StyleNorth reader Jill wrote to me to see if I’d be interested in some items for my fledgling decorating business. She had just emerged from a bad — as in REALLY bad — experience with a TV decorator who shall remain nameless. Jill and her husband Jack hired the designer to help them sift through their inspiration binders and pull together a cohesive plan based on their tastes and wishes.
Now, I don’t want to disparage the interior design trade in any way; the profession is teeming with talented, enthusiastic individuals who do wonderful work for their clients. Here in Ontario the trade is overseen by ARIDO, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario, which can help refer a designer and offers tips on how to pick the right one; you can also consult the Interior Designers of Canada website and use their DesignFind tool.
So what went wrong for Jill and Jack? And how did they end up with furniture, draperies and accessories they now want to dump?
“In my initial consultations with the designer I made it clear that I didn’t want beige,” says Jill. “I was looking for colour, I wanted some blue/turquoise, maybe a shot of hot pink. We already had a dining table and chairs and we had purchased some Berger-style chairs for the living room but hadn’t decided on a fabric for them. We knew we wanted a Fortuny pendant fixture for over the dining table.”
Jill and Jack are both professionals and while they’re not wealthy, they were prepared to throw up to $100,000 at the project in order to get the living/dining space of their dreams. Instead, they got a nightmare.
“And that’s one reason we’re sort of sheepish to discuss what happened,” says Jack. “We’re embarrassed, frankly, that we got ‘taken’ to the degree we did. We spent all that money and didn’t get what we wanted. And we’re still working on the space ourselves but now we have to do it slowly because we blew the budget on this designer who didn’t listen to a thing we said.” [NOTE: The photos in this post represent what the couple has done to their space since the decorating debacle.]
Jill recalls that she and Jack would have meetings with the designer and find themselves being “bulldozed” into agreeing to things that weren’t really what they wanted. “The meeting would end and we’d look at each and say, ‘What just happened?’ ”
Unfortunately, it just kept happening right up until reveal day when Jill came home (Jack was out of town on business) and stood in her neutral, rather beige living room, stunned into silence and on the verge of tears.
“The designer was looking for my reaction but I was in shock. I said it was a lot to take in and that I needed to process it.”
“I was told I had to decided on which accessories I wanted to keep because they were out on approval and had to be returned within 24 hours if I didn’t want them. I phoned my mother and sister to rush over and give me their opinions because at that point I didn’t know what to think, like maybe I was crazy and the room was actually great. But it wasn’t great, it was beige and bland, there was none of the colour I’d asked for. I wanted scalloped Roman blinds but they weren’t scalloped and the trim wasn’t where I was expecting it to be and even though I specifically asked for the blind to be lined in the same fabric — for which I was charged double – it wasn’t. I would have preferred them to be inset into the frames instead of covering the frames but that’s a discussion we never had. The designer said it could all be changed but at further cost to us.”
Jill and Jack might have been better off selling the stuff through a Classified ad, which is what happened to the beige, skirted sofa the designer sprang on them. Jill and Jack lost a whack of cash on that purchase because the furniture store/upholsterer refused to work with her, as did the Fortuny rep who declined to replace the fixture with something a bit more colourful even though Jill was perfectly willing to pay a re-stocking fee.
“I felt the designer was not pushing to help us,” recalls Jill, “like the designer didn’t want to wreck the relationship with the retailer; my sense was that the retailers would have listened to the designer if the designer had gone to bat for us, which didn’t happen.”
When it came time to settle the designer’s bill, Jill and Jack sat down with the designer in an effort to mitigate the damage but the clients got lots of push-back and not a lot of leeway. The design contract the couple had signed was open to interpretation and left very little room for recourse. The clients knew that if they sued – and one of them is a lawyer — the designer would be able to marshall greater legal resources and the couple would wind up throwing good money after bad. So they cut their losses and licked their wounds and tried to forget the whole sorry saga.
What would Jill do differently next time? “I’d hire a designer just to consult, to help me edit my ideas and point me in the direction of some good sources. Then, when I needed help with the window dressing, I’d do the same thing, just buy a consultation and then get the job done the way I wanted it. We learned a painful and expensive lesson.”
Sitting in Jill and Jack’s unfinished living room, my heart breaks over all the wasted money and the fact that the couple is still pecking away in an effort to realize their vision for the space.
Last week, I had lunch with a decorative art specialist who works with interior designers, many of whom, he observed, have a decorating template, a well they draw from again and again. And that made me think of some of the really famous designers whose rooms all have a similar look and feel: sure there are designers who adapt to meet the needs and tastes of each individual client but if you don’t want a Darryl Carter or a Vicente Wolf space, don’t hire Darryl Carter or Vicente Wolf.
In the coming weeks I’ll be working with an outside contributor to profile some of the talented but lesser-known interior designers working in the Canadian market, specifically Toronto. I hope this post and the posts to come will help prevent optimistic and unsuspecting clients from making the same mistakes Jill and Jack did.
Please see below for a selection of furnishings the couple is anxious to sell – all great pieces in their own right, just not right for Jill and Jack.
If you’re interested in any of the above items, please send me an email, which I’ll forward to Jill.