One of the most important lessons I learned while working for my mentor, the brilliant Barbara Sternau, is how critical it is to interview the client before beginning any design work. While most clients are eager to start showing me all the magazine clippings of rooms they love, I have to first find out how they actually use the space.
REAL design is about creating beautiful backdrops for the life you're already living, not a home for the picture perfect life you imagine will happen sometime in the future. So if your real life includes a shaggy dog, three teenage boys, and Chinese take-out in front of the TV, be sure you create a room that embraces and celebrates all of those elements, not one that ignores them.
If you're planning on decorating or renovating on your own, it can be easy to get swept up in all the fun fabrics and pretty wallpaper samples. Make sure you take the time to interview yourself first! This is the time to Be Brutally Honest with yourself - What do you REALLY need out of the space?
Here are some of the questions I always ask clients to help us get started...
- Who will use this room?
- What will they do in this room?
- What time of day will they use this room?
- Based on how they will use this room, are there any special lighting requirements? (For example, you might need light dimmers for TV viewing & shades to cut the glare on a TV. You might need specific light for knitting or reading or putting on makeup.)
- What needs to be stored in this room? Do you want these things to be out of sight or on display? (For instance, you might want a collection of books or china out for everyone to see. You might want Legos and office supplies out of sight.)
- Do you have pets? Do they shed? Are they allowed on the furniture? If so, what color are they?
- Will anyone be eating in the room? Kids or adults? (Aka do we need to protect against crushed cheerios or red wine? Or both?)
- Does anyone using the room have allergies to down or any fabrics like wool?
- Do you like or strongly dislike any of the following motifs? Birds, Florals, Animal Prints, Geometric Patterns, Metallics (I cannot tell you how many people turn out to be weird about birds!)
- What is the natural light like in this room? Do we need to protect fabric or rugs against a lot of direct sunlight?
- Do you need additional privacy from your window treatments? Or blackout treatments? Any special needs when dealing with your windows?
- How many people should be able to sit comfortably on a regular basis?
- Do you entertain in this room? How many people would you like to be able to sit when you're entertaining? Do you have special needs when you entertain - ie do you set up a separate bar in this room or a buffet table?
- Do you use this room differently during the holidays? Do we need to consider the Christmas tree placement or Uncle Ed sleeping on the couch for a week?
- Do you have any electronics we need to consider? Do you need additional outlets or jacks? We can "hide" unsightly printers, speakers, and tangled cable cords if we know about them in advance!
- How do you want this room to make you feel? Relaxed? Orderly and ready-to-work? Upbeat and inspired?
- Is there anything particular in the room you want to highlight or feature? A fabulous view, a fireplace, beautiful woodwork? If it's not an architectural element, is there a piece of furniture or artwork you want to use as a focal point?
- Is there anything about this room that currently really bugs you? An unsightly view of the neighbors garage, the fireplace surround, the lack of storage?