Specifying in design

Feb 20, 2020
  • Article by Michele Kearney

With the frantic pace of today’s projects, details like selecting furniture are often left to the last minute, creating headaches for themselves and their clients. Interstudio’s Michele Kearney gives her practical tips to avoiding any specifying mistakes. 

When I first started working in the industry, a supplier would call a design studio when they had something new to present. The studio would set aside an hour and invite all their staff along to learn about leather grain or the density of screen fabric. 

In today’s time-poor society this practice has fallen by the wayside and the industry as a whole has suffered. 

I recently worked on a project where the designers ordered bar stools from a catalogue only to discover, when the stools arrived onsite, that they were too tall for the tables they were intended to sit under. They’d forgotten to specify! 

These mistakes are easy enough to make, but can have a big impact on a designer’s reputation, and the budget and consignment of a project. 

A supplier is a resource

Most designers don’t have the time to sit down and study the spec sheet of every product they intend to purchase for a project. The pressure to finish under budget and before schedule already equals plenty of late nights and rushed decisions, which is all the more reason to lean on a supplier. 

Designer furniture suppliers like me have been in the industry for decades and know their stuff. Like so many other facets of interior design and architecture, we are incredibly passionate about what we do. Interstudio, in particular, is committed to supplying quality sustainable products and playing its part in making the world better and healthier. 

Suppliers are not just about ‘the sale’. They are rich fonts of knowledge on much more than what products suits what space, but the details of those products too. The correct thickness of a laminate top, for example, or whether that fabric will survive the foot traffic of the completed project. 

If designers simply request a spreadsheet of prices and available products without speaking to their supplier, they’re denying themselves a very useful resource. The suppliers aren’t the losers. They still make the sale. It’s the designers, and ultimately, the end users, that miss out on having customised solutions for their interiors. 

It’s a partnership

Ask any senior associate at a design or architecture practice how they got their clients. Most likely, it wasn’t over email. A three-minute conversation has the same effect as 10 emails, so make the time to pick up the phone and speak to a supplier. Take the time to meet with them and discuss the project, the end user’s requirements and the budget in depth. 

Often a designer will approach me at the end of a project and ask for a product with a four-to-six-week lead time. It’s what I like to call The Block effect. Designers tend to forget that not everything is available immediately. By doing this, they’re hamstringing their own project. Not only is there a chance the product won’t arrive on time, but the designer is also possibly missing out on ordering a product that better fits the project, that ‘wow’ piece from Sweden that would have blown their client away, but is not an option because of lead time. 

When I speak to designers, I’m always suggesting better alternatives to what they had in mind. Different products, different finishes, an option they would never have considered by just looking at the pricelist. By getting in touch with suppliers early, a designer is opening themselves up to a world of customised options and leaving enough time to ensure those statement products arrive for the unveiling. 

Saving you a world of pain

One of the best questions a designer can ask a supplier when specifying a project is, ‘What can the product be used for?’ 

The nitty gritty of correct grain leather, wax finishes, fabric texture is no longer taught at university and many designers forget to consider the end use of their chosen products.

Nobody wants to get an angry phone call from a client six or 12 months down the road because the finish on that table has scratched off or the sofa fabric has faded from direct sunlight. 

The supplier has spent so much time and effort training to get that knowledge so designers don’t have to. I believe in the collegiate nature of our industry. We want every project we work on to be a success and we are willing to give up our time to help. 

Tell us how the space will be used, where the products will be placed and who will be using them, and we can advise on the best solutions for the project

With our knowledge, designers can save money, deliver on time, do a better job and foster a reputation that keeps clients coming through that door. 

So allow us to be part of the design process. At the end of the day, we’re here to make you look good.  

This article originally appeared in inside 108

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