Hi, this is The Interior Collective, a podcast for the business of beautiful living presented by IDCO studio and I'm Anastasia Casey.
Today's topic–redefining traditional style. Something that has been weighing heavy on my heart lately. And I think it's time to just expand the conversation. I wanted to discuss reframing the concept of traditional interiors. What has predominantly been a white Eurocentric definition of traditional design is finally being dismantled with the recent showcasing of Black and BIPOC voices in their work in the industry. Traditions aren't a universal thing, so traditional design shouldn't be either. As we discuss the shift in traditional interiors, we'll also dig deeper into quality versus quantity of clients and how you can further establish your own definition of traditional style.
Today's guest, Gail Davis, is what I consider to be the industry's fairy godmother. She's constantly connecting designers with who they need to know. Gail and I have been friends for a few years now as IDCO designed and developed her website back in 2020. Since then Gail has hosted me on her podcast [Design Perspectives] and also attended Design Camp in Los Angeles earlier this year, allowing us to finally meet face to face.
Today it's an immense honor to get to host scale on the interior collective and return the favor. Gail studied at New York School of Interior Design and honed her craft interning at two of New York City's most prestigious firms, Bunny Williams, Inc, and David Kleinberg Design Associates. Now having practiced for over 15 years, Gail is the principal designer and owner of Gail Davis Design known for their concierge level interior design services. Her projects have been featured in House Beautiful, Elle Decor, ADPro, Domino, and so many more. Gail is the podcast host of Design Perspectives and the resident webinar host for Schumacher three years running. Gail. welcome. I am so glad to have you.
<laugh>. Wow. I sound amazing. <laugh>
You're amazing. That was a really easy intro to write actually.
I love it. I love it. Thank you so much for having me. This is going to be so much fun. You know, I’d do anything for you.
<laugh> I know you would, you are so generous with your time with me, and I'm so grateful for that. So let's go ahead and dive right in.
Gail, do you want to tell us a little bit more about your background and what work you have been doing on your own podcast Design Perspectives?
Yeah, so let me see. So I got into design after I was in the fashion industry and I was just burned out and I was like, I need something different. And I took one class at NYSID and it's so funny because everybody thinks design is so much fun–it was a class of 12 of us and by the time the first semester was done, it was down to two of us. I really fell in love with [design] because we bought our home and that's what really got my gears shifting into wanting something different. So I just did it. I interned for, you know, Bunny Williams. I didn't know who that was, which was quite hilarious for me not to know, but once again, I wasn't in the industry to know and it was just such a masterclass of design for me.
Then going from there to David, which was also, you know, Parish Hadley, but he was like the Hadley of the Parish Hadley. Yeah. And then the podcast came about me hanging out with two of my designer friends and we were out to dinner one night and they were like, ‘you just give such great advice. You should do a podcast’. I'm like, ‘are you kidding me’? And then I just went home and I was like, ‘okay, how do I do a podcast?’ and I just started from there. It's called Design Perspectives, but it's really taking on a life of its own because it's a little bit about design.
Just backtracking for a second. I also was asked or told ‘why do a podcast, there's so many out there?’ and I was like, ‘well, yeah, you're right. But everybody has their own spin on it’ and I was like ‘there's not really a podcast, a design podcast out there with a person of color leading it’ which is very different because there's a new guard I should say, or there's a new spin since 2020 of designers of color and being interviewed. And it's just super important that our voice is heard. I hope I said that right. <laugh>
Yeah. And not just that, but that your voice is the guiding voice, not just the responding voice.
Yeah. It's fun to have conversations with other designers of color and to talk about how we work with clients and how we're perceived. And then it's also fun… I've spoken to Hadley [Keller] editor of House Beautiful. And I've spoken to editor in chief Asad Syrkett of Elle Decor. And, you know, he's the first Black editor in chief of a major publication. And just to hear what he was anticipating and what it meant for him to step up, and then also to hear… I'm gonna be honest, the not so nice things that people said to me about, ‘well, you know, what's going on and why is he in charge?’ And I'm like, ‘well, why not?’. You know?
It's just sad that whenever people of color step up and they’re leaders–we're vetted differently. and we're questioned. Look at Justice Ketani Brown Jackson and how she's so qualified and the asinine questions that were being asked of her. And it's so funny that, unfortunately, anytime we're put in a position, we're asked these ridiculous questions and we're vetted and it's like a ‘sit back and let's see if they can handle it. And let's see what they're going to do’.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, if you are not already following Design Perspectives, it's gonna be linked in the show notes. We'll talk about it again later in the show, but let's go ahead and dig into some of the questions that I put together for you specifically around the concept of traditional design. So traditional design has a very black-and-white definition as far as what is widely accepted in the industry. As someone who was formally trained and classically trained in interior design, how do you define traditional design from that standpoint?
