Since starting our firm in 1996, we've witnessed firsthand a great sea change in the design industry. Residential and commercial clients have gained greater access to quality resources. They often don't need a design professional to gain entry to once-only trade showrooms. They're also regularly bombarded by possibilities from top furnishings stores, architectural and design magazine pages and Internet sites.
To meet these demands, we've developed solutions that we believe set us apart among our peers and help clients in our native Chicago backyard or around the globe. We know how to wade through the increasing number of furnishings and accessory selections and make critical decisions. We decide, for instance, when a custom-made sofa, intricately crafted cabinet, or hand-scraped wood floor makes sense versus something more readily available, based on each client's unique design parameters and budget. We understand the very different needs of a residential client and a commercial setting, and tailor all design and material selections to reflect the purpose and use for each space and function.
In either case, we know how to pull together all the parts to fashion a whole that reflects our trademark style of timeless, classic elegance to look like it evolved effortlessly. Yet, the goal is to showcase a distinct personal preference of our client, unique to their taste, Study our rooms, and they're far more than what's usually expected—a traditional living room might have a few iconic Fifties Moderne furnishings from the masters of that era but also a twist of punchy color and great antique lamps, or it might veer off more toward the eclectic with an antique rug with old-world deep, rich hues, American or African folk art and a contemporary wallpaper. A law firm might reveal a contemporary slant that connotes something about its practice—perhaps, photographs or paintings since it represents several major art galleries or museums, or prints with an entertainment slant because it handles work for a number of actors, actresses, directors or studios.
Rooms aren't merely pleasant vignettes to look at and oooh and aaah over, however. We're as keenly interested in selecting pieces for comfort and function. A sofa isn't just about its period look and fabric—the outer stuff. Its length, height, number of cushions, springs and filling all matter greatly. Key questions we always ask are: How good will a client feel sitting in it? Is it too shallow in depth or not high enough in its back? Do its cushions offer comfort and spring back? Are its arms inviting as a resting spot for long, lingering visits or a cozy read or for sitting and discussing serious business matters? "Each room and its pieces should be beautiful but if it doesn't work for how those live, entertain or work there, none of the choices are right," says Tom.
To find the best selections always reflects our approach of laboriously culling merchandise and materials from a wide variety of showrooms, galleries, stores, the Internet and craftspeople who range from furniture makers to millworkers, painters, cabinetmakers, wallpaper hangers, and more.
And when everything's selected, we carefully arrange pieces in rooms that are designed to function well on their own, but also flow seamlessly into adjoining spaces, whether another living space or office or hallway. David says, "Working with a design professional can become more liberating, stylish and cost effective than going at this endeavor alone."
10 Key Steps In Residential Design
Our style of working for our clients reflects a well-honed system of 10 steps that apply whether we design a single room or entire home or apartment.
- Study what clients own to understand their preferences; listen to what they say they like and dislike about each room and the desired overall look.
- Nail down the client’s wish list for each room and the entire house or office.
- Establish a budget both for furnishings and workmanship. Educate a client on the best way to allocate their funds for the greatest impact and satisfaction of the project’s goals.
- Make multiple selections and present at least three different layouts where possible with selections that reflect multiple price points, discussing the importance and perceived value of each selection.
- Touch, look, explore. To make smart choices, we encourage our clients to see and touch fabrics, sit in sofas and chairs, check out lighting for illumination, study paint samples applied directly on walls and open and close cabinets, drawers and cabinetry.
- Draft floor plans, elevations, furniture drawings, construction documents, specification details as needed for each project. Not everything is available as is, but often has to be custom ordered and made to fit specific needs and spaces. And it’s best when another pair of eyes can also be involved in remodeling and building designs. We often work with a contractor or architect from the start and see the project through until the end—after the punch list is approved.
- Bid out choices. Once firm dollar numbers come back from sources and are totaled, homeowners can prioritize and make changes before orders are placed. This is a good time to make sure the project goals and the budget parameters are aligned.
- Submit deposits; schedule workmanship; begin the wait. There’s no rule of thumb how long it takes for furnishings to be completed—a custom sofa may take 12 weeks, a light fixture from a lighting store a few days if in stock. As pieces arrive, the firm checks them, and if mistakes occur, we send them back or fix them. We are never satisfied until all is perfect. All is delivered when everything’s 100-percent correct. “Design is part of the process, but so is follow-up,” says David.
- Lights, cameras, action! Installation day involves one of us or a staff member at the client’s house or office to check off deliveries and supervise placement. While rooms are painted or wallpapered or cabinetry installed, the firm also checks progress daily.
- Complete accessorizing. Rooms may seem almost complete, but most need to be filled in with accessories, artwork, photographs and favorite homeowner or client objects, all the highly personal touches. One steadfast rule of the duo is that a home is never done. “They need to keep evolving over time,” says Tom. “Art and accessories are very personal and should reflect how a person lives in the space, but they don’t have to be expensive to be interesting,” says David.
7 Key Steps In Commercial Design And Construction
Our style of working on a commercial or industrial space, office, restaurant, or condominium building is similar to our style of working on a single-family home, townhouse or apartment, except the scale of the project is bigger and involves often different materials and technological systems to provide greater durability and design options. Often, more parties are involved in the decision-making process, too. Here’s what else these clients should know:
- Programming. In this first step, rooms, lobbies and hallways need to be measured; meetings need to be scheduled to discuss the full scope of the project’s design; the management team, board members, or other key stakeholders involved in the decision making need to be interviewed; the existing space and any problems or challenges or the reason for the work needs to be discussed fully; other key players need to be consulted and interviewed, possibly condo or cooperative owners in a condominium or cooperative multifamily building or law partners in a law firm; a budget needs to be addressed.
- Design solutions. Again, as with residential design, one to three concepts are presented with large samples and schematic drawings shown to the decision makers for analysis and the understand that they can be mixed and matched; program space requirements are discussed, along with movement and circulation patterns since these will impact choices particularly when large numbers of people move through an area such as a lobby or busy hallways; the longevity of the design is discussed and analyzed a presentation of final choices will be made to a board or executive committee; revisions to the design will be completed after input and discussions, and if needed another presentation will be done with new materials, appliances or layouts.
- Development of selected solutions. Plans, elevations, sections, and detail drawings will be drawn up in detail; upkeep and maintenance issues will be discussed; the budget will be addressed to see if it should adequately cover all work though this will be addressed again once bids come in from contractors and vendors; all these details will be presented to the board or executive committee; revisions will be made to the design after the meeting; the board or committee will sign off with its full approval.
- Implementation. Construction documents will be finalized for bid-out purposes; any contractors who need to see the site will be escorted on visits and walk-throughs; bids from contractors—typically two to three for each area of work—will be reviewed; contractors will be met with for clarification; bids will be compared; bids will be presented to the board and committee with an analysis of the pros and cons of each; a decision will be made on which contractors and vendors to use and contracts will be drawn up for each area of work.
- Project management tools. Construction schedules and meetings, possibly weekly, will be scheduled; access to purchase order tracking information will be made available via computer sites; vendor lists will be reviewed again if desired; computer generated reports on shipping, billing, accounting will be made available to the right parties.
- Punch list. A punch list will be drawn up when work is completed to discuss remaining issues and problems. Corrections will be made for complete satisfaction.
- A return meeting and site visit will be scheduled. This allows everyone to see that the work has produced the desired results. Any will be made or scheduled at that time.