Zoë Feldman: A 6 Step Design Process

Episode 3 March 22, 2024 00:54:01
Zoë Feldman: A 6 Step Design Process
The Interior Collective
Zoë Feldman: A 6 Step Design Process

Mar 22 2024 | 00:54:01

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This week, coveted Washington DC designer Zoe Feldman breaks down her well-established six-part design process as she shares her journey into interior design and the importance of scaling her business. The conversation covers the six phases of her design process, including programming, schematic design, design development, construction documents, construction administration, and installation and styling. Zoë also discusses her Expert sessions and the different tiers of design services she offers. She shares her experience of investing in process improvement and the challenges and benefits of offering full service design and design anywhere services. In this conversation, Zoë discusses her approach to budget-friendly design with Design Anywhere. She breaks down the six-phase process of interior design, including programming, schematic design, design development, and installation. Anastasia also shares upcoming projects and collaborations, including a lighting collection with Mitzi that just launched and a kitchen design for fashion designer Jessie Randall.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:08] Speaker A: This week, coveted Washington, DC designer Zoe Feldman breaks down her well established six part design process as she shares her journey into interior design and the importance of scaling her business. The conversation covers the six phases of her design process, including programming, schematic design, design development, construction documents, construction, administration, and installation and styling. We go in depth into each phase and how Zoe approaches them after every podcast interview. I have to admit I always bring back key takeaways to my team because I learned so much from each guest. But Zoe's interview just hits a bit deeper. Today's main takeaway is that interior design is not just about providing a service. You are providing intimacy, and few industries can really say that. Sit back and relax as Zoe so eloquently schools us on the importance of recognizing the personal and emotional Chad Dorsey's exclusive designs for discover the new from cloak to marble to Portland organ with a linen finish. Elevate your curated color panel based on Shay's favorite collection, now available at Ansac Showroom visit we are so excited to invite you to dive deeper into the interior collective. Podcast episodes now on Patreon unlock access to in depth analysis, helpful downloads and worksheets created with each podcast episode. Subscribers gain behind the scenes access to additional resources like examples and screenshots of guest spreadsheets, construction documents, and so much more. Your subscription also gets you immediate access to our private community of interior designers and our team of industry experts. Ready to answer your questions? Subscribe now at collective or linked in the show notes. Join the interior collective Patreon community and let's continue this conversation. Hi Zoe, and welcome to the show. We are so excited to have you here on the interior collective. This is like a big fangirl moment for those listening because you have been highly requested to hear from our listeners. So thank you for being here. [00:02:18] Speaker B: Oh, hi Anastasia. I'm so flattered. I love that. Thank you for having me. [00:02:23] Speaker A: Before we can get into the guts of this show, I have to first celebrate the amazing, mind blowing news that you're the number one expert on the east coast. And that is just blowing my mind. Share with us your experience on those expert calls, what gets accomplished and why 55 minutes of design with someone can make a huge difference in their life. [00:02:47] Speaker B: First of all, same. And when they told me, I was like, does that include New York? And they're like, yes. So, yeah, it was a bit pinch me moment. Okay, so the expert, the expert is interesting because when I first was approached to do it and consider doing it, I thought, how am I going to do this? How I'm going to give people really good advice in 55 minutes over Zoom. I couldn't even understand how this could happen, but it turns out that it's actually really effective. The client comes in hyper prepared, typically, and has done all of this homework. And then we spend the first, say ten, five to 15, or say five to 20 minutes, kind of like getting into the project and understanding the landscape of the project. And then, I don't know, it's just sort of like all these ideas that I think is the marination time. And then the ideas begin to sort of flow. Because for me, I don't typically walk into a space and immediately know I would move that I would do that. My brain needs to marinate on the experience. And so I think that little bit of, I guess, reprieve or moment allows for that marination process to happen. And then it's really efficient. It's like, okay, we need to talk about this. This. And sometimes I derail things and say, no, we don't, we need to talk about this. And then we can talk about this. But yeah, it's been surprisingly effective. [00:04:11] Speaker A: May I ask on average whether it's by week or per month, but what's the cadence of how much you're opening up and how many calls you're really taking? [00:04:18] Speaker B: We do a hold on the calendar for two calls a week and that's not always correct. So I think, you know, we have an office in New York, so when I'm in, I don't. It's just too much. I'm out of my element. And I'm typically really with clients a lot. So say on average we're doing six a month. [00:04:37] Speaker A: Six a month. That's amazing. And whether it's on the expert or another option, or you're just like self hosting, you offer these 1 hour consult calls on your own website because you're not on the expert. Would you say that you have clients that come back and book multiple sessions? And has that been a successful option? Or is it really like I'm trying to get someone in and out in that 1 hour and we're done? [00:05:01] Speaker B: I think it's more successful to have multiple calls because in the end, design is a process and it's iterative. It was sort of, as I was saying, it's a domino effect and people think, all I need is a paint color. But until we can pick a paint color, we have to have other things sorted. To pick a paint color isn't just as easy as, okay, do light blue from Farrow & Ball it's go to sample eyes and get these colors, and then you have to get them shipped to you. And now you have to put them up in your space with your sunlight, and depending on the region, the color is going to look different. And then you have to decide what you like best. Then we have to discuss that. So oftentimes the first meeting is like, let's figure out if there's any sort of spatial issues. We start there, and then once that's sorted, if we're picking wallpapers or paints or window treatments from the shade store or whatever it is, let's