The Newcomer

We’ve all been there…and to be candid, many of us are still there. Fighting for our balance on a daily basis in this new reality. As an independent business owner for more than two decades, and having witnessed several recessions, two major economic crashes and a global pandemic…I’m no stranger to this feeling. But in order to continue our growth as a firm, and deliver on what I knew in my heart our customers valued, I needed to morph my understanding of what it meant to be a committed member of my team. And I’m so thankful I did.

Further proof, that sometimes all it takes to point one’s compass in an exciting new direction, is a fresh perspective, and a series of answered and unanswered prayers.

Mindset. Matters.

As an Artist, Contractor and Design Professional I have more than a few stories to tell and thoughts to share. And between my family, the radio show, the team, our clients and this blog…this unapologetic middle-child can always find an audience. So, I thought I’d try something a little different. I thought it was time to share a new perspective. A different take. One with a front row seat to The Design Coach experience, but from an altogether different vantage point. After listening to our new Showroom Coordinator, Amber, share a bit of her journey to us over the past couple of weeks, I asked if she would be comfortable sharing it with all of you in a guest blog. She graciously and enthusiastically agreed. And I’m so thankful she did, as I’ve always believed that The Design Coach was so much more than an interior design firm, but also a platform to exchange ideas, inspiration and information. And as a collaboration of artists and designers of differing backgrounds, from our retail experiences to the radio show, we’ve always strived to create as many connection points as possible in the hopes of inspiring those around us. Amber’s story inspired us, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Introducing the first blog entry of hopefully many more to come, from our new Showroom Coordinator, Amber Benson. Welcome to the team!

-Philip Sassano, The Design Coach

Entry #1: How I Found the Perfect Job for Me.

[Spoiler Alert: I ultimately had nothing to do with it.]

“The Newcomer” series- written by Amber Benson

“I never thought I’d be 37 trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. [the career/job aspect] I’ve done a LOT of learning and growing in that time but I desire more, I want something steady that isn’t retail but still service related.” Journal entry circa June 2021. At the time I really felt like I was failing after just quitting a recent job. Torn between earning extra income to put towards our financial goals or being home to care for our kiddos ages 14, 11, & 9 over the summer. [Not to mention the current state of our world.] I really desired a fulfilling, flexible, part-time job. And I really thought it would be impossible to find and I would be settling for something, because that’s what you have to do sometimes.

On the page before the above quote, I wrote what I wanted. A career goal of sorts. Here is what it says, “I want to be a servant leader, encourager, positive light, and use my organizational oriented mind to fulfil the vision of a company by supporting staff and analyzing aspects of the business to find areas of improvement to work towards vision and goals. I want to do this with authenticity and love.” You know, just a small ask. I am a mom first and foremost but I am also more than that. How could I possibly find the heartcry I scribed in my journal ?

Fast forward to August and back to school time. After we all got adjusted to the new routine I started looking for a part-time job, local to me, with flexibility. Nothing was working out for many different reasons. You might think I was being difficult or picky, I probably was. We all know there are plenty of jobs to be had out there right now. I really just know what my family’s needs are, what I am able to give,

and I did not want to waste anyone’s time. I prayed to find something local and flexible. One day I stopped by to visit a dear friend of mine on a whim as I was in the area and I hadn’t seen her beautiful face in a while. Her hubby, Jonathan, was home and he asked me what I was up to lately. I said, “Not a whole lot, looking for a job, so if you hear of anything….” Funny thing. He actually did know someone who was looking to hire…it happened to be Philip. Around the same time I had applied for another job that was local & offered flexibility and I was in the middle of the interviewing process. I struggle sometimes with making decisions, especially one like this. [After interview selfie I sent to a friend, you know so she could see what I wore. Lol. I don’t know why we do this. We just do.]

