Oh Dear Lord…I David Shepherd Actually Need a Designer!

[Post 1 of a series…]

Over the past twenty years, thousands of interior designers have come to my events. Hundreds have joined my coaching networks and scores have hired me as a coach or consultant. I’ve torn apart their financial statements, operating manuals, and LOAs. I’ve built courses to help them develop better strategies and earn what they deserve.

But…I’ve never hired one!

I’ve never actually hired an interior designer for my own home! In fact, I have joked that I never would because I have no taste, am color blind, and don’t see what’s wrong the a little duct tape on my living room recliner!

So, imagine the journey of someone who knows every aspect of a designer’s business when he finally decides to hire a designer for a fairly large project. Would you love or hate to be that designer? How would you feel giving me prices when I know exactly what markups should be? How would you feel giving me your LOA when you know that I have read and critiqued countless different ones? How would you feel knowing that, if I chose to, I could ask 100 other designers to review your processes, pricing and design choices in a day!

Am I going to be a dream or nightmare client for this poor soul? (With whom, once chosen, I will enter into a very tight confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement.)

But seriously, think how much fun this is going to be for you to follow my journey. I doubt anyone who knows as much about the back office aspects of interior design has ever reported on his own experience as a client. I suspect it will open up my eyes in some areas that might help you. We’ll see…

How I Looked For My Designer

I wanted someone local, just like virtually all of your clients do, so I had the DFW area to pull from. I decided that I would not work with a member of The Edge or a coaching/consulting client. That may seem odd, but I just decided that I would have more political concerns if choosing one member over another, than simply finding a designer who did not have a financial relationship with me.

I decided I’d prefer a small firm or even a sole practitioner, in part because I felt like this would allow me a greater opportunity to do the project in phases and, for some reason, I felt like the price might be lower. (Of course this is not always the case, but I’m just sharing my thought process.) Then again, I want things to run efficiently so I looked for what you might call a “sole practitioner-plus.” You know, someone with an office where the phones are answered, messages are returned, and someone is doing the back office tasks like procurement and project management.

Of course you can’t always tell that from a website, but I wanted to find a sole practitioner who looked more like a firm in terms of having an office and showing pictures of other people on her “team.”

How Do They Price?

I realize you can’t always glean this from a Website, but I felt that if they made reference to charging hourly, or even if they offered “packages” that were partially do-it-yourself (DIY) that they were not ultra-high-end and that’s what I wanted to start with. You’ll discover that while I am probably going to spend a lot on this project, I don’t want to give that impression. I will be upfront with my designer about my budget, but I will always ask him or her to “draw lines” at different price points to show me what I can get for $A, then for $B, then for $C, etc.

Show Me Your Work

I then spent several hours popping between portfolios to get a feel for style. In the first of what I suspect will be many ironies, I quickly ended up on Houzz. I didn’t fill out a form, but let’s face it, when you Google “Interior Designers in Dallas” that’s probably where you’re going to end up. And despite my years of criticisms of Houzz as a marketing tool, there’s no faster way to browse multiple designers that I know of. (I don’t use Pinterest.) The risk of Houzz is that I may be missing a lot of great candidates, but in this big forest I’m just looking for a few trees that I think will work.


After studying three different portfolios, I found the one I liked best. She is a 30-something who has taken over a firm that I knew fairly well from my past conferences. In fact this designer has been to several of my events, but is not currently a member of The Edge. We laughed about being “David Shepherd’s designer…” and renewed our pledge of anonymity.

I liked:

  • Her “small but big enough” appearance
  • Her offering a combination of full service and specifications only for the DIY. I may not use the DIY package, but the fact she offered it indicated she has clients who are price sensitive.
  • Her offer of an initial tour of the home to give ideas ($250 which I will gladly pay)

Whether or not I choose her, I felt like I would get more than $250 worth of ideas and perhaps some insight into potential budgets.

For the sake of this journey, I’ll call the designer in question, Rebecca Heinz of the Heinz Design Group, or HDG. That is not her real name.

The Project

Perhaps showing early signs of senility, I decided to upsize rather than downsize. I’m moving from a house of about 1,800 square feet to one of well over 4,000. It’s a one-story ranch style (my favorite despite current trends toward the McMansion) and it’s on a 1.2 acre lot. Depending on what you call a room (is that a gym or guest bedroom?) it has 5 bedrooms and 5 baths. If all goes well, it will have a very private man/cave and home office.

Despite this size, it’s just Jennifer, me, Sawyer (7-year-old boy) and Sammy, our chocolate Lab. (We plan to add one or two more Labs after moving.) I also have four grandchildren scattered around the state. The oldest is nine, and I imagine them becoming visitors in the not-too-distant future.

Among the things I’ll want to talk to Rebecca about are:

  • All hardware including ceiling fans and lighting are outdated;
  • Most of the downstairs (a very large area) has 12″ tiles. It would be a huge project but I have to know “the number” for replacing them with hardwoods;
  • Likewise, the ceilings are covered in “popcorn” and everyone I talk to says that we have to get rid of that. (Who knew?)
  • The kitchen is small and outdated. I’m just not tackling the $100k+ kitchen remodel right now, so what can be done quick and dirty to help?
  • There’s a room off the foyer that I want converted to a formal library. We’ll need built-ins and what else?
  • Upstairs is just a single 750 square foot room and small bath. That’s going to become a guest bedroom and the aforementioned man-cave / home office. A wall? More built-ins? How will that work?
  • All five bathroom countertops, hardware, and lighting are dated.
  • And I need furniture for just about every room.

And yes, we’ll have to replace two ACs before we even move in as we offered a very low-ball price, but accepted the property “as is.” (Of course we had the right to opt out until inspections were done.)

Next Step?

At this early stage (I haven’t even closed on the house yet) I’m just looking forward to walking the space with Rebecca and sharing our ideas. We have an appointment soon and I’ll share it with you in an upcoming post.

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