go make sure they can get all of those samples. And then they book another appointment. And then we go through that part of things. [00:05:58] Speaker A: For those who are listening, let's say after our conversation today, they really want to get to chat with you more. Are your expert sessions open to discussing business with other designers? Is that one of your options, or do you really like to focus on clients? [00:06:12] Speaker B: Wait, that's so cute. I've never thought of it totally. I'm totally open to, I mean, I'm for better or for worse, like a very open person, which is good and bad. It just depends how you look at it and what we're talking about. And so, yeah, I'd be totally down for that. I've had a couple of people call and they really want to work with me properly and they use the time to discuss that. But I've never had an emerging designer call and just want to pick my brain, but I'd be totally open to that. [00:06:43] Speaker A: Well, I will make sure that that is linked in the end. Everybody better hurry up and book those because there's only about six slots a month. [00:06:50] Speaker B: And I do tell people, because it is a bit limited, if you really want to get in early, you can always email the expert and say, and then they'll get in touch with me and say, is it possible to fit someone in? And I'm pretty chill, like, I'll try. [00:07:05] Speaker A: And get people perfect. I have to ask, why do you think you are the number one designer on the east coast? On the expert. [00:07:13] Speaker B: Oh, my know, I like to think that our designs resonate with people. Okay. So I sort of think of myself as the anti designer. I'm not formulaic with my work. Well, first of all, I think our work is approachable. I like to think that. And I think it's partially because we're kind of the antidecorator in that I'm not like, this has to match this and this has to all be perfect. When someone walks into my spaces, I don't want it to feel designed. I want it to feel collected and personal and comfortable. I think we take a lot of risks. The way that I grew up and the way I was trained were incredibly different, and I think that shows up in our work. There's a lot of interesting tension there. I mean, I like to think it's just because when I do the expert calls, I get really into them. I really appreciate that the person finds a lot of value in the time, and I want them to feel like I always end it like, okay, was that good? Do you feel like you got something out of it? Because I can never tell. Right. My standards are so high, and what I expect out of myself is so high. So I hope that they feel taken care of and listened to and appreciated. [00:08:21] Speaker A: Well, congratulations again. It's well deserved and just such a fun little tidbit of information that you received. Just, I guess that was, like, two weeks ago that that announcement went out. So congratulations. [00:08:31] Speaker B: Thank you so much. I was so excited. [00:08:33] Speaker A: So you actually just mentioned something that is a perfect way to kind of start getting us into the depths of today's show. Talking about the way you were trained and the way you were raised were very different. I'd love for you to share your journey of how you got into interior design and really how you made it a career. [00:08:51] Speaker B: I'll start from sort of the beginning. I grew up in a mid century modern house filled with modern art, contemporary art, pop art. My mother ran a contemporary art gallery. Basically, my grandparents were art dealers, and they had a gallery in Detroit, Michigan, and a gallery in Florida where basically the two places they lived. And my mother ran the Florida one, and my aunt ran the Michigan one. And so I grew up surrounded by design in some sense. Also, Detroit is known for Cranbrook and Knoll, and so my grandmother's house, my grandparents'house was filled with all this original mid century modern sarinon and knoll, and it was, like, insane. And so this is just sort of what I grew up with, and this is what I knew of design and art, just sort of through osmosis. I actually wanted to be a journalist. I had no real interest in design. I talk about this a lot, but I was, like, a very mediocre student. And when I went to school, I thought I would go to school for journalism. But then they told me I would have to live in Arkansas or somewhere in the middle of America or somewhere that wasn't New York City, which is where I wanted to be or LA, because I would have to start off wherever they needed me. And I was like, no, I'm going to New York. And they're like, okay, well, I don't know how you're going to do this. So I ended up in advertising for a year, and I wasn't good at it. And so I was looking for programs. My mom basically was like, why don't you think about design? Like all designers, you're always interested in changing your room around. I don't need to bore you with all the same details that everybody has. And so I was living in New York City, and I was like, all right, well, I'm going to look into Parsons. They had an interior design continuing ed program, and I signed up for it. And I quickly realized I had a lot of time on my hands because it was continuing education, and so it wasn't this full course load. And so I was like, all right, I need to get an internship. So my mom had a fancy friend who lived in Manhattan. I asked her what firms, because I didn't know any interior designers. And she was like, all right, you should call Parish Hadley. Mark Hampton. And I never remember the third. And I did. I don't think Parish Hadley ever called me back, but Mark Hampton did. Alexa. And so I got an interview. I was hired as an intern, and that was my foray into interior design. Within about six weeks, she hired me as her assistant. And then just a few months later, I started as a design assistant and just sort of working my way up the ladder there. And I was there for about five years. And what's interesting is, for those of you who are familiar with Mark Hampton, it is in direct opposition with Andy Warhol. And so I was growing up in this Lawrence Noel Warhol world, and then I was working in this, you know, like a valance's world, but it was the best of the best working at was seeing, like, I was in Stanford white apartments and helping to redo them. And I was being exposed to this whole other beautiful world of aesthetics that I had no historical reference other than persons. I was taking decorative arts and things like this. So I think that also helped, right? I was, like, beginning to learn about it, and then I was living it. And so it's sort of like those three that have really influenced my work. So I never left being a modernist because that's who I am at my core. But I was so highly influenced by the beautiful work I did for Alexa. And then I got this wonderful education at Parsons that kind of rounded everything. [00:12:17] Speaker A: Out what a house to grow up in. How cool to have multiple generations just digging so deep into that. What an amazing story. So today, I really want us to focus on your design process, because as I was