During my prayer time on the day of my interviews I asked for help making the decision. I heard the still small voice say, “ You will know.” I was like, okay….all I needed to do was show up. So I went. And wow! There is no possible way to explain with words how my soul responded to being in The Design Coach showroom during my interview with Philip. I had utter peace, zero nervousness, I was also on fire with joy from the depths of me. I was in the exact place intended for me at this time. You could not wipe the smile off of my face. So yeah. I knew. Without a doubt this was the one. In case you hadn’t already figured, the interview went really well. Ha!

On my first day I was tasked with organizing, hole punching, ringing, and binning a plethora of beautiful fabric memos. I LOVE organizing! [Don’t come to my house though. I live with 4 other people who don’t have the same eye for organization.] So needless to say I was stoked. As I got started, it hit me. I am here in the Starline building [we go way back], surrounded by this tangible creative Spirit, I get to work with a dear friend and former [super awesome] boss, I also have this new opportunity to support The Design Coach team. One word sums up how I feel about my first 2 weeks. Grateful.

There were no coincidences in the coming about for this new adventure for me. I stopped striving to make something happen. The timing of everything. My strengths and abilities. The needs of the Design Coach team. My availability. The flexibility. The vision and leadership of Philip. [You guys, he’s the best kind of people, in case you haven’t met him yet.] I believe wholeheartedly, this was orchestrated by something, Someone, much bigger than us. I truly look forward to the next steps in store and getting to know the team in order to help serve them best. As a creative, it fills my buckets to be in the company of other creatives, especially the positive ones with the growth mindsets and a vision. There is no telling where these steps will lead us.

Extra Bits & Pieces:

My second week I finished up the first part of the fabric memo organization and got to flex my art installation muscles by working on this vignette in The Showroom. [I volunteered for NMP’s 4th Fridays at Starline years ago and at The Dole more recently, and worked alongside so many amazing volunteers to design and execute large scale art installation projects.]

Pinch me. I still can’t believe I get to show up to work in this space. Unbelievably grateful.


Another highlight is that I get to use my photography background as well. Getting to use and refine these skills while I’m on the job is pretty awesome.

Until next time!

Love & Light,

Amber…the Newcomer.

Photo Credit: A. Benson

To the magic of momentum…and to those who pushed me onward.

In many ways you could say 2020 started with an empty space full of potential, and a few words of encouragement from these two gentlemen. From politics to the pandemic, it was almost more than most of us could handle. And then they reminded me…

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

So with the right side of our collective brain as well as the left, through the lockdowns and lunacy of it all…we just kept working. Organizing. Defining. Refining. Thinking. Creating…and connecting. Together.

Until one day in early December…all of the pieces just seemed to fall into place.

Our new creative home was finally ready.

We can’t wait for you to visit in 2021…know that there will always be an open seat at the bar, and that your table will be ready and waiting.

Thank you…

To my amazing wife and kids for always keeping this wide-eyed artist grounded in the important details of the day, and above all for bringing me an immeasurable amount of love, pride and joy.

To my extended family for always reminding me that enthusiasm is the genesis for all great moments in life, even when we’re miles apart.

To our cherished friends, who made everything seem as normal as possible, and reminded us we were never alone.

To my dedicated Design Coach Team for your continued support, encouragement and attention to detail. You are creative commandos, and I could not have survived this year past year without you.

To our incredible clients for continuing to give us the most precious of gifts…the opportunity to create something together. We’re so honored that you’ve allowed us to become a part of your lives on so many levels.

To the team at Starline Studios…your stewardship of this amazing place inspires us in more ways than we can possibly express.

And finally to the Lord above, for bringing all of these special people into my life when I needed them most.

Thank you all for giving me my momentum this past year. Here’s to 2021. Onward. Together.

Narrowly escaping the clutches of a White Bear.

