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Where can I find this mirror?

These images from Coastal Living. Love the dining room. It's decorated by former lawyer turned stay-at-home-mom, Cheryl Guibone. Not too shabby for a dilettante, right? Those housewives should know better than to try their own hand at decorating. Silly women. You just can't control 'em.* I bet she found a way to get a deal on her fabric, too.

*Kidding... only kidding. Read the comments to THIS post and you'll see why... :)

And here's a LINK to a NYTimes article about design getting democratic.


Jules said...

She's done a hell of a lot better than this ex-attorney turned SAHM. Maybe she was smart and saved some of her money before she quit. ;)

About Lauren... said...

Hi Decorno,
I also love this mirror...there is this one from Mecox Gardens (a little pricey)
And also a more budget friendly version from Thomasville (who knew??) I think it is $499 or $599
Material Girls Blog

Jennifer said...

not to be picky, but I'm pretty sure those are from the April issue of Coastal Living (the one with the living room with fish above the fireplace you posted on a few weeks ago).

Interesting article about her and the house in the New York Times:

and more about the house here:

Decorno said...

Jennifer - you are so right. I just updated the post with the correct attribution. Thanks!

maison21 said...

i was going to refer you to the thomasville mirror that lauren already mentioned- i think i first saw it on her blog, anyway! it's very similar in feeling to the one in the photo, and we won't tell anyone you got it at thomasville :)

i think the one shown in the photo was offered by horchow, but it doesn't seem to be on their website any longer. you might check ebay for it though, as there are a couple of sellers who stock discontinued items from horchow/neiman-marcus home...

good luck- it's pretty!

Anonymous said...

You just had to go there didn't you? Just kidding - got my blood pressure up again... Love the article though, hadn't seen that one before. I've sent it out to my Designer/Decorator friends - will be interesting to see what kind of froth gets whipped up - I'll put on my helmet and keep you posted if anything interesting happens...

maison21 said...

ok- just read the new york times article. thanks for sharing it! i thought this post was about the mirror- i was soooo wrong.

old school decorators like mr. buatta, really are a dying breed. not that his business model is wrong, but the times IS right- everyone has access to everything, so exclusivity is a thing of the past.

still, there is a need for decorators because not everyone has the time or the talent (or experience) to do it themselves. ordering the wrong size custom sofa is one of the most costly mistakes an inexperienced person can make, and just hiring a decorator to draw up a floorplan can prevent that error and thus be worth the money.

if someone wants to hire me just to give them a floor plan, then they'll go find their furniture by themselves, great! in that case, they can pay me by the hour, and that's that. if they want me to actually do all the footwork and select the right furnishings, fabric, lighting and accessories, that's cool too. in that case, i charge an hourly rate plus a percentage on the purchase price and allow my clients to pay directly whenever possible- less headache for me, and they get the miles! there are no "list" price decorator shenanigans- everyone knows exactly what everything costs, right up front. if clients can source items cheaper than i, more power to them! BUT, i still get my percentage for specifying and/or approving the item, whether it costs a dollar or a 100 dollars. my clients are purchasing my talent, skills, time and experience, and that isn't free- just like ANY professional's services aren't free. if you want my advice for free, read my blog! (as well as the other multitudes of fab decorating blogs like this one, of course).

last, in a funny coincidence, becca hartmeier, quoted in the times' article, actually purchased many items for her home through me on ebay! she has a valid point- most decorators probably would approve a 100k in furnishings for a 30k commission, but in her decorator's defense, if the client likes the stuff, and there is room for it all, and it all works, well, why wouldn't they approve?

i have to admit though, i find it hard to swallow that every item picked out by a client could work. in this case that's entirely possible, as becca has an excellent eye, and when you shop at the stores on la cienega, the garbage is pre-weeded out. but personally, i wouldn't approve something a client has picked out that's just plain wrong for the space, just to get a bit of commission. after all, if the finished room looks crappy, it's MY reputation that suffers, not the clients and that certainly isn't worth a small bit of money gained by a one time commission. BUT if the item is right, i don't care where it comes from or how much it costs, or if i found it or the client did. case in point, for a current project, i just hung an $80.00 chandelier over a $7000.00 table, and it looks fabulous!

so yes, to all- do it yourself, or hire a professional, spend a little, or spend a lot- just make your life a little prettier!

Sheila said...

Hello Hello Decorno,

I've been reading your blog for awhile (lurking actually) and have been enjoying every morsel. Love it love it...

Let's get down to business, regarding that mirror you're looking for, I kind of found something similar
and it's not too expensive.

Check it out.

Loving, loving your blog!

Linda Merrill said...

Boy, they must do things differently in California than here in New England. I've never known anyone who gets a commission based on purchases the client made independently. I don't like it when a client does it without consulting me because I feel like they undercut the plan - as maison21 said, it's not likely every item would be perfection. And, i don't love it if I'm feeling like we had a plan in place and I projected my income based on that plan (decorators have to pay the mortgage too!), but that said, I just can't imagine demanding a fee on items my clients bought without me.

I thought the article was an interesting one, although I am certain there are trade only items in Domino - I've seen them and was surprised. I'll have to read more closely.

I actually offer a buyers service for trade-only items because there is a large group of people who will not hire a designer, but know what they like and are willing to pay for it. I am also entering into an arrangement with a trade-only rug dealer in my area who gets walk in business they can't serve, yet those potential clients will not hire a designer to buy a rug. So, I am going to play middleman and provide access to the showroom for a relatively small fee. The hope for me is that they might move up to the level of wanting design advice, but if they don't, then they would never become a client of mine or anyone elses anyway...

Anonymous said...