preparing for pre production with you, your team was like, your process is super unique. It's different than the way everybody else does it. You've kind of had a lot of different experience and picked the best to figure out what works best for you. So let's go ahead and dig into kind of the service buckets you have. So your interior design offerings include full service design anywhere, as you call it. And the expert, which we've already touched on, can you elaborate on, really, the difference between these services and how you decided to start offering the different tiers of service? [00:13:06] Speaker B: This is fun to talk about, because this was a whole process for me. So about eight years ago, nine years ago, when I was single, I was building this business, but fairly terribly, I didn't know how to build it. So I was working with, I don't know, three or four other women, someone who was helping with accounting and then a couple of designers. And I met my husband, who's in finance, and pretty quickly he started looking at my books. I asked him to, and he was like, what's happening here? You have all this work, and why don't you have any employees? And I was like, I do. I have these people. And he's like, no, you need to scale. You're never going to be able to service these clients if you don't scale and hire people. And I was like, I can't afford to. He's like, you can't afford not to. This is potentially a problem. So I was like, oh, okay. Because I've always wanted world domination, and I didn't know how to get there. But I was like, quickly saw, oh, this is what I needed. I needed to meet someone who gave a shit about me and was going to be like, hey, let's do this. So then he started to get kind of involved in my business lightly. He still had a proper job and helped me to start to scale. So we started to hire people, and we started to think about process. Then COVID came, and not to get into too much of the weeds, but we had a startup for about a year. My husband's name is Matt. Me and Matt had a startup for a year, and that was our first foray into working together. We ultimately ended up dissolving the startup. But it let me see, oh, we could actually work together. That was the reason we couldn't do the startup. I was just like, I am going to die. I can't do both of these things and be a mother and a wife. And so anyway, so we dissolved the startup and we decided to put all of our focus into my company, into Zoe Feldman. And I approached Matt to come on full time, and I'm sure at first he was horrified and he was like, okay, so now Matt is our CFO and president of the company, which is wonderful, and he runs all the operations, which is not so unique or unusual. One of the things we did first is we worked with these wonderful consultants, like the guy had been, he had worked at Amazon and Doordash and Gopuff and all these kind of startups as a lean, efficient, I guess Amazon isn't startup. He'd been at Amazon for like ten or 15 years as a lean efficiency expert. And then he went on to start a consulting group for all of these other startups to help them with their lean efficiency, like their process. And I never would have put money into this without Matt's permission. I wouldn't have thought I could afford anything like this. And so we did invest some money into our business. We invested money and time into this company to help us look at our process and figure out what we're doing wrong and what we can do better. So that was sort of step one. And I'd always lightly been interested in business, and the way I'd done it in the past was kind of like, all right, listen, who do I respect in this? Like, undeniably, restoration hardware has built an amazing, okay. Like, they just like when clients would want to return things. And most designers are like, no, it's not refundable. You can't do that. I was like, I think I'm going to take it back because restoration hardware takes it back, and they're doing all right. So I feel like there's a client play here, that if we build trust and we don't, assuming there's no abuse involved, I'm not just like returning a million things, but it's legitimate and they're a good client. I can figure out how to get rid of that, or I can eat $5,000 if I have to. I'm in a position. There was a time where I could not have eaten $5,000, but I was in a space where I could do that. And I'd always flirted with that anyway. I really worked hard to always put the client first anyway. Did I tell you I have add? So if I run around sometimes in circles, this is what's happening, guys. Just letting you know. So try and keep it. [00:17:01] Speaker A: I will bring you back when I need you to, but otherwise I'm just going to let you run, okay? [00:17:06] Speaker B: I'm unmedicated as of like a year ago. So it's like really rogue over here, this add stuff. Anyway. And so we worked with these efficiency experts, and they really helped us tighten up our process. It was a pretty grueling experience. I didn't enjoy it, but I'm so glad I did it. [00:17:22] Speaker A: Can I pop in with a super personal question that you can skip over for those listening that are thinking about a consultant of this kind of scale, is that like a four figure thing, a five figure thing, a six figure investment? And I know you're just giving, like, one example, but I think when you're hearing that, it's like, oh, God, I need to have $250,000 set aside to have someone come in here and audit what I'm doing. [00:17:52] Speaker B: Yeah, you do need to have money. Sort of like, not that. That's insane. I can't afford that. But it is very expensive. I'm on my 20th year in business, guys. This is like. I am way deeper than most people who are listening to this are. This is not for everyone. That's why, yes, it's an expensive process. It is not something that, without Matt, I would have had the confidence to even embark on. It meant we didn't do other things. Okay. So the way we looked at it, as successful as we are, we're still growing, and we still have to make sacrifices and choices. And so we made the decision to spend money, which was like a salary. Like a person salary, a manager level salary, let's say on that, in lieu of maybe hiring someone else or doing certain other marketing opportunities that would have cost money. Like, we made that decision as a company. So if you're listening and whatever your number is, that sounds scary if you think about it like that, if you invest back into your business, how could you do that? See, everyone's, like, afraid to spend their money because they think they don't have any. But you do have money. It's just how you spend it, right? If you're running a business, you have some money. You've got money for cash flow coming in and out. Right? And so it's about distributing it. Right. In a way that maximizes the company. We knew that that was going to make things tight for us by doing it, but that it was a long term investment, and it has been. It has paid us back in dividends. But it was like, brutal while we were going through it because it was expensive and it was a time suck. [00:19:30] Speaker