That is the Question! Here’s the Answer…
I know it’s not really a big deal in layman’s term and everybody gets it wrong, or basically it’s not really a big deal. (I mean we do have global warming, nuclear weapons, gas spills and hunger to worry about.) No one really cares… Unless you are a DESIGNER. You worry about that and more. Technically a designer has gone to school. They had to take specialized classes that tells them if it is a good idea to put a mirrored cabinet in a commercial bathroom where a wheelchair must fit underneath it (city code); or to cut into a wall and add a niche where there may be a load bearing header, or hang a light a certain distance from another so as to not have the whole roof, the roof, the roof on fire. A DECORATOR adorns things. They dress things up. They select pieces that can be easily changed. I am merely telling this tale because this is the biggest question I get. Should I call you the decorator or the designer? Every designer was once a decorator. If they say they never have been, they lie. So don’t be embarrassed if they say “How dare you!” or scoff, (I’ve been a witness to several who have.)
This designer life is something of a strange beast. It isn’t for everybody. I consider myself sort of a trilogy. A trio of people that occupies one space:
Part I… You are first and foremost an ARTIST. A creature of habit; I mean, if you are a true designer. There are paint by numbers and cut and paste home decorators out there. And then there are the artisans. Those that stay up late sketching, searching, and get up early with boots on the ground going to battle. The perfect combination. A little bit of couture snooty pieces, mixed with some affordable tolerable fillers, add some vintage heirlooms, a splash of modern funk and then that bespoke piece that calls them all to the yard. That’s a good designer. That’s a quadruple threat. We are constantly on the prowl for the ripest of the ripe and the strangest of the strange. And maybe, if we are lucky, we will find that rare piece that inspires us. It shakes us out of our cloud and drops us to our knees. We must bow and recognize its greatness. We must back up and move all inanimate objects that do not lead to the magi.
Part II… THE SURROGATE MOTHER. You put all their special gifts and hopes and random pieces together inside you and you nourish it and tend to it for months. The proud parents are happy to see you see coming at first. They are on their best behavior. The courting season. The first trimester. They have morning sickness. You can’t keep anything down. The second trimester. Things start to take shape. The parents are more comfortable, but now more critical. Stay healthy, (keep up the good work), get plenty of rest (are we on schedule), and get some exercise (stay on budget). How are you feeling? Means where exactly are you going with this? And then there is the third trimester. The waiting game. We planned it for this date, but where is it? This baby ain’t coming and we are contracting every 3 minutes. You thought it would happen naturally, next thing you know you have on a gas mask and pass out and wake up not remembering anything but see a beautiful newborn in front of you and everyone is tearing up, smiling and hugging. And you forget about all the pain you just went through. They take the baby, they have to feed it and they have to educate. You walk on, and sometimes, once in a while you drive by and see some rare special moment in the windows.
Part III… THE THERAPIST. You are in these people’s lives. You walk where seldom ever do. They trust you. With their family, with their homes, with their futures, with their money. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. With this trust comes responsibility. With responsibility comes respect. You must give your clients/customers three things… 1. Discretion… with their style, their lives, their project, their family. You are like a CIA agent. You gather Intel, come up with solutions and implement them. You never reveal your true identity because it is never about you. It’s about the mission. 2. Honesty… never sugar coat a bad idea. I used to coddle my clients. I was afraid to hurt their feelings. You are a professional so act like it. If it’s wrong, say it’s wrong, they will respect you for it more in the long run. Even if they never hire you again. If you are a true professional you were probably right and they will get it long after you are gone. (Which leads to the addendum below) 3. Understanding… You have to know what they feel and why they feel that way. It’s one thing to know what a client says they want, but it’s a whole ‘nother animal to know why they are saying that and what they really mean. That is the difference between a designer and a decorator. Interpretation. If you give them what they think they want you are doing them a disservice. A good designer gives them what they thought they wanted and more.
Finally my addendum. Not every designer is the right designer and not every client is the right client. If you like to travel the South of France and stay at the St. Regis, I suggest you don’t hire a designer that has not either studied Europe or been there. If you are living in an urban loft and everyone says Francois who did such and such estate is the best, I suggest you walk your neighborhood and look at businesses that are similar to the style you want and ask them who did their space. Affordable designers are in your neighborhood. They know the area.
And if your still a little apprehensive, stop in Lewis and Sheron. You are sure to bump elbows with a whole smorgasbord of every type on any given day, at any given moment. You get a first-hand look at how the magic is made, right there, in the store. You can see who is pairing what fabric with what. Designers and Decorators side by side mixed in with the rare first timer that is so gifted they feel awkward. Each inspiring each other, unbeknownst to the next. A whole warehouse full of muses. Don’t tell them I told you so. It’s our little secret.