The Most Important Piece of Design Advice, According to the Pros

Starting a new home project can be daunting. These vetted tips from 40 top architects, interior designers and landscapers will make it less so

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Launching a new project—whether a massive build or a small redesign—can be daunting.

Here, 40 top Colorado architects, interior designers and landscapers make it less so by sharing the first piece of advice they would give to a new client.

“Start a room with a rug. You can do anything from there.” — Jan Chenault of Chenault & Chianea

“Edit your concept folder file that you may have been collecting over the years to your top 10 images that you love the most.” — Barbara Glass Mullen of Barbara Glass Inc.

“Don’t get drawn in by things that are too trendy. Design something that is timeless and you will still love and enjoy 10 years down the road.” — Jeremy Parcels of Christopher’s Kitchen & Bath

“Look at the most-opened tabs on your computer or phone. What do those tabs have in common? This tells you a lot about your lifestyle. Next, pick two distinctly different colors that you are drawn to. Then collage 20 photos of things in that color all together, and decide which brings you the biggest satisfaction. Narrowing down your color story creates a foundation for the layers of design.” — Wendy Yates of Abigail-Elise Interiors

“Think about how you really live every day in your home— not how you think you ought to live or wish you lived.” — Kimille Taylor of Kimille Taylor Inc.

“At the outset of a project I ask my clients to dream big, even throw in the kitchen sink. If they feel uncomfortable telling me what they like, I ask them to tell me what they hate: ‘We hate orange; we loath junipers, etc.’ All of these identifiers, positive or negative, are pieces of the design puzzle. Lastly I ask them to remember gardens from their past—the scent of lavender along their grandmother’s patio in the Santa Cruz mountains, the taste of gooseberry jam from the farm in Illinois. These memory-triggers make gardens so special to their owners.” — Karla Dakin of K. Dakin Design

“Give the architect carte blanche to design and explore, for these are services and professionalism being sought.” — Collin Frank of DJArchitects

“Buy higher-quality pieces as budget permits, rather than buying inferior furniture that will be replaced in a year or two, just to satisfy instant gratification. It is better to fill a room with the things you love and will have for many years to come.” — Mikhail Dantes of D+D Interiors and MOD Design

“Let’s go outside of the box, and then we will hone it in. The concept stage is the fun part, as we get a chance to look at all the possibilities.” — Joshua Ruppert of Lifescape Colorado

Don’t make random decisions. So many times a client will decide that they love something they see at a store and buy it, and it doesn’t work with anything else that they have chosen. I am all about finding fun pieces for a room here and there, but try to get an idea of the big picture first.” — Cynthia K. Godoy of CK Interior Design

“Create a realistic budget and scope of work. That provides a sense of what things cost and what needs to be done, which sets realistic expectations.” — Beth Armijo of Armijo Design Group

“Commit to honest communication with your designer and builder. Establish expectations from the beginning.” — Tina Stoecklein of Nest Architectural Design

“We do a multi-day on-site charrette with the client to find out what drew them to the property, what are the unique gifts and challenges of the land, and how do we capture the essence of this place in the design of the home.” — Stephanie Lord-Johnson of Berglund Architects

“Be cognizant of the spaces that make you happy in your current house so we can work together to include those spaces and feelings in your new home design. ” — Laura Schaeffer of Laura Schaeffer Architecture

Purpose always gives us direction to our process, so think about both everyday routines and all the special occasions you plan to celebrate in your home.” — Cecilia Tanoni of Cecilia Tanoni Interiors

“Collect photos—online or actual photos—that resonate with you. It could be a million; it could be three. From there, identify very specifically what you like about those photos. You’ll be able to identify patterns emerging that can direct you.” — Doris Pearlman of Possibilities for Design

“Be open to all sorts of ideas your designer presents. Some of the greatest projects are when clients let go a little and trust their designers full potential.” — Kelly Christensen of KC Studio

“Be prepared for the project to unfold in an organic fashion. Initial budgets are often arbitrary numbers that don’t fit with reality, and good contractors are usually booked many months out, so timelines often aren’t realistic either. But if you’re OK with letting it unfold organically, the end result will be a successful construction experience. Isn’t your home project worth that?” — Megan Daughtry of Proud House Studio & Co.

