You have to give in order to get.

I spent my day yesterday torturing graduate students at Pratt – I was a critic for design juries.  I even introduced myself with “good morning victims.”  I apologized in advance for scarring them for life.  Little did I know it may have actually happened.

There were nine students.  7 of them had serious problems with their projects of varying degrees.  At least one of them was what I’d consider a disaster.  Of the two successful projects, only one of them was both successful and potentially realistic enough to work without significant alterations to the plan. Almost none of them got out of the 2d phase.  They just ran out of time to pull it up and work with it properly.  Im fairly sure they all hate me now, but I’m used to that.

The truth though is that none of this was their fault (and if you’re one of those students reading this right now? Yes, I told your professor that, and he told HIS chair that.  I’m about to stick up for you guys, because I don’t think what happened was your doing.)

I was told  “They’re grad students, they should be able to do this.   If they don’t have the information they should know to go look for it.”  No.  This statement presupposes that they were *taught* how to do this – and not in their current studio(because they weren’t, due to lack of time), but at some previous, unknown point that may or may not have ever happened in undergrad.  In order to look up the information, they need to know what the hell they’re looking FOR. Was *I* taught how to do the kind of project these students were handed? Yes.  I hated *EVERY MOMENT* of that semester, but I learned it.  But these students I saw yesterday are not me.  I don’t know where they went to undergrad.  Many of them did not get their undergraduate degrees in the US.  You cannot presuppose what they have learned, and to expect them to draw upon knowledge based on lessons that may never have been taught is fundamentally unfair.  The problem is the program.

Confused yet?  Let me show you:

A twice divorced investment banker in his early 70’s has bought the top floor and penthouse of a residential
building in Chelsea, in the hopes of enticing his daughter and son-in-law with their young children to move into
the space if he offers to renovate the two floors into two separate apartments. Although he is a young 72 year
old, he realizes that in another 10 to 15 years, he may want or need to have his family close. He plans to
create two living quarters, giving his children privacy, but is also interested in the possibility of some shared
space- even if only the lobby on the top floor. With the offer of free babysitting services, he has convinced his
daughter and son-in-law to move into the building.

He has slowed his business to pursue his passion of collecting indigenous ceramics from Northern Europe.
Through his extensive travels, he has acquired a taste for all things culinary. He likes to cook and have
intimate dinner parties.

His daughter is a sales manager with as well as the mother of two children, a four year
old son and a six month old daughter. She has negotiated a schedule which allows her to work at home four
days a week. His son-in-law is a high school biology teacher who fancies himself a lepidopterist, and has a
significant butterfly collection.

You are to design two apartments situated on the fifth floor and the penthouse level at 33/35 West 26th Street in
Manhattan. Two floors of two buildings operating as one residential complex are the locus of your investigation into the
nature of public and private space for a multigenerational residence. Consider notions of community and domesticity
in an urban context while addressing the distribution of spaces between the two apartments and the two floors as ways
to connect, separate, and identify, activity and identity. Consider materiality driven concept development as well as the
nature of collections and the objects of daily life as they make and mark the interior. Focus also on an investigation of
the impact of color, texture, joinery, and application of materials in the definition of identity and space.

General Requirements
The site includes the area indicated on the attached plans. This penthouse level roof decks are also part of the site.

You must maintain the existing elevator core and fire stairs in both 33 and 35 West 26 street.

A portion of the bearing wall that separates #33 from #35 may be removed, but not the whole wall. The structural
framing between floors consists of 2” x 14” joists @ 16” on center spanning east and west from the center bearing wall.

No additional exterior enclosures on the roof deck are allowed, but the design of the exterior area is encouraged.

A 5th floor lobby will serve as the entrance to both apartments.

Consideration should be paid to the distribution of the space between the two apartments (one duplex, and one top
floor, one penthouse and one top floor, two duplexes, etc.) and the shared space(s) for the extended family.

The shared space should include the lobby on the top floor but could include more – a shared living area, roof deck(s)
on the penthouse level, etc.

