an out of home office... I (obviously) work at crazy times and need everything right when I need it and also, it's just an expense I wouldn't want to take on at this point... Add in kids & needing the flexibility of an in-home office.. and well, there you have it.***

Would love to hear your thoughts!!!




Linda Merrill said...

Hi Lauren - thanks for continuing the conversation! I do think it's very hard to have a truly professional home office - especially in a looks based business. A designer friend of mine lives in a lovely, very well decorated, house and has a small office just inside the front door. So for her, the clients only see her foyer, formal living room on one side and the small office. That's a great situation to be in. But, if one is in the position of having to schlep clients through the house, then the whole house becomes your office. It's tricky. But, ultimately, clients expect their designer to be on their level and live the way they do. So, I personally believe that if the designer doesn't, then it's best not to point it out. So, on that point I agree with Vicente that finding an outside office, or office share, or something is probably wise. A local high end kitchen showroom near me offers a conference room to designers for this purpose, regardless of whether you're doing a kitchen or working with them. It's a great offering.

Rumadelima said...

Hi Lauren, I really love reading your blog and can't stay away from the conversation :) Is it possible to live a modest life and create glamourous interiors at the same time? I think designers live according to their beliefs of a suitable environment and offer these beliefs to their clients. That's why your home will be an ideal presentation of your ideas. Still, it seems to be wise to have a special room for consultations near the entrance :)

Catherine Rawson said...

Hi Lauren! Love your blog! Just wanted to leave my "two cents" on the home office subject. I really think that it depends on what kind of designer you are. I personally am a decorator whos main demographic tends to be normal families on normal budgets, so because I'm a working "stay-at-home" mom who lives in a normal house on a normal budget, I think that my clients feel like they can relate to me when they come to my home for a meeting. If I DO happen to have a client who lives a "higher financial" life than me, I leave the folksy family stuff out more and do as much of the meetings at their home as possible. In a way its a little like acting, you want to be true to who you are and unashamed, but at the same time you want to be relateable to all different people in all different circumstances. Really I think the best thing to do is just "feel them out" and go from there, but overall I think most people are forgiving of a dirty dish or kids toys on the floor, even if they do live "the HIGH life". :)

Tracy Watier said...

Great question, Lauren. I live in a very modest home compared to some in my community and, so far, all of my clients have had much larger, grander homes than mine--one recent client had a living room/dining room/kitchen area that I think my whole house could fit into! (Don't get me wrong, I don't live in a tiny shack, but her 7,000 sq ft home was shockingly larger!!)I have a home office that I've worked another business out of for 15 years and not long after starting my design business a year and a half ago, I looked around and thought if a client were ever to stop by my home, this room does not represent me the way I'd want it to. Little by little I'm making some changes, trying to bring out the design biz look and obscure the other. Mostly it's about organizing and reallocating open vs closed storage. And controlling the tons of paperwork clutter my other biz generates. I loved your old office and can't wait to see what you've done in the new one. I haven't listened to Vicente Wolf on SRT yet, but it sounds like he has a lot of informative, encouraging info to pass along. I'll listen later while I continue to reorganize my office!

Brenda said...

What a great post. I never thought of that aspect in having your own design business. I always assumed one would meet a clients home.

Sarah said...

i have the same issue being in real estate. I work from home, & own my own company, so don't have an outside office to meet clients. I am like you, work crazy hours, and don't need the extra expense. I have sometimes met with clients at a nearby coffee shop with wifi. That puts you on equal ground for the first meeting.

Vicente Wolf said...

Part of the compromise of having the office in your home has to be that you have to let go of some of the creature comforts that you would have if it was just your living space. It has to be neutral enough to appeal to different types of clients but have a strong sense of who you are as a creative person. You need to have an area for presentations like a large round table where people can sit around and it should not look like you’re doing it in your dining room. So if it means closing off certain areas with curtains or putting in bi-folding doors, it should give the client a sense that they are in your office and it should give you the sense that you are not entertaining clients in your living room – giving you a stronger sense of confidence.

PrimeTimeMom said...

I'm responding as a client, not a decorator. I hired a decorator and never saw her home in person, she came to me with her portfolio. I have also hired a decorator who worked out of her modest home which I was encouraged to visit and absolutely fell in love with her style (as I have with yours). I adored both decorators. If you want to work with nice people and make your life as stress free as possible, I'd say if your lovely modest home bothers them then you really wouldn't enjoy working with them. The only thing that might put someone off would be if your adorable toddler were taking the attention off your meeting with them so a sitter might be in order.

Terry said...

I enjoyed Mr. Wolf's emphasis on the non-design aspect of the business: The sale, in his case the high-end sale.

I've been a low-end client and I've been to all 3 of my designers' homes. But long, long after we'd established a relationship and after the sale. They had something in common: they worked hard and had a difficult time "doing" their own homes. They all did have a few - sometimes more than a few - wonderful objects: art, furniture, fabrics, whatever.

DesignTies said...

