August 20, 2009

Renovating an Industry

There's an excellent article in the New York Times today about how interior designers and decorators are coping with the recession. This article ties in with an interesting post on Vicente Wolf's blog about how honest designers/decorators should be in discussing how they're doing in these trying economic times. Judging by the comments on Vicente's post, a lot of people are hurting. ASID says that 65% of their members are taking smaller jobs than they would have a year or two ago.
It's everywhere though. I am a professional fundraiser by trade and asking people to make donations is very difficult these days. Foundations' endowments are down significantly, corporations can't be seen splashing out on big special events, and individuals are keeping a closer eye on their discretionary income.
So, hire a designer/decorator to do a little job, or make a contribution to your favourite charity. We're all in this together!


  1. I was fascinated by the Times article. More so by its implications. (And re the woman in the Midwest who was redecorating, who wouldn't want an online/phone consultant who's like a stylish best friend with wonderful advice?) I also would like to have known this: What about trade-only sources? Are they hurting also? How much? And how are they reaching out?

  2. I do believe that "with crisis comes opportunity." I also believe that our economy will never return to the way is was. It will be fascinating to watch who succeeds and why. And Pigtown, I am right there with you about supporting causes near and dear to your heart. If we can be generous, we must.

  3. Aesthete - I think that is an interesting question. I talked to a designer recently who was lamenting (sorry) Kohler, Baker and Ralph Lauren (through Calico Corners) taking their product directly to the public. She was telling me these retailers are able to offer a much better price than a designer can even with very little mark-up. I'm not begrudging their business decisions, but I think it makes things trickier for designers. Off to read the article now.

  4. I've always thought that an interior decorator should be one of those life essentials, like a doctor or a dentist. Most of us can't do it all ourselves so why not hire a professional? Perhaps this economic adjustment will mean the rise of small decorating establishments, as in the 1920s, and more people like Betsy Burnham in the public eye, ie people with taste and experience offering creatively priced and structured design services to people who just want lovely homes. I know this is not a new idea but the public perception of decorators is relatively rarified. Perhaps the Times article will inspire more and more creativity and elasticity on both sides, designers and clients. I, for one, would be happy to do a Betsy Burnham for anyone who'd like that kind of advice and consultation. And, hopefully, we'd have a lot of fun doing it. I might not make that much money in the long run but, then again, I just might. From little acorns, after all.

  5. From little Acorns- indeed. I have done 2 houses that started with a bathroom paper- It was a Quadrille though. This is the route designers "in the field" must take. I am happily not working full time- so I have more than enough to stay busy. The acorns are sometimes nuts though- as I ran into one this summer. These nuts are rare- but frustrating. I have always relied on the same clients and they continue to provide me with trees. I think it is the designers duty to work through a clients needs and know when to cut a corner, and when to go for it. I have recently matched prices from a client I work with regularly on some Baker and McGuire pieces- The Acorn and

  6. A fabulous article in the Times, true we are all hurting in some way, but it is the way we react to the economy and our customer that will see us through this.
    Daily I am thinking of new ideas and ways to bring my business more attention.
    I find that I have become even more creative. The internet has also changed the way we do business. A way for so many more people to see what we do.
    Daily I am so impressed with the talent that I see, I am glad to be able to find these people.
    With the struggle of daily life, coming home to a beautiful place seems to be a high priority.

  7. Thanks Meg! As someone new to the business of design, the economy definitely put a halt to what was looking like a nice start. Luckily, I have another non-design business that continues to pay the bills but I was really hoping to make a permanent switch from old biz to new sooner than I'll be able to now. I like what Aesthete says about the "rise of small decorating establishments". That's what I'm hoping for and working toward. Beautiful pics, btw. Now I'm off to read the other articles!

  8. It's a bit like being a working actor, isn't it? A small job is always better than nothing. Perhaps we the public will benefit in the long run and the desire will be planted to really go whole hog when the economy booms again.

    If I had two nickels to rub together, I'd be the first on the phone to sign onto a service such as Aesthete suggests.

  9. E&E... I'd be right behind you on the phone. Let's just hope that AL will take our calls! He's going to be swamped with offers.

  10. Great article and what good ideas / suggestions! Ialways remeber "No job too small" !!

  11. so, hire a designer/decorator to do a little job, or make a contribution to your favourite charity. We're all in this together!

    you always inspire, meg!

    re: the aesthete... i'm right behind you AND e&e on the telephone!

    I've always thought that an interior decorator should be one of those life essentials, like a doctor or a dentist.

    yes!!! aal is unmatchable!