As much as I would love to say a lot about this topic, I will refrain (I know you are all grateful considering my last attempt at a debate turned train-wreck - see previous exchange referenced in this post). I will say that I think the bottom line is best illustrated by Linda's last post. It seems that the way things are done depends on where you are. I know that seems painfully obvious, but it is just starting to click with me. Makes even more sense now why there is such a passionate debate about the topic. I am in the southeast, and we are notoriously the last ones to catch up with the current trend...

maison21 said...

hi linda-

i just want to be clear (maybe i came off too harsh)- i don't actually "demand" a fee from my clients when they make a purchase- we are working together on their home, so hopefully they would consult me before bringing a purchase into a scheme we've mapped out together- just as i would consult them prior to making a purchase on their behalf. it's a relationship built on trust (and a contract), and frankly i've never really had any real problems, because clients are paying me for my opinion and want my approval for purchases. for this, i do indeed charge a selection fee. of course, there is the occasional client impulse buy- a pair of lamps, or pillow, etc. (understandable- they are excited and want to participate in the process a little more). in that situation, i wouldn't want to charge a selection fee, nor could i realistically- i would have no idea of what the client spent anyway.

but if a client were to buy a significant piece, something that i specified on a floor plan but purchased without my knowledge or approval, then yes, i would deserve my selection fee. as to whether or not i would actually bill them, it depends on the circumstances. i would however, let them know that we need to discuss items with me before they buy, and that basically it's not cool to do so while we are in a contract together that specifies otherwise. if it became a pattern, then i would terminate our contract. i don't want to come off sounding like a bitch, but terminating a client relationship if the client doesn't respect our contractual agreement is something i don't have a problem with. life is too short, and i love what i do too much to waste time on people who aren't professional and an appreciative participant in the process.

out of curiosity- what is your policy when a client buys something on their own? it's a difficult situation we've all faced at one time or another, so i'm quite interested in the practices of other professionals.


christian aka maison21

ps- good luck with the carpet store. i have friends that have stores and that's how they get a lot of design clients- people come in looking for something like a rug, and end up realizing that the rug is the start of a snowball decorating affect, and that they are in over their heads! i've gained clients myself because they purchased something from me on ebay, and later asked for my decorating assistance- so partnering with a store sounds like a great way to get yourself introduced to a new audience as a designer!

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is charging both:

(1) an hourly fee


(2) a fee for approving an item a client bought himself.

Why doesn't the hourly fee cover the approval process?

I understand that the designer wants to be compensated for making the original specification: e.g., the size of the sofa, the style, the kind of fabric, the color, etc. I get that. But why isn't that work covered by the hourly rate?

Charging an hourly rate AND an approval fee for a purchase a client made sounds like double-dipping.

Cote de Texas said...

Maison, I'm with you 100 percent.

Anon: Let me answer the double dip question - the hourly fee is the time (which is money) that it takes you to get in the car, drive to your client's house or the store, look at what they picked out and assess if it is right for the room. The time you take to do this - an hour or so - if you weren't with this client, you would be with another client. The client must pay you for that time. NOW - it's part of your FEE to make a percentage on the items purchased. Let's say, a client picks out a sofa for 5000, your FEE is 1,000 plus the time it took you away from another client to approve it - the hourly rate. It's not double dipping at all. So, by your reasoning, you should just make the hourly fee of 100? or just the 1,000, the cost plus, which is the FEE for your opinion, taste, expertise? Do you understand? Let's say, your client brings the iten to your office and you spend 5 minutes sayaing yes! or no! - then, there is no hourly fee becuase it didn't take you away from another client's time to approve. But you still make your FEE, which is the percentage of the item. You ALWAYS make the FEE, your hourly rate is variable depending on the time it took to approve it. comprende?

Myself, though, I don't charge a hourly rate. I find it makes people nervous, turns them into clock watchers, rushes things up, creates suspicions. But that's me. I lose a lot of money doing that that I should be making. Like going to a client's house just to fluff it up for a party. total waste of my time. But, when I started out, I felt I was worth a lot of money to a client. So being cheap was a reason for someone to hire me. In the decade that I've been working, I just haven't gotten out of the "I'm cheap, hire me" mentality.

But--for the joy hA!!!! of working with me, my client will pay me 20 percent of EVERYTHING they buy or I buy for the job. Whatever the end cost of the room is - I'm getting 20 percent. That's my FEE. If you want my taste, that's what you will pay. If you spend 20,000 on decorating your bedroom, regardless of whether you bought it online or I bought it retail at Pottery barn or wholesale at the decorator center - you will write me a check at the end of the job for $4,000. if we agree on 20 percent. But I"m cheap, I know it. Too cheap. I keep saying I"m going to up to 25 or even 30 but I don't.

I like charging an Cost Plus FEE. I cant' stand the To the Trade racket, all the hidden costs, the padded bids, etc. Everything is on the table with my clients - they can and do see every single bid, receipt, bill I get. NOthing is hidden or padded. There is a lot of distrust of IDs out there and I can't stand that - I don't ever want to be accused of stealing something from the client or padding a bill or pulling the wool over their eyes or cheating them. That's why it's 20 percent. period.

For the smaller jobs, where maybe not much furniture will be bought, just maybe paint and pushing furniture around, Ill just charge a set fee for the job, like 500 or whatever.

And - if a client goes to a store and sees a chandelier they want, they WILL call me before it's installed. If they don't, then they don't need me. I can't imagaine a client ever doing that. They want my opinion otherwise they wouldn't hire me in the first place. There is NO way a client would buy something substantial and put it in the room without my approval and consent. And if they did, and I didn't approve of it, my job would be over. I wouldn't want my name on something I didn't approve of.