“Get organized: Make a list of wants and needs for your project. Also, research your interview questions and then compare the answers from different designers.” — Andrea Monath Schumacher of Andrea Schumacher Interiors

“Clearly communicate your budget and your must-haves. A good architect can work with all sorts of budgets. When the hard conversations happen up front, it make the rest of the process so much more fun.” — Ryan Costner of DAJ Design

Stop worrying about what you think you are supposed to do in design, whether it’s regarding how to designate a room, how to orient your furnishings, what colors to use. Design is deeply personal and should be based around how you live in your space.” — Gina D’Amore Bauerle of D’Amore Interiors

“Let your designer know your dreams and aspirations. Something you never thought possible could come true.” — Harvey Hine of HMH Architecture + Interiors

“A great house should read like a great novel. Let the house tell us a story that we write together. It has a great introduction, good structure and feels complete when finished. Laced with juicy, layered artful details and bits of drama—for ultimately the interesting characters bring it to life! I believe that the best design is an art and a science. Fact and fiction.” — Susan Hall of Buttercup Home Custom Interiors

“Make sure before you start that your designer is qualified to execute your entire scope of work.” — Pamala Chelle of Pamela Chelle Interior Design

“Have a list of spaces or design elements that are your top priority. With that comes the understanding that you are willing to spend more money on certain elements and can save in others.  For example, if you’re renovating your kitchen, you might spend more money on a showstopping range hood and save on their countertop by selecting a quartz composite.” — Kimberly Timmons of Kimberly Timmons Interiors

“Think about what reflects you best when designing. Reflect your personal style, not what’s trending.” — Elizabeth Basso of Basso Interiors

“Have very detailed design documents. Many people think that once the architecture is done, you’ll have a set of drawings ready for construction. This is not true—the interior design and product selections are crucial. Having everything selected is so important for the entire remodel process.” — Josh Fiester and Rebecca Boniek of Factor Design Build

“Develop a clear understanding of your goals and desired outcomes. If you don’t know what these might be, trust your designer or architect to lead you on the path to discovering what they are.” — Steve Perce of bldg.collective

“Start with space planning! Space planning is the foundation for all great design. Without a functioning space plan, the decoration of the space becomes meaningless.” — Laura Medicus of Laura Medicus Interiors

“Consider how you will really live within a space, because that will dictate the furniture layout and flow. For my clients, the room begins with a sketch of the room and a discussion about how the furniture will be laid out and how it might need to be moved for entertaining purposes or large gatherings. If there is an existing piece of furniture that a client already owns, that piece would be accounted for from the start.” — Ramey Caulkins of Griffin Design Source

“Don’t rely heavily on trends or impressing the neighbors. If you trust yourself and the process, you will enjoy your project and impress the neighbors. Also, verify your budget with your designer’s and contractor’s actual pricing.” — Sean Hughes of Mandil Inc.

“Identify your priorities, share them with your architect, and then continually check in with the design team to understand how they are being met. The most successful client/architect relationships are rooted in sharing information with one another and listening.” — Todd Kennedy of CCY Architects

“Never be afraid to tell your design team if you don’t like something or hold back because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.” — Kristi Dinner of Company kd

Open up! You and your architect/designer are going to be spending lots of time together trying to craft the perfect home for you. By opening up and being honest with your team they will start to understand how you really live and create a home that truly fits your lifestyle and isn’t just a replication of pretty picture.” — Sarah Tiedeken O’Brien of Vertical Arts

“Select a designer who will work with your taste and style versus the designer imposing a set style on you. We always joke how different our client’s styles can be from each other. We love that! It’s so fun to live out many different looks.” — Mary Knape of Knape & Zibell Interior Design

“Ask very specific questions about your inspiration images. For example, with a current client, we shared nine images for the foyer—some with round tables, some with statement chairs and art pieces, some with benches, all with a variety of accessories. Then we ask: How do you want to feel when you come home? How do you want your guests to feel when they enter your home? You get the idea. Ultimately, we are not just looking at pretty pictures, but diving into the details.” — Kim Blankenburg of Layers + Lines

“Be authentic to yourself. Choose something because it makes you happy, not just because it’s on trend. Surround yourself with things that you love and that are functional for the way you live every day.” — Barbara Bork at Lola Gray Home & Design

“Establish your budget as early as possible in the process, and make sure you share that budget with your designer.” — Brian Carlson of Green Landscape Solutions

“Push your limits on an aesthetic level to explore the possibilities of design to personalize your space. Design is something that typically gets developed with multiple layers in mind. Thoughtful design is developed when the entire scheme is well supported, balancing and blending multiple elements.” — Katie Schroder of Atelier Interior Design

“Work to immediately establish a strong and solid relationship with your design team. Trusting your designer to lead you to a beautiful end result is the most important part of the initial process.” — Regan Mattingly of Chalet

Categories: Stylemakers