30 May 2010

DIY'ers and the Painful Truth

Architectural Digest, Castle, Do It Yourself, Elle Decor, HGTV, honesty, House Beautiful, Interior Design, Interior Design Process, Traditional Home, Veranda 60 Comments

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy

This painting is Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy by Francois Lemoyne.  There are many things that make it difficult to tell the truth.  Who among us hasn’t been in this position:  We’ve been asked for our opinion by someone who doesn’t really want the truth.  The person asks for our opinion, but we know that to be 100% truthful would create hurt feelings, disappointment, and maybe even jeopardize the relationship.  The problem is that when people ask us for our opinion, often what they really want is our validation.  They want us to like whatever they did.

As Guylaine Rondeau, a graphic designer at Guylaine Rondeau Design wrote, “In a world becoming quickly and obsessively a do-it-yourself-everything, someone will inevitably one day come and ask you the painful question.  The most difficult time for being honest is when someone designed something on their own and asks a professional designer for their opinion on the final result.”

As interior designers, we get DIY’ers who show us their do-it-yourself projects and wait expectantly for our response or ask us outright for our opinion.  It’s awkward because we know what they really want to hear is that they did a good job and it looks beautiful.  It’s awkward because 9 times out of 10, we see the mistakes and how we would’ve made the project better.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.  We all hire experts all the time to get the best results.  The tailor, the plumber, the caterer, to name a few.    Few of us dare risk ruining our expensive suit.  Hardly anybody feels competent enough to fix their hot water heater.  The very idea of preparing a gourmet meal for our daughter’s engagement party has us calling our friends for help–to find a good caterer, that is.  Oh and let’s not forget the hair stylist.  I don’t know a single person over the age of 5 who doesn’t get their hair cut by a professional.  Who’d want to risk having to wear a hat for 6 weeks?

The Doves

So why do people feel they can be their own expert when it comes to interior design?


HGTV has fueled an explosion of interest in interior design and decorating.  Decorating shows appeal to people who have a genuine interest in making their homes beautiful and I’m all in favor of that! Unfortunately, viewers often infer that interior design and decorating are not difficult, that anybody can do it, that it can be reduced to a formula.  This can lead to the totally unrealistic expectation that everyone “should” be able to decorate their homes beautifully.  People need to realize that decorating shows are entertainment, not education.  Sure you can pick up tips, but don’t be surprised if your results don’t look professional, because there is a lot that goes into designing interiors.  The shows do not tell the whole truth about what good interior design involves, nor can they in 30 or 60 minutes.  Most of the real work is done off camera, somehow labor costs are usually not included in the budget, and beautiful furniture can be picked up for a song.  Watching a design show in order to learn how to design and decorate your home is like trying to learn what giving birth is like by watching a woman having a baby on a sitcom.  You can see what’s going on but still not know what the experience is really like – and the baby sure appears a lot  faster than in real life.  Not that there isn’t a wealth of design talent to learn from.  It’s always inspiring to see good design; one show I’ve always enjoyed is Candice Olson’s “Divine Design”.

Candice Olson always pays attention to all the details

You can learn a lot about what you like and don’t like by looking at pictures in shelter magazines and reading the articles.  My favorites are House Beautiful, Veranda, Elle Decor, and Traditional Home.  There are always good tips and beautiful rooms you can study to help train your eye.  That’s still not enough to make anybody an interior designer though.

House Beautiful

Elle Decor


Traditional Home

While I believe we are all born with creativity and an appreciation for beauty, that doesn’t mean everyone has the talent to create interior beauty  in their home.  People can learn the elements of good design, and which steps to follow, but good interior design goes beyond following a formula.   Anyone can take an art class and learn to paint a landscape, but that doesn’t make them an artist.  Good design involves more than education, there’s artistic talent involved, and while appreciation can be taught, some talents are just inborn.  This applies to anything creative:  writing, painting, music, cooking, dancing, singing, anything design related.  Expressing beauty is harder than it looks.

Chuck Berk Fine Art Gallery

Interior design is a marriage of right brain and left brain, of creativity and art with analytical and project management skills.   And we may have talent but not enough, like Salieri in the movie “Amadeus.”  I have clients who have an eye for beautiful furniture, but not how to combine colors; who know how to arrange accessories but not pull the room together.  I sing well enough to get compliments in church, but believe me, nobody would ever compare my singing with Celine Dion or Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga

And this leads to my next theory on why people feel the desire to be their own interior designer.   I suspect they think if they hire an interior designer, they can’t take any credit for how good their house looks.  That can be true with some designers who are more concerned with “The Look” than with the client, but they are in the minority.  That’s certainly not how I work.

What I absolutely love-love-love about interior design is the creative design process, the happy satisfaction I get from helping people discover their own style, their inner creativity.  It’s the joy that springs from the synergism of collaborating together to create a space that perfectly reflects who they are and how they want to live in their home.  It’s a partnership not a dictatorship.