In the Midwest, road tripping and the season of Fall just seem to be a natural fit. Not exactly sure why, as the need to discover has always been a huge part of my personal and professional DNA year-round. Nonetheless, I find myself longing for adventures this time of year, most of the time within an afternoons drive, all in an effort to invigorate my creative spirit and connect me with newly discovered puzzle pieces that complete my soul. Well, my friends another puzzle piece just found a fit. And I found it in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Located 25 miles northeast of Minneapolis, the charming downtown district features some of the most unexpected, creative and welcoming experiences that will break even the most severe case of a Covid induced comatose state. Travel restrictions, mask-mandates and safety protocols aside, Americans love to travel. And these days, the road trip might just be the best way to feed that adventurous spirit…even if it’s only for a couple of days. From crafted cocktails to curated creations from local shops, this Main Street USA experience was one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while.

Nestled a stones throw from spring-fed White Bear Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area, the variety of unique shops and casual-current establishments have something for everyone. While many downtown districts across the country have been infiltrated by the homogenization caused by national chains, White Bear Lake is as local a gift as it gets. Life in a Northern town…they’ve got it down.


Having arrived in White Bear Lake in the early afternoon, before heading downtown we settled in at The Best Western Plus White Bear Country Inn. Styled in an understated current-cabin theme, the Lobby and Halls were teeming historic photos of the White Bear Lake. As an avid history-buff I loved the way they seamlessly decorated with them throughout the hotel. From the cleanliness of the room, to the friendly nature of the staff, and the proximity to the downtown…it had everything we needed. In addition, although we didn’t have the opportunity to get up there, apparently Rudy’s Rooftop residing atop the hotel is the perfect place for a meal and cocktail with a view.

After a quick drive down the shoreline of White Bear Lake to calibrate us, we arrived in the heart of the shopping district. Our first shop set the bar high featuring apparel celebrating what it means to be a Minnesotan. Nostalgic, current and candid, the hockey themed shop called The Minnesotan, instantly had me hooked. Harboring a particular affinity for brands that know who they are, and are visually unapologetic about showing it, this was the perfect introduction to the passion and pragmatism that permeate the local Minnesota mindset. Even if you’re not a hockey fan…you’ll leave thinking you should be.

Our next stop was one of White Bear Lake’s newly expanded shops whose owner has been featured several times on Twin Cities Live. Danielle Jacobsen Rode’s stylish and affordable brain-child, Upsy Daisy, features an incredible blend of both new and upcycled home décor, as well as other amazing lifestyle offerings that make this place a true gem. And with a social media presence that showcases an ever-changing inventory on a weekly basis, you’ll certainly want to feature this fantastic shop in your feed. With a truly original product mix and purpose-driven mission, Danielle and Upsy-Daisy have captured the true essence of the concept of home.

117235426_2859796227584095_3059278437677083859_oAfter closing the shop with Danielle, she suggested we head to a local bar/apothecary featuring crafted cocktails just a few blocks her store. Named The Alchemist, the quality of the interior design and decoration was something I’ve only experienced in places like New York, New Orleans, Chicago or even Disneyland. The industrial, steam-punk styling of this dual-purpose bar and event space was absolutely top shelf. From the tables crafted out of iron industrial gears, to details in the lighting and even the bathrooms…the only experience that exceed the interesting nature of the décor, was the attention to detail found in the chemistry of their signature cocktails. Simply. Incredible. Justin, our server and cocktail concierge, was both knowledgeable and accommodating…even to the point of hand crafting a drink for Danielle and my wife Julie that was not on the menu. And to make the visit more special, we were treated to a personal tour of the event space Kellerman’s by the owner Terry, who mentioned that he completed much of the work on the interior himself.

At the end of our day we landed at an establishment called The Brickhouse that boasts classic comfort food that is anything but boring. Housed in an incredible structure dating back to 1886, the menu and the décor embody a passionate expression for an experience that is as modern as it is Midwestern. After starting with a new twist on wings, and a plate of battered “sunnies” a Minnesotan staple, the rest of our meal was exactly as advertised. Upscale yet unpretentious, Executive Chef Peter Christenson and his staff served up culinary innovation that was anything but intimidating and utterly delicious. Familiar and unexpected is a difficult thing to pull-off. Make sure you reserve a spot at The Brickhouse.

