design

Designing Around Disagreements

Designers are trained to marry form with function, helping homeowners make their house look and feel more like a home. To accomplish their vision, designers rely on years of education and experience.

A good designer works with a homeowner and their ideas to create a space that is unique and beautiful. Any design professional can tell you that a big part of that process involves flexibility on both sides.

Why We’re Asking:

In most home improvement industries, collaboration between a homeowner and a professional isn’t too common. Rarely are there disputes with plumbers about how to fix a flooded basement and electricians don’t usually have to convince anyone of the benefits of working lights. But the job of a designer is very different.

When a designer enters a home, they immediately start to imagine the potential around them. We’re interested in finding out what happens when the homeowner has imagined something totally different.

So design experts, it’s time to weigh in:

What happens when Designers and Homeowners Disagree?

How do you reconcile the differences between what the designer and the homeowner wants?
Is part of your job to convince a homeowner that your ideas will ultimately work best?
Do designers ever turn down jobs because they don’t agree with the homeowner’s design ideas?

We’re looking for inspirational stories, working advice and helpful tips from our designers. Check back throughout the week to see what they have to say!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Jill Banks @ Happily Better After Room Redesign & Home Staging 06/19/12

    If a client disagrees or isn’t comfortable with a design choice I’ve made, I explain to them why I made the choice, and how it fits into the room design as a whole. Often, once they understand, they’re fine with it, but occasionally understanding still doesn’t lead to agreement. You have to pick your battles and remember that your client is the one who ultimately has to live with the design. I’d much rather have a client who is satisfied with a final design that varies from my original concept than to stick to my original design plan and have an unhappy client.

  • Pablo Solomon 06/19/12

    There is an old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more that you as a designer can get a handle on what the clients want, the more likely you are to provide them with plans that they like. I like to find out as much as I can about what the client is hoping for and to get the client to go through books, magazines, ads, etc. and then show me designs that they like.
    However, if push comes to shove the smart designer understands who is paying the bills. I have never had a client so far off of the planet of good taste that I could not find a way to present them with something that I could put my name on while making them happy.
    Of course, I have seen some really bad design result from clients paired with designers who were basically selling stuff and/or who did not have enough design experience and depth to create good design in a wide range of styles.
    The more experience that you have in working in design and with people–the better.
    Thanks Pablo Solomon
    Artist & Designer

  • Charlene Storozuk @ Dezigner Digz 06/19/12

    This is a great question, and one that I would answer differently depending on which hat I’m wearing at the time. When I’m wearing my Home Stager hat, at the end of the day it’s important that the home appeals to the broadest range of buyers or to the particular buyer targeted through demographics. Once a homeowner puts their home on the market, they have to be able to detach themselves from it and see it as a commodity. All sense of their personal taste and preferences needs to be set aside. I will gently have this discussion with a client if I feel it’s necessary, however, I do find that most ‘get it’. After all, that’s why you’re brought in; to help the house sell faster and hopefully for more money. I did have a case once where I was called in to quote on staging a rental property that was going to be sold. The home was very tired, to say the least. There were holes in some of the walls, damage to the flooring/carpeting, missing door handles and a cracked window, just to name a few things. The owner did not want to put any money into repairs or renovations and instead wanted to put the money into staging. I turned the job down and told them that in all honesty, I felt they would be wasting their money on staging when there were all of these other issues that needed to be addressed.

    However, when I’m wearing my Interior Decorator hat, that is very different. It’s the homeowner’s decision, regardless of how I feel about it. One example would be a colour consultation. The homeowner may have a particular colour in mind and be adamant that it’s the one they want to go with. If I feel that they might be making a mistake, I explain to them the reasons why I was leaning towards a different colour and how their choice may look with other finishes, furnishings, etc. in their home. I do that because I don’t want them to be unhappy with their choice, but as long as I’ve voiced my concerns, then by all means they should choose what they want regardless of what I think. It’s their house. They need to love it! The only thing that would make me turn down this type of job would be if the homeowner’s were making some sort of decision that would bring about a structural or safety issue.

