What happens when designers and homeowners disagree?

Designers design, clients pay. Such a black and white viewpoint might help more design projects get completed, but it wouldn’t come close to honoring the work of a good interior designer, nor would it respect the wishes of hard-working clients. Design is rooted in collaboration and the sharing of ideas to create unique spaces that homeowners love to live in and designers love to show off. Expecting that process to always go smoothly is naïve.

Designers and clients should have different ideas, that’s what makes the process fun and creative. The key is to avoid letting an exchange of ideas turn into a stubborn argument. When it does, it’s usually up to the designer to find a solution.


A great deal of bad designer-client relationships could be avoided with simple preparation. In a bad economy it’s hard to turn down prospective jobs, but a project that drags through months of arguments and frustration doesn’t represent good value for either side. Before beginning any project, designers and clients should discuss their ideas and needs.

Designer Laurie Gorelick adds,

“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.”

Use this conversation to find out if your styles match, but also to gauge how easy it is to communicate with the other person. Consider if your personalities work well together, how easy it is to get a hold of each other, and whether you value the same design styles.


Every customer wants to feel like they have control over the project. This doesn’t mean that they pick every color and place ever piece of décor, but they need to have options and feel like they are contributing. A designer can help homeowners feel like they have control by giving them choices.


Sometimes designers and homeowners may try to blur specifics of what they want or what they are able to do. If a customer asks for green walls and a designers gives them teal, it’s likely that the customer will get upset. Likewise, if a customer defines a budget and then can’t pay the bill at the end, a designer will be understandably irked. Most disagreements between designers and clients can be solved with simple honesty and excellent communication. Before any work takes place, decide on a clear plan which outlines the design ideas, cost, and materials.

House Always Wins

Most designers agree that in the end, the homeowner usually gets what they want. Designers can inform, argue, and debate with clients all they want. But ultimately, the client lives there; they are the ones that have to live with the design day in and day out.

Designer Pablo Solomon summarizes,

“If push comes to shove the smart designer understands who is paying the bills.”

Just Say No

The last thing a designer or a client wants is to walk away from a project they’ve already devoted time and energy to. Our expert designers unanimously agreed that leaving is always used as a last resort. The most common reasons for designer breakups involve scheduling, communication, budget or safety issues. Designers aren’t likely to put their name on project that involves a fireplace for a new baby’s room or a chandelier of knives for a kitchen remodel.

Design expert Kelsi Byers notes,

“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.”

By keeping an open line of communication, designers and clients should find it easy to develop a good working relationship and come up with some fantastic designs.