All Designers know the client experience can be bitter or sweet.
Oft’ times a client becomes a lifelong friend and sometimes the client can become the project’s demise. In this series of “CLIENTS WE LOVE TO HATE” I will share some of the client issues I’ve encountered and the solutions that led to successful results. I welcome you to send in your own story with a “happy ending” to what could have been a design disaster due to an uncooperative client. We could all use some field-tested ammunition when faced with a client positioned to sabotage your project. Knowing how to defuse potential trouble is all part of this crazy, people-loving business we are in!
Meet Rita and John: early 60s, with two grown, married children. Family home: 3,500 sq. ft. in upper middle class neighborhood. Proposed project: refurbish family/great room.
I meet with Rita, a lovely, timid, ladylike woman with a sweet nature. She explains what they want to achieve and then leads me to the “great room” and prepares our iced tea while I survey the area. I assess… hmm, recover sectional, replace club chair, expand entertainment built-in for flat screen, buy new coffee table and OMG! Burn that recliner! Our meeting was civilized and rather formal. Rita surrendered to my advice, was open to my suggestions and eager to review my samples in tow. It was a slam-dunk.
Design Challenge: The Controlling Husband
An hour had passed; enter John, “the husband,” fresh from the golf course. He plops down in the recliner. “SO, what’a you girls up to?”
Rita quickly injects, “This is Joy, the decorator that did Peggy’s house.”
“Peggy’s house? I don’t want you painting all the wood white in here,” John growled.
“I would never,” I mumbled and reached to shake his hand.
Rita quietly reminds him, “Remember we talked about this, John. I want a new print for the couch.” “Look,” she says while flipping over the cushion to reveal a hole.
“Can’t you patch that?” John questions me.
“Well,” I begin, “IF I could find this fabric I could recover the cushion, but it still wouldn’t match because the entire sofa has faded a little and the cushion would look off color.”
“Well, how much is this gunna cost me?” John grumbled… and blah, blah, blah…you get the picture.
Fast forward 45 mins: “OK,” resolves John. “You can recover the sectional and get Rita’s chair…”
Then, I made the fatal mistake. I felt it coming up but couldn’t stop it, the word bubble floated away from my lips… “So John, what about your recliner?”
John sits straight up exclaiming, “Whoa, whoa, no, no, no you will not touch my chair! This area here,” he gestures a box around his chair, “…is OFF LIMITS! Is that understood?” He glares at Rita and then throws one at me.
“Yes Sir!” I confirm, with a crooked smile. Rita quickly whispers sympathetically, “He loves his chair, it’s all broken in.”
“I understand. Not a problem,” I assure her. “We will work around it.” We shake on it and say our good-byes.
After leaving the meeting my head was spinning between the design concept and the sabotage of the dreaded recliner! That blue-brown-grey Poly and Ester, dirty-armed, grease-stained eyesore that is, naturally, the room’s focal point! I can go one of two ways here. I can be “Frasier” and let John’s recliner be the comic relief in the room or I can fight for the integrity of my design!
Action Called For
Fast forward, 3 months and 10 days. Rita and I worked on the great room together, scheduling our meetings around John’s work, poker nights and golf weekends. We re-faced and expanded the wall unit, recovered the sectional, replaced the club chair, area rug, coffee table and all the lighting. We scheduled the final installation during John’s four-day convention in Chicago. We bleached the ceiling beams, installed the shutters and painted the walls. I displayed the bookcase and hung the artwork and all of this around the blue-grey-brown beast! It looked beautiful and Rita was thrilled.
|Photo courtesy Leathercraft.|
Oh, and the beast? Well it took a month, a neighborhood party Rita threw for John’s birthday and a visit from their son and daughter, all leading to the relentless ragging by friends and family about his ugly chair! Five months after project inception John caved and backed off his unreasonable demand. Out of respect for John I looked long and hard for a chair that satisfied both John and his great room.
|Photo courtesy Leathercraft.|
Fortunately the new “non-recliner-like recliners” were just hitting the market—chairs that reflected current styles and silhouettes but didn’t look like a recliner. At last the lonely world of the unyielding recliners had integrated the living space!
John was a happy man, enjoying his environment upgrade from a stylish prone position, and Rita got her just reward.
|Photo courtesy Comfort Design.|
The client issue of “the controlling husband” can go many ways—sometimes its money, a need to be involved in the design process or the injection of unreasonable or tasteless demands on your design. In John’s case it was a power play, a need to be considered in something he had very little interest in. Yet John dearly wanted a home that reflected his success in life, clearly not reflected in his chair, yet he still stood his ground. All this without considering the effort and strategic lengths we had to go through to complete this project to spare his ego. It was old school: a woman getting her way by making a man think it was his idea. But, born a generation before the liberation, it was Rita’s only option. It was all she knew.
Despite the changing times, women like Rita—some of them very young—are alive and well today, living among us in these “old fashioned” relationships. I’m sure some have been your clients as well. So, while times have changed, sometimes the tactics for dealing with a difficult husband have not.