Program Requirements
Shared Lobby Area
Storage for bikes (up to 5)
Recycling and trash storage area

Apartment #1
Coat closet, Powder room
Seating for 8 (minimum), sound system
Table for 8 (expandable to 12), serving surface, storage for table linens, china, glassware and silver
Counter space for dining, range, dishwasher, refrigerator/freezer, appliances, sink, storage of food, cookware,
and silverware; trash and recycling bins
Washer, dryer, iron, counter space for folding clothes
Master Bedroom
King size bed, side tables, dresser, closet/storage of clothing
Master Bath
2 sinks, WC and bidet, bathtub and shower, linen closet, storage
Desk space for 2 plus necessary technology (computers, phones, printer, etc,), storage for books and files,
sound system and TV
Children’s Bedroom(s)
Bed(s), bedside table, storage for clothes, toys and books
Children’s Playroom
Seating, work/play surface, storage for toys, games and art supplies, sound system and TV
Children’s Bathroom
2 sinks, WC, bathtub and shower, storage

Apartment #2
Coat closet
Seating and dining for 6 (minimum); serving surface, storage for table linens, and silver, counter space for
dining, range, dishwasher, refrigerator/freezer, appliances, sink, storage of food, cookware, silverware, and
china, glassware, trash and recycling bins, sound system

Master Bedroom
King size bed, side tables, dresser, closet/storage of clothing
Master Bath
Sink, WC, bathtub and shower, linen closet, storage
Work space
Desk space plus necessary technology, storage for books and files
Display and storage of art collection

Project Requirements
Process: Sketch models, drawings
Plans at both levels @ 1/4” = 1’-0”
Sections @1/4” = 1’-0”
Elevations @ 3/8” = 1’-0”
Final Model @ 1/4” = 1’-0”
Detail model at 1” = 1’-0”
Detail Elevation or Section/Elevation of wall(s) that demarcate or join the two apartments at 1” = 1’-0”

Requirements above are minimums. Students are, as always, required to determine beyond the required forms of
representation & process what might be required to adequately, poetically describe their projects.

Project Goals
1 To study and apply the principals of universal design to spaces of dwelling.
2 To engage the relationship between furnishings, selected or designed, and interior conditions and affects
3 To explore materiality and its impact upon spatial experience while also considering the affect of specific material(s)
on construction and detailing.
4 The acoustical properties necessary to support the activities of the various spaces

Project Objectives
1 To explore the spatial relationships between private and public space in residential design
2 To engage the potential emotional and psychological connection to the interior
3 To address the intersection of technology and contemporary lifestyles

Gather/ Evaluate/ Synthesize/ Apply: appropriate and necessary information, research and/or precedents.


So let’s talk about what is so fundamentally unfair about this.  :

1 To study and apply the principals of universal design to spaces of dwelling.

Let’s *start* here.  Universal Design is not something you throw someone into without making *damned sure* it was actually TAUGHT at some point.  Designing for aging/elderly/aging in place is not something you toss people at and say “wing it.”  This is a real and specific subset of design.  There’s an entire industry devoted to it. There’s architects and designers who do *nothing but this thing*. This is NOT something you presuppose when you have students coming from wildly diverse backgrounds and educational experiences. YOU HAVE TO TEACH IT.

The social dynamics in this project are *VERY* complicated.  The dynamics of multigenerational living in a modern western framework (where it is not an expected norm) are complicated all by themselves.  Further, you have two children of opposing gender here.  Sure, they’re little now- but last I heard kids grow up.  The concept of being able to design for children in an adaptable way is not something you pull out of your ass. You have to have been taught it.  One might HOPE that it happened in undergrad, but unless you know that (I don’t know, try asking?) there’s no way to determine whether or not this is true.

Oh wait, that wasn’t complicated enough:

With the offer of free babysitting services, he has convinced his daughter and son-in-law to move into the building.

This right here is a sentence fraught with tension.  Of course since the students were in way over their heads on this, all of them had a hard time even addressing this little gem, so they mostly ignored it, pretending that everyone was happy to be living together.  Though they struggled (and for some values of the word) succeeded in dealing with issues of privacy, this sentence tells you something that goes beyond a mere privacy issue. This is a *reluctant* situation.

Oh wait, still not done. Let’s talk about the class related social dynamics here.

