Is having an interior designer a luxury?

I’ve struggled with this very question for as long as I’ve been an interior designer and the story I told myself was really shaped by others experiences. When I was in design school in 2011, it was only a couple of years after the GFC and the ramifications were still being felt. My teachers were of the opinion that designers were the first to be ditched when times got tough. Maybe they were. But I think homeowners are opening their eyes to the value they bring to a project.

I’ve written before about what it’s like to work with an interior designer and the upheaval that occurs in life when you renovate. You can read that here. For those of you who don’t know, it’s pretty much everything! The very nature of COVID-19 has forced lots more of us to spend a whole lot more time at home and if I’m honest, when the shutdown first happened it did run through my mind that projects would disappear. I was about to understand what it was like to get ditched. After all, I’m a luxury. Right?

These last few months have been quite interesting because despite the uncertainty, the number of homeowners I’ve been speaking to has dramatically risen. WTF is that about? This doesn’t feel like I’m getting the flick at all.

Homeowners who have been spending extended periods of time isolated within their homes have been staring at everything that they’ve been able to ignore because of their previous active-filled lives. Going to work, doing the school run, sport drop-offs, birthday parties, yoga classes, all outside the home. But COVID-19 put a stop to all that activity outside the home quick smart. And it’s not clear when, or if, things will return to the way they were pre-shutdown. 

I’ve recently completed a number of presentations for some pretty big renovations that are coming up and I know I’ve had similar conversations like the one I’m going to tell you about before, but for some reason this time I heard it. This time, I understood the value that I bring to a renovation. 

I’m working on a project that includes an ensuite. The space is quite good for the size of the house and there’s enough room for everything except for the fact that the vanity takes up too much room, the finishes are quite dark, and it’s got next to no natural light because of it’s nasty sized window. It’s a simple straight line bathroom with a nib wall that separates the vanity from the shower and WC area. As part of its redesign we’re shifting the nib wall to create more space for a better sized shower area – it’s tiny at the moment! – and we’ll install a nice big tall louvre window to improve the natural light into the ensuite. To me, this is part of my job. I can reimagine a space to improve functionality and access to natural light to make the user experience as enjoyable as possible.

The homeowner and I were chatting about the changes that are planned and how that would change the way she’d use the vanity area to make sure she felt comfortable with the proposed size. I’m going to share with you, for want of a better word, a summary of our conversation as best I can remember it. She said ‘You know, I would never have been able to do this without your help. I just assumed that because this is how I bought the house, that’s how it was. I really never thought about changing something because it wasn’t working for me. You really do just assume someone else has thought about these things beforehand and that they know what they’re doing. I would have just put everything back exactly as it is now and lived with it even though it really doesn’t work for me. I never imagined I could put in a window like that one! Or that having one basin would work because, well, I’ve always had two and that’s what I would have put back in’.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the design and know that it’s going to make a world of difference for the owners. It’ll go from dark and drab to light and airy. A good design solution as far as I’m concerned! I was taking it all in and nodding because I was happy with feedback from her confirming that the design was right for her. But for reason, this time, I had heard what she said. 

I need to give you some more feedback so you get my point. This time, we’d moved onto the laundry area that apparently had been appalling under planned ever since they purchased the home 17 years earlier (it was a relief to me to find out that the current homeowners weren’t the culprits of such an appalling design!). It’s an area that had always been on the to-do list but they’d never gotten around to doing. Our conversation went something like this ‘I’ve spoken to a builder before about the laundry but we were just going to brick up the old doorway and leave the little window. I never would have thought about putting in a big louvre window where the door is now. I would have kept my top loader washing machine because that’s what I’ve always had. I never would have thought about putting in that much storage in that way. And the bench space I’m going to have is amazing! That window though is going to be incredible especially when I need to air dry clothes and I won’t have clothes racks all around the house anymore. At the moment if I have some girlfriends around I have to close the door to the laundry but now I won’t have to. I’ll want to show it off!’

Let me continue with my recollection of our conversation. She went on to say, ‘I would have had to buy magazines or go onto Pinterest, or watch TV shows for months to get ideas and it still wouldn’t have been as good as this. I never would have put those windows in that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure I would still be talking about doing the laundry in another 17 years. And that bar area, I mean we’ve always had arguments about how much junk gets dumped there and how messy it always looks and to turn that area into storage is genius. Everyone I’ve told about that idea has said to me DO IT!’

I’ve heard this type of feedback before and it’s lovely and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy because what I’m doing is changing someone’s life for the better. But this time I heard something different. I actually heard what was being said. To bring me onto a project is not a luxury. To bring me onto a project means you’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone, out of the ordinariness of living with bad design (hate to say it, but there, it’s been said!) and into a place where good design makes living in your home enjoyable, comfortable and somewhere you actually want to be rather than a place you just make pit stops at. You see, I’m trained at what I do. I’m trained to ask the right questions, to get to the root of the problem and work out solutions for you. I can see solutions where all you see are your big, annoying problems. At the end of the project, you see the beautiful finishes, the gorgeous furniture and amazing light fittings. But it’s what you feel that’s more important. You feel the ease, the comfort, the calm that good design gives you. It wraps you in a big hug like the ones Pop used to give you as a kid. The disjointed way of operating within the home is removed because the design has been carefully thought through and tailored to your way of living. 

I heard the feedback this time and finally, I understand that an interior designer isn’t a luxury. I work with people who like me, value family, the hectic nature of family, and who also value the sanctity of the home, the restorative and healing benefits your home should give you. Away from the hustle and bustle, they want a home where they can sit down at the end of the day, and just breathe. You know that feeling at the end of yoga practice, in savasana, or when you’ve topped the sand dunes and you’re standing with the wind in your face staring out across the ocean, or that moment you reach out and touch that ancient tree in the middle of a forest. It’s that moment when the noise fades, life stills, and you’re exactly where you’re meant to be. That’s the breath at the end of the day. That’s the breath I create.

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I'm always looking for new ways to break down the language barriers that exists around the design world. Without the right language, it's really easy to become overwhelmed and shy away from lack of understanding. I want more of us to be able to experience the daily joys design brings to my life. I do this by sharing my own learnings, my knowledge and my experiences so that everyone can have a beautiful home. It's not just about the aesthetic beauty, it's also about the spiritual and emotional beauty that can exist in our homes. 

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