Okay. So traditional design for me is a very, I'm gonna say a very Southern thing. I'm trained classically. Yes. But I also grew up in a home where my family is from the South,my grandparents in particular, and going to my grandparents' home. It's very funny. I was just saying to someone, I said, Southern people receive people–enter their home, right? And there's a way that you receive them, you have the conversation with them. But when you walk into a home, traditional for me, it's just something about… it just feels like it's this warm hug. And as I like to say to my clients, like a hug from Jesus, where you just feel like you can just let your guard down. And that everywhere you sit is super comfortable. The food is amazing. The drinks are amazing. But the drinks and the glasses, everything, is done with love. That's the best way I can describe what traditional means for me.
I love that.
And it's not just a show. I see a lot of design and it's hollow. It doesn't pull you in, you know? The picture is there and it's kind of cold. It's very sterile. It's very black and white. It's very neutral tones. It's very cream colored. And I'm like, we live in color and I want to be pulled in. I want not just eye candy, but I wanna feel like I'm in that room. It needs to be a visceral reaction. Does that make sense?
Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. I think that there has definitely been a trend over the last few years for things to be much more layered–there's been a lot more color. And I just know that cyclically that's probably gonna be back on its way out, cuz things only last seven years in the industry before it goes back to being stripped down, super clean, super modern, and really minimal.
I love your take on how the spaces actually evoke a feeling. And it's not just about how things are put together. I love that so much. What did you learn about designing in school to take those traditional designs and actually make them into that
Space planning. I had this one professor that was insane about space planning. And she said before you think of anything else, before you think of making a pretty room–everything needs to work. And the other thing is also with Bunny, everything needs to be a workhorse. Not just to have an ottoman to have an ottoman. But that ottoman has to do double duty to hold books, it has to do double duty to hold booties, you know, people sitting on it, drinks, like whatever. It's funny that the space planning and color my color class was the most intense two classes. I always look back. That's the thing that I always draw from. Like I used to see color, like, you know, very, just like surface.
And then taking the class and having to paint the colors and the teacher would show us a blue and it's like, okay, make that blue. And then having to get the paint color to be the right color, you got to see the nuance of the color.
Which was so intense, but it was so refreshing because then you just didn't see that blue as a blue or that brown as a brown or that green as green. You got to see the layered… or you got to experience the layering of that color to get that particular color to really make sense.
Wow. That's amazing. I also went to art school, not for interior design, but I remember taking the color theory class and it was absolutely life changing. And suddenly, I mean, suddenly I'm that person–even looking at whites and I can look at 30 different whites and say that those are different colors. But to really gain an appreciation of, like you said, cooler tones and warmer tones and understanding what those undertones are and how that can really affect the depth and the richness of a space.
Yes. Just like adding in a pinch of black to it, it just changes it to a whole different color. And then also visiting museums–seeing the color now and really experiencing it from after having the color theory class, going in and now you're like, oh my God! Now you see why this painting makes so much sense or you're so pulled in because it's also the ground– the whatever colors on that wall it's pulling you in. And it's not up staging it, but it's just like pulling you in. And you're like, oh my God.
I love Farrow & Ball colors because they're so earthy and so tonal and they're just, I have such a visceral reaction every time I go into that store.
Oh, that's amazing.
So you had mentioned earlier how since George Floyd's murder in 2020, it's been trendy to have BIPOC designers, Black designers, Indigenous designers on interviews, et cetera. And I'm curious for you, how do you want the concept of traditional design in the future to maybe be redefined, to be more about that feeling like you were discussing and less about its Southern style and the traditional space planning or the traditional fabrics and wallpaper? I'm interested in how traditional design can be reshaped moving forward to be about other things than just the pattern combinations or nations or the canvases and tapestries or the upholstery that is so well known and associated with traditional design.
Well, it's funny because like you said, at the top of the show, traditional is very different for everyone, and traditional can mean so much to each person, to each nationality. Like last night I was at dinner with my Italian friends and it was a very traditional meal. And then it was also a very traditional setting and it stems back from the grandparents, the great grandparents, like the lineage. And I'll say for Black people, it's so funny that when we do traditional, it's like, ‘oh, that's so ethnic’. And it's like, no–it goes back to our lineage. It goes back to the way that we were raised, our grandparents being in the home, our great grandparents, things being passed down. And I think that traditional just needs to be opened up. When you say traditional, it's very Eurocentric, it's very European and it takes away from the person in front of you who has their own spin on traditional to bring to you and to show you how to make that your own.