So there you have it. Another entry from my “Small towns with big ideas” road trip file. And if others can tell tall tales about the fish they may or may not have caught on lakes of the Upper-Midwest…I will have zero guilt about sharing the story of how I narrowly escaped the clutches of a White Bear just outside Minneapolis – St. Paul. Be back soon.

Special thanks to Julie Sassano & Danielle Jacobsen Rode! Further proof that true friendships not only transcend the boundaries of states…but also time.

Oh almost forgot!! We’re always looking to support the small towns with big ideas! If you’d like your town or business to be featured in the Design Coach: Road Trip Series, tell us where and why at

Clarity, creativity…and the fog that’s lifted by a life less ordinary.

It’s been awhile since my last post. Lots happened. To many of us. The fog seems to thicken and dissipate simultaneously these days. Which makes it a haze? Not sure. Maybe. Anyway, there’s one thing I know to be true. Clarity…these days…is more valuable than ever. But where do you find it? Like most of you, I find an abundance of it in my immediate family, my home and of course my dogs. I find it buried just beneath the routine of the day, in the honest and candid conversations with my kids and of course my amazing wife. In the purity that exists in a productive day. But you do have to dig a bit, ask the right questions and put in the work. After all, a perfunctory approach almost never leads to discovery or a meaningful realization.

But there’s another place where clarity has always existed for me. A place where total creative control awaits me like my labs in the Foyer of my home. That place is my studio. A place where anything is possible…and the fog of everyday life ceases to exist. This week we officially started the transformation that will take us more than a month to complete. Something we’re calling it “The Factory Loft Experience.” A space that will be as creatively ambitious as any environment we’ve previously crafted. And you know what…it’s as exciting as it is daunting…as are most meaningful endeavors driven from within by a deep sense of purpose and passion.


Lately, especially on the radio show, I’m having conversations about how we need to redefine our interiors. And not just to adapt to these unusual times, but also to inspire us to thrive and prosper despite the challenges that may lie ahead. In so many ways, your home is a lot like my studio. The place where clarity is in greater supply than we think…but only if we choose to create rather than cower. And have the courage to lead a life a little less ordinary. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that our homes are their own form of performance art. A stage on which our lives can either play out with a sense of incredible purpose, or pass us by with a passivity that paralyzes the soul…especially in times like these. Your approach and your effort will be the difference.

It’s never been more important to keep moving forward, and rise to the challenges in the moments that matter most. As for me, I cannot wait to shape this new artistic space and share it with all of you. And reflect on the thought that your home, like an art studio, is the perfect place to find clarity in the creation of something special.

Together, let’s get to work. #youvebeencoached


It’s time…


Like so many of you out there, my heart is heavy and my eyes are open. May we be brave enough to have the uncomfortable conversation about our collective complacency on so many levels. And may those words transform into the necessary action, both politically and personally, that will truly make us One Nation, under God, Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All. It’s time.


Makers. Wanted. #bringithome2020

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I’ve been talking about this on the radio over the past couple of weeks, and I’m really excited to finally put this together! In an effort to support local Artists, Artisans & Makers of all kinds, we’re proud to announce with this brief blog post launching our #bringithome2020 initiative. As more and more light is shed on the challenges presented by the shift toward overseas manufacturing many of us have lamented for decades, The Design Coach would like to begin highlighting the people, passion and purpose behind some of the most interesting products made right here in the United States.


Over the next few weeks, we will begin compiling and promoting our links to these very special resources. Please know that the information, photographs and links on our site are free those who choose to participate, as this is our small contribution to begin to connect patrons to those who not only love what they do…but love doing it right here at home. It’s really that simple.


So, if you’re a maker, an artist, or an artisan of any kind we’d LOVE to hear from you! Please consider reaching out to us at to share your purpose, your passion, your projects and products. And help us raise awareness during this time, and hopefully for years to come, that from now on…it’s going to matter where it’s made.

Channeling fear & anxiety into creativity & productivity.

