A bit to our surprise, we have found that tastes and preferences are not universal, and that we do not design in a vacuum. Very often, we think we have presented something quite unique, only to run across a strikingly similar picture in a magazine. In some moments, we feel we are trend setting, and in others, we recognize we have succumbed to trend following. As designers, we are arbiters of style, and most of the time our team shares a common sensibility. Our clients, on the other hand, have tastes and preferences that are comparatively diverse. Navigating between the current themes and aesthetics preferred by our team and each client’s sensibilities and associations is a dynamic and even, thrilling process. Successful projects stem from this partnership, and the more carefully we listen to and incorporate a client’s wants and needs, the better the result.
Listening should be easier than it is. Since we are retained to lead and to express our opinion, careful listening is not explicitly expected – yet it is without question our first priority. I rarely make it through a week without reminding a client that we are designing their home, not our own. If anyone wishes to see how I choose to live, visit danielfrisch.com and pull up the pictures of “Kent Hollow.” I am confident that many of our clients would like to live in such a house, but I am equally certain that none should. Thousands of decisions go into the design of a home, and while certain projects may share design DNA, every home is unique. We’ve come to learn that this individualization intimidates many people. That which should be fun and exciting can instead be overwhelming – for reference, please see the chapter “The Tyranny of Too Much.” As we lead clients through the design process we try to balance our expertise and passion with theirs. Clients wouldn’t need us if they could design their own homes, and equally true, we would have few homes to design without patrons.
Early in the programming phase of a project, we work closely with our clients to understand the project drivers, everything from budget, to function, to aesthetics. In working with clients on their program, we endeavor to go far below the surface. The initial questions are many. How many bedrooms? A downstairs master? Is an open kitchen preferred? How often will the owner entertain? If we were to put forth a questionnaire, the most basic questions would number in the hundreds. To make matters more challenging, spouses and children (when they are involved in project planning), often disagree about priorities and project specifics. Once the functional program is outlined, we seek to understand the aesthetic program. No matter the challenges of expression, anyone undertaking a project has strong pre-formed ideas about what their ideal home should look like. While we find geographic, socio-economic, and generational similarities to be shared by many, we know enough to know not to assume we know a client’s aesthetic program based on superficial assessments. Working with a combination of saved Houzz images and Pinterest boards, clients have come to abandon the “I know it when I see it” method of communication, and to come to initial meetings armed with collections of images. Once we begin to understand the functional and aesthetic program, we can compare these collected thoughts to the project budget, the third element of a nuanced and developed project program.