Gail 00:14:38 I think that people have to be very open to it. I wanna see traditional mean traditional for that designer and what they're going to bring to the table. And not just me working with a white client, they have to understand that I'm going to bring a nuance of a traditional, what I know of, to their home and layer it in. And it's always so amazing that they're like, ‘oh my God, I would've never thought that’. Or, ‘oh my God, this is so amazing’.
I have a client who I redid their apartment. They had a designer before and when you walked in, it was very disjointed. Like it's an amazing 7,000 square foot apartment. And you come in off the elevator and go right into their home, but it didn't pull me in and make me wanna linger.
Gail 00:15:30 And it was funny. It was traditional–that old school traditional where, you put a table here, you put an ottoman here. But it didn't make sense. And ‘Oh, there's a corner. We need to put something in that corner’. And so she went off, her and her husband, to their home on the vineyard. And when she came back… She has the most amazing artwork–like it's insane. And there's this one where it's this wooden elephant head and it's called Elephant Ears and it has like the giant ears , but it's stunning. And it was next to the TV and it got lost. And so for me, I thought that when you come in off the elevator–that hallway, which it was just white, like, it wasn't anything amazing.
Gail 00:16:17 So I used this like amazing, not smoke embers, but it has that grayish tone to it. I had my art handler come in and we redid all the art. And when she came in, she was like, ‘um, we need to speak. I don't think you really understand how this should be’. And I felt really disappointed because it was absolutely amazing. That was like eight o'clock at night.
By midnight, she texts me and she goes, ‘oh my God, this apartment is amazing. What you did with the artwork is so… And I felt better about it. I said to Ben, my husband, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, she doesn't get it. She doesn't get it’. She has all this beautiful artwork and it needs to be done the right way. And the furniture hadn't arrived yet.
Gail 00:17:05 And so as she's looking through the next morning, she wakes up and she goes, ‘I absolutely love what you did here. My husband turned the corner, coming down the hallway, going into the living room’... And when you turned the corner, I had the Elephant Ears right there. So when you got off the elevator, that's the first thing you would see. And she was like, ‘oh my God, everywhere you put the artwork, it makes so much more sense’. In her office she was like, ‘my mind is blown because the way you did the artwork, it makes so much more sense’.
That is so cool. I love that you specifically called out your art handler and how you really put that as a focal point, instead of what Eurocentric traditional design has always been. It's like, here's a console table, something needs to go right over that. Then you're gonna get a bunch of orchids and layer it over the art, right on top next to…
Yeah. Like it all needs to make sense. And I think instead of going with the formula. I'll say this, RH has a formula right. It's the sectional with the cocktail table, the Ottoman in the middle. And they give you a swivel chair. But what about the rest of the room? What does that say? And so many people, and I call 'em decorattes or PP decorators where it's just paint and pillows. They don't think of the room in it's totality and that's one thing that is missed in traditional. where it's just like traditional ‘Okay. You put that there, you put this there. Okay. It makes sense’. But the room also has to have a soul and a lot of people miss that when they do their version of traditional. The room has to have a soul to it. And I think that's what really needs to be brought to the forefront of not just being traditional, like the swivel chair or the sectional, the sofa , but having the room really be nuanced, make sense, and having the people want to linger in that room. Not just entertain, but like really linger in the room and want to be there.
So you are in a beautiful historic neighborhood of Jersey. You work in the city, you have all different types of clients. How do you bring your clients' traditions or culture to their spaces? So you mentioned bringing a little bit of your own and you'll have this different perspective. You'll bring in and surprise, when you're working with a white client and they'll be like, ‘I never thought of that. And I love it’. How do you bring their own culture into their spaces?
I make them show me what needs to stay. And I really have a conversation with them about how they want to really live in the space, not just entertain cuz people buy homes and they're like, ‘well I'm gonna be entertaining’. I'm like, ‘oh sweetie, you'll entertain for the first year or two. And then you'll just never wanna invite people over to your house’, you know? And you'll have these big parties–like we used to have big parties in our home. like a hundred people, 150. Now it's small, intimate dinners, eight or less <laugh> and that's what it is. And so I get to the nitty gritty of how do you really want your house to feel? Don't tell me all the beautiful things, but how do you really want it to feel and what is important to you?
And I have them walk me through the house and they go, ‘this is from my grandmother, I wanna keep this’. Or, ‘my mom gave this to me. This is really specia’l. Or ‘my aunt who I really loved who died of cancer, this was in her house and this is something important to me’. And so I weave that into what they tell me and what they say and what they really want to do. And I bring in their tradition and then I take it to the when clients try to Pinterest me to death with stuff. And I'm like, I don't wanna see the garbage that you're showing me. You get one time to show me and really tell me. But then I want you to really step back and trust the process.
