Saturday, June 19, 2010

Perfectly, Imperfect Interior Design ~ A Designer’s “Coffee Talk”

Life isn’t perfect.  How often do we hear those words being said?  How often; however, do we use the word “perfect” in correlation with the world of interior design?  I’m guilty of using it, too.  “Oh, that looks perfect.”, “It will be the perfect solution.”  If you’re an interior designer, do you ever use this in describing your work ~ or the process of it ~ or a product?  If you are a consumer, what are your expectations and how are they defined?  What does “perfect” really mean to you?  Join me for a cup of coffee and a chat!

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Sometimes, we have to go back to the dictionary to see what we are saying, so “perfectly”:

Definitions of perfect (adj)


  1. without faults: without errors, flaws, or faults
  2. complete and whole: complete and lacking nothing essential
  3. excellent or ideal: excellent or ideal in every way

For most of us, it’s in our make-up to feel we can accomplish at least one, if not all three of the above.  I’m ever reminded, in my years of owning an interior design practice, it’s not realistic to go through life – or the design process, expecting it to always happen.  There are too many sides to this equation.  Too many variables.

When the phone call first comes in, regarding a potential project or a consultation, the underlying reason is there is a problem to be fixed.  In fact, one of my college courses, at ECU, was called “Problems in Interiors”.  The premise of my course was, if there were no problems to be solved, there would be no need for design.  Instead of referring to this as a problem, I should probably call it, “The desire to live in a better world.”, but that’s a wee bit long, even for this prolific writer!  Miriam Webster always defines things best, so I’ll pop this in, for good measure:

Definitions of problem (n)


  1. difficulty: a difficult situation, matter, or person
  2. puzzle to be solved: a question or puzzle that needs to be solved
  3. statement requiring mathematical solution: a statement or proposition requiring an algebraic, geometric, or other mathematical solution

(Mmmm!  Perfect and problem.  Sounds like a potential oil and vinegar mix, doesn’t it?)

Getting back to the “problem” of perfection . . . First, is it the actual physical space, which needs to be addressed, or is it the inhabitant of a dwelling?  If we are all being perfectly transparent . . . It usually is the reaction, feeling, comfort level, or functional impact, experienced by the inhabitant, in regards to their environment, which facilitates the call for help.  After all, if all is/was well, the call wouldn’t be placed.  The degree of reaction experienced; however, can be totally different.  In solving the problem of the space, is there an expectation it will solve other life issues, as well?  For interior designers, this can be the difference between fulfilling ones duties with excellence, (aka – perfection), or being challenged to be flawless, amidst a sea of obstacles, (aka – another type of problem – not so easily solved.)

coffee_02_bg_040306 Here’s another cup . . . it’s a long post!

I wanted to share this, to promote a realistic understanding of how there will be challenges to provide the best design experience.  There will always be the possibility of a problem.  A backorder holds up materials.  Custom work needs on-the-job tweaking or customizing.  Construction and delivery delays, weather, sickness, and even death.  (Yes, I had a previous circumstance, where custom work was being processed, and the fabricator died right before a meeting to inspect the progress of the work, and before it was to be installed.)  Let’s also consider, delays due to “analysis paralysis”.  As a designer, I can help some folks have a “breakthrough”, while others will remain stuck.  While I may control the creation, I don’t always control the decisions, nor all of the logistics affected by life’s events. 

Open communication is the key to the success and understanding of the expected outcome of any project.  Both parties, (the designer and the consumer), have to be open to this type of sharing.  It might seem, from the consumer’s viewpoint, that “a beautiful room” would always be the final goal, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  In this period of time, decisions and investments are being scrutinized through the proverbial magnifying glass.  While trying to be a wise decision-maker , it’s still possible to be foolish in ways impacting relationships and ultimately the level of satisfaction.  The corporate world refers to this as micromanaging.  The results?  Very rarely perfect.  By allowing for an innovative mind to be involved, more problems will be solved, before, during, and after the process.  I call it, “customer service”.

After 25+ years of experience in the design industry, I’ve found ways to work through the various challenges of perfection, while striving to get to #2 and in the manner of definition #3. (See “perfect”.)  I am a problem solver.  (See #2 of the 2nd definition.)  I love taking things apart and putting them back together.  I’m an interior visual artist, and most of the time, I have the ability to “see” the finished project before it’s even completed.  I am also a project manager, and I schedule and manage the time and resources needed for the project.  I collaborate with a team of fabulous artisans, (notice I did not say “laborers”), to help bring that vision to fruition.  I’ve also recognized that, some of the best design work I’ve ever created, was due to a glitch, a flaw, or a “happy accident”.  I appreciate the clients who have been willing to “let go” in order to receive my best work.  They are the ones who purchase original artwork, knowing the artist adjusted the brushstrokes, due to the ever-changing light. 

I practice “perfectly, imperfect” design.  I like mixing oil and vinegar, and adding in a bit of spice, for good measure.  It also makes a great “dressing” for the details.  . . .

“Out of perfection nothing can be made. Every process involves breaking something up.” Joseph Campbell

“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time” Voltaire

“The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.” Eugene Delacroix

Experience the best about design!  Wanda


South East Installation Solutions said...

Great post.

As owner of a business that works along side interior design professionals, such as yourself, I totally understand your affinity for finding perfection. I often jokingly refer to myself as an obsessive compulsive neurotic perfectionist.

However, one of my core values is this:
"If it's going to have my name (or my company's name) attached to it, it will be done right!"

Wanda S. Horton - Interior Designer said...

Thank you, James. I too suffer from that malady and everyone has a different perception of what perfection really is. There are certainly industry "norms" to be followed, but everyone's experience is ultimately subjective. Opening the dialogue about expectations provides for a better understanding. I often have people tell me they don't "need" certain levels of luxury, because they hope it conveys keeping costs down, but ultimately, they desire the level of quality associated with having that luxury item or service. As an installer, I'm sure you recognize the difference with how a ready-made drapery panel will appear and perform, versus a fine, lined and interlined custom panel. Consumers receive so much feedback and I hope, if they are interested in custom design services, they will have a trusted advisor who will share the "real" story about the process.

averydesigninteriors said...

Lovely to read your latest post, Wanda.
Truly, I don't think we can be interior designers if we aren't detail oriented and seeking perfection. Otherwise, why would we even go into this business? LOL!
And I agree with South East Installations, if my name is on it, it has to be done right (or pretty darn close to perfect). At the end of the day, I always want my customer to be happy.

Norbridge Antiques said...

Wanda, You pay close attention to detail as you reach for perfection in all of your projects.
Paying attention to the details is key. Great service for your clients automatically follows.
Kind regards.