Getting It Right: Forging the Client–Designer Relationship

By: Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Working with an interior designer is an intimate experience. This person is responsible for your private, daily environment. You’ll make financial decisions together. There will be moments of yes and of no. The relationship will depend on trust. For those who haven’t worked with a designer before or for those who have had a less than ideal experience, matching can be intimidating.

Noa Santos, founder and CEO of Homepolish, a service that represents top interior designers and offers a tailored concierge service to clients, spoke to House Method about the art of choosing the right interior designer.

“Finding the right designer is more like dating than most people realize,” says Santos. “It’s not just about the looks (read: style), it’s about personality, communication, and mutual respect. The partnership is what I love most about this process. Until now, the interior design conversation has primarily focused on the beautiful room at the end of the rainbow but, for us, it’s about the experience of design and the learning and creating that happens through the process.”

And that process actually begins before you find your designer—it begins with you, identifying what you want out of the project. Browse for inspiration or use social media to identify and save what you like. Instagram and Pinterest are ideal platforms for finding and even connecting with designers, brands, and other homeowners who share your taste. Start forming a language around your tastes and identifying what you don’t like as well.

Finding the right designer is more like dating than most people realize,” says Santos. “It’s not just about the looks, it’s about personality, communication, and mutual respect. The partnership is what I love most about this process. ”

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Once you’ve found your style and defined your scope (one room, two, the entire place), reach out to designers, which can be done directly or through a concierge site like Homepolish. In those first few interactions, you should be looking for someone who shares your communication style. “Communication style is perhaps the most important consideration of the design process,” Santos says. “Ask difficult questions early and address concerns you might have. Establish your mutual expectations regarding timeline, working style, communication cadence. This kind of dialogue and the clarity that ensues will set a tone of mutual respect and understanding from the very beginning.”

Photo by Ashley Gallerani for House Method

If your project is large enough that you’re engaging an architect and a contractor, that designer should be able to work with them is well. “My rule of thumb is that the more closely this team works together to present a united front, the better.”

And when you’ve found the right designer, you’ll know: “The experience should be fun. Not every second of it—that’s unlikely. But you should learn about yourself and each other, you should face challenges as partners, and in the end, you should feel excited to walk through the front door every day.”

If the idea of bringing in a third party is daunting, the relationship can start small. Designers can be hired for a single room or a small project, but a great client–designer relationship can be a long-term one.

“For anyone who appreciates good design but doesn’t want to do it themselves, the earlier you find a designer you’re compatible with the better. You can always start small—maybe it’s your first apartment—but the sooner you begin to learn about your style, what you value most in your space, how you want to live, the fewer mistakes you’ll make as your home and your needs grow.”

Though great designers can be found online, Santos encourages clients to always meet a potential partner. “There’s nothing quite like working together in person. That’s why we have designers meet potential clients in their homes. Design is so much about the way we feel—it’s the touch of a certain type of fabric or the way a chair feels to sit in. Making those very personal decisions always seems more rewarding in person.”

About Noa Santos

After graduating from Stanford University with a degree in architecture and business, Noa Santos started his career working at one of New York’s top interior design firms. Santos quickly became frustrated with the opaque and inaccessible nature of the industry and wanted to give the field a redesign. In 2012, the Hawaii native launched Homepolish, a high-end design platform as a solution to make interior design more accessible to a wider audience and help accelerate designer’s careers. Today, the company represents the country’s top emerging residential and commercial interior design talent – creating one-of-a-kind spaces for over 10,000 home and offices nationwide. Santos was named one of Forbes “30 Under 30” Art & Style recipients in 2016 and has personally designed for Leandra Medine, Emily Weiss, Patrick Janelle and the Sweetgreen founder to name a few.


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