A: Yeah. How long did that process, how long did you work with this consultant? [00:19:33] Speaker B: The whole thing was like, I don't know, six months or something like this. I mean, no one's going to come into your company, take it over and let you take a nap. It's like they're coming in and they're taking over and they're teaching you. So you have to be a participant. It was brutal, but it was worth it. [00:19:51] Speaker A: In an ideal world, you would be spending all of your working hours designing beautiful spaces. We created our client email templates specifically to give you back time to design and get you away from your inbox. Our copywriters crafted 30 emails that fit into every step of your design process. Do yourself a favor and visit Idco studio and get those hours back in your day. [00:20:14] Speaker B: The younger me couldn't have worked with these people. Even if I worked out the money in certain ways or decided not to do certain other things, I just couldn't have done it. But there would have been younger consultants or there's somebody out there who can help you, or I think there's companies where you can have a membership fee and have access to processes and things. I think you do that. Right, Anastasia? [00:20:36] Speaker A: Right. We have everything, like in the shop that you can do or you can come to design camp and we go through processes super intensely. But, yes, there's different tiers of how you could work with someone. [00:20:46] Speaker B: That's what people need to do. Because what I did is okay, like I said, I'm a 20 year veteran, so it's different. Unfortunately, I'm no longer young, but if you're younger or emerging, there's so much out there now where you don't have to pay someone a salary, basically to do this. That is not the path for everyone. Also, we were growing. We're now 25 people with two offices. We really needed to work on our process. It wasn't a joke. It was like, we have to figure this out. We were having too much turnover. It was COVID. There were, like, HR issues. It was just an intense time. We had to figure out how to get more efficient with our clients. We had to learn how to work differently because of COVID So there were just a lot of factors and we were thankful that we were in a position that we could do it. But something like what you offer is remarkable and really all most people need, right? [00:21:43] Speaker A: 100%. I'm so fascinated in understanding you and Matt's thought process behind going to someone who was not an expert in this industry and having this outside perspective of someone who knows how to run an efficient business but maybe knows nothing about design. And I'd love to hear kind of how you were like, this is the giant leap we need to take. [00:22:08] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, so here's the thing, Anastasia. Forget what they used to call it. It was like a blitz, almost like a three day intensive. Like, sit in a windowless room. And then at the end of those three days, I remember the guy's name was Mike. He was like, you know, this is actually a really complicated world. And I was, yeah. It's like, are you fucking, like, thanks. [00:22:32] Speaker A: Hi. Thanks for joining. [00:22:34] Speaker B: So, you know, in some ways, I would offer that someone like you who understands the business. I don't know if it's better. It's different. But there's definitely value to that, because he had to sort of learn our business and realize, okay, we're in a service business. And while so is uber eats or doordash or whatever he are, they're different. We're in the business of intimacy is what I learned out of all of this. It goes beyond service and into intimacy. And that was a huge takeaway when we figured that out. And I think it was one of my consultants, Josh, who was like, you're in the business of intimacy. This is different than just service. And I was like, yeah, that's right. So you can't just apply these rules that you can apply to gopuff. [00:23:18] Speaker A: So as you had this grueling, horrible six months and you came out the other side, talk to me about especially knowing now that this was really going on during COVID talk to me about how you set up those two kind of core separate services. Your full service design. And I'm so sorry. I call it distance design in my head, but design anywhere. So talk to me about how you came to that and how you were comfortable as a very busy designer offering those two levels. [00:23:46] Speaker B: For a long time, I've wanted to also scale. Well, as we're scaling, it becomes increasingly hard to be a part of every project. But I really try to be because I love our clients. We've built a business. I'm like, we won't even take people who aren't nice. If you're not nice, we're not interested in working for you. I don't care what your project is like. We are not interested. So we have all these wonderful, wonderful, wonderful clients who I become very close with, have given wedding speeches and so really close, which is, again, intimacy. So those are our full service, and it's pretty hard for me to. I don't know if get away, because I don't want to get away, but that's maybe the way to say it, to step away from those projects. And is it really an option now? I have a wonderful team, and some of my team has been with me, like, six, seven years, and I really trust them, and they're amazing designers, and I feel a lot of pressure removed. And I'm very much an editor at this point, but I do still spend a lot of time with clients, and so that's our full service. And I knew I couldn't step too deeply away from that. But we kept getting these, and to be frank, those are typically very large budgets, because, again, I've been doing this for 20 years. So we've been lucky to grow into a position where we have these amazing clients who are wonderful and can spend all this money and do all the great things. And that's helpful for you guys to see all the beautiful imagery we have. But we kept getting intakes for people who had what I thought were really impressive budgets and, like, big budgets, because I don't minimize $100,000 or $200,000. I think that's a lot of money. But because we'd grown to the scale, we couldn't really support that with the full service structure. Like, our fees just didn't make sense. I remember once talking to an attorney, and he was kind of like, you don't want to hire me because my fees are too much. And what you're trying, what I'm going to spend, it just didn't make someone. Basically, you need someone cheaper. I don't want to charge you the same amount as I'm going to get you. That doesn't make any sense. So that was sort of where we were, and I don't know how Frank I should be on this, but Matt basically did a financial analysis, and we were leaving so much money on the table by not being able to take these jobs that it was, like, alarming and inspiring. And I was like, all right, Matt more so was like, how are we going to capture this? Like, this is insane that we can't take these projects. And by the way, these people are cool, and they have great taste, and they're design