On the radio this morning I tried to move the conversation surrounding the Coronavirus Pandemic in a slightly different direction. Not about politics or propaganda…but with a renewed focus how people are dealing with the situation. And the tools we have within us to cope, persevere and produce for one another in these difficult times. I hope it helped some of you. For those of you who missed it, here’s my follow up blog related to the important role creativity and activity can play in positively channeling our fear and anxiety during this challenging time.

I am by no means a mental health expert…in fact just the opposite. As a Husband, Father, Artist, and Entrepreneur I often struggle with navigating and balancing all of those responsibilities without losing my mind. I’ve tried my best to embrace all of these chosen roles…but just as in these times…some circumstances add a level of additional stress that is totally unforeseen and unanticipated. That being said, all of these experiences, including the ones I never saw coming, have in many ways taught me how to redirect my fear and anxiety into a variety of productive, rewarding and creative outcomes. This blog is my way of sharing a tool box with all of you, in hopes that you might find something to help you and your family move your life forward…even if you can’t move around much these days.

As an independent business owner for over twenty years I’ve navigated through some difficult times. Not as difficult as some, but still some pretty scary stuff. The crash, September 11th, the financial crisis of 2008 and on the personal side, the unexpected death and illness of loved ones I never saw coming. And yet through all of these life-jolting events, the lessons learned, combined with the focus and strength to channel my fears in positive ways has made all the difference. Times like these have a way of stripping us of the emotional architecture we carefully construct to protect our core on a daily basis. And when our core is revealed so are our weaknesses…which also creates the opportunity reinforce that core, with the underpinnings of truth and love. Two things as an Artist and an Entrepreneur that have both served to frighten and drive me over the years.

Social media and the connectivity shared through it, has only served to deepen my understanding of who I trust by my side in the foxhole of life in times like this…and those of you who will be designated for reassignment in my feeds after this crisis has passed. All that being said, there is some really great information out there, both new and old that I believe is worth a deeper digital dive. And along with my own thoughts, I’ve included them as well, like this wonderful entry from Good Therapy outlining 7 Creative Ways to Turn Anxiety into Productivity. Originally written in 2016, this is a great primer before reading on, and worth a quick read:


  • This is the perfect time to do an “Inventory” Rather than use technology to primarily inform and distract ourselves, consider using it to really connect. Reach out to those you may have not in some time to see how they’re coping, navigating and feeling. But it’s important to do get behind the cursory, ordinary and polite responses. In stressful situations like the one we currently find ourselves in, it’s important to ask the follow-up question. To ask not just what’s going on, or what someone is feeling but also why. It’s always the second or third layer of questioning that open up the most meaningful phases of a conversation. One cautionary note, try to resist the temptation to come to a conversation with an agenda or teachable moment. Just listen…it’s amazing the things we discover about one another when we free ourselves from judging someone’s opinion, comment or quip. Meaningful, deep and honest conversation often leads to emotional and intellectual exploration that nurtures relationships and feeds the soul. But it’s important to take an ego-free approach. So, why refer to it as an inventory? Well, it’s amazing the number of things you can discover without ever leaving the house, when you’re willing to take the journey with the purpose of actually cataloging the content of your conversations. To help you out a bit, here’s a link to several TED talks on the art of meaningful conversation:


  • Clean and organize one square foot at a time. We’re so conditioned these days to think that life is a series of dramatic makeovers, whether it be our homes or our lives, that we forget that real progress is most often made in much smaller increments. But because there’s less of a wow factor (or exciting opportunity to promote to others our willingness to change) that we dismiss the important efforts in the form of the smaller improvements as insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The act of organizing, cleaning and nesting one square foot at time, for at least a small part of my day, not only gives me a feeling of control, but also a very satisfying sense of accomplishment. This suggestion might just be one of the easiest ways to channel your stress. This list of 33 Spring cleaning tips from Good Housekeeping, written in January of 2020, will most certainly get you off to a solid start:


