two women in meeting room

Interior design ideas are generally conceived, and often reside, within the heads of both clients and designers. Getting those ideas aligned is important to meet client needs. But it’s not an easy process. Clients may not be able to clearly articulate what they like. In many cases, they’re indecisive or simply don’t know. Designers then have to come up with both practical and, sometimes, whimsical, ways to give those ideas life.

30-year Veteran Shares Her Process

Anne Michaelsen Yahn, is an interior designer with Anne Michaelsen Design, Inc., with more than 30 years of experience. She designs high-end residential homes throughout Orange County, Los Angeles, Northern California, Aspen and Hawaii. For Michaelsen, gathering information from clients is a critical first step in the design process. “We start every project with the client filling out an initial project survey which asks general questions about their family, lifestyle, and style objectives,” she says. “We then meet with the client in their current space to gain further understanding of their personal style both by looking around and by talking with them.”

It’s also helpful, she says, to have clients share pictures and images of things they love. “We love it when the client has pulled pictures from magazines or online sites and made notes as to what they love about different spaces.  I often tell them ;you may just love the feeling of a room but not any individual item in that room and that is helpful too.’  We listen to what they have to say and look at the images they share and then put together a cohesive style that works with all these things.”

interior designer collaborating with client

Combining Practical With Whimsical

Annabel Joy is an interior designer and cofounder of Trim Design Co. They have a Style Quiz on their website that they ask clients to fill out. In addition, to some multiple-choice questions, the quiz includes visual imagery, delivering six visuals for questions like: “Which coffee table would you buy for your living room?,” or “The perfect living room art is…” That provides a starting point. Next, clients are asked to fill out a questionnaire to help “better determine their goals, preferences, personality, as well as practical considerations like budget and whether a space needs to be pet, or kid, friendly.

Like Michaelsen, Joy also asks clients to share images and Pinterest boards with them to provide a sense of what they’re drawn to. And, if working with a local client, will ask for a tour of the space and have the client talk about what they love about their home. “This gives us a firsthand look at their style and can often be more revealing than anything they are able to communicate in an email.”

The next step for Joy is to create and share a mood board which goes through a few rounds of feedback and revisions “to make sure that they are happy with the overall plan before we dig in to floor plans and sourcing.”

In situations where they’re still not sure they’ve nailed a client’s style, Joy says, “We like to create a design Rorschach test using images in Google forms and we ask them to complete it very quickly by logging their immediate reactions to the photos as positive or negative.” The Rorschach test is a psychological test that records people’s perceptions of a series of inkblots. Using particular algorithms, professional interpretation and set criteria, the test can be used to dig deep into a person’s personality and character. She’s used that method in the past to help “nail down color schemes or vintage rug styles,” she says.

The Best of Both Worlds

Designers shouldn’t rely entirely on clients’ whims or preferences, of course, that’s what they’re for. After all they have far more experience that they can bring to bear in helping clients make informed decisions.  “At the end of the day, we are the curators/editors of all the messages they send,” says Michaelsen. “Usually, even a very indecisive client will learn to trust our judgment when we have presented them with a cohesive plan.”


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