Because if you are tying my hands, then I can't do my job. Then why hire me? And so I make sure that they show me what's really important, and what they really love. And then I just sit back and watch because I'll come back again,and we'll have conversations, and I watch how they are in the house with their family. And I'm like, ‘okay!’--something clicks. And then slowly it clicks for me. It doesn't happen immediately all the time. You know, sometimes I have no clue but I'll figure it out. And then all of a sudden, something will happen and I'll just start brimming with all these ideas. Then I start sketching and then I start pulling a bunch of fabric and just like, oh my God, this room is really coming together. And then I remember the pieces because I have the pieces up on the wall in my office and I'm like, okay, okay. Okay. And then when I show them, they're like, ‘how did you come up with this?’ And I'm like it just started speaking to me, the space really started speaking to me.
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How do you handle when someone tells you, ‘these are the pieces that need to stay, this is how I wanna use the space’ and in your gut, you know that that's not true. And you're like, ‘I know that's not how you really live. I know that's not how you really are gonna use this space’. How do you handle shifting that mindset for them when you actually go to the presentation and you're maybe delivering something different than what they told you that they absolutely wanted.
Well, that just happened. <laugh> <laugh> It was very interesting because the clients are moving into the home, they're not there yet. And they're like, ‘well, we're gonna do this. We're gonna do that’. And I said, as a homeowner, I'm telling you how you think you will use this house, you won't
Gail 00:23:26 And it was funny because with the living room, the space planning, the way I showed it to them, they kept saying, ‘well, we need seating for like, you know, 8-10 people. We need seating for 8-10 people’. And I was like, well, you can get 8 in here. And so then the husband's like, ‘well, we want two sofas, two swivels, two this, two that. And I go, ‘it's not good. It's not gonna work’. And they're like, ‘well, that's what we want’. So then, you know AutoCAD, I showed it to 'em, they're like, ‘that's perfect’. And I'm like, oh my God. Somehow I got into a conversation later on during the week with the husband and I said, ‘okay, I have to be honest with you. You all don't need me, just go ahead and do it.’
Gail 00:24:09 He's like, ‘no, no, no. Yes we do’. And I said, ‘No, let me explain something to you. I'm never gonna photograph that room. And here's why–it looks like it's in a doctor's waiting room. <laugh> and he's like ‘what?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, the stuff you're picking is very funerary, Like I'm looking for a dead body. I feel like it's a funeral home. And they're like, ‘oh my God. Really?’ And I was like, ‘yeah. so either you're gonna trust me because I was referred to you, you seeked me out. So either you're gonna let me do it and make it amazing for you. Or we could just part ways now.
Anastasia 00:24:45 Right. You know what you want? So you just go do it. Don't get me involved in this mess.
Gail 00:24:50 Yeah. As soon as I feel like I can't take the picture, I'm like, ‘Oh, okay. Houston, we have a problem’.
Gail 00:24:56 And even with a client–I'm doing their project now in Maryland–I did the closet. We took over a bedroom and made it into a closet to make a part of the primary suite and how I had the doorway, she's like, ‘I don't like that. I want the doorway here’. And I was like,’ okay, so that doorway's only gonna be two feet’. ‘No, but that's what I want. That's what I want’. So between me and the architect, we drew it out several different ways and shows ‘no, no, no. This is what I want’. Right, so we did it. Framing happened, everything's done. And she's like, ‘oh, that door is way too small’. And I go, ‘well, that's what you have to live with now’. <laugh> I was like, ‘this is why you hire me’. And it's funny cuz now when we talk about things and they'll ask her something, she's like, ‘I'm deferring to Gail. This is what she does. She's the expert.’
Learned her lesson.
Yeah. And I was like, and for me, like you have to do that sometimes. Like the client has to be taught a lesson. And I don't mean to sound [mean] saying that, but they have to learn and go, ‘Oh, okay. You're right. I get it now.’
That's such an important lesson. I wish everybody could get to it in your first initial meeting instead of <laugh> three months down the road.
And I'm very dogmatic and I will admit it. I'm like, ‘no, that's not happening’. I'm very much that way to my clients. And they get it. After a while they're like, ‘oh, okay, okay. Okay’.
<laugh> So Gail, you have such an incredible ability to make what I feel are fairly formal rooms feel so cozy and so inviting. Everything you do feels so luxe, but also like it's always been there and you can put your feet on the sofa. How do you bridge that gap? How do you make everything feel so next level, but also like you could nap on the sofa on Sunday?