Grandfather? Loaded.

Daughter? Also loaded.

Son in law? High school biology teacher, now living with father in law where FIL is the patriarch and owns the house.  Predictably, 8 of the 9 students seemed to have forgotten *he existed*, which you know probably would mimic his feelings day to day anyway.

None of these complex social relationships was explored.  They got handed this hot mess and told to make sense of it without finding out what sort of lessons had been taught previously.  When I questioned the fairness(and sanity) of this, I was told there was no time to impart the lessons.

Well then, don’t give the project.  Don’t set students up to fail.  It was clear that no matter how bright, talented or otherwise good these students were, the one who actually nailed the project had been *taught* these lessons as an undergrad (I should have asked her where she went.)  Further, she was from the US- she had no cultural barrier. She had no language barrier.

I don’t enjoy doing residential design. I am *good* at it and people like my work, but it’s not really my thing.  However- residential design is SOCIAL design.  It is *culturally complex*.  It has a framework in culture, in time, in location.  It must adapt, and be flexible.  If you aren’t going to teach that yourself, the least you could do is make sure your students have been taught it elsewhere.

Meantime if you overlook the entire aging in place aspect to this project, which really seems to be its ultimate focus, you may as well skip the whole thing- the students will be lost without those lessons.  This is NOT the project you hand people who have never designed for an older/aging person before.  It’s not. It’s got too many complex variables, and you’re not teaching them any of them nor giving them enough time to get it right.

You have to *give the lessons* in order to *get back successful projects*.

This is not their fault.  It’s their school’s fault.




I don’t think I’m back yet, but..

Honestly, I don’t think I’m back yet.  Things remain in a state where I’m not feeling too good about posting much of anything anywhere, and I have no idea when things will begin to straighten out.

I am really only popping up to mention that I actually, miraculously, made the Designboom Crystal Vision contest deadline (which is tomorrow), by submitting my entry at some obscene hour of the morning this morning.  Apparently, they have over 4,000 entries at this time, so my chances of winning aren’t great- I am sure there’s lots of great designs and products out there.  Still, I’m glad to have made the deadline (I am now, rather with trepidation, reviewing the submission to check for typos. )

Project in Miami continues.  Clients still lovely.  Doing endless small revisions which matter in the long run, but are fussy and time consuming.  Looking forward to handing over all the plans/elevations/sections/details, and The Big Book to the clients for review.

I’ve seen some great stuff posted elsewhere recently (since clearly I have nothing good to say), but in particular, today, this showed up at Design Hole, and Dezeen has the goods on the new “fabric concept car” from BMW.

No, seriously guys- checkkit:

I’m going to go bury myself in AutoCAD again now- I just know I’m going to need to make shop drawings…

*ding*. Model’s done.

I’ve been working furiously for the past couple of days finishing up a 3d model for the project in Miami. It’s a basic model, looking to define space and function and making sure all programmatic needs are met. There’s a couple of small changes that I still need to make (discovered after the fact, of course) but they are minor, and I should be able to get them done tonight with little problem.

One would think it gets easier from here, but actually it only gets harder. The next thing I’m going to do is make a small PowerPoint presentation to go over all of those programmatic needs and where they’ve been met by design, and how the design concept fits into all of them. Actually, that part is also easy (just takes a little time.) Where it gets harder is once that’s done- which is making the project fit the budget. THAT’s hard. This part is easy.

But now that I’m done with the furious Miami model making at the moment (DGD is brought to you by the letter M today, apparently), I realize my house is a mess (well, I knew that the last time I tripped over something.), I need to do some work on budgetary planning for a project in Los Angeles (don’t get excited, LA people- I’m not coming out there.), do some knitting, do some software tutorials for some of the various programs I’m working on, and work on my submissions for the DesignBoom Swarovski Crystal contest.

Speaking of contests, the Designer of the Future 2008 awards were announced yesterday at Dezeen.

Though I didn’t win, I’d like to thank everyone who nominated me- that was very kind of you.