One of my biggest and best clients even has her own Sales Tax License - due to her husband's business of building apartments. A sales tax license in Texas means you have the right to purchase wholesale and not pay tax - and we have never had a dispute over something she bought with her discount on her own. She always gets my approval and if I don't approve of something - she trusts my judgement, my taste, my expertise and returns it. If we keep it, she'll send me a check with 20 percent commission, without me even having to bill her. They're dream clients though.

Anonymous said...

"I don't charge a hourly rate."

That part I comprendre. (Translation: You don't charge twice for the same thing.)

I do understand not wanting your name associated with client choices you don't like. I understand how that is objectionable, aesthetically, to a designer, that it diminishes or distorts his reputation, messes with his vision, etc.

But that is a separate issue from the charging-twice issue.

Anonymous said...

You can find that mirror here:

I've been going to order it since it appeared in Domino over a year ago...

-Anonymous Hardware Guy's Future Wife

Linda Merrill said...

Christian/aka maison21 - I didn't think you were coming off harsh at all. I was agreeing with your point. And I totally agree, if the client isn't respecting the contract and it becomes a pattern, I'd terminate the arrangement as well.

I thought more about the article after commenting last night and I would say I also agree with you - if I'd specified something that the client then went out and purchased on their own, then I'd expect to receive my agreed upon fee. I was thinking it was more of a case where the clients just go out and buy something (or a whole bunch of somethings) that they like without regard to the plan or my opinion. I'd walk away from that as well, because it's not only about the money, but about respect for my opinion and expertise. When I started, I didn't express my feelings in these situations and always felt somehow diminished by the situation.

Now, if it was one or two small items, I'll accept it (it's their house after all), but if it became a pattern, I'd have a conversation about it - are they unhappy and aren't expressing it, are they finding having a design too restrictive in someway that we can work on. I'd try to make it work because I do think client some times make decisions without realizing how it affects the designer (both in income and at a respect level), they're not trying to be cheap or hurtful, they are looking out for themselves. I feel it's common here in frugal New England - we have a deep seated practical streak that looks to save at every turn, ask for discounts and price shop.

Joni - you make very good points about the hidden fees. You do sound like you have a dream client there. I think one of the most difficult things about this business is the invoicing. I've certainly had clients who would never pay a 20% markup on retail goods, but are happy to pay me my hourly rate to go to Lowes and pick up door stoppers. And I've had clients who start haggling over the hourly time spent - or clearly rush the meetings to shorten the time - who never question the invoices. I think our industry would do well to develop some kind of standard that would be fair to the designer/decorator (that old argument!) but is transparent to the client.

I think ultimately, the democratization of design (going back to Mr. Buatta) with the design shows on tv, the internet and shelter mags, is the reason it's all so confusing. And when people are confused, they are distrustful. The days when a client handed over a chunk of cash and paid for taste, access and "uniqueness" in their decor have gone the way of Pottery Barn interiors and herd like choices. It's harder to make the case that the professional brings something worth paying for to the table when the client only wants what his neighbor has. There's a point in there somewhere, but I'm not making it very well, sorry!

Anonymous said...

Many close enough and as i read various comments within a modest budget ..... most of the time free shipping and often on sale mirrors - subscribe
did you like the trellis treatments?

Anonymous Hardware Guy said...

In my line of work, I don't get a separate fee for hardware specification. I do need to walk a job to review doors, special conditions, etc. Barring the ability to get to the site, I at least need a set of floor plans and a door schedule.

This doesn't include the time in my showroom, or at their builder's place, reviewing hardware styles and finishes. This can take several visits as the selections are narrowed to the final choice(s).

I don't charge an hourly rate for the consultation and specification stages. I will look into this and weigh my time spent against the margin I make on product. I appreciate the insight, ladies!

The issue of not wanting my name associated with a particular choice is a huge concern for me. What I want is the client so happy that she tells others about me. I've put high Victorian hardware on an Arts & Crafts bungalow. I didn't like it. I tried to steer the client toward my architecturally appropriate designs & finishes, but ultimately she wanted what she wanted. If that makes my client happy, great! I'm just the (anonymous) hardware guy. When that customer is pleased, she'll tell others.

I have a client now that is building a large custom home. The customer is using hardware from several different manufacturers, in different styles and finishes. She is clearly enjoying the selection process, and she's thrilled that her home will really express her style. Wonderful! She told me that her builder fought with her and her husband on nearly every feature of the house, from small things like choice of flooring(!!) to large things like the heating system. She and her husband are so dissatisfied with the builder experience that they are telling almost anyone who will listen what a bad experience it has been. They've stopped telling the builder. For him, that's a silent killer.

One note: A client who comes to me with internet pricing in hand, or a Home Depot look in their eye does not get much of my time. I don't provide them with part numbers, specification lists, or my pricing without some type of financial commitment. I'll give them list prices, and spend a bit of time chatting, but I won't sink time into this customer.

Anonymous Hardware Guy said...

I actually, in my 4th paragraph, I meant to type that it is having my name associated with a particular choice is NOT a huge concern for me.

Damn these gloves and dark glasses!!

Anonymous Hardware Guy said...

I actually, in my 4th paragraph, I meant to type that it is having my name associated with a particular choice is NOT a huge concern for me.

Damn these gloves and dark glasses!!

Anonymous said...


You're making it extremely well. That is an eloquent and thoughtful appraisal of the uncertainty of the designer-client relationship at this moment in history.

Here's the way I perceive it as a (potential) client:

The word "fee" to me means "amount I charge to devote time and skill to you, my client, to the exclusion of other clients, whether I'm looking at chairs in a design center or drawing you a floor plan or approving a purchase pr whatever."