  12. Wonderful suggestion. Designers and consultants are not all Michael Smith's! As an artist with sales down, I have provided art for the Rockhill Condominiums model (behind the Nelson-Atkins Museum.) Also donating art to a charity event is a good way for some exposure while doing a good deed for the organization. Designers might offer a package or $ amount off a certain project.

  13. Great article - it's so important to be leverating all the free marketing available while maintaining your brand/image. Something that can be done through all of these sites.

    I think it is also especially relevant for small boutique owners as well - gifts, clothing etc - to leverage this and other ideas like parties, trunk shows and private viewings.


  14. Agreed with AAL.

    Though, we all always seem to do that - I feel we could use an argumentative ass as devil's advocate to show up and wrestle with our good intentions: you know, someone who ordered a whole mess of furniture for four houses from Ethan Allens chenille grey card. ;)

    Just poking, AAl loves it when i mention EA... ! Good weekend ya'll.

  15. I few things...I should mention first that I am an antiques dealer, we sell to the public but a pretty good percentage of our business has always been designers. This year has been beyond difficult, our designers don't have clients and some of them have come to us hoping we will recommend them for some jobs....sure, if we get a client to come into our store...
    I don't know if it has to do with Miami, but the general view here has always been that designers are something for the very wealthy elite. I wish people considered them as indispensable as a dentist. Somehow it is just not a standard commodity here. I have been trying to get creative for business, offering things like staging services for houses for sale and people look at me like I have three heads!
    The whole "to the trade" issue has always been a difficult one for us, we want to accommodate designers but the bottom line is the bottom line and at the end of the month we need to meet our bills. If a customer has a check in hand we cannot refuse it and say "Sorry, discounts are reserved for professionals." I'm not surprised that more and more manufacturers are skipping the designer-intermediary, they need to survive. Any suggestions for us retailers welcome!
    Lastly, I really enjoyed learning that you are a fundraiser, it is a field I've been very curious about for a long time.

  16. The economics of design/decorating has always been tricky. The rise of the HGTV kinds of shows made design more democratic, but also skewed people's perceptions.

    Designer/decorators needed to see the writing on the wall a long time ago that the model of the designers' discount was going to go away and we were going to need to make a living on hourly or project rates. On the other hand, the trade only vendors didn't have to deal direct to the consumer - they needed get a designer as a client who would potentially bring them ongoing business. That one designer, however, is acting as a sales agent for the vendor, so why shouldn't they receive a commission? Vendors who have previously only worked with the trade will have to do a lot of changing in order to be successful working with the homeowners. Lots of changing going on.

    Meanwhile, it behooves all of us to be as creative in our work and business models as possible in order to ride out the storm.

    I was a tad shocked at the comments over at the Times site about the article. They've turned off the comments, but of those received, there was a real sour spirit. One thing folks do forget about what a decorator brings to a project - aside from creativity - are things like helping to make sure the size and scale of furnishings is appropriate and that there is some level of quality control on the buying and delivery process.

    Good conversation on your blog, as always Meg!

  17. WOW, Linda! I just looked at the comments. Not very balanced. Just people venting.

    Thanks, as always, for your input. Since I am not in the business, I don't have the good perspective that you bring to the conversation.

  18. This article and all the comments from this post have been incredibly interesting to read. I'm a designer, though I work for a firm and luckily have not had to find my own clients. I don't know what the future brings nor the longevity of my "secure" job, but lots of little lightbulbs are going off for future ideas.

  19. Very, very interesting discussion - I am sorry I had not seen it before doing my post, but perhaps we will get some other perspectives too.

    I have always dealt more on the art side of things, but I have my 'trade' qualification so I have access to the design center, the mart, and so on. It is interesting to see how many people get a cut out of each purchase - maybe necessary in some cases, but I do think that things are changing. Everything seems to be getting more transparent - whether it be because of blogs or all of the resources now available on the internet. People can argue on both sides, but it does seem a bit silly to me that a ubiquitous fabric like KWID 'trellis' has to be purchased by a trade professional (although of course there are now online fabric places where any of the 'to the trade' fabrics can be purchased).

    I am, however, a huge supporter and proponent of hiring a designer. I think good designers help people avoid making expensive mistakes, and good designer have a vast knowledge of the resources out there, of the correct scale and proportion for the items selected for your home. But, I wonder if there is a changing tide...a change to a different kind of pricing structure...who knows.

    In Atlanta, everyone I know uses a designer for just about every decision that relates to their home. Of course, only a few are have ever done a new home from top to bottom. The designers who aren't in the magazines are still making a decent living (or at least they had before the economic downturn), but on smaller jobs and consults.

  20. Alice & TTI... thank you for your input, as well. It's fascinating to see the various viewpoints on this, and knowing that so many of us are in the same situation.


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