Interior Designers: Do we have business practices that make us part of an Evil Empire?
The business end of interior design, particularly for a designer with her or his own practice is something that cannot be neglected. Interior designers do not have the opportunity to be licensed in many states (Massachusetts is one of those), so it is crucial to run an interiors business in a professional way, as well as to provide clients with references to the designer’s background: experience, education, professional organizations, personal references and so forth.
Anyone can call him/herself an interior designer, so it’s important for clients to understand and be comfortable with their designer’s background, knowledge, etc. And, for the designer to run his or her business in an ethical way. For example, taken from the first section of the California Council for Interior Design Certification Code of Ethics (www.ccidc.org/consumers-guide/ethics.html):
1.0 CODE OF ETHICS AND CONDUCT
1.1 OBJECT OF CODE
A. A Certified Interior Designer is required to conduct his/her profession in a manner that will encourage the respect of clients, suppliers of goods and services to the profession, and fellow professional interior designers, as well as the general public. It is the individual responsibility of every Certified Interior Designer to abide by this code.
So why am I blogging about this? There were two articles in the New York Times in the last couple of weeks that didn’t place interior designers in the best light.
Are interior designers part of an evil empire? Do we have something in common with Darth Vader or since I live in New England, could it be that we have become what the Yankees are to Red Sox fans?? (Ignoring Ronald Reagan’s reference to the Soviet Union in the 1980′s as The Evil Empire….)
The first less-than-stellar reference was in an article by Jane Brody, who has written best-sellers on a variety of topics, is well-known for her health and wellness columns that have appeared in the NYT for over 35 years, and seems like an all-around reasonable person. In her column on April 30, “Making Progress Against Clutter” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/making-progress-against-clutter) it was a less-than-subtle-designer-put-down, and I would bet that she had used a designer in the past, and didn’t have a good experience:
“With the help of a friend who has furnished several apartments with items from Ikea and another who knows how to put the stuff together, I saved thousands of dollars on decorator fees and costly furnishings and ended up with clean, simple, practical work surfaces and storage units.”
Hmm. Good interior designers are worth the investment, since they are able to assess the client’s needs and goals, and work with the client to achieve them.
Good interior designers do not shoe-horn the client into choices just to make money and it is the responsibility of the client to be honest and straight-forward about needs and goals. I don’t begrudge Ms. Brody for turning to a trusted friend to help her with the changes she wanted in her home, but I am sorely disappointed having my profession summarily dismissed.
The second NYT article appeared on May 9, “A Palette of Gray Areas” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/garden/the-edwards-case-puts-decorators-on-the-defensive.html) and the writer wrote about designers who work with elite clients, and some questionable business practices that have occurred; the article was prompted by the John Edwards trial and a designer who was implicated in being a conduit for money to Edwards’ failed presidential bid from a wealthy client:
“When Bryan Huffman, a North Carolina decorator, took the stand in the John Edwards trial to describe his part in funneling money from his friend Rachel Mellon to the former senator during his failed presidential bid, many in the decorating profession groaned in irritation.”
The article is interesting, but money laundering, knowledge of where a client’s money comes from and all that is something that I haven’t given much thought to, nor have I had to think about it – I started my business in 2009, after having made a career change from corporate software engineering, and there was more concern when I graduated in 2006 with my degree in interior design about finding work. Correct business practices are serious; and design work requires knowledge, expertise and careful thought and review; the last paragraph of the article couldn’t have been less flattering to the profession, and Mr. Huffman’s quote couldn’t have sounded more vacuous:
“It should be pointed out that neither Mr. Huffman nor Ms. Mellon is being charged with anything as the Edwards case marches along. As The New York Times reported, Mr. Huffman testified, “She said that we were awfully foolish with the ‘furniture business,’ ” referring to Ms. Mellon. “But we were having a wonderful time doing it.”