To me, the traditional "hourly fee PLUS percentage of anything bought" translates to "Well, one is my fee, and the also my fee."

I like very much your honesty in saying
"i projected my income based on that plan (decorators have to pay the mortgage too!)" That I understand. A client comes up in the middle of a job and says: "Well, I just did a big chunk of the work you were planning to do, so I'm paying you a big chunk less." You're gonna be pissed. You thought you had that money in the bank. It's like not getting a paycheck you had predicted. I get that.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but: I actually prefer the model of the real estate industry. Agents charge a fixed percentage of the cost of the house being bought. That's it. No "per hour" fee tacked on. The percentage covers the amount of time and energy the agent devoted to that one client, whether the agent was driving the client out or preparing an offer or whatever. One provision of service, one house obtained for one client--one fee. It makes sense to me.

Bottom line: I like Joni's personal business model. Though she probably hates that I like it. ;-)

Anonymous said...


When you say:

"I lose a lot of money doing that that I should be making. Like going to a client's house just to fluff it up for a party. total waste of my time."

I don't think you're wasting your time at all. You're building and strengthening relationships, and your own reputation. These kinds of fluffy services just make the client all the more willing to pass your name on to her friends, or call you again for another job.

Anonymous Hardware Guy said...

I agree with the previous 2 anonymous posts. While I spend a great deal of time with my clients during the selection process, it pays off in their satisfaction. That goodwill then translates to recommendations and I'm always hopeful that it will help generate additional business. A very happy customer is always my ultimate goal!

PS. Anonymous Hardware Guy is married (13 yrs) to an outstanding wife and we have2 wonderful daughters. Mrs. AHG is not standing behind me with a pistol pointed at my head or any other body part while I type this. Honest!

CSS said...

Hey Decorno,

I loved this house so much when I first saw it in a regional CT magazine (the Guibones live in Westport, CT). The mirror is vintage from Dovecote an awesome store in Westport ( I haven't seen the Coastal Living magazine but her whole house was featured in the above mag, here is the link to the article from Winter 2007. The whole article is not online, so if you wanted to see more pics I can scan it and send to you if you want...The house is great and I love that she mixes in pieces from Homegoods and estate sales.

CSS said...

Oops, here is the link:

Anonymous said...

After reading all of the comments, this topic is really interesting to me. I have used designers in the past and have been left feeling somewhat taken advantage of (not always, of course).

Case in point, does it really take 45 minutes to write up an order for 2 yards of fabric? And what about when I get an invoice for a number of things and something that I know wasn't done yet is listed? One more question, when you designers send out an invoice, and lets say you spend 10 hours on a project that month, do you say 2.5 hours for fabric selection, 1 wallpaper, etc. or is it just 10 hours not broken out?

Also, what if I am introduced to a service provider (wallpaper installer, for example) and I then refer business to that person for my friends because they did a great job (they also left me cards to give out). Down the road if I happen to have wallpaper to be put up but I didn't get it through th designer who introduced me (Let's say I found something on Ebay), do I need to run the bill through the designer, since they made the initial introduction?
Any other thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I think the most important thing about a designer/client relationship is honesty. I am hearing everyone's business models and I am inspired, impressed, and reassured by the careful care and thought that goes into the whole process. My contract has evolved over the years, and luckily I have had wonderful clients and very few problems (for the most part.) As professionals, we absolutely need to make a living, but I wish the public would also appreciate that we are ultimately also obsessed with making the project turn out beautifully. I think the client's number one job is to be honest and communicate clearly with their designer. The designer is also obligated to be honest and communicate openly as well. As a client you have every right to question invoices, billing procedures, and fees. If there is something that you don't understand or seems wrong, it is absolutely your responsibility to question it. We are human, we do make mistakes. Also, a lot of times there is a bookkeeper or assistant who helps with billing and sometimes they may not fully understand the nuances of billing procedures. I have experienced that a lot. It would be so unfortunate to develop a bad taste in your mouth about designers in general based on situations that should have been addressed. Your contract with your designer should be pretty clear, and if it is not, ask questions. Your relationship with your designer is very intimate - they are in your home, your family's space, your bedrooms and bathrooms. There needs to be mutual respect or else the whole relationship will go south. Anon 10:40 I really appreciate your questions - I think you have brought up an excellent issue in a very open minded way. Your issue about using subs - if they gave you their business card, then the relationship is now your in my mind. I would never expect to make a commission on labor for a job I had nothing to do with. A good designer should want to promote their subs and shoudln't begrudge them any future business. Hope this helps.

Linda Merrill said...

Anon - regarding billing - I generally ere on the side of too much information. Since I bill by the hour and take an up front deposit against an estimated amount of hours, I feel it's very important to detail the invoice. So yes, each invoice line has the date of service, # hours and what was done. My invoice for products are broken down - labor and materials. I actually like Joni's 20% flat fee way of doing things. The hourly thing is time consuming to track.

As for the double dipping debate, I do charge both an hourly rate for design work, and a markup on goods. But, my hourly is for the planning/designing/meeting part, once they make their decision and the item is purchased through me, I don't charge for my time to place orders, oversee the process and installation (unless there is something out of the ordinary going on). So, I've spent hours and hours overseeing installations that I'm not charging for, because I feel that's part of what they are paying for when they buy something. And I always oversee installations (for instance window treatments) because if there are problems, it's easier to fix them, or calm the client down, on site vs. hearing about it second hand from the client or installer. As a result, I've never had a problem that turned into a PROBLEM because of mistakes.

As for clients who re-hire service people.I'd rather see the contractor be willing to pay me a referral fee on the new job - since I am still responsible for his getting it - than asking it of the client. Either way it's hard to manage without looking like your hand is always out.