  • Alan Hilsabeck, Jr., CMKBD, RID 06/19/12

    Where to start? This has been something that I have been dealing with and have had to address over the past 20 plus years as a design professional. Like with any relationship, the one between a designer and a client is going to have ups and downs, agreements and disagreements throughout the process…just like with a marriage (which I often use with my clients in the beginning as an analogy).
    Clients hire us as designers to solve their “problems” and to fulfill a service that they can’t or should not try to take on themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the client “becomes” the design professional in the decision making process, especially when it comes to budget. When the project goes over budget simply because most clients want more than they are willing to spend, then clients start taking out design elements simply to save money.
    This is where I continue to help them by offering alternative solutions and alternative products, to accomplish the goal while keeping the design’s integrity intact.
    Most of the time, clients are willing to work with me in creating a win-win and listen to my guidance. However, there are times when clients, for whatever reason, refuse to accept reality and demand that they get the design they want for the money they are willing to spend, even if the end result is unrealistic. In this situation, an exit letter is written and we remove ourselves from the project.
    Overall, we try to avoid adversarial positions. In times that we have been forced to this position by the client, the end of the relationship is just around the corner.
    Over the past 20 plus years, this has happened only a few times. The best way to prevent this is to fully qualify the client in the very beginning. Make sure that the project fits but also, and more importantly, that the client fits. If both factors fit, then the chances for a successful project increase and everyone involved wins.

  • Jennifer Scully @ ReDesign for a Dime 06/20/12

    My business focus is to try to save clients as much money as possible whether they have a huge budget or a teeny one.

    While walking through a home and listening to the homeowner, I get a clear vision for the space and can vividly see the end result in my head, usually within the first few minutes of the initial consultation. Therefore, it is incredibly frustrating when someone is paying me to give them oodles of professional advice and then they don’t take any of it. It is rare, but it absolutely does happen.

    Clients typically call me in when they are ready for a change but don’t know how to achieve it. So it is my job to affect change. Most often, clients listen to my suggestions, take them and they are thrilled. I always have a million ideas so if they don’t agree with one they may agree with another and, though it may be a compromise on my end, it still will be a vast improvement. The best way I cope with homeowners who disagree is just to keep the ideas flowing. I’ll say, “What about this? No? How about this?” or “Can I just move your sofa over here so you can see what I’m talking about?” or “How about you go in another room for 5 minutes, I’ll take a photo of your room how it is now and then I’ll move some things around and take another photo so you can see how much better your room will look if we tweak it a bit? Then leave it like that until your husband comes home and get his opinion, email the photos out to your friends and family and get their feedback?” and more scenarios like that. The concept usually becomes clearer when the homeowner can see my vision in physical reality…but sometimes not.

    There is the occasional homeowner who claims they want change and after I have exhausted every suggestion that could possibly make the space work, the homeowner says an emphatic, “No” or “I hate it” or “I can’t move that to the other wall because…” or “I can’t get rid of that (broken/hideous/outdated) piece of furniture because I use it every day.” That is when I stop. Dead End. Red flag. This client really wants no change. They may have heard from their spouse, mother, friend or neighbor that they should change something about their space and their real reason for calling me is to have me come over and say, “Oh, my. It’s perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. You did such a great job!” They are seeking validation and they believe so strongly that their home looks great just the way it it that they pay me to give it to them. Chances are though, if people around you who love and care about you are telling you that your space doesn’t work, it truly doesn’t.

    The homeowner is in charge, so in cases like that, I take a deep breath, smile, wave goodbye, say a polite thank you for the meeting and gracefully walk away. It is a losing battle; one that I am not willing to fight. And as I’m leaving, I tell them they did a great job because that is what they paid me to do.

  • Dawn Gepfert 06/20/12

    I spend quite a bit of time interviewing potential clients before even taking on a project. While I am getting the specifics about the size of the project, budget, time frame etc., I am also probing about personality and past experiences with designers, architects and contractors. It is important to be sure that the client and project are a fit from the beginning. I work with successful professionals who are comfortable trusting other professionals to do what they do best. It’s sometimes less about what the client’s personal style is and more about how open they are to leaving behind preconceived ideas. Part of the design process is uncovering the client’s needs and desires and translating them into a functional and elegant solutions…..this is more objective than you think as design is all about seeking and defining a problem and then solving it.

    Having screened my clients, if disagreements arise, we generally are able to talk through them. Contrary to popular belief, design is not random or merely how something looks. When you present to clients you must explain why you have come up with this solution and why it is best. I never strong arm my clients–either commercial or residential. I have never had to, thankfully. I have never felt that a compromise that I have made would result in a project that I would not have my name on. It is my professional duty to guide my client in the right direction. After all, I have the degree and 25 years of experience and it would be wrong to let them fall off a cliff!

    That being said, I do say no to many projects because it is not a good fit. There must be trust and confidence between client and designer. There is also a difference between a demanding or difficult client and one that can never be pleased.

  • Kelsi Byers @ Remote Stylist 06/20/12

    While working in interior design, disagreements are going to occur. It is all about compromise and ultimately, the homeowner is the one paying and living in the space.