Because it's how I live. And it's important to me. Once again, I hate hate when I walk into someone's home and it's a showcase. And I'm like, ‘it's a museum’. And that's another thing I say to my clients–you live in a house, it's not a museum. Like, ‘oh, well we can't get that because of my child. We can't do this because of my child’. I'm like your child…you need to teach your children to live with beautiful things. You need to teach your children to respect beautiful things. You need to understand that you live in your house. It's not a museum. You need to understand that you are going to spill a drink and you don't need to freak out. Your dog will throw up on your brand new sofa that you just got (just happened). And that you're not gonna freak out. That you're gonna clean it up. And after it's all clean, it's still going to be plush and amazing and you can enjoy it.
I always tell clients, you need to be able to read in that room, have conversations in that room, and entertain in that room, eat in that room and (excuse expression) you need to even have sex in that room if you want to. Your home is really where you should be living your best life. And it's a place where it should hug you and make you feel really loved and just refreshed–like you can take on the world again.You'll wake up, and when you leave the house, it's amazing.
I also learned very early on–picking fabrics. We go away on vacation. We spend all this money to stay at these best hotels and fly first class. Why wouldn't you do that every day for yourself? Right? Why wouldn't you live like that every single day? So the same luxe materials that you get at these hotels–the bed linens and all. I do custom bed linens for my clients all the time. This is what you should have for yourself. I pick the threads, I work with my clients on it and with the vendor, Casa Del Bianco. They're amazing–I've been dealing with them for 15 years now. And why wouldn't you do that for yourself? I always tell clients, ‘no, we're doing a custom bed’. They're like, ‘no’. I said ‘no. Custom bed linen for you. We can get some stuff made for the other rooms too. And if you don't want, we can go somewhere else for the guest rooms and all for the kids. But for the primary’ I'm like, ‘you should have that’. I do my best when I pick fabrics, I always make sure I pick the most amazing fabrics. Then I send them off to one of my vendors who does like the Teflon coating on it–so it still is lush and all, but then you're also not freaking out if you spill stuff.
That's amazing. I know that you have such experience and authority on textiles and I think it's amazing you custom make the bed linens. That's just next level. I'm gonna have to come stay at your house. I'm just gonna invite myself over and be like, ‘let me check out these custom bed linens Gail’s talking about’.
When we're done, let me know the size of your bed. I will get 'em made and you'll see the difference. And even with the way you wash your bed linen. I do regular wash, right. But then I also do like a little cap of vinegar and then I do a cap of baking soda and I put it in the wash. I'm telling you when you take it off and you put it on your bed, I always tell my clients, okay, you have to take a shower tonight. And I want you to loofah, here's a body scrubber I want you to use. Like, I'm very crazy about it. And then I'm like, ‘I want you to shimmy in, get into your bed linen’. And every morning, like the next day after they do it, they're like, ‘that was some of the best sleep I ever had’.
<laugh> oh my gosh, I love that. I'm gonna start calling it a Gail bed now <laugh> After we've changed the sheets, I'm like, ‘okay, we have our nightly routine. Sheets have been changed. This is how we have to do it. Gail said so.’
Gail 00:31:02 <laugh>
Gail, you are super well known in the old school design world. But I don't know if you even realize how idolized you are by this new class of younger designers. How do you bridge traditional layered look designs with staying current? How do you keep things feeling fresh?
I feel through color I feel through mixing high with low. Um, I don't know, that's so funny–I didn't know that anybody noticed me <laugh>
Oh, they notice. They definitely notice. And if you haven't noticed Gail before, you notice her now. Trust me.
I like to really mix it up and I just to keep it fresh, not with trends because trends come and go and you'll get screwed with that. And you'll be like, why did I get that? But I love a good custom bed linen with maybe a mirror from what is it, HomeGoods or something, you know? Like you just…
I was like, Gail, tell me what the low items you get, honestly. Please tell me about this low you do.
Gail 00:32:20 Okay. So the low, the really low for me is finding things on the street. I am notorious for finding furniture on the street and I'm like, let's get that, but I'm gonna get my guy to do it over with the most amazing fabric and let's see what we can do. I literally will buy furniture for… I bought a sofa for a client for $35. And we did it over in this $400/yard fabric. I had my guy reupholster it, but redo all the springs and everything . And you could not tell the difference
That is amazing.
You couldn’t tell the difference. So when I got it to my client, she didn't know. And it's been passed on to her daughter now. They fought for it and the one daughter has it in her new house now. And I just laughed. I was like, if you only knew the story,
So they don't know that you got it for $35 and custom made it for 'em? That is so funny.