enthusiasts, and they'd really love to work with. So COVID had ushered in this whole experience where we were really learning, as you know, how to work remotely in a way that was effective. And sustainable. [00:26:33] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:26:33] Speaker B: And sustainable. Yeah. And I'd always had long distance jobs anyway, and so I knew I could do it. And so we had this meeting. At this point, we were done with the consultants, and so we had this internal meeting with the directors of my company and Matt and I and whatever in marketing, and we were. And here's the thing. Those design anywhere clients, they have the budget I would have if I were doing my house. So they're very relatable to me, this budget, these people. Yeah. I'm not coming out there with a full service that's not on the table for me. So I was like, all right, if I were the one doing this project, this would be my budget. And what would I value in me if I were the client? Okay, well, since I am me, and I am this client, as much as I would love for them to be there, like I am, with full service, like my team is every day doing everything and all the things. I'm scrappy. I've always had to be scrappy. That's who I am anyway. So I'd be like, well, I can do the project management portion. As long as you tee it up. I can let the guy in. I can make sure I can facetime you. If there's a question, I don't need you to be here all the time. If you're charging me $600 or $400 or $200 or $100, I'd rather put that money into product. And so I realized these clients, because they're design enthusiasts, they really value our eye. That's what they want. And they're okay if they can get our eye, they're chill. As long, like, as I said, and I'll explain that later, if we tee things up for them, managing the process of whatever construction there, then we realized, all right, well, we can service these people if we don't have to charge those heavy fees and we don't have to be so heavily involved, we can get more product in their house, and we can give them all the beautiful stuff, like all of our concepts, and we can back out of the project management component, we can back out of the installation component, and we can deliver an amazing product. [00:28:33] Speaker A: So we're going to get into your six distinct phase process in a second. But just because it's on the tip of my tongue, I want to ask for design anywhere. When it comes to receiving an install, is that part of design anywhere? Or at that point, are things getting sent straight to the client and they're project managing that, so they're receiving everything. [00:28:53] Speaker B: No, we don't ever do that. So we made a decision, and it was very much. I felt very strongly that we had to retain a receiving house and that couldn't be sacrificed. If I was going to move forward with design anywhere, we couldn't sacrifice the quality. We couldn't have additional liability. We had to just basically remove the fat and keep in all the things that make it right. So we do keep the installation, but it's lighter. We have one day for it that we oversee things and we do some styling versus, like, a three to four week installation. So it's all just very compressed. But, no, we went back and forth. It's funny, you asked that a lot on what if we do that? And I was like, no, see, that's the problem. That's where problems actually happen. And we'll be inundated. They think they're okay with that. They're not. They don't want to run home and have to get the sofa, then run home and have to get the table, and then it's damaged. I'm like, that's a problem. These people aren't telling me they have $25,000 budgets. They're telling me they have $300,000 budgets. That's a lot of money. They deserve a level of care. I'm not just going to be like, all right, well, that's all you have here. I'm going to dump all your stuff on your doorstep. Have a good time. And it feels like, in our world, we minimize these large numbers. Like, we're like, that's it. And you're like, yeah, dude, that's a lot of money. [00:30:20] Speaker A: Right? To be able to just write someone a check and have that sitting in an account, that's an amount. [00:30:29] Speaker B: Yeah. And less than that is a lot of money. $100,000 is a lot of money. We're talking big numbers here. And we. It felt so gross. And there's such a snobbery in interior design that I've just never been comfortable with. I've never understood it. It always felt like when you go to the department store and the people helping you are rude to you, and you're like, dude, you kind of wear the Gucci suit either. I don't know why you're being mean to me. [00:31:00] Speaker A: You're working here and I'm shopping. Why are you talking to me that way? [00:31:03] Speaker B: Yeah, sorry. It always felt like there were these pretty women moments, so I didn't want to have one of those. And I've always just wanted to respect people's budgets, and I wanted to work for people of all different levels. And now with the expert, it really gives us the space to work with these really enthusiastic people at all different levels. And we can pretty much give them different experiences but similar outcomes. [00:31:28] Speaker A: Yeah, absolutely. All right, let's dig in deep. I want to start breaking down this six phase process, starting with phase one, which I believe is programming. So in the programming phase, you divine the scope of work and create a budget. Talk us through programming. And then I really want us to dig in to how you are ensuring these initial programming stages are successful. Because budgeting is such a scary thing for everybody, and coming up with numbers and telling people that they're going to be right is terrifying. [00:32:00] Speaker B: Okay. I'm going to do the best that I can. I have a really nice team. So back check me. All right, so we start with programming. We have decided that we charge hourly, typically, or a flat fee for programming so that we can fully define the scope of work. What used to happen and where we got tripped up a lot of the time was a client would think this would be the scope of work. We would then price for that, the scope would change and we'd either want to ask for more money. But again, like I said, I'm very client forward. I don't want to do that. Sometimes you have to, sometimes it's inevitable and we still do, but we're trying to avoid moments like that. So doing these things upfront, like a deep dive into the programming part, which is essentially defining the scope of work, has been enormously helpful to staying on track. So we do that, like I said, hourly or a fixed fee, depending on how unknown the scope is. We're drilling down in the scope of work, and then at the same time, we are also starting to get to know them aesthetically. So programming is somewhat quick, but bleeds into schematic design. [00:33:16] Speaker A: Curious. So you said programming sometimes is hourly, sometimes it's flat rate. As the business owner, how do you decide which one you're going to approach with a specific project? [00:33:27] Speaker B: If someone comes