  • Create. Build. Play. From crafts to cooking to card games, this is one of my favorite ways to channel our cocktail of complex emotions in uncertain times. That being said, the key to embarking and enjoying these activities is to NOT to focus the success of a particular outcome…but rather to focus on the actual joy, intertest and unknown that exists in the activity itself. We get so wrapped up in seeking approval or validation for a job well done, winning the game, or a perfect process, that we leave very little room for the love of just being together and sharing in these activities. Attempting to orchestrate, control or coax a moment to a desired outcome vs. taking an organic approach to letting things and naturally evolve is where it can all go off the rails. In my most difficult of times, it wasn’t whether or not the meatballs were made perfectly for the family dinner, but rather that we were able to share in the activity together as a family…and have fun enjoying each others company…even if we failed the recipe from time to time. Here’s a great article from Cooking Light focused on recipes families can make together: Some great ideas here.


  • Prepare, plan and position. This can be easier said than done while trying to react to circumstances that can upend the best of plans…but to continually engage in these activities can be so important. Maybe now more than ever, get in the habit of writing things down. Whether it be making lists of things to complete, or making long range plans of things I’d like to do, try or achieve. Somehow making lists and that act of recording them makes them more real. We always say we’re going to do things, but often times they’re just words. Make the time to write things down, as in the chaos of confusing times, it’s easy to become distracted and lose your place. Lastly, finding the right positioning within your plan is key. As an Entrepreneur I know this all to well. Have a direction, a purpose and a plan…but be willing to be patiently pliable, as adaptability can mean psychological survival. Here’s an article from Very Well Mind that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about:


As we all look to manage both our physical and emotional well being, I wanted to mention one additional link from the CDC: There’s some wonderful information here aimed specifically at helping us on the mental side of things related to the Covid-19 outbreak. Some of you might find this useful as well. One last note, to all of those on the front lines fighting the pandemic, working to keep the peace and maintain access to necessary supplies…thank you for your tireless efforts. You are our true heroes, and my thoughts and prayers are with you all. As always, be safe. Be kind. And keep coaching…as we need each other more now than ever before.

The Fast Food Furniture Industrial Complex: Who’s to blame for the crisis of quality.

After last Sunday’s radio show, I felt compelled to follow up on this important topic with a blog post to further expound on a few thoughts. There’s another obesity epidemic in America that has nothing to do with anything we’re eating…but many things we’re consuming. As a primer, the topic of my radio show focused on the erosion of our collective understanding of quality, specifically related to the way popular digital design resources pitch their products. In addition, I framed many of my observations in terms of our apparently insatiable appetite for good design vs. the dynamics surrounding our mission at The Design Coach as proud purveyors of quality, substance and style. And my friends let me tell you, I believe we’re at a tipping point…and although there’s plenty of blame to go around…I believe there are a few remedies that may be able to reverse the effects of the pervasive poison posts and products so many of us so willingly ingest. The feeds and fantastic offerings that appear stylish on the surface, but are anything but fulfilling in terms of quality…and are digitally dumped on us daily, deteriorating our perception and understanding of real value. Welcome to the era of Fast Food Furniture. Quick, affordable and stylish…all designed to be just tempting enough to keep us coming back for more. And more. And more.

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We’ve all seen the commercials from Wayfair, Amazon, Target and the like. You know the ones, where someone longing glances at an empty room, then back at their phone or tablet coveting the “perfect” piece, then just by presses add to cart…magically the room and their interior is complete! Or the happy family, shopping together grabbing “great” design right off the shelf all in an effort to “get it done.” Not to be outdone by the never-ending cycle of formulaic design shows that regurgitate the most unrealistic of budgets and timelines. Most of them sponsored by some of the very same companies who in many ways control the switch off the media hamster wheel I call the trend treadmill. This is not a conspiracy theory…it’s life in the world of interior design at all levels these days. Ask anyone in the industry, from manufacturers to design professionals to consumers. They all have stories to tell. And in many of them, the sacrificial lamb slaughtered at the altar of the religion of the new retail experience is quality…and the customers basic understanding of its very meaning. Today’s decorating landscape is littered with so much disposable design, and so many poorly constructed products, one cannot wonder where this is all going to lead?