No. I will find furniture and I will just hold onto it. And then every now and again I'll go, ‘oh, let me go get something’. I go to HomeGoods for my dog stuff and then I'll just pass by and I'll see something. I'm like, okay, let me just take that and push that off to the side and just leave that for a little while. And then all of a sudden I'll be like, ‘oh my God, I have a project. I can use that!’.
A perfect spot for it.
Yeah. Like with the show house I did for the Kaleidoscope Project in Massachusetts, that chair that's in there--that must have been in my garage for at least six years.
Oh my gosh–It's literally made for that room, that's so perfect. I'll make sure I link that project in our show notes as well. So people can see cuz I love how that project turned out.
Gail, this is probably because we're good friends and I know you on a different level, but I've always really admired your discerning take on client inquiries. You seem to have a great ability to vet a client before you onboard them. And you don't have a problem saying no when it's not the right fit. That results in quality projects, over quantity of projects. And I'd love for you to tell the rest of us commoners, how you actually make that happen,
Which I think is funny because you have the best questionnaires for bringing people on, for onboarding people. I learned long ago after taking on projects when I first started, ‘this is not what I want’ and ‘how do I get to what I want’. So one, I stopped doing free consultations and I upped my price. I was initially at $250 and then it was two hours. And, and then I was like, oh, okay. $350. And then I was like, you know what? My consultation now is an hour–maybe 90 minutes at best, the most. And now it's $800 because I'm like, if you're gonna pay it, you're gonna pay for my time. You're gonna see the value in it–and clients do. The ones that want me, do see the value in it. It also vets them because now they know going in, this is what they're going to get with me.
I also talk crazy in the beginning about numbers. You're like, ‘oh, I wanna have you…’ I'm like, okay, ‘so your room, what are we talking about?’ ‘Oh, well I want my living room–I don't need anything great’. I said, ‘well, I'm not gonna sit here and just do a HomeGoods run for you. You could just get a local decorette to do that’. If you're gonna work with me the minimum of your room is going to be about $45,000 to about $60,000. And then they're quiet. And then I'm like, ‘and I'm hourly and I charge you hourly’. And they're like, ‘oh, well, can you do a flat fee? I know someone that does a flat fee’. And I said, ‘well, no, I don't do flat fees because that's my time.
And when I'm working on it, I'm working on your project. And if you call me, that's a charge. And I don't text, so we won't be doing that. And they're like, ‘oh, okay’. And I said, ‘and if I do the whole space, there's nothing that you're going to go shopping and say, ‘I wanna fit that in the room’’. And they're like, ‘okay’. And they're like, well, what if I like this drapery?’ And I was like, ‘well, then once again, everything I do is custom for you. We're gonna make it look like you and not look like the rest of your neighbors who are in your neighborhood’. And they're like, ‘oh, alright, well, let me get back to you’. And as soon as they say that, they're not gonna call me–we're just done. And then it's funny, like out of the blue, sometimes they will call and go, ‘okay, I'm done. You're right. Let me deal with you’. and you know, I'm crazy talking about numbers from the beginning.
Yeah, that's so important. I think one thing you mentioned that I'd like to circle back around on, you mentioned $45-$60k for a room. And I think what people, new inquiries are often thinking is that that's their budget for furnishings, any sort of construction-that's like all in on the room. But then you pointed out, ‘well, my design fees are on top of that’. So I think a big key takeaway that people listening can make sure to clarify is that their total budget needs to include your design fees. So if they're saying $45-$60k, and then you're gonna be 20% of that on top of it, I think that's a really critical thing that people
coming to you need to understand upfront because it's just not the way their mind works. Once it's explained, it's like, ‘okay. Yeah, I understand that my total budget needs to include your services’, but people go into it thinking, ‘great, I've got $60k for this project’. And you're like, ‘okay, well that means you really only got $40k for the actual room’.
Another thing that I thought was super interesting that you mentioned was paying a premium on the consultation. A lot of people ask me, ‘Hey, will you roll that into, will you credit that towards my project?
And the answer is no. I totally agree. I think people get sucked into worrying about, ‘well, is this gonna be what gets them over the fence? Is this gonna be the deciding factor if I tell them that I'll credit that $800’. And I just wanna say, if someone's on the fence and that $800 is gonna make or break them–you're gonna have a lot of problems down the road. ‘Cause $800 is a small expense in this project.
