I’m entirely open about the fact that residential design is not my idea of a good time. I don’t think I’ve ever made that a secret and I can’t imagine why I’d start now. I’ve done a lot of it though, and I still continue to do it despite the fact that it often makes me want to take a cheese grater to my eyeballs.
But this isn’t a post about my lack of enchantment with residential work. It’s a post (in what is I promise, an endless series, because I will never run out of reasons) of why I hate “design television”.
Almost all of the programs about design on television aren’t really about design, but that’s a topic for another day (see I told you I will never run out). But the vast bulk are about people’s houses, rather than about well… anywhere else. Now the reason for this is simple- the people watching these shows aren’t designers (unless they’re playing a drinking game.) They’re homeowners. Sometimes they’re do-it-yourselfers, or decorating junkies or design wannabes. There’s no reason for them to be interested in anything outisde the sphere of the home. And the advertisers (remember, that really is what generates what you’re seeing) are selling products *not* to the trade, but to homeowners at your average retail or big-box hardware store. As I said a while ago, most design is not a handicraft project, but you’d never know that by watching “design” tv.
But aside from that, one of the misconceptions that the average person could take away from watching these kinds of programs is that residential design is about the designer. Years ago, when I could still stomach watching programs like Trading Spaces (I promise, I can’t anymore. I just start screaming incoherently at the screen after a while) the buzz was always about which designer would be assigned to what space. The rooms that they decorated (cause seriously, let’s call this what it is, here) were WAY more about them (the designers) than the homeowners. Like all “reality” television though, it doesn’t wind up portraying the industry it shows in any kind of positive light.
Let’s make this perfectly clear. Residential design is NOT about the designer. Period . The end. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect 30% over net. Residential design is about the client. Because at the end of the day, and the end of the project, sure the designer’s name is on it, but we don’t have to LIVE in it. We get to walk away and move on to the next project. But the client is stuck with the results. And it damned well better be what it is *they* want and need, rather than some kind of ridiculous ego stroke for the person who drew up the plans.
My job is to give the clients what they want on time, on budget, and with enough good taste and sense to prevent them from sailing over the edge and doing something dangerous or stupid. What my job isn’t is to give them what *I* want. Because I have my own house for that. I don’t need to borrow someone else’s. Half the time I couldn’t tell you what I want in my own house anyway, besides cats that will clean up after themselves (it hasn’t happened yet) and a dishwasher (which hasn’t happened yet either.)
The other danger when residential design becomes designer rather than client driven is that all your projects tend to look alike. And sure, if left to your own devices as a designer, everyone develops a signature style. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just that residential work is a lousy place to express it, unless your clients like living in a space that looks like the last ten you designed. But when you allow the work to be client driven you can design anything. Any style, on any given day. All you have to do is remember that you (the designer) don’t have to live in it- your clients do. But it gives you a wider range of things you know you’re capable of, rather than retreating to the same looks all the time. You never have to design the same look twice, which in the end is better for the designer anyway in terms of experience and a varied portfolio. But it’s also better for your clients who are going to have to live with the results, too.