Now - can we talk about what to charge for our time when we're cleaning things for our clients? For instance, I oversaw a custom carpet install for a client and ended up doing the vacuuming because I wasn't satisfied after the installer left and wanted my client to be super-pleased. Or the time I washed and polished a clients stemware and silver for a showhouse because she forgot to ask her cleaning lady to do it!

Anonymous said...


This sounds more fair to me than the double-dipping:

"my hourly is for the planning/designing/meeting part, once they make their decision and the item is purchased through me, I don't charge for my time to place orders, oversee the process and installation (unless there is something out of the ordinary going on)."

I wonder how many designers and decorators follow this model?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous Hardware Guy,

It's okay - I'm (happily) married, too, so it's probably better this way.


-Former Future Mrs. Anonymous Hardware Guy

Anonymous said...

It's not a good idea for the decorator to expect or to ask for a "referral fee" from a subcontractor, especially on a job the decorator isn't even involved in. These arrangements just degenerate into a sleazy network of kickbacks. Then the decorator's credibility suffers; clients can't tell if the referrals are made because the subcontractors are genuinely good, or because everyone is getting his palm greased.

Linda Merrill said...

Anon at 5:52 - you're right. It is a slippery slope. On the other hand, if the client is happily referring the contractor, then the decorator referral was a good one and the contractor is showing his/her thanks for ongoing work. I know decorators who don't do any hiring or run the contractors fees through their books at all (to avoid liability) and ask the contractor to add a % onto the client bill. In a way, this isn't different than any commission paid to a sales person. That said, I don't do it, it's too gray an area. I charge the client an oversight fee of 20% if I'm managing the contractor and the client pays the contractors invoice directly. If the contractor gets more work out of it, then I have a happy client who respects my referrals, which is good enough for me.

btw - I love the genteel flirting between Anonymous Hardware Guy and the now Former Future Mrs. Anonymous Hardware Guy.

Anonymous said...

Laypeople refer their friends and neighbors to plumbers, electricians, doctors, lawyers, etc.--with no expectation of a "referral fee." I think that should be the model. It keeps the process trustworthy.

Mélanie said...

I read everything ! Very interesting post ! everybody has an idea about fees , no fees...

Anonymous said...

In the real estate industry, "referral fees" (between agent and home inspector, e.g.) got so out-of-control that the whole thing had to be regulated. Now such kickbacks are either prohibited or have to be fully disclosed to the buyer, so he or she can judge whether a "referral" is being made in good faith or because there might be a financial incentive built into the system.

maison21 said...

hey there-

double-dipper maison21 here- sounds like a an ice cream cone, doesn't it?

so much to say, and so little time to say it- i'm off to a client meeting soon, for which i *gasp* charge an hourly rate! how dare i expect to be compensated for my time! the nerve!

does maison21 have a chip on his shoulder about this whole double-dipper thing? you betcha.

my chip is firmly in place because interior designers are one of the few professions where somehow it has been deemed unseemly to turn a profit, or to charge a reasonable fee for services AND goods (two entirely different things, mind you- and thank you, joni, for leaping to my defense and explaining that one). not only are we looked down upon for wanting to make a decent living, we are probably one of the few professions where we are told EVERYDAY "oh, i can do that myself- why should i pay somebody?" well, you wouldn't break your leg and say "well, i broke my leg once before and all the doctor did was reset the bone and wrap my leg in plaster. it looked pretty easy- why should i pay a doctor when i can do it myself?".

and kiddos, i got news for you- design takes skills! like education, knowledge, patience, experience and above all TALENT. the former are learned things, so yes, anyone can learn them but talent? you are either born with it or not- it can't be faked or learned. and all these things are attributes that deserve to be fairly compensated.

also people don't realize how mind numbingly tedious parts of the job are, and how time consuming. for instance a custom sofa with a few pillows on it, can literally generate a stack of paperwork an inch thick- i kid you not. invoices and confirmations from the upholster, 3 or 4 different fabric houses, and a maybe a couple of trim companies. then there is the company that backed the fabric, if you chose to use something delicate like silk, and the people that scotchgarded the fabric if you have kids, and the freight involved for all the fabric and the delivery people for the sofa and on and on... and yet, one person is expected to track, and pay for and arrange all that, and you would begrudge that person an hourly fee for doing so because they also made a modest fee on the cost of the sofa? actually, i usually don't charge an hourly rate for that kind of thing- it's part of the job, but when i do, believe me, i deserve it (i'll get to my fee structure in a minute). to use the analogy of another profession again, when you hire an attorney, you are billed for the attorney's time- AND the paralegals who did any research, AND a fee for copies of documents made AND a fee for fed-ex AND a fee for the courier who filed the papers at court. see where i'm going? big design firms often bill like this as well, but somehow we little independents are expected to just fold it all into our percentage fees.

so let's talk double-dipping: i charge an hourly rate for my time and also a percentage on goods purchased. my time includes design services like conceptualizing, planning, sketching etc. it also includes meeting with the client, as well as meeting with contractors, painters delivery people, etc. ( i choose to bill hourly for this process, unlike linda, who chooses to charge a percentage on the subs bills). and sometimes, it also includes shopping- (and here's where the anons of the world are going to have a fit, but i don't mind, they should be educated and the process should be as transparent as possible). yes, sometimes i bill hourly for shopping. it can be a bit of a gray area, and i have to use my discretion (which again, my clients trust me to do). and anons might see it as double dipping, but let me attempt to explain my rationale:

i use the hourly rate structure as a protection for myself to insure that i am fairly compensated, AND to reassure my clients that they are not getting ripped off. unlike joni, who just charges a percentage to allay client fears about hourly rates, my take is, i think people are more suspicious of being coerced into buying the most expensive thing possible so the decorator can make more money off it percentage wise. which actually couldn't be further from the truthi n my case- i want the best design solution for the space be it expensive or be it super cheap, by billing hourly, i can reassure my clients "i don't care if we buy the $80.00 chandelier as opposed to the $1800.00 one- ii've been compensated already". this way if they choose the $80.00 one, i don't have to feel bitter about losing commission either- i've been paid (and you'd be surprised on the $decision- it can go either way, some people want to spend a lot and some don't). if they were to buy an $18000.00 chandelier, i'd never even bill them for any hours involved in the selection process- i've been more than compensated. but i would NEVER pressure a client to buying a more expensive item, just to make more money- it feels very car-salesman like to me, and i don't ever want to be put into that position. we've all dealt with salespeople desperate for commission, and it ain't pretty, but can you blame them for trying to upsell you when their entire paycheck depends on it, and they've got a mortgage to pay and 3 kids to feed? it's just human nature, but something i don't want to participate in, as a buyer or seller of goods.

so why not just bill hourly? because the client would be shocked when they saw the actual number of hours worked, and probably think the bill was padded. i'd also have to increase my hourly rate to such a sky high figure that it would scare anyone off from hiring my services. as it is, i probably only bill for a third of the time i actually spend on a project. some of that is intentional- i don't bill if i feel the commission fee was enough, and i don't usually bill for shopping time at all- i generally shop for several clients at once, so there is no way to break it down anyway. but if i'm shopping for a specific client need- like the client whose son had asthma and allergies, and at her request i spend untold hours researching and shopping for hypo-allergenic fabrics and products, and low voc finished furniture, then yes, i bill for the time involved in shopping (well, a portion of it anyway). in that particular case, the client, after finding out how expensive the asthma and allergy safe products were, decided that her son's problems weren't so bad and bought furniture for him on-sale from pottery barn! i'm glad i was able to bill for a portion of the hours spent and recoup a portion of the time and money wasted- and that kind of thing is not at all unusual, so you can see why hourly billing is sometimes necessary. (and btw, the client in question was actually an EXCELLENT client to work with, and i'd work with her again in a heart beat).

another reason i have no problem with my fee structure - nor do my clients- is that they KNOW i'm saving them money in the end. whenever possible i purchase with a trade discount, anywhere from 10% to 50%, depending on the vendor, so usually that alone offsets any percentage fee that i charge. i also have built relations with many local sources, and get great prices. case in point, i recently bought about $3000 worth of vintage furniture and accessories for a client from a local store, but because i knew the vendor (and aid cash) i got the lot for $1850.00. if my client had walked in off the street, the most they would have received off the purchase was a 10% "trade" discount, and they would have got that only if they'd known to ask for it- other it would have been full sticker price.

also, i'm probably the only decorator out there who would try to talk a client into an $80.00 chandelier. i know what i can get away with as far as using low end goods to get a high end look, and hopefully, we can use the money saved to splurge on another item elsewhere. if we never make the spurge on something else? oh, well, i don't care- i've been compensated!

i hope that helps explain things a bit to anon about my fees- 99.99 percent of the population will never work with a decorator, so confusion about how it all works is understandable, and when we all bill differently, it just makes it harder. it doesn't help that for years, the pricing structure was set so it was impossible for anyone to figure it out anyway and obscurity of costs vs. billed was completely intentional. not cool, that was.

personally, i don't break out time spent on different things on my invoice to clients, but if they would like to see it, i keep records and am happy to show them. same with receipts. the not breaking down time billing is a personal choice on my part- it just makes my invoice prettier, which i feel is important in an aesthetic based business, and also, psychologically, the client might not understand why it only took 15 minutes to find the right wallpaper (that was SOOOO expensive- you made your decision that fast?) or why it took 15 hours to find the right nightstands (remember- i designed 3 different custom options, none of which you really liked, then showed you 4 different antique versions, which were all too expensive, so then we went shopping for a whole day, to a baziliion different stores? and in the end, you decided you liked what i first designed for you? remember?). BUT if they ask, my records are freely available.

to the person that asked about referrals- i am always happy to give my tradespeople business- they are excellent at what they do and deserve the business, so refer away! please mention me to the person you are giving the reference to and have them tell the tradespeople- if they get too busy, i want them to remember where some of that business came from and make time for me!

whew- that's a lot of venting (and hopefully a little insightful to the process). i'm too tired to proofread, and i have to run anyway, so i hope it all makes sense!

happy decorating to all- even anon!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Hardware Man: You need your own blog!

Anonymous said...

The good news is that Maison doesn't always double-dip. Just sometimes.

The bad news: Though he claims that "the process should be as transparent as possible," we are never going to attain anything close to transparency for clients as long as a decorator says things like:

"sometimes i bill hourly for shopping"

and then, just a little later:

"i don't usually bill for shopping time at all"

So which is it? Why can't the client know, in advance, whether the decorator is or is not billing for shopping time?

Why the arbitrariness? Let's see...

"if they [the client] were to buy an $18000.00 chandelier, i'd never even bill them for any hours involved in the selection process- i've been more than compensated."

But how would the client know that? How would the client know whether the decorator's cut of the chandelier price does or does not "more than compensate" the decorator?

What if the chandelier is not $18,000 but $4,000? Will the decorator's cut of $4,000 "more than compensate" the decorator? Or at least "adequately" compensate him? The client has no way of knowing...

Apparently, some mysterious process takes place inside the decorator's head that determines whether the hourly fee does or does not kick in, and the decision seems to depend on how much the item costs. If it costs $18,000: No hourly fee. But if it costs $4,000...? Hourly fee? No hourly fee? The client won't know until the bill arrives...