How you start is how you finish. Literally, about two months ago, people reached out to me, husband and wife, ‘Okay. We’ll pay the $800. Do you roll that?’ ‘No, I don't’. I said, ‘listen, you're paying for my time. That's my time for that moment’. ‘Okay. Okay, great. We're gonna go with you. Send over the contract, yada, yada, yada’ come back with the contract and in the email they say to me, ‘do you roll that over? Will you roll over the 800?’. I know I spoke the Queen's English to them and I was very clear. And so I said, ‘as discussed per our conversation on the phone, no, I do not roll that over’. And I said, ‘I thank you so much for thinking of me. I wish you the best of luck’.
If they're gonna start pushing back now they're gonna be pushing back the whole time.
Yeah. Don't let people dictate how you run your business. That's like insane.
I also wanna circle around to your concept of hourly versus flat rate and why you would never do flat rate. The flat rate–I have two opinions on. One opinion and to your point, is you have no idea how these people are gonna work. You have no idea if they're gonna have a hundred questions a week, or if they're never gonna ask you a question at all, and you can get this thing ordered, wrapped up, just wait around for it to get delivered. So I think that's one thing that people really need to think about when they're talking pricing. The other side of it, Gail, that I've really thought about, is when you're doing something hourly and if you are not vigilant at increasing your prices on a very regular basis, and I'm talking a minimum of every six months, you are punishing yourself for being good at your job.
And what I mean by that is if you can do your job faster, because you have more experience, you have more product cataloged in your brain, in your systems and you're charging hourly. You're getting that project done sooner and therefore you're punishing yourself. So you need to make sure that you are constantly raising your rates to reflect your experience because your time spent on a project is going to go down as you gain more experience.
So Gail, this is a pep to you. <laugh> I want you to go ahead and raise your rates again and just get it on your calendar that they should be increasing by 10%, every six months. Eventually you'll hit a cap, but once you hit that cap, it is possible that you would switch back to a flat rate, comprehensive fee that is a maximum up to 100 hours per project, for example.
So that's another pricing structure I've seen people start to implement–there will be a flat fee up to X number of hours, after that point it is billed back hourly. So that there's a little bit of a hybrid scenario, where you don't necessarily need to increase your hourly rate because you're getting faster. You're gonna tell 'em, it's gonna take a hundred hours. You actually only take 65. You're still getting paid that bulk number. But if they're that pain in the butt client that just drags things out, you're still covered once you've hit that 100 hours and then can start billing back. So do you have any thoughts on that?
No. Listen, I am good about raising my rates–I am not gonna lie. Like I am just like, ‘I think it's time for an increase’. I'm like, ‘I'm damn good at this–let me do it’. I struggle with doing flat fee. Because I've been burned by it, you know? And so when people are like, ‘oh, but it's so tedious to sit here and do hourly’. And I was like, ‘I pay attention to that’.
You can never account for who's decisive and who's not. ‘Cause they can start out that way and then all of a sudden–second guessing, triple guessing. And you're just like, ‘oh my God’. . So when I say hourly, it really resonates for people and then it makes them go, okay. And then when they're lagging, they're like, I'm paying for it. You know? And that's the client, they're like, ‘well, I'm paying for it’. They know. ‘Can you do this for me?’ ‘Yeah or no’. When I send my invoice at the end of every month, religiously, I get paid by the fifth of the month, cuz that's in the contract. I never have a problem. It's all spelled out exactly what I do, there's a code for everything. And I spell out everything that I've done. So you see where your hours are going and they're like, okay. I know I need to not waste time on this or I know I need to not do this or now they're like, just do it. I know you got it. I'm not even gonna mess with you on it.
How do you get past a scarcity mindset? To allow yourself to say ‘no’ to the wrong projects? How do you get past being like, if I don't take this project, I'm not gonna make mortgage this month. How do you get past that thing?
Oh my God–that is such a great question. Because that is something, the scarcity mindset is something you have to work on daily and you have to understand the value that you bring to your client. You have to understand the value, that what you are doing, because guess what? If they could do it, they would, right? and if they could get the job done and make it look amazing like you do, then they would. But they can't. And you have to know what your value is and what your worth is. And that doesn't happen overnight. And you also have people around you like, ‘oh, I would never pay that’. And then they have you doubting yourself–but you have to know your worth and you have to understand how hard you have worked to get to where you are. To be able to say, this is my number and stand firm in it. And you have to say it with conviction. And thank God I do say it with conviction. And I didn't realize I did, cuz my clients don't flinch–those who are for me–they don't flinch at all. And they're like, ‘okay, let's do it’.
Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I think no matter what industry you're in as a business owner, that's always something you have to consider and you have to outweigh. And I'm a firm believer that by saying no to the wrong projects, you have just opened up space for the next right project that will fulfill your bank account and fulfill your soul. It takes being burned a number of times before you realize that those wrong projects are not worth it.