The comments over there (and there aren’t many) would indicate that most people aren’t thrilled with the results. It’s all so subjective, I can’t even begin to get myself involved in that. However, with no offense intended *in any way* towards Max Lamb(whom I don’t know, so this isn’t about him personally- Max, if you’re reading this, congratulations on your win), I have problems with that bronze chair in terms of the method of its creation (again, this isn’t an issue of aesthetics. ) I can absolutely guarantee that I have (significantly) more bronze casting experience than either the designer or the judges here (really, unless someone else has worked for a foundry for several years, they can just take a step back now.) I don’t care what it looks like- I care that the process used to make it was absolutely toxic(more so than regular casting), and there are ways to get that same effect that would have been less so.

(for the link phobic- this is the chair in question)

Bronze Poly chair, by Max Lamb

At a time when the industry is working so hard on issues of environmental concern and sustainability, it bothers me that this particular example is being shown as something that is given awards.

And now, I’m off with my camera. The Bus Stop Magnolia is blooming.

Realistic expectations. Get some.

The service triangle is just one grouping of three clients need to be realistic about. The other one is how their budget breaks down.  That falls into three parts also:




With a limited amount of money (as opposed to unlimited- not necessarily low-budget), you have to understand the relationship between these things and know where you’re going to have to make adjustments.  People have asked me how to get the most for their money on their residential (though the principles are sound no matter what kind it is) project.  Here’s my advice on that, taken backwards:


You can competitively bid for contractors and of course that’s what commercial projects do.  You can do it on residential projects also, but I find that people are much more interested in finding someone they can trust with their house than they are about getting the lowest possible bid.

How to minimize that cost:

Aside from going with the lowest bidder(which is not necessarily the best value), the biggest advice I have is to make sure that all your ducks are lined up on your project before the contractors ever get near your site.  Finalize everything you possibly can.  Have all your model numbers, construction documents, and materials either already there or on a timeline that will not waste any time for your contractors.

For a contracting crew time is literally money.  Don’t waste their time(or their gasoline), and they won’t waste your money. Corrections, changes and afterthoughts will cost you.  The smoother you can make things go for your contractors, the happier they are.  If you are the kind of person who tends to wibble, make sure all your wibbling is done before they come near your project.  You only have so much money. You don’t have room to dick around.


Not only do some materials cost less than others(obvious) but be aware that some materials come with hidden costs that others don’t.  For example- Some refrigerators cost more than others. But once it arrives, a refrigerator is a refrigerator.   The worst thing that happens is you have to hook up an ice maker.  However,  getting a lot of elaborate ceiling lights means someone has to install them all. There’s *nothing* wrong with wanting a dynamic lighting plan.  But understand that overall, that’s going to cost you more than a pricy fridge.  Understand that a curved surface on a countertop is going to cost more than a plain rectangle.   You have to balance dramatic design with realistic expectations. Also, not *every* element has to be the most dramatic thing ever. If you try to do that, the space becomes too busy, as elements compete with one another for visual room.  Understand what is most important to you, and be willing to let the other stuff go.

Design/Architectural fees/permits.

Permits are permits. They cost what they cost.

Fees are something else.  This can be really confusing to people because every design professional has their own way of figuring this out.  There is no One True Way to figure this one out and you have to find a design professional who uses a system that works well for you.  Some residential projects are priced by the job. Some are priced as a percentage of total budget. Some people charge an hourly rate.  Still others use a system like 30% over net.  And to make it more confusing, some do a combination of all of these things.  I used to do residential stuff with a combination of a flat rate + hourly.  I don’t do that anymore, and instead do a percentage of total budget.  30% over net is *VERY*  common, but I don’t use it because I think it sets up an adversarial relationship with the client.

How to minimize the cost:

Ask how the design pro figures out the cost. A flat fee or a straight percentage is going to be more predictable on the front end than an hourly or a 30% over net arrangement.  It’s a gamble. You have to know how to play your odds.  The former two may sound like the cost more initially, but if the project is complex and subject to a lot of changes, it might be cheaper in the long run.  If what you really need is just a couple hours of consultation, an hourly rate might be your best bet.   Honestly, I’d give an example where I thought 30% over net was better but I just don’t have any. I know it’s a standard residential practice. I just think it’s dumb.