to me and says, all right, I've got this house and we're decorating it, and we do want to paint and we want to do electrical, but I really don't want to get heavy into construction, there's a chance that I might do some millwork here. And it seems pretty defined. Then we know. I say to Matt, we do a flat fee for this. This is really pretty well defined. It might just be a matter of, like, is the laundry in or out? This is not a big deal. Most of the time we're going hourly because it's a little. Or someone comes in and says, all right, I'm taking it down to the studs. It's already done. That's what we're doing. Okay, well, then we can probably flat fee it. But even with that, we might program it because we might hourly it just because it's such a big project that we're trying to understand. So, typically, it's when it's probably decorating only with a little bit of paint and a little bit of electrical and maybe some millwork, and we can give a flat fee on that. Otherwise, we're usually doing hourly and we're always giving estimates. [00:34:25] Speaker A: Okay. [00:34:26] Speaker B: It'll probably be 10,000, whatever it is. [00:34:28] Speaker A: And this estimate. And this is just for phase one, correct? [00:34:32] Speaker B: Yeah, just for phase one. [00:34:33] Speaker A: Okay, perfect. Talk us through schematic. [00:34:36] Speaker B: Schematic design for us is always and will always remain hourly. And that is because it runs the entire t of the project. It starts with the architectural plans, but it runs through with any millwork we're doing, any custom furniture. So it's just one of these things that hangs on forever and always stays hourly because you can't predict it. Right. If six months in, the client's like, I want to do a custom coffee table schematic, and great, and we're billing you for it. That's happening. So the schematic design is when we almost always have an architect on. I'd say 90% of our projects, we work with architect. And so that's when we're really working with the architect, and we're redlining their work. So they're coming in as the designer. One of the things that I'm sure your listeners know is we often become, like, the advocate of the client, and we have the most intimate relationship with them. So we're getting to know them on such a deep level, and the architects have a little bit more typically, like a surface relationship. And so we're like, oh, that's really cool, what you drew, except they really need a place to put the stroller because she's planning to have a second baby. Those types of things. Right. And so we're digging into the details, or some architects are a little more focused on the macro, and we're a little more focused on the micro, and so we're digging into some interior details that maybe they're not thinking about. So we spend a lot of time doing that, and then at some point, the plan gets drawn, and then we move into space planning. The space planning gets approved by the client and then we start the budget. Now we worry about the contracting budget only from the perspective of if they say to us, we have x amount of money to spend, we know that a portion of it has to be. And we're working with the contractor and we'll say, okay, so we know that two thirds of it has to go to construction. What does that leave us for? Design. But the space planning is what allows us to start our internal budget. At that point, we present it to the client. I always say, which you should steal my line. Like, this is not a bill, it's just a conversation. It's just a budget. And you don't have to freak out. Sometimes I say, if you don't puke, let's have a conversation. And then oftentimes they'll say, okay, this is like 20% more than we want to spend, or this is great. If this is what it is, we're down. Or like, this is good. And don't not show me things outside of these numbers because while I might not purchase it, we can do more. And so that's where it goes. More times than not, we value engineer and we're bringing it down. So I always tell people, like, look, there's a million ways to skin the cat. At some point, the cat can't get dressed, so we can't do it for $20,000. But you can buy a $30,000 sofa or you can buy a $1,500 sofa. So there's a huge schism, and we acknowledge that, too. So we will look at historic data. A project in this demographic of this size spent last time around this number. And that's how we'll get to a budget, totally understanding that every project is unique and requires different things. And then we adjust at that point. [00:37:48] Speaker A: As a small business owner, it's more important than ever to ensure you're legally protected. Idco Studio teamed up with our attorney Elise to offer you professionally drafted contracts specifically for interior designers. You can head on over to WW Idco studio to purchase, download, fill in the blanks and consider yourself covered. So at this point of presenting the budget for the overall project, you're presenting what your design fees will be like, what they're going to be paying you. You're presenting what they can expect to pay for the construction portion of it as well. Is that like a ballpark figure you're giving them? Or you're like, that's totally separate because that's going through your contractor. [00:38:32] Speaker B: It's totally separate. But we typically bring the contractor, and so we're working in conjunction. So a lot of times we'll wait. So at any given point, everything we're talking about, and I will say this, unfortunately, because I'm sure your listeners will hate to hear this, this is not a linear experience. All the words that I'm telling you aren't just going to magically happen perfectly for you, because with everything I'm saying, there's a ton of nuance. We're helping to bid the project, so we're working on selecting things that help bid the project at the same time as developing a furniture budget. So then we're bidding out, and they come back, and they come back with, let's just pretend for purposes of easy math, that the whole project, they can spend $3 million. Let's just use that as a quick number. Okay. That's a ton of money. I realize that most people can spend $3 million, but I just can't do math. So I need to stay in a single digit situation. And we know that for this size house, to decorate it and the way we feel comfortable, we really want a million of that. Let's say, okay, give or take. We know we can do it for 750. We'd love a million. It'd be dope if we had, like, one, three, like something like that. Right now we know we have 2 million, and with a little bit of give for the construction. So now we're talking with the contractor. Okay, is this feasible? And the architect, as we're designing this, let's keep that number in mind. We typically source from waterworks, say, for these fixtures. Can we still do that? Do we need to consider something different for non primary spaces? And we're having these conversations because we have to get the construction correct. We know there's tons of room in the decorating. We have to get the construction correct. There's a lot less give there. [00:40:19] Speaker