    Since we are giving the homeowner a service, it is our job to effectively communicate why we are doing the things we are doing. It is also our job to take the homeowners vision and make it a reality. Giving the homeowner options and working with them is also important. It is our job to improve spaces, and do it through any means possible even if it is just a small improvement.

    As a designer, turning down a job because of a disagreement on design is not something that would happen, although turning down a job because of someone’s personality or inability to work together based on character could occur.

  • John Lyotier @ HomeStaging 06/20/12

    The role of a home stager needs to be part saleswoman, part designer. Part designer because the stager needs to find the right balance between the effective use of space, cost, and persuasive design to help prospective home buyers visualize a space they may want to purchase. Part saleswoman because sometimes the home stager must convince the homeowner that the vase or piece of home decor they so love and cherish needs to be put into storage.”

    Understandably, people don’t like having their tastes challenged, and for this reason it is unlikely that you ever hear a home stager say to a homeowner, “My, that is one ugly lamp”. Instead, it is up to each stager to sell the homeowner on the fact that they are the professionals and their role is to help de-personalize a space and reach the right buyer. This is often why real estate agents bring in home stagers. The stager can do the dirty work of getting that ugly lamp removed without damaging that agent/homeowner relationship.

  • Spencer Howard 06/20/12

    How do you reconcile the differences between what the designer
    and the homeowner wants?

    Trust must be established between all stakeholders on a project. Everyone
    must realize the project team is a partnership between homeowner, designer,
    and contractor. Each party has a stake in the end results. The homeowner
    needs a functioning solution that won’t keep them up at night and the
    designer and contractor need a great project to add to their portfolio and
    lead to repeat commissions and new clients.*

    Is part of your job to convince a homeowner that your ideas will
    ultimately work best?

    Absolutely. Part of becoming a stakeholder on a project is to bring your
    set of skills and experience to the team. Homeowners add additional team
    members to reduce risk on a project. As a designer, if a homeowner is not
    convinced my ideas will work, I have not done my job in establishing trust
    and communicating the increased risk by going in a different direction.*

    Do designers ever turn down jobs because they don’t agree with
    the homeowner’s design ideas?

    There are many solutions to every design problem. The true magic of a
    design comes from the collaboration with the homeowner and contractor. I
    have only turned down jobs if I can clearly see the project has funding,
    schedule, or structural issues. If not, I welcome the challenge to take on
    any project with a homeowner that has strong design ideas. It is a form
    of continuous improvement for myself.*

  • John Salat @ Zen Architect 06/20/12

    How do you reconcile the differences between what the designer and
    the homeowner wants?

    Having a happy client is the key. Fortunately, I have been on both sides
    of the fence. Before I started my own business, I was an owner
    representative in construction overseeing the most popular hard-headed
    architect designers around. There can be happy architects with
    published work using clients money, but the clients can be unhappy as the
    work is staged for the designers gain. On that note, the homeowner pays
    the bills to the architect so it’s really about customer satisfaction and
    not about the architect. His ego should disappear knowing the chain of
    money to services.

    Is part of your job to convince a homeowner that your ideas will
    ultimately work best?

    What’s best is all relative. It’s the architect providing the most options
    and seeing where the chips fall. It’s not about one idea as indoctrinated
    truth. It’s about finding a combination of things that represent genuine design needs, rather than chasing imaginary perfection.

    Do designers ever turn down jobs because they don’t agree with the
    homeowner’s design ideas?

    No, it’s not about the designer; that is too arrogant. It’s really about
    services rather than aesthetic preference. The only time I will turn down a
    client is for ethical reasons, whether that means bad communication or potential legal risks.

  • Terry Ferguson @ Ideas Unlimited Educational Concepts 06/21/12

    Just as most designers collaborate and work with homeowners, they also have to work with the inspectors and contractors who are bringing their ideas to life.

    I’ve occasionally disagreed with designers on projects because I did not think that their original ideas were plausible or safe. As an electrical expert, I’m responsible for making sure that designs are up to code. For example, while a vanity with an outlet in the drawer for a curling iron might be convenient and aesthetically pleasing, it’s quite dangerous. If that curling iron is left on in the drawer, it can easily start a fire. I’ve also seen designs that feature outlets and phone jacks that are too close to bathtubs. Not many people realize that when a land line phone rings, it delivers 120 volts. If I don’t feel a design is safe, I have to step in and try and change it. If change isn’t possible, I’d rather walk away from the project than potentially put a homeowner in danger.