Water-Marked Photo 3Right about now some of you are screaming “Amen”, and nodding your heads with a sense of conviction, maybe even donning a half-cocked smile of approval. While others, a sizable number of you, are becoming increasingly annoyed, defensive and may even be ready to move on from this blog. But before you do, let me make something very clear. My purpose in writing this blog, as was the case on the radio last Sunday, is to educate and bridge the gap that between what we think we know…and what is actually available to us in the way of affordable and attainable, quality design resources. Because I must tell you…the digital design universe is full of black holes with will swallow your money, as well as your understanding of quality design, faster than a hockey team at a post-game drive-thru. So before you click away…please allow me to explain further.

Everything…and I mean everything in life boils down to play of percentages. It’s all about creating a sense of balance in an interior…and in your life for that matter. All work, no play. Bad. All fun, no self-discipline. Eventually bad too. Design is no different. A certain amount of disposable design in your life is not only expected, but absolutely has its place. Sometimes it’s a room or a life in transition. Other times it’s totally a matter of budget…or just because we like to celebrate a particular season. But always be mindful that the cost of something is only relevant as it relates to its value. And quality is often the key driver of somethings true value. For too many of us cheap, fast and stylish enough is trumping quality. So much so that the consumers don’t even now what they’re missing. After 20 plus years in the design and contracting business there’s at least one thing I know…if your interior suffers from a lack of quality elements, they will never reach their full potential, and are destined to become increasing unsatisfying over time. Leaving you searching for the magic decorating fix or rapid rearrange. I’m here to tell you that solution to elevating your design is easier than you think, and involves fighting the endless temptations that lead to the digestion of the devilish deals offered by the digital design demagogues. Just as there’s a fast food place on every block these days, there’s a digital design resource worming its way into your feed looking to sell you style that is more times than not too good to true. And if you want authentic interiors that last, ones that really satisfy your creative soul and function fantastically…then you need to limit consuming the offerings on the menus of the digital design drive thru. By the way, that goes for you Home Gooders and Hobby Lobbyists as well. Smash & grab, spray & pray and “But I got it on sale.” does not a design strategy make.

As I said earlier, there’s plenty of blame to go around. From the manufacturers to the design professionals to the consumers, we’ve all had hand in allowing this to happen. We’d like to think we make the case for quality, but all too often we’re just sultans of seductive style. I believe that the solution starts with us. So here’s my advice for manufacturers, design professionals and consumers to begin bridging the quality gap before its meaning is lost forever, or even worse is only available to the chosen few.

Water-Marked Photo 1Manufacturers: First, manufacturers of quality goods need to do a better job inspiring and educating potential customers looking to elevate their design with next-level design offerings. In so many ways, you’re all still preaching to the same old choir of consumers and then left wondering why your customer bases are shrinking, sales are stagnant, or are shocked that people are unfamiliar with your products. If you what to grow your customer bases, you’ll need to educate and engage on more than just great style. Luxury/quality goods can be made attainable to everyone if sold and presented in the right percentages. Customers choose to afford what they prioritize. Make and approachable, inviting case for your unique quality AND style position…and you’ve got the start of an amazing relationship with a new customer. As the consumer continues to be bombarded with the case for cheap and fast, you’ll need to counter with substantive, value-based arguments for goods. Second, please stop hiring inexperienced representatives to pitch us your products that seem to be on an endless carousel through your organizations. It’s like rep roulette. We just never know who the next one’s going to be. As design professionals, we see ourselves as ambassadors of quality and style to our clients. But all too often the focus of the visits to our offices is high on style…and relatively uninformed on the true value and quality of your product lines. Over 20 years…this has gotten worse. And guess what, the digital design resources have figured you out, and in many cases ripped off your aesthetic and style for cheaper production overseas. How is the design professional or customer to know the difference, if you do not articulate the quality and artistry of your products equal to volume you amplify the style? The salvation of your brands moving forward will depend on our shared success articulating the value proposition of your offerings as it relates to both quality and style. Years ago, the luxury car industry created entry-level models in hopes of attracting customers outside of their traditional demographic. The result was once seemingly unattainable automobile brands, were seem to be accessible and approachable as they aggressively looked to cultivate relationships and build loyalty with a new type of customers. Too many of our industry’s best manufacturers still market their products like works of art, rather than art that should be put to work in lives…and in our interiors.