Maybe people think hiring an interior designer is expensive.   Consider that it can easily cost a few hundred dollars to have the plumber come fix your water heater, to have your carpets cleaned, your trees trimmed, etc.  Anytime you have a professional come to your home to perform a service, it costs but it’s worth it because in the long run, it actually saves us money.  Surely spending that much to make sure your DIY project isn’t heading for mediocrity or disaster is a worthwhile investment too.  Nobody ever thinks their DIY project will come out anything but great, but there are a lot of not so great DIY projects out there.  It’s a shame to spend your budget on furnishing and decorating a room, or remodeling a bathroom, only to have it turn out just okay, or worse.  If you’re going to work that hard, you want it to turn out great!

Many designers, including myself, do consulting work for a reasonable fee as well as offer complete design services that are well within budgets much more modest than those seen in Architectural Digest and other shelter magazines.  It doesn’t matter how big our homes are, we all deserve to feel our home is our castle!

Castle in France via Architectural Digest

Which means that before you buy that furniture, hire an interior designer to design a space plan for you.  That way you will know before you go shopping what the focal point will be, which pieces will work best for how you’ll use the room, which pieces it’s worth spending a little extra on, and what pieces you can spend less on, and you’ll know the furnishings will be in appropriate scale to the room.  You’ll know that your investment of time and money will pay off in a beautiful room that’s just right for you.

You may not be able to afford Mario Buatta’s designs, but most designers don’t charge his fees either.

Mario Buatta

And certainly before you go painting your living room, hire an interior designer to help you select the right color, one that won’t have you gasping in dismay when you see the painted room.  This is a very reasonable fee, one that can save you hours of back-breaking re-painting.  [Don’t even think of trying to duplicate the above wall finish on your own, this is a project that needs to be specified by an expert and accomplished by an artisan!]

But what if you didn’t hire a professional and you chose to do it all by yourself, should you ask a designer their opinion?  And if you’re the interior designer being asked, should you be honest?

What would Honest Abe say?

I think if the selections haven’t been ordered yet, and there’s still time for a designer’s input to be implemented, and one makes it clear that one really is looking for guidance, then it makes sense to ask a designer for their opinion.

But if someone has just spent thousands of dollars on new furniture or a basement remodel, would that person really want to hear how the project would’ve been improved if XYZ had been done instead?

Let me put it this way:  If you’re at a party where the appetizers are just okay, and the hostess who’d made them asks you what you think of the hors d’oeuvres, how would you feel?  What do most people say?  Right.  Good manners trumps Truth.

When I’ve been put in this awkward position, I say what I like and hope that’s enough.  I’ve toyed with the idea of saying what I would’ve done differently, if only to demonstrate that I really do know what I’m doing, but I don’t.  I don’t want to jeopardize the relationship.

So I say that if you really want an honest opinion, ask an interior design professional, but ask them at the beginning of the project, not the end.  If what you really want is validation, ask your friends.  But please don’t ask an interior designer for their opinion when what you really want to hear is how good a job you did.  As Guylaine says, “if you can help it, please don’t ask, we love you and we just don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Billy Joel's "Honesty"


Sorry, Honest Abe and Billy Joel, sometimes it’s more important to be polite than honest.  And sometimes, as in Lemoyne’s painting above, time will tell the truth!

What do you think?


60 Responses to “DIY'ers and the Painful Truth”

  1. liz says:

    Oh my god. Its so nice to hear it put so plainly and simply. I was searching for an article on this exact subject and had to dig pretty deep through google’s pages. And while I was searching, I stumbled across an article titled: “How to start your own decorating business!” as if the whole HGTV phenomenon has allowed any joe schmo to think he/she can also be a famous designer on TV! its so annoying!

    • Anne says:

      Glad you enjoyed my post and can relate, Liz. While HGTV has certainly gotten people more interested in decorating, they’ve lowered the bar and made it seem that it’s something anyone can do. Design as entertainment can be entertaining but it certainly doesn’t make one a designer.

  2. Kelly C. says:

    I followed the internet rabbit hole from a new comment you left on Apt. Therapy. While I’m probably off topic, these shows are driving me crazy. I watched a marathon of “The Unsellable’s”. (I think that is the show’s name). Homeowners who can’t sell their house have a professional come get it ready to sell. She brings her general contractor and they decide on how much the homeowner can spend. I’m always floored that the price is usually around $2500 and a huge team of people come in to get it ready. I’m thinking to myself “that homeowner just got about $10k worth of work done. I wish they would show realistic numbers so I could get over my “why won’t they come do that at my house”. I’ll have some cheese with my whine now, lol! Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this viewpoint from you and all of the comments.

    • Anne says:

      I know! It’s amazing that TV can be so irresponsible. No wonder consumers have sticker shock! I’ve seen a couple episodes of Property Brothers and have to groan as the timetable and costs are so unrealistic. I did enjoy the episode that