Designers Discuss How to Guide Clients Toward Good Design

"When I have a client who is insisting on doing something I think would be a huge mistake, I try to show them a better alternative. My biggest problem is when a client wants to ‘squeeze’ something into the design, usually an island. I have had to tape out the island on the kitchen floor, set up chairs in the space and drape a blanket over them so they can see how massive it would be. Many people have a hard time visualizing something on paper, but when you bring it to life, it is easier for them to understand. My goal is always to make a space better. I don’t pack every item on my clients’ wish lists into the design just so I can close the sale. They might like it on paper, but I doubt they would want to live with it. We discuss their priorities and narrow down the list to the items they need, a few items they want, and maybe one thing that would be really fun!”

Colleen Vanderhovel, owner

Dream Kitchens, LLC

Howell, MI


“I encourage my clients to rethink poor design by considering how many steps it takes to accomplish a task. For example, if your prep tools are not located in the most-used area for meal preparation, that would be a poor design. When selecting a good product, I encourage my clients to consider a style that is low maintenance such as minimal details to the door.”

Caroline Yamin

senior kitchen designer/project mgr.

Boca Kitchens & Floors

Boca Raton, FL


"When I sit down with a client, I explore out their habits, lifestyle and ‘wish’ list. At times, what they hope to have may not work. If a client wants low maintenance, I will guide them to products that are easy to maintain such as porcelain or ceramic tile, large tiles, quartz counters or simple cabinetry because more detail means more dusting. Once I give them pros and cons of a product, they usually make the best decision for them. When designing a space, a kitchen for example, I address function first. What are their cooking habits? How do they enter their kitchen with groceries? Do they entertain, etc.? With this important information, I can draw a plan that may include a butcher block by the stove for food prep, cabinet accessories to hold kitchen gadgets, or glass doors to show off special dishes. It is a process, but in the end they have a space perfect for their lifestyle.”

Angie McVey, project coordinator

MHI Interiors

Carleton, MI


"It has been tougher to sway clients whose minds are made up to go with lesser quality materials, due in great part to budget constraints. It is our job as professionals to make them aware of the projected life expectancy of materials, care and maintenance costs as well as the complications of replacement should it be necessary down the road. When making bad design choices, it typically comes down to cost as well. We educate them about the options and make sure they are making the choice they can live with comfortably. As designers, we know the right choices for product and design that will make living in that space the most enjoyable. Present that to the client and there will be no regrets on either side of the table, regardless of the outcome.”

Janice L. O’Brien, CKD, Allied ASID

Kitchens and Baths, LLC

Tucson, AZ


"Poor design usually results in scale and proportion that are not considered, measured and/or understood. I will listen to my clients’ ideas and evaluate their design choices, then suggest alternatives that will improve the space planning of the proportions and scale. The NKBA kitchen guidelines are the start of good planning. The creative for materials used will only accentuate parts of the kitchen design. Product selections should be based totally on the need of the consumer. There are no ‘bad choices’ but consideration of the value of the cabinetry, finish and appliances by the professional will help consumers better understand what they are purchasing. Good design will live forever and function for the end users.”

Bev Adams, CMKBD


Interior Intuitions Inc.

Denver, CO


"I have found that if you explain to the client the reasons you are suggesting something, and why a selection or design decision they are making is inappropriate, they tend to, at a minimum, consider the options. We discuss alternatives and find something that solves the issues, whether they are related to aesthetics or budgets, so clients are happy and the architect feels they are not compromising the design intent. In the couple of times the clients insisted and proceeded to implement a poor design idea, I made sure I stated my disagreement in writing. In both cases, they realized the mistake when it was executed and came back looking for ways to correct it.”

Andreas Charalambous, AIA, IIDA

FORMA Design, Inc.

Washington, DC


"When a client wants something that I feel will ruin the look or is poor choice, I do say how I feel, but in a gentle way. I offer other ideas that I believe will work better. I also explain why a certain selection or design works so they will have the pros and cons of both. Without good design, a great product can fall short, and never meet its full potential or intention.”

Meredith Leigh Weiss

Merri Interiors, Inc.

Commack, NY


"Good design and product selection are critical, and navigating a client with poor design ideas can be tricky. I’ve found the best way to deal with this situation is to draw from experience and present an alternative. Having experience in the industry, we’re often able to provide an example of a past client who made a similar choice and now regrets their decision. By presenting an alternative, in addition to past examples, hopefully you can guide their thinking in a different direction.”

Zack St. Clair, lead designer

St. Clair Kitchens

Alexandria, VA


"Sometimes clients have their hearts set on certain design features, and sometimes, unfortunately, those ideas won’t work, or they can be designed better. I will typically show them the latter…how they can be designed better. Nine times out of 10, they will choose the smarter design. There is that one percent who will still insist it be done their way. As their hired designer, I have the philosophy that the customer is the one who has to live with the decisions. I don’t push anyone to do something they don’t want to do. In the end, the client is always right.”

Jodi Crosby, owner

Crosby Creations Drafting & Design

Meggett, SC