Interesting conversation, Lauren!
As we remodel our basement, I'll be making one of our bedrooms into my office... but to be honest, while I HAD thought about how I was going to make it practical as well as lovely (hopefully!), I hadn't thought about bringing clients there. I guess if I could take up two rooms in the house - one for my work-space and another for a meeting room - then I'd be more inclined to host my clients. Bottom line is we just don't haev the room. AND clients would have to decend into the basement... not cool. So far I've been meeting my clients at their homes - and will likely continue to do so. Besides, I like to get a feel for their taste, I like to walk around the space and brainstorm with the client about ideas, etc. Obviously done much better in THEIR home than mine!
Victoria @ DesignTies

cotedetexas said...

my office is in my house and my garage. i have people over to my house to go through fabrics, but i am the most unprofessional designer in the world. i hate the business of it.

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

I live in a noraml house and I do it all the time. They may have a bigger home but mine can stand it own with any of them.(IMHO) lol I do think you need to have a home that will show your work, but you need not take them on the tour, if you know what I mean. They do not need to see everything...wink

Lorna said...

I've enjoyed reading the comments on this as I have a 'showroom cum office within my house'. I work by appointment either here or at the client's house but it has happened that people call unannounced. The showroom is just beside the hall but our living room which also doubles as a playroom is in full view of the front door and I do sometimes worry what potential clients might think as lego is strewn everywhere etc. Esp when I visit homes that look like there's a perm cleaner and all the kids stuff is in their bedrooms!
Some poeple thought it was a bit strange initially but others accepted it for what it is - a personal service in a homely atmosphere :-)

DesignTies said...

Good question and lots of thoughtful and thought-provoking answers :-)

I'm finally almost finished making over my home office. I actually moved it down from the main floor into the basement because it makes more sense for the main floor room it was in to be a bedroom.

I've mainly made it a fun and creative space for me to work in, but I've also given some thought to how I would deal with clients in my tiny office. I've manged to fit in an armchair and small cube ottoman, which will double as a place for me to read and for clients to sit when we meet. Although that issue of having to make sure the whole route down to the basement office looks good will come into play.... hmmmm. Maybe we'll meet in the living room instead -- it's right beside the front door :-)

PrimeTimeMom made a good point -- do you really want to work with a client who looks down at your modest home??

Kelly @ DesignTies

Maria Killam said...

I think what works for one designer doesn't work for everyone and there really isn't a 'cookie cutter' way of doing it. I would only feel comfortable inviting a client to come over to my house if it was 'perfect and renovated' and truly represented my style.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lauren,

It's Carrick. Came here to find your pb/banana smoothie recipe actually, but I'll throw my two cents in..

This might be an invitation to a headache, but "time-shareing" office space might be an idea to batt around. Not competitors, but people you already network with (antiques dealers, high-end kitchen remodelers, photographers, muralists?) There's probably a handful of people you work with that only need office space for initial client meetings, and maybe a little shelf space to keep their portfolios/catalogues, or even a mailbox for tax reasons.

Could be a headache if you became self-appointed 'office manager', but if the other businesses only need to use it a few times per month it could work out, esp w/ iPhones/PDAs making it easy to update a shared online calendar on the spot.

Sounds like the upside to an out-of-home office, is that you get to meet the client on neutral ground, increased air of professionalism, etc. Other upside, business and personal life get some real distinction. There may be some business tax benefits to holding commercial office space also. Commercial real estate is tanking right now like housing was last year, so expect rent to drop further and maybe govt subsidies/tax breaks to appear to soften the blow. Split four ways, rent might be really reasonable (you also have the option to rent it by the hour to select people -- major benefit to them being, that you'll have it decorated great, not typical stale office space.) Sharing the space, you guys might end up sharing/attracting more business also.

Sounds like an invitation to headache, but ya know, its an option.

So, back to the important stuff - how many bananas, and what's the pb to ice cream ration?

Developing Designs said...

Great topic for discussion, thanks for continuing it on.
What I got out of Vicente's comment was how crucial it is to meet on neutral ground. Laughing, for he says "since you are going to replace it all anyway you don't need to go their house" (in a PERFECT world it ALL gets replaced):). That is not (ok, maybe, rarely the case for my clients)

I find meeting with a potential new client at their residence many of them seem to want to pick your brain while you are there and get ideas (for free) while they are interviewing you (and them) to see if you are a good fit. If you are somewhere else the chance of that happening would less likely be the case.

I am almost a firm believer in the questionnaire, and if they are not willing to take the time to answer the questions then they most likely are not serious.

Also, for me, the creative solutions (mainly due to a limited budget)that I have done in my home office would not be something I would advise for a client (oh, I don't know, like make my own shelves :)).

Sharing an office space with others to have a place to meet sounds like a fabulous idea. Love the idea actually. Anonymous had some great points on who would be great compliments to share with.

And Prime Time Mom is dead on! Though, I have heard a few of my clients say they want what I might do for myself. I struggle with that idea, for design is personal, and what works for one individual will not necessarily work for another.

We are in the business of making their spaces reflect their personalities. Not making them live with the something that is not a reflection of them.

Just my 2 cents worth, it's long 2 cents, sorry about that.

Unknown said...

What a great post. I never thought of that aspect in having your own design business. I always assumed one would meet a clients home.