Unlike the service triangle, this is not a simple “pick two” situation.  This is a little more complex.  But if you play your cards right and balance the three elements, it will cost you less in the long run.

Reader mailbag #1.

And for all I know, it’ll be the only time this title is ever used.

Jay (R, not M) asks:

“You have stated in the past that residential design is about the resident, not the designer. How do you approach learning the sensibilities and directions of your clients?”

At the risk of sounding like “Well, duh.”

You go and talk to them. (and in this case you actually have to GO and talk to them. This is one of those few things that even I can’t do online. And if *I* am saying that, you really do have to go over there.)

That’s really what it comes down to, but realistically you have three things to consider:

1. How do they function in the space they already have?

Basically, there’s something not working with what they have. If there weren’t, they wouldn’t be calling you. You have to find out what that is. Not just by what they’re telling you but by observation. It’s kind of like playing detective. A lot of the distress people feel about a space is not easily articulated by the client. They don’t know *what* the problem is all the time- they just know there’s a problem. Worse, they don’t know what they *want*, either most of the time. You have to be observant. Sit there and talk to them for a couple hours. Not just about their project but about anything. And mostly, you want to simply listen to them. Ask questions, and let them just ramble on with the answers. Take the occasional note, and sift through it all on the way home. I also take photos of the things people LIKE in their houses. I don’t have to like them. I just have to know what they are. There’s generally a common set of threads that links them all together even if it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Find out what it is, and you’re well on your way to knowing how they think aesthetically.

2. Are they realistic in terms of the service triangle?

I should probably give the service triangle its own post, because it deserves it, but the short version for right now is that you have three qualities: cheap, fast, and good. Pick two. You only *get* two at any one time. Anyone who tells you any different is lying to you. You can pick any of the two you want, but you don’t get the third one as an added bonus for blood or money. And speaking of money, part of your job as a designer is to be able to be honest right up front about what is, and isn’t possible.

Because I know she reads this, and would easily admit it, when I did SFW’s kitchen in Washington DC, the first day I went down there she and her husband asked me if I thought they could do the kitchen they wanted for 20k. My answer was simply “No.” No buts, no qualifiers, nothing after that “no.” There was just too much work that needed to be done to the space (as any look through the before/after photos can tell you.) You need to be able to be that direct and honest with people before they put pen to contract, even at the risk of them not doing the job. And for their part, they need to be *realistic* about their goals, budgets and how the service triangle works(also, they need to NOT back up their projects against a holiday, ffs.) If they aren’t realistic, you’re going to have a hard time working with them, because there will be a vicious cycle of wasted time, energy and money. They can call you back when they’ve gotten a handle on their own goals.

They also have to be honest with you and themselves about who they are and how they function. I beg people *not* to clean up before I arrive. I don’t want to see their house on its “best behavior”. I need to know what it looks like on an average Wednesday, because there are WAY more of those than “best behavior” days. People need to understand that changing a design doesn’t give you a personality transplant. Just because you make every surface white doesn’t mean you’re going to suddenly become a neat freak. You need to be realistic.

3. Can you get along with these people for 6+ months without wanting to kill yourself and/or them?

You laugh, but I mean this. In residential work in particular there’s a lot of psychological hand-holding that goes on because no one is really rational about their house. It’s a very emotionally charged place, no matter whose house it is. It’s one of the reasons residential work is not at the top of my all time favorite things to do list. You wind up being part designer, part psychologist. It can be draining. Some people are more suited to it than others. And there is no project, for any amount of money and any time duration that doesn’t have stressors that come with it. Vendors blow lead times. Your friendly neighborhood designer’s computer decides to melt a motherboard *whistles innocently*. Clients change their minds at the last minute, or decide once something is signed off on that no, they really want to change it. Maybe they have some kind of family emergency that puts their project on hold for a few weeks. The sink has a crack in it when it’s delivered. The cat jumps the barrier and leaves pawprints in the thinset. Your contractor almost cuts off a finger with a circular saw. (and in fact, ALL of these but one has actually happened. Mr. Kitty never walked on the thinset, but Mike did come very close to cutting off his left index finger with a circular saw.) Everyone reacts differently under stress. You need to determine whether the way YOU react and the way *they* react are compatible. (This is why I prefer not to do residential work for strangers btw, because if I already know you, I probably already know which way your lunacy tends to fall. I don’t have to get thrown into the pit of crazy to find out the hard way. Trust me, I am already an expert in my own crazy.)