So finally, this brings me to the question about show houses. I feel like you are super active in the show house circuit and every project you do in a show house just absolutely takes my breath away. What benefit do you see to participating in show houses and what do you like most about them? Or is there any reason why another designer should step carefully or steer clear from show houses as a designer?
Okay. The answer I'm giving is for both–to stare clear and also to do it.
Doing a Showhouse is your opportunity to show who you really are as a designer and your creativity. Don't go so over-the-top circus Looney-tunes, throwing everything in, right? because it has to be a true blue representation of you and you don't need to cram every idea into the show house. But for me it's always been a release of like, ‘oh my God, this sounds good’. Number one, I only do a show house where the labor is paid for. Right? Because it's expensive to do a show house and I have my own house I need to do <laugh> so I only do a show house where the labor is paid for. I always take the smallest room possible.
Everybody wants the biggest room. It's easy to show who you are with a big room. , it's tough to show who you are because you need to get creative with the small space, right? And you can use as much color or as little color and make it very impactful. But to do a show house, a lot of people go and they're like, ‘well, do you get business out of it? I wanna make sure I get clients’. You're going in with the wrong mindset. You need to go in, going one, I'm gonna have fun. Two, I'm really gonna take advantage of this and show people what I can do with this space. And three, I'm gonna use the vendors that I really wanna use and I'm gonna go high end, I'm gonna go low end, I'm gonna take that chair out of the garage. You know, whatever it is, and show who you are. I think a lot of designers only wanna do a Showhouse because they think they're gonna get a client out of it. And you may, down the road, and not have it happen immediately. You know? And you have to really just be honest with yourself about it. but you just need to be mindful is what I'm saying.
I think when we were working on your website together, the projects that were front and center and the things you were most proud of were a lot of those show houses, because it was exactly Gail. It was your vision. It was exactly what you wanted to execute and you didn't have the, I don't wanna say constraints, but the boundaries that are maybe provided in a project when you're working with a client. So I definitely see the value in, even if you don't get a client directly from the show house who walked the show house, who saw your space down the road, you have portfolio of work, or at least a project in your portfolio, that speaks so true to yourself. And that's where that dream client or that client that is going to be a successful project can resonate and really feel attached to you by seeing that work. So as you were talking about, as you're working through a project and you know, ‘I'm not gonna photograph this’, I feel like the show houses are your chances to have a space that, you know you're gonna photograph, you know you're gonna want those–cuz it's exactly what you wanted.
Yes. And it comes out exactly how you want it and you're so proud. Like every time I'm done, I'm like, ‘God, this was so much fun’. My soul feels so good, my spirit felt like it was set free. And then those are the best pictures, you know? Yeah. And then now people that are looking for me, they're like, ‘oh, I love that’. And then they just step back and they're like, go for it.
Amazing. Well, Gail, is there anything else you would like to share with us before we finish up with our outro?
Yes. If you need a new website, I'm speaking to all designers, you really need to have IDCO do it. It is so important because that is your first step, or your face forward to a client. And if you have some website and that you think you can do as a designer, I am an interior designer. I am not a website person. Let IDCO do your website.
You're welcome. Well, seriously, I had a girlfriend the other day. She's like, well, do you have a standard response for this? And I'm like, go to IDCO, go to their website, go buy one of the packages. <laugh> and
Well, thank you. As we wrap up, Gail Davis is so clearly a force to be reckoned with as a designer, but more importantly, she is a dear friend to hold sacred. You can follow along with Gail on her own podcast, Design Perspectives linked in the show notes. I highly recommend you subscribe with new episodes every week and you don't wanna miss out. To see her beautiful portfolio of work visit GailDavisDesignsllc.com, that’s GailDavisDesignsllc.com or follow Gail on Instagram @GailDavisDesigns.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Gail. Thank you for getting my first time jitters out of the way. As always I'm leaving this conversation with you more educated, inspired, and humbled than I started it. I hope you have a great weekend and I'm sure I'll get to see you very soon.
Absolutely. Thank you, my love.
If you weren't able to write down everything you heard today, you can find all of the links and images we referenced and other details from this episode of The Interior Collective on our website at idco.studio/podcast. If you missed Jake Arnold at Design Camp this spring, we are working hard to bring him back to a future event. You can learn more about upcoming Design Camps at design-camp.co linked in the show notes.
If you loved this podcast, please leave us a review. It means a lot to us as we embark on this new podcasting journey. If you have questions or topics you'd like to hear next season, please email me at [email protected]
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