But even THAT's not transparent. Instead, there's yet more mystery:

"the 'not breaking down time' billing is a personal choice on my part- it just makes my invoice prettier." So much for "the process should be as transparent as possible." Prettiness before transparency, I guess.

Only if the client specifically requests it can he find out exactly how the decorator used his time. This would be like being handed a receipt at the grocery store that simply reads: "$104.25 for miscellaneous items. If you have to have more information, you must go speak to the manager." That is just going to make the client/customer feel penny-pinching and distrustful.

And what about the lawyer analogy? "When you hire an attorney, you are billed for the attorney's time- AND the paralegals who did any research, AND a fee for copies of documents made AND a fee for fed-ex AND a fee for the courier who filed the papers at court." So if an attorney's bill will break out all those costs, why can't a decorator's bill? Well, it's not "pretty" and it will upset the client.

Under these kinds of deliberate veiling, there is no hope of transparency to the client. Until then, Joni's model seems the clearest and cleanest. And the most transparent.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Anon 4:33, my interpretation of what Maison21 was saying is this - keep track of your time and bill depending on what is purchased - IN FAVOR of the client. I think it is admirable for Maison21 to NOT bill for time if a client purchases an $18,000 chandelier when M21 is also getting a commission from the vendor. In reality, if Maison21 were billing as, for example, a lawyer does, the client would be billed for every minute - $18,000 chandelier or not. Try to see where the designer is coming from - you specify items all day long having no clue what the client will purchase. Your client decides to purchase an $18,000 chandelier, so you decide to cut them a break and NOT charge the hourly fee. Maybe I am way off base, but that is my interpretation of what Maison21 was saying. Wonder why this is always such a heated debate? So much distrust - again, I have to point out that it is up to the client to ask these questions. Designers treat clients as individuals and therefore each situation is different. Instead of assuming that designers are out to overcharge, why not just be up front and ask questions?

Anonymous said...

I'm not arguing that he's overcharging. I'm arguing that his billing lacks transparency and it lacks consistency.

For contrast, look at Joni and Linda, both of whose terms seem to me clear and unambiguous. Neither one says: "Well, I might make an on-the-spot decision to stop the per-hour meter and switch to percentage only." Joni says: "No per-hour charge, ever." Linda is also very clear: After she has done all her planning and she is ready to order furniture and other items, she stops the per-hour meter and shifts to a percentage-of-cost mode. That's a firm, clear policy she can state, explicitly and unambiguously, at the very first client meeting.

Maison, on the other hand, is unable to spell out to his clients, in advance, when the per-hour meter goes on and when it goes off. That apparently is a subjective judgment he makes on the spot. It seems to depend, at least in part, on whether the price of the chandelier (or whatever) hits some magic number.

So, let's look at his example: We know that a $20,000 chandelier shuts the per-hour meter off, and we know that an $80 chandelier kicks the per-hour meter back on. So what's the transition point? At what price point will the decorator turn the percent-fee meter off and the per-hour meter on? $5,000? $2,500?

More importantly, why can't that price point be openly disclosed to the client at the first meeting, in a schedule of fees? Which brings up the issue of disclosure...

You say: "It is up to the client to ask these questions." You're only partly right. First, it is up to the decorator to spell out his terms as explictly as possible. Then, and only then, can the client even figure out what questions to ask.

Anonymous said...

My point is this - it is the responsibility of BOTH parties to be up-front and ask questions. A client can't act like a victim of price gauging if they don't take the time to open their mouth and ask a question....please stop trying to make this some conspiracy...

Anonymous said...

Just noticed this:

"M21 is also getting a commission from the vendor."

So under the traditonal hourly-fee-plus-percentage arrangement, he'd get:

1. a commission from the vendor,

2. a percentage of the price from the client (i.e., a second commission),

3. AND a per-hour fee from the client"?

maison21 said...

thanks mrlfvl!

that's EXACTLY what i was saying- i ALWAYS bill in favor of the client, and if they ever want to see my records, i'm happy to show them that i only bill for 1/2 to 1/3 of my actual time spent. it's just not in me to do it any other way. i'm not running a charity, but i would never be deceptive for monetary gain. and unfortunately, i've got the beat up 10 year old pick-up truck to prove it.

i feel bad for anon- i bet they think everyone is out to "get" them. i've got news for you anon- we aren't. there really are decent, honest people in this world. even decorators.

i think i'm done here, though. irrational hatred leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. it's just not so much fun to be called dishonest by someone that has never met me, or ever engaged in business with me.

thanks again, mrlfvl (and joni and everyone else who defended me).

maison21 said...

now i'm pissed- i never said anything like
""M21 is also getting a commission from the vendor."

never have and never will.

whatever. as i said i'm done.

Anonymous said...

mrlfvl, you're a poor listener. That's a shame, for a person whose work requires her to listen to her clients carefully and reflect on what they say. And by your langauge, I can see you're starting to slip into your Shrieky Decorator Syndrome, which we all know is not pretty. So I'll keep this short:

I admire Joni and Linda's philosophy: the work associated with a purchase (the ordering, the installation, the trouble-shooting, etc.) is fairly compensated by the percentage they charge. No per-hour charge needed.

Anonymous said...

It was mrlfvl who said the vendor paid Maison a commission. Her exact words:

"I think it is admirable for Maison21 to NOT bill for time if a client purchases an $18,000 chandelier when M21 is also GETTING A COMMISSION FROM THE VENDOR."

Cote de Texas said...

whew, glad I don't charge hourly, smile, but that was a marketing decision to be cheap because truthfully, when I started out, I wasn't worth much.