If you can’t get on with them in that way, then for the sake of your own sanity, recommend them to another designer. You’ll still nab a 10% finder’s fee and you don’t have to want to shoot yourself rather than get out of bed in the morning.

Any more questions? Feel free to ask in comments.

Keeping your self in check.

A few days ago I was speaking about how good residential design must be client driven. That’s absolutely true.  And no, residential design hasn’t moved up any on my “list of things I’d like to be doing.” (and really, I’d like to be able to stop making that disclaimer every time I mention it but I probably won’t for a while. Consider it my own personal neurosis.)   But even good residential designers often find themselves turned off by things that aren’t inherently *bad*- they’re just inherently bad *for them*.

Case in point:

I’ve been reading over at the Kitchen Designer’s blog about some new kitchen furniture designed by Hansen.  I read her blog in the first place because I find kitchen (and bathroom) design to be the least odious parts of residential work(interestingly, they’re often easily the most lucrative, though that’s coincidental. No, *really*, it is.  Stop it, all of you.) because they require a *designer*, always. A decorator *cannot* do this work (see: differences between decorators and designers, part #3,254).  Remember people- if there’s WATER involved, it’s *different*.  I’ll expand on that in another post maybe this coming week.

Anyway, back to what I was reading.

She’s been speaking about this stuff in glowing terms.  And so help me I keep looking at it…and looking at it… and looking at it…

hansen kitchen furniture


And I just can’t find a way to LIKE it.  It’s not a matter of aesthetics. I think it’s really quite lovely.  It’s not a matter of quality.  It looks and sounds like it’s excellent craftsmanship.  So what is it, then?  It’s because of a personal bias. I, personally, fail to see how this kitchen furniture works for people who really cook.   Because as far as *I* am concerned, a kitchen is a WORK space, as its primary function.

Let me specify here what my problems are, so it’s understandable.  I like this look. I think it’s clean and organic. I think it’s very nice. What I don’t like is that there’s no actual handles on these drawers. First of all, that little gap at the top so you can stick your hand in? All kinds of crap can fall in there when you *really* use your kitchen as something more than a museum exhibit and a place to store takeout.  Also, every cook I know? Gets dirty.  Those cabinets will be FILTHY around the opening in no time, requiring constant maintenance, and even with that, they will age unevenly, which is not a bad look if you like it- it’s the way real things age.  But this will happen at a drastically increased rate.

I like the LOOK of the furniture being raised on feet.  In *reality*?  It’s going to get *disgusting* under there, particularly if you a)use your kitchen in any real way b) have pets,  c) have kids.

 Let’s look at another photo from this same product line:


While I have no particular objection to open storage, this arrangement can be classified as…. well, just plain DUMB. I don’t get it.  There’s no reason for open storage in this configuration. It doesn’t save space, it doesn’t allow for easy access, you’re still stacking things, which means unstacking them in order to get them out  (as opposed to a hanging rack for pots and pans which allows for a much easier time of it) and I am not sure what that open rack is designed to do for you, other than drip water on your floor if you put your pans up before they’re fully dry.  Also, stacking stuff like that? It’s not attractive.  Why leave this open?  Unless of course, you don’t really use your kitchen as anything other than a showplace. So you have like, one pan, one pot and two bowls.  Nice and neat.  But not a kitchen for a cook.

“So what?  Not everyone really cooks in their kitchen, and these pieces look great!”

Absolutely *TRUE*.  Which is the reason for the title of this post. In order to keep your design client driven, you have to be able to identify that this is YOUR bias. Not an inherent problem with the pieces themselves.  That these pieces have legitimate applications- just not in YOUR house.  You have to be able to put that “turned off” feeling aside, because again, residential design isn’t about the designer. It’s about the client.  And with the right client, these pieces are perfectly acceptable.  It’s their house. Not yours.

Ego. Check yours. It helps your clients.



It’s not about you.

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.