  • Laurie Gorelick 06/21/12

    My practice has never been to charge for the initial meeting with a prospective client. At that first walk-through, I get a sense of the client’s tastes and objectives. I trust my gut to know whether the client is committed to the design process and collaboration. There are certain tip-offs that someone may not be inclined to collaborate. When that happens, it’s usually the prospective client that halts the process by not returning a signed contract. The only time I terminated a project was because it became clear that the clients did not understand the design process. I believe they expected an HGTV makeover and would never be satisfied with anything else.

    When a client is disinclined to implement a recommendation I’ve made, I make a case for why my recommendation is professionally sound. I try to frame the argument in terms of the Elements and Principles of Design, a vocabulary that speaks volumes about what makes good design. If the client is still disinclined, I yield. After all, it’s their dime and they ultimately live in the space.

  • Kraig Kalashian 06/22/12

    When a client disagrees with a direction that we are endorsing, I try to remind them of two things. The first is that a good design is more than the sum of its parts. Individual items are often elevated when they are part of a larger composition and that they should see the finished product before judging. The second key issue to address is that the client usually selects us because they like our work. I try to remind them that if we are selecting something it is because it supports the direction that first attracted them to us in the first place. Sometimes you have to remind the clients that your name is going on the project so it has to represent a certain standard of your work. I try to be very collaborative and certainly don’t discount client suggestions. However it is just as important to select the right clients who will support your vision so that you can do your best work.

  • Tracy Metro @ Home Made Simple - OWN Network 06/22/12

    All of the esteemed designers have said it. Bottom line that I’ll echo is this: The designer doesn’t live/work in the place, nor are they the ones paying for the design. After pleading my case with a client using sound design principles, experience, good taste and providing plenty of options, if we still disagree… I check out! I’m not interested arguing over design, I just give them what they THINK they want. Truthfully, as long as they’re happy with the space then I’m happy. I don’t have to live there, nor do I have to put it in my portfolio. Having said that, I love designing on my show “I Live With My Mom” because the client tells me what they like, what their needs are and then I design it all by myself and give them a fantastic reveal at the end. If they saw every little decision I make they may not agree with me, but once they see how it all comes together in the end they’re always blown away by it!

  • Brittney Fischbeck @ abodwell Interior Design 06/22/12

    I have turned down a project because the homeowner was so out there and wouldn’t listen to me, so I would be wasting my time and theirs. More often than I’d like to, I have a client with hideous taste. It is a tough balance between trying to make a home for them that they love, while not imposing my taste or style on them. Usually, once I can gain their trust, as well as lots of strong-arming, etc, I get my way, and they are ecstatic with the result! Sometimes when things go sideways and they stand their ground I want to say to them “what are you paying me for?? just so you can have someone to hang out with?” It is so odd, that someone would go to the trouble of hiring a professional Interior Designer, only to try to convince ME that what they want will look better. Mind boggling. I had a client back in 2008 that I was working with their architect and builder in specifying finishes for in a new home, for what was to be a spec. He was about 65 and was adamant about using green marble for the kitchen counters because it was one of the most expensive, therefore, the best. Yea, maybe back in 1983! I fought tooth and nail about this issue, as well as others in the home, but in the end, was able to convince him quartz was the way to go. The home turned out beautifully, and you can see it on my website, 2828 Ward’s Terrace in Laguna Beach.

  • Robin Baron @ Robin Baron Design 06/22/12

    Part of my job is expanding a client’s horizons. It’s an organic process, but one that for me is always about the client. It’s their home, their life, their lifestyle. I expand upon that and help empower them through what we’re doing together. I like to think of it as expanding their taste level. I never impose my taste on them. They’ll always be some push back, because certain types of change may be out of their comfort zone. So the way that I work with those clients is to step back and consciously work on getting them to open their horizons from the side, not just head on. It’s like the way I approach my teenage daughter. I won’t get a response from her half the time when I approach something head on, but from the side, it’s a different story. It’s all about finding a way in. It’s also about knowing when to say yes and when to say no, because if I say yes to everything they want, they don’t need me! I have to get into the client’s head, which is something that I do anyway for the design process. I have to find a way to say things so that they can hear me. I’m not going to argue with them about their life and their home. Since it is an organic process, I am often able to convince them, but sometimes I am the one who comes out with a new perspective. Sometimes, there’s something that I didn’t think about, and suddenly, I have gained a new way of looking at things!

  • Katie @ Roomations 06/23/12

    Imagine that the homeowner has asked me, the designer, to cook them a meal. They have given me all of their favorite ingredients, which both taste good and provide them with nutrients. These ingredients represent their wants and needs, but they do not know how those ingredients will become a specialty dish created just for them. As the designer, I use my creative talents to create something more wonderful than the client could have imagined, but always using their ingredients. As long as I don’t sneak in other foods they don’t like, the client will be happy and so will I.

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