Design Professionals: Here’s where we can help. Many of us came into the industry with very little or no professional sales experience. The dirty little secret no one ever told us that we’re not really in interior design…we’re actually in creative sales. We need to learn how to play match-maker with all of the offerings in the marketplace, and look to apply them in the right percentages for each client. This means striking the right balance of items at all levels of quality. But many of us become too attached to our high-end look, process, idea or product lines, and forget to be the ambassador and adviser to quality, style and value so many of our clients need us to be. When something doesn’t go our way we professionally bruise. And even worse, our lack of sales experience, combined with a limited understanding of the important balance of substance and style, means we’re at a horrible disadvantage when attempting to make the case for the value of our idea, product or solution to our client. Many in the industry are uncomfortable when being cast in anything resembling the mold of a salesperson…as to do so in some way diminishes the art of it all. Nonsense. Real sales and customer-centered creative outcomes are about the relationship between a clients need, and the trust involved in the appropriate application of time energy, effort and investment to satisfy that need. Sometimes it’s furniture. Sometimes it’s contracting. Sometimes it’s art. Whatever the case, thoroughly educating ourselves on the brands and materials the we choose to market, means committing more of ourselves to the responsibility of helping the client, and less of a devotion to our idea, direction or creative desire. I’ll leave you with this. No one cares about your amazing idea or product if you cannot articulate it’s value to the customer. They need to know why they need it, and why you’re recommending it. And in today’s design marketplace, “Because it’s pretty…or isn’t it cool.” is not enough. It’s really that simple. Make your case. And if you can’t you’d better learn.

And finally to Consumers: For the love of God, have some patience for the process. Good, thoughtful, creative, quality design offerings take time to find, create, produce, deliver and install properly. But too many of you think it can be done on your schedule, and even worse, the digital universe and design networks have conditioned us to believe everything is available now…and can be completed in a snap just in time for the big reveal. Or before that party you should never have scheduled in the first place. Allow us to opportunity to invest time into introducing you to the amazing resources that lead to beautiful and functional design outcomes. Let us educate, elevate and create. And guess what…if we’re not doing this, I can’t blame you for moving on. But remember, when it comes to the budget, it’s okay to implement great design over time. Don’t be in such a rush, rather, be consistent and thoughtful with the effort and communication you put into the partnership. Just so you know, for most of us…it’s not about the money. It’s about the opportunity to create something special for someone else. The sense of enjoyment we get when you love where you live. Please view your design professional, your contractors and our resources as a team of trusted and valued creative partners. And lastly, if you want to elevate your interiors and get the most out of your design team, be open minded to the custom elements that in the right percentages are within reach. A task that becomes much more difficult if we continually default to the lower quality offerings so prevalent in digital design dynamic.

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I’ll leave you with this. I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for temporary or transitional design offerings. All I’m saying is that quality products and services take time to create, produce and execute…and if you really want to elevate your design to the next level, you’re going to need more than the Fast Food Furniture outlets can offer. And in our rush to have it all now, on our terms, and with a skewed perspective of quality, we’re losing so much of the critical understanding of what’s actually involved in bringing lasting products to the marketplace. And at some point, if it doesn’t turnaround, the saying “They just don’t make them like they used too.” might just become “I didn’t realize they ever did.” And wouldn’t that be the real the shame.

For lists and links to our preferred, quality interior design vendors go to The journey to begin elevating your interiors starts here!