Anon - about the double dipping: I tried to explain that the commission is part of the fee of doing of the job. The hourly rate is also the fee, which has nothing to do with the commission. The cost of hiring a decorator is paying a commission for what is purchased PLUS an hourly fee to execute it. I just don't see why that's so hard to grasp.

An ID who charges hourly, most likely bills someone for each hour of each day. It's not double dipping. Maison is actually - like it was said - billing in favor of his clients - he is trying to be fair and I have no doubt that he works 10 times more hours than he bills. What he should do is keep records of the exact hours, put that on the bill, then discount the hours that he feels is excessive so that the client can SEE the truth. Remember - the hours he doesn't bill for becuase he thinks the client will think he spent too much time - those are lost revenues to him. Time is money. period. Time spent with one client who DOESN'T pay for it is time that SHOULD have been spent with a client who WOULD pay for it. Time is money.

That said, I'm glad I don't charge for time, becuase I would hate to not spend time on a job becuase the client would find it excessive. And be suspicious. But I can guarantee you that it's the designer who loses out with the time issue.

Clients argue with designers who start the clock from their office as opposed to starting the clock at the destination. omg - the complaints are endless and I couldn't handle the stress of it all. The client who starts looking at her watch in the middle of a shopping trip. The client who questions why the ID picked her up instead of just meeting her. I've heard all these complaints from people about their I.D.

Another point to consider - if you hire an id you hire him because you like HIS taste. you aren't going to get that from anyone else. each person's taste is unique. If you hire an ID you pay him what he feels he is worth. If you don't feel he's worth what he thinks he is - you have to find another ID, who's taste probably won't be want you originally wanted. It's like an professional athlete - they all get paid differently. Each pitcher, - there's no set rate for pitching. A team owner pays a pitcher's asking price if he wants HIM. I'm sure Maison's clients want HIM and HIM alone to do the job and they pay his FEE, which is a commission PLUS an hourly rate. period. If they don't want to pay him that, they won't hire him.

Like I said - I know an ID who charges 20 percent OVER RETAIL (so she is pocketing sometimes 70 PERCENT) PLUS an hourly fee in the hundreds - AND there's a waiting list for her!!!!!!!!!!! She has a distinct look, a distinct taste level and if you want that, you are going to pay her 40,50,60,70 percent commission plus hourly fees. And Houstonians are lining up to pay that 70 percent commission. Other pricey IDs who get published alot, have potential clients calling their offices all day long. They have their secretaries triage the calls. "What is your design budget, may I ask?" "50,000? I'm sorry, I.D. doesn't take on jobs with less than a 500,000 design budget."
Makes Maison, Linda and me seem like we give away our services, no?
I wish I was that talented or had that kind of taste level, but I don't, I know that, and I charge accordingly.

And on another topic:

That NY TImes article was a joke to me, a laugh. There is NO way someone who isn't a professional designer could ever have a home that looked liked Saladino or Stefanidis or Wolfe or Molyneaux or Hadley or Moss or Williams or Smith (and I could go on and on and on) designed it. Impossible. It will always look like you went to PB or Ikea or Ebay or wherever. And that's fine if you want that. But if you want a home that looks professionally designed, you have to hire a professional. period. If you want a home that looks like a bored housewife ordered everything off the internet, than fine - that's your choice. But don't claim it looks like anything else, becuase it doesn't, EVER. I've seen hundreds of thousands of interiors and nothing will ever change my mind about that. If you disagree email me with pictures. I"ll be happy to look at them. Trust me, Buatta isn't worried about people ordering from ebay. What a joke. That author was so off the mark. Buatta knows HIS clients want HIS taste and will pay his fees for it becuase no one else can give them HIS look. like his taste or not. He aint going to be out panhandling any time soon.

Great discussion.

maison21 said...

this whole thing had me so upset this afternoon, but after a great dinner with great friends (and a couple of stiff vodkas), i thought to myself "why"?

why the fuck should i care about some snarky opinions posted by "anonymous"?

i LOVE what i do. my clients LOVE what i do. everyone is happy. really, what more could anyone ask for in a career?

i hate to sound like a cliché, but my life and chosen career are so incredibly awesome, i sometimes feel like i have to pinch myself.

i sincerely hope that anonymous finds the same happiness and satisfaction that i've found- if knocking me down is what they need to accomplish that, then i'm pleased as punch to provide them with the opportunity!

once again, happy decorating to all.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Linda Merrill said...

Cote de Texas said:
They have their secretaries triage the calls. "What is your design budget, may I ask?" "50,000? I'm sorry, I.D. doesn't take on jobs with less than a 500,000 design budget."
Makes Maison, Linda and me seem like we give away our services, no?
I wish I was that talented or had that kind of taste level, but I don't, I know that, and I charge accordingly.

You said it sister. The fact is we all weigh what we charge and how we charge it every time. And most of us, if we're not sure, don't charge.

Another area we haven't touched on is the fact that we do this because we looove it. We want our clients to have the best we can give them. And, I'd bet, that most of us - Joni, M21, mrlfvl and I- have many times thrown a little extra in - either time or additional product discounts - just so the best choice is made, even if it's not in the budget. A friend and I have talked in the past about going into the special event business together, but we both know we'd be broke in minutes because we both can't help throwing more in that we have budget for, just to make it perfect.

Cote de Texas said...

Linda - EXACTLY!!! I can not tell you how many times I have waived my 20% fee just because the client is going over budget or whatever and I know that something will be great in the room !!! Lots of times. Because, in the end, I want that room to look great, and if it means I make less so there's more for the room - then I'll do that. I've done that probably on most every job. If a room looks good, then I look good too. But more than that, it's just something about loving what I am doing and wanting it all to be perfect!

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