A: So a question we get a lot is like, okay, even if you've got your contractor right there and you're having this conversation, your client didn't throw up at this ballpark, big number. But the question comes up that their contractors are telling them, I can't give you a bid until I see the design. And so how do you keep that conversation going? Because you haven't designed anything yet. So how do you get to the point of saying, okay, we're expecting it to be something like this? I need you to give me a number or a ballpark for that. [00:40:53] Speaker B: So this is what I mean. By it being nonlinear. At this point, we have started on the design development, so we're starting to think about, well, I shouldn't say that I should start with my project managers are so seasoned and so good that they already know that when they're giving something to the contractor, and they're saying, we're going to do stone here, wood here, and they're giving these little finish schedules, and they're saying, we're going to use waterworks here, we're going to use brizzo here, we're going to use clay tile here. And they're giving sort of this idea of numbers so that when they're bidding it, they're like, oh, $30 a square foot ish. And so there's already an understanding. It's not just like, I don't know, we'll pick the faucet, and we pick the faucet. So that's how it works. And then we drill into it, because typically, we're going to have to value engineer and things anyway. And then we really design, and we go, okay, they are comfortable with two. We can't do millennium here. It's too expensive, but we can do it here. And we start to play with it. And then we go, we picked these beautiful tiles from waterworks, these pennies, but they're too expensive. So, all right, maybe we need to source at this place for the mud. We'll. That way we can retain the pennies in this bath. And we start to think about that because we don't want to strip everything down. That's never the goal. The goal is, like, how do you pay Peter? What is it something Peter to rob. [00:42:20] Speaker A: Pay Rob from Peterball? [00:42:22] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:42:23] Speaker A: So you already touched on that conceptually in your project manager's heads, in your designer's heads. They kind of know what's happening before they even really officially start design. Let's go ahead and move into the design development phase and talking through what that phase really looks like, and I'm super curious. Design development, is that hourly, like schematic was, or how do you build that section? [00:42:49] Speaker B: We've moved into all flat fee at this point, and that was a newer thing for us. We were on a hybrid for a very long time where we would do a flat fee for design development and then hourly for everything else. But honestly, it gets a bit egregious, and I just wanted to get more product into the client's home. I realized if I were them, no matter what my level of spend is, that's what I would really value. And so I just wanted to stop the hemorrhaging. No matter how much money someone has, it's uncomfortable to hemorrhage money. Like, they're building a house. There's all these unknowns with change orders and what will be discovered and all these things. And then they're with us and then they're with the architects. And it just felt like there's so many unknowns that we would see hesitation. Well, I don't know if I should do the gorne because what if this, even if they don't say it, I could see it happening in their brain. So it's like, well, what if we were just known, like, you are going to spend x amount of money with us, and that's just what it is. And so we can sort of all relax. [00:43:47] Speaker A: That's still different than your product markup when you're selling furniture. So you have your flat fee, your design schematic is hourly, and they know that because that's consistent throughout. If they want the custom coffee table, they know they're going to pay for you to design it. And then, of course, you have your product markup as well. [00:44:04] Speaker B: Of course. Always got it perfect. [00:44:07] Speaker A: Okay, so in design development, talk us through that process a little bit. I'm also curious. You used a term earlier that really stuck with me, and I jotted it down that you're like, at this point, I'm really an editor. So in the design development phase, how much editing are you doing? Are you seeing everything before it goes out to the client and kind of what that process looks like? [00:44:28] Speaker B: Yeah. So my employees were broken into teams, and I meet with the teams for one long meeting each week and one briefer meeting for a while. We were doing like 1020 minutes stand ups every day. And I do that with my New York team, but it felt like I didn't need it for the DC team. We're together enough that I just didn't have the space for it. So that's how we were doing it. And essentially, they will do all the heavy lifting, and they'll pick all the beautiful things, and they'll come up with all these schemes and paints and all the things, and then they'll bring them to me and I will review it, and I will pull things and add things and change things, and we'll spend an hour and a half doing that. And typically, we hyper focus on a specific client for the week or something like this, and then they'll go back and they'll edit things and redo things based on our conversation and then we'll meet again for about a half an hour to tidy it up. And it just kind of just goes. [00:45:28] Speaker A: On with this phase. Is this where your construction documentation starts coming to fruition? [00:45:36] Speaker B: Yeah. So as mentioned, we're broken into teams. So there's like a project management side of the team, and there's a design side of the team or like decorating, because the project managers do just, they're on the construction side of things. And then there's like, decorators, right, who do more of the furniture and listen, we're a small team, and so everyone's blending into each other, but just for purposes of the conversation, we'll keep it separate. And so the PM is working on making certain that the contractor has all the finishes they need to do all of their work, all the finished schedules, maintaining the budget, maintaining the timeline. And the designer is at this point, picking all the soft furnishings and things like that, or working with the PM to pick all the hard finishes, depending on where we are in the project. [00:46:24] Speaker A: So which of your six phases is the project management specifically happening the whole time? Got it. So that is not what you call your phase. Phase that's like, spread out throughout. [00:46:37] Speaker B: We used to think of it as a phase, and then we're like, you're literally project managing the entire time. [00:46:43] Speaker A: Okay, so talk us through installation, and I really would like to know the difference, if there is a difference between what that looks like for your full service and then what that looks like for your design anywhere clients, how that final phase