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Hey General Contractors, Here’s What Interior Designers Want You to Know (A Collaboration Primer, Part 2)


As general contractors, you know that clashing with interior designers is altogether too easy — especially if it’s your first time working together.

The good news, like we pointed out earlier, is that it’s usually just a matter of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Good collaboration ensures a great out put. Good collaboration also needs some patience and open-mindedness.

Here are a few things to remember about the differences and similarities between you and interior designers, and how you can play nice.

1 – They don’t just make the space “look pretty.”

You know how it goes: A designer is brought in first for a renovation, and they’ll sit down with the client, plan the design, and basically put together a roadmap. You then come in and execute.

In the middle of the project, you find out that installing cabinets in a certain location in the kitchen is impossible, because there’s a pipe running through that wall.

Instead of having to rip out the wall and moving the pipe, which will cost a lot of time and money, your interior designer can instead make adjustments. The cabinets can be installed in a different location or configuration, so that neither the design or structure integrity is compromised.

Contractors need to know “that interior designers don’t just play with fabrics,” says Katy Phillips, publisher of the Hotel Designs website.

2 – They can make your job much easier and faster.

Depending on how you divide labor, the designer can handle the purchasing for finishes and other items, then check them when they arrive. This process is pretty time-consuming, and you’d probably want those man hours spent on more intensive tasks, like tearing down walls, etc.

That’s not even talking about the possibilities of change orders because certain items aren’t in stock or won’t arrive in time. The wrong items could also arrive, and instead of putting everything on hold while waiting for the right items to be delivered, you can quickly check with your interior designer to see if they can make it work. Alternatively, they can re-specify an appropriate alternative so the project stays on schedule.

3 – They can catch mistakes early.

Interior designers are not there to be bossy or nitpicky. “I may see a water pipe in the wrong location or a ceiling detail that needs adjustment or missing blocking required for a floating shower bench,” says Pat Valentine Ziv, an ASID-certified interior designer. “A quick review with the tradesman will prevent hours of unnecessary anguish later on when it may be too late to correct.”

4 – Respect each other’s areas of expertise.

“We (interior designers) know the design intent; contractors know the means and methods,” says Jennifer Barnes, IIDA, LEED AP, Vice President of RTKL Associates.

That means, if a problem comes up, speak with the designer, instead of deciding to make a substitution on your own. You may have design knowledge, all the good intention in the world (like staying on schedule), and be 100% sure it will work.

You still can’t make that decision. “Not only is this a breach of contract, but it diminishes the rapport between the designer and the contractor,” says Barnes.

5 – Communicate early.

It happens sometimes that you, the general contractors, are brought in before the interior designers. If you know for sure that a designer is going to be hired as well, communicate with them before doing anything.

“Unfortunately, too often the interior designer isn’t brought on board until they’re ready to ‘pick colors,’” says Joanna Wood, President of Club Design Group, Inc. “It is important that the client understands that each professional brings a different and important set of skills to the project. The interior designer approaches the project from a functional and aesthetic perspective: How will the client use the building now and in the future? Where and what kind of storage is needed?”

Are you an interior designer, wanting to know general contractors’s side of the story? See part 1 here.

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Elle Decor
Hotel Designs
PVZ Design
Architectural Digest

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Published Sep 23, 2018