Renovation Clients: 5 Questions You Need To Ask

Renovation Clients: 5 Questions You Need To Ask

Happy Snow Day New Yorkers! It’s almost Valentine’s Day and today is the perfect day to stay in and get romantic. I thought I’d give you a little something to read as a break from the romance or daytime TV.

Raina Cox is an Interior Designer based in Colorado and entertains me to no end with her snark. She considers sarcasm a major food group. Her endless wit and great taste (since I mostly agree with it) through her blog If The Lamp Shade Fits are very much welcome in my inbox anytime. She recently wrote the following post which was too good not to share here.  You may be the client in question or the one interviewing with a new client. Regardless, beware. Some great food for thought.

Is your client really ready? 5 questions you need to ask

by Raina Cox

(originally posted on 6 Feb 2014)

2014 marks my 20th year in interior design, and I’ve worn many hats – home store owner, visual merchandiser for an overseas version of Crate & Barrel, wallpaper hanger, decorative painter, and blogger. Since moving to Denver four years ago, my focus has been good old-fashioned decorating. I help residential clients realize the home of their dreams. It’s always rewarding, but it can also be extremely challenging. I’ve found setting the right tone and donning a deerhunter during the initial interview helps alleviate many down-the-road project problems.
During that first meeting, your potential client will want to show you around and talk about paint color and sofa styles. It is your job to set initial excitement aside and determine if this project will be a good fit for both parties.

These five questions should be asked:

“Do you have a realistic budget?”

HGTV has ruined the public for home (renovation) project cost expectations. Materials won’t be donated to a client’s project, nor will contractors work for free. Money is an uncomfortable subject for most, but budget should be discussed near the beginning-middle of the interview. This signals positive intent on your part. You will handle their hard-earned dollars smartly and efficiently. And if, say, what they’re envisioning is adding up to $10K a room while their budget would only give you $1000 per room, then be upfront about their unrealistic expectations.

“Are you prepared for the disruption in your life?”

Ask your client what major or minor home improvement / renovation  projects they’ve gone through. If they’re complaining about duration and mess, that’s a red flag. They will require special handling and above-and-beyond communication. Clients who live in highrises or have strict HOA rules about contractor schedules may need frequent reminders about their special situations: “Per your building’s rules, the painter cannot start until 9am and must finish by 3pm each day, so that part of the project will take twice as long as usual.

“Are you comfortable with how long this will take?” 


Many first-time clients or “decorating virgins” are – excuse the design pun – floored at how long a project takes. Even the ones who make choices quickly and decisively get frustrated at the length of the planning process. They’ve made the decision to decorate, have (wisely) chosen you to do it, and want to see progress yesterday. Writing out an expectations timeline together, however brief, is helpful. Also, make sure to include a clause in your contract leaving you off the hook for tardy contractors and the sofa whose 6-week lead time suddenly blossoms into 18 weeks.

“What do you think this project will do for you?”

Interior design connotes a well-lived life. For many it can also seem like an entrée into a “better” world. While decorating can make home life easier by solving problems like traffic flow and space utilization, it cannot make the client a smarter or more well-regarded person. If a more comfortable, more peaceful refuge is the goal, then marvelous. But if visions of a Kelly Wearstler onyx-walled, bespoke brass circular staircase-ed Style Palace to impress friends and neighbors are dancing in Mrs. Pulte-Homes-in-the-Cul-de-Sac’s head, then the project will end in frustration for all parties.

“Is your life in order?”

In the past year, I’ve interviewed with two freshly divorced women. In both cases they found themselves in greatly reduced circumstances, still holding onto a burning hatred for their ex-husbands. Both stated they wanted to make a “fresh start.” I heard “I want glam” and “I need to reinvent myself!” In reality they were still the walking wounded in need of a new shoulder to cry on. Decisions made in an emotional tornado are seldom the right ones, and Yoga Pants Mom will never be comfortable in a Z Gallerie glitz-fest.

If these were all answered to your satisfaction but you still have a nagging doubt, read my post “5 signs a potential client my be crazy.”

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