Behind the Design : Episode I

In a new series for DesignLoveSeattle, I will be taking you behind the scenes and into my day to day experiences as a designer.  So much goes into Interior Design, specifically Kitchen + Bath Design.  Over the years, I’ve had a few friends and family witness first hand the up’s and down’s of design.  It is always interesting getting their input, feedback, and seeing how surprised they are with what I experience behind the scenes.  I thought this series would be beneficial for those who have already worked with a designer, those who hope to in the future, as well as those who have always wondered what the heck it is I do all day!

With the first post, let’s take a look at my design process.  I break it down into three phases, Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction.  The first phase, Schematic Design, focuses on introductions, information gathering, and developing a design agreement.  I start the process with an initial client meeting at their home.  I love the first meeting, hearing the excitement in the voices of my clients and the prospect of a fun new project to work on.  We usually spend an hour or more walking through their home and talking about previous work they’ve done, their style, and their wishes for the newest project on their list.  As we walk through their home, I am hyper-sensitive to the space planning, organization, style & flow of their home. Don’t mind me as I write literally everything that pops into my mind down, I swear I’m paying attention!!  I look for trends in color, prints, artwork, furniture, etc. as all of these details will combine to tell the client’s story and give me a head start when I’m pulling ideas together for their project.  I ask questions about lifestyle, family dynamics, hobbies + activities, any specific needs or obstacles to keep in mind. Once we’ve discussed budget, timeline, contractors, style+materials, and overall goals for the project, I will put together a design agreement that details everything out and acts as documentation for both parties to keep on file.

After everyone is in agreement, and I’ve been given the green light to move ahead, we enter the second phase of the design process, is Design Development.  This phase begins with a full site-measure, and I’m hear to tell you I measure everything, EVERYTHING.  Height, width, length, depth, windows, doors, furniture, accessories, lighting fixtures, ceiling heights, electrical & appliance locations, etc. (Designer Tip – start at one point in the room and work your way around clock-wise.  This helps ensure you don’t miss anything.  Also, color code your drawing – existing layout: black, dimensions: blue, electrical: red, plumbing: green). I also take pictures, LOTS of pictures. I usually take a few pictures that capture overall space (these are great for Before & After comparisons), then I focus on the details taking pictures of the walls, ceiling, floor.  You can never take too many pictures. Once I’ve documented the space, I can begin space planning and transforming their home with new ideas.  I typically draw 2-3 options depending on scope and possibilities within the space.  I will also pull inspiration materials, pictures (Houzz + Pinterest are great for inspiration pictures) for our first meeting.  Through follow-up meetings with the client we will narrow down the space planning options, and focus on the storage details of where everything little thing will go in the new design.  During this phase, we’ll also make preliminary selections for cabinetry, countertops, hardware, plumbing, lighting, etc.  I develop a master specification document that lists out manufacturer, model number, finish, size, quantity, and any special installation instructions.  We’ll also develop a full set of design drawings.  Once we’ve finessed all the details and drawings, we’ll bring a contractor on board to finalize the budget, develop timeline, and begin the ordering process.  Depending on the scope of the project, I may bring a contractor in earlier to ensure we stay with-in budget and the designs I’m proposing are structurally sound and we acquire the needed permits.

The last phase of design is Construction.  At this point, I’ve detailed out everything into the specification list & a final set of construction documents, including a framing plan with construction notes, electrical/mechanical plan, cabinetry plan and elevations, tile plan and elevations, and any other necessary detail drawings.  During construction, I will act as an advocate for my client, stopping by the job-site to do walk-throughs with different trade professionals and make sure quality of work and details are being brought to life the way we envisioned.  I love every phase of design, but construction is definitely the most exciting as you begin to see your ideas come to life.  This phase is also full of up’s and down’s.  Every project is different, same with every home.  You never know what might be lurking behind the walls, floors and ceiling of your home.  As a designer, you must be a problem-solver and a quick learner.  Some days it feels like all I do is put out fires.  It’s unimaginably stressful to make sure every detail meets and surpasses the expectations of the homeowner.  However stressful it may be during the construction phase, it is 10X more rewarding when the client is happy and thankful for your hard work and dedication to making their project everything they dreamed of.