of the project wraps up. [00:46:57] Speaker B: Okay, so for full service, we're there for weeks and we are living at their home. Not all of us, but there's typically three to four people on a team, and at least one person from the team is there for probably the entire month, like daily. They're overseeing as things get delivered from the receiving house, which typically happens in very large batch, the window treatments going in, we get anything that's getting protection. I don't know, like all the last minute construction items that might be happening. Yeah. So they're just there basically all of the time, making sure any workroom things that are coming in all right. And we're very organized. So there's like this enormous installation schedule that has been thought through, starting about six months before we start to install so that we can, because we try to be so organized that we know that we have to have everything selected and ordered by X date to make this deadline. So we're always working backward and same with, for the install anyway. And so we're coordinating. I mean, we are so full service that we have. We'll stock people's fridges if they want to do that. We work with organizers to make. We are super full service. Not everybody wants that, but we'll give them, I don't know what they're called. Like little checklists. As far as, do you want us putting soap in all of the baths? And here's what we usually get. Here's shampoo. This year, we've had one client, specifically who, or last year, rather, where it was 100% turnkey. Like, they just walk in and go to bed, and they wake up and have their coffee. It's like as though the berries came and moved them. And that's a really intense install. It's a very intense install. And it's really fun. And it's really late nights, and it's fun. I mean, it's kind of like the best time. It's exhausting. And so many things go wrong, right, that the client never knows about. And there's so much anxiety and there's so much adrenaline, but it's really fun. And then we do these wonderful reveals where we invite the client into their home for the first time, and it's like this whole magical moment. [00:49:09] Speaker A: So during this installation phase of full service clients, are the clients popping by to check in on progress, or do you keep them out? What does that look like? [00:49:18] Speaker B: Well, we preferred for them to stay away from the job during this acute part of the job. We also, like I've said a few times, are very client focused and forward. So if that gives the client anxiety, then we're chill. We're like, all right, you want to pop in? There are certain clients that that's not fun for them. They can't give up that kind of control, and we totally recognize that as their truth, and we don't want them to have a bad time. The whole point is it should be fun. When it stops being fun, it sucks we've done something wrong. Most clients, even the ones who don't really want to give up that level of control, will absolutely stay away for the last three, four days if at the bare minimum, and typically, the furniture goes in pretty late. So at the bare minimum, we can still get them a really nice reveal, even if they've only given us a week, let's say, of not coming by. [00:50:13] Speaker A: Okay, perfect. And then I know that we're on a tight crunch here, so I want to get these last couple of questions in. If that was a month, what does that look like for your design anywhere clients a day. [00:50:26] Speaker B: So in that case, we are like, if there's window treatments that go in, the client's handling that. We've given them all of the documents necessary for them to do it correctly and to make sure there's no problems. But they're handling all that, and we're coming in on the one day of the furniture delivery and styling, and that's it. [00:50:43] Speaker A: Do you photograph your design anywhere projects? [00:50:46] Speaker B: So we've only launched design anywhere, I think, about a year ago, and we're just about to complete our first three projects. And we will be photographing them. Yes. We're really proud of them. I mean, they're amazing and the designers are super talented. [00:51:01] Speaker A: So as we wrap up, I like to end every show with a fun little sneak peek surprise of something you have in the works. Is there anything that you can share with us that you have programmed for the rest of the year? Amazing projects that you can tell us a little bit about, collaborations, anything like that? [00:51:19] Speaker B: Well, we did a soft launch with Mitzi for a lighting collection that's like, fully launching in March. Yeah. So that's really exciting. Yeah. So we're one of the tastemakers for that, and that's been in the works for a really long time. And Domino is about to put out. We did a wonderful collaboration with one of my really close friends, Jessie Randall, who owns, she's a fashion designer, Leffler Randall. I'm sure you know her shoes and clothing. She has beautiful clothing. Also. We did her kitchen in bridge Hampton, and that's coming out in like a week or two. A week. And that is so on brand for her. It's so adorable. So I think those two things are really fun. And then we have amazing things coming in 2024 that I'm not allowed to talk about. [00:52:07] Speaker A: Amazing. Well, both of those, the Mitzi collection and the project reveal, should be live by the time this episode airs. So I will make sure they are both linked in the show. This was, this blew my mind. This was so fantastic. Thank you for sharing your gears of wisdom with us and for reminding us that at the end of the day, we are not just a service provider, we're an intimacy provider. And to be thinking about how incredibly personal this really is. And sometimes you just got to take it for what it is and remember that it's a lot of money, no matter what that budget is. [00:52:47] Speaker B: That's right. Thank you, Anastasia. This was so fun. Thanks for letting me share my 20 years of wisdom with you. [00:53:03] Speaker A: For more in depth analysis of this interview, including exclusive downloads, examples, and more. Don't forget to subscribe to the interior collective on Patreon. We are building an amazing private community of interior designers and industry experts open to candid conversations and answering questions. Join us on Patreon in the show notes or at. [00:53:24] Speaker B: Collective. [00:53:25] Speaker A: Thank you so, so much for tuning into this episode. Producing this show has truly been the honor of my career and I cannot believe I get to have these conversations. A big, huge thank you to our production team at Ideco Studio and Quinn maid, as well as this season's presenting sponsor, Anne Sachs. Your contribution literally makes this podcast feasible and the biggest thank you to you, our listeners. Your sweet notes, DMs, and reviews mean so much to us as we work to keep our show free and always accessible. Until next time, I'm Anastasia Casey and this is the interior Collective, a podcast for the business of beautiful living.

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