Before You Build: (5) Helpful Tips to Help You Maximize Your Investment.

Having been through countless remodeling and new construction projects, it still amazes me how little synthesis there still is between “the build” and the practical lifestyle/design considerations of the client. There’s enough blame to go around here. There are the architects who have difficulty managing client indecision effectively, and others who seem to be stuck in a professional service model more concerned with generating plans than “a plan.” There are the builders, whose almost unhinged desire to “seal the deal” with a bargain-basement overall cost and a quick construction timeline, force them to cut critical allowances to the bone just to land the job. And then you have the inexperienced designers/decorators, most of whom lack the necessary knowledge of construction to efficiently balance the design of the project with their more often applied talent…finish decoration. Regardless of who is at fault, the fact remains, successful creative outcomes are achieved through thoughtful attention to detail both financially and creatively.


In the current rebuilding-phase of the construction industry, two things are becoming very clear. First, overall allowances are typically inadequate for the generation of clients, who desire a magazine quality aesthetic on the newspaper budget provided by some builders. And second, a good number of architects seem to be more concerned with pitching a plan and closing out on a fee, than thoughtfully guiding the clients to the finish line on their dream build. What a shame, as the building process for many of these clients represents a major milestone, not to mention a significant investment. Over the years, my team and I have seen this lack of professional consideration manifest itself in some pretty ugly ways…with one exception…when one or all of these key players decide, in the best interest of the client and the project, to remove the ambiguity from this flawed dynamic. It might seem obvious, but the protectionist posture of many in the building industry has ignored that the design is still in the details. And whether your project is large or small, it’s less about how much you spend…but more where you spend it. Listed below are five, helpful tips to add clarity to the vision of your build.


1.) Pack your prints: Put as many details in the plan as possible BEFORE you select a builder. Map out, to the best of your ability, the visual destination of your project with your architect and designer before you set sail. Pay particular attention to cabinetry, millwork (Ceilings in particular), flooring and electrical/audio-visual features. The best builds have a lifestyle-sensitive electrical plan, a solid millwork package that gives the project timeless character, creative flooring designs that give interiors a flexible decorative foundation, and great cabinetry that is both beautiful and functional. However, if the details aren’t in the plan, the builder won’t bid it properly and you could be left designing on the fly…or worse drifting in unchartered creative waters.

2.) Focus on value over cost: This can be a tough concept for clients to understand, but if you keep this in mind you’ll be able to apply the appropriate financial resources to each allowance. Most clients value some design/build elements more than others. For example, the Kitchen/Family Room is often times a major focus for most clients. Thus, adequate cabinetry, appliance, countertop, tile, flooring, millwork and electrical allowances need to accommodate the vision of the client. Sadly, that’s not always the case. All too often, clients have not thoughtfully explored the costs associated with the wonderful or magazine clipped interiors before presenting them to your build team. My suggestions…thoroughly discuss and document the lifestyle and design elements you value most. Since most projects do not exist with unlimited budgets, design becomes an exercise in acceptable “trade-offs”. For example, selecting less expensive appliances, might lead to opportunities for a more striking millwork/cabinetry selection. In short, put yourself and your build team in a position to exceed your expectations by defining what’s important to you. If you attempt to discuss a good chunk of these during the build, you’re going to waste precious time…and project fatigue will set in much sooner than you expected.

3.) Break your project down room by room: Work with your architect and designer on actual furniture layouts for each room. Don’t settle for the architects “place-holders” in the plan. Furniture layout can drive everything from electrical to HV/AC considerations. Not to mention, play a significant role in determining whether or not the room will function the way the client intended once it’s built. If you’re taking furniture with you…photograph it, measure it, and make a home for it in the plan. Taking this step will not only give you the rooms you want, but will put you in a position to identify the longer term decorative needs of each room. The kind of needs that allow you to finish your interiors in style and make that house a home.

4.) Don’t let your builder drive your design style: Most of the time builder’s see the designer’s role as merely cosmetic. WRONG. A good design team will not only connect the client with a personal sense of style related to color, texture and function…but the result of structured “before you build” creative conversations…with an experienced design professional…will make selections related to the build so much easier.

5.) Know the difference between design and decoration: There is a difference between design and decoration. Here’s an easy explanation. Design happens first and typically involves elements that cannot be easily changed after the build. (Cabinetry, built-ins, millwork, flooring, bathroom/tile, etc.) Decoration usually happens at the end or after the building process to finish the interiors for the client. (Painting, wallpaper, furniture, window treatments, etc.) You and your design team must balance both the design and decorative needs of the project simultaneously. You should focus on the building needs first so that you can provide timely guidance on materials selection to the builder. This will help keep the project on schedule. However, all of those selections must be done with the overall decorative end-result in mind. So, beware of the design professional or decorator with limited construction/design experience. Also, make a point to hire a design professional that understands how to effectively and respectfully communicate with the various contractors on your project. Proper design/decorative visuals combined with professional communication, is essential to making sure you get the most out of your build team.


The Beginning

My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Hoffman gave me my first big break as an artist. She seemed to be the first person who recognized that for me, learning was a more of a visual activity. The assignment immediately fascinated me; I was asked to create a visual timeline of American history from 1776 to 1978. And so began my love affair with history, as well as my obsession with finding new ways to express my passion for the past through art.

I went into business for myself fifteen years ago with only one real goal; to redefine the role of the artist in the world of Interior Design & Decorating. And with countless residential & commercial projects under my belt, as well as thousands of studio hours in the trenches of the creative process…I’ve pretty much seen it all. My professional experiences have seen me play the role of an artist, contractor, construction manager, retailer, and design professional. And as good as I’ve convinced myself that I am, I’ve been lucky. And I’ve been very fortunate to have had plenty of “artistic angels”, whose collective wings have allowed me to fly.

My business,The Design Coach/Refined Rustic LLC, by most standards should be the culmination of my professional experiences. And I guess in some ways it is, but to me it’s much more than a list of what projects I’ve worked on, the knowledge I’ve acquired, or the products and services I provide. No, for me, the artist, business is personal. And The Design Coach/Refined Rustic LLC continues to represent my incredibly challenging and yet amazing creative journey.

In this blog, like the search for interesting found objects, you just never know what you’re going to find…or where the search may lead. And in a world where everyone is positioning themselves as an expert on how something should be done, I’d like to focus on what I call “the why”. No doubt, from one entry to the next, tangents will not be in short supply. And you can bet we’ll talk a little faith, family, freedom and failure, along with a healthy dose of why the creative process is one of sweet redemption. They say you learn more from failure than success. I can vouch for that, and it’s only when the blank canvas begins to resemble more of a clean slate that you’re no longer intimidated or afraid, you feel the courage grow, and it becomes exciting to realize that anything may just be possible. So come with me . . . Get Lost in Found… And revel in the undeniable fact that something can be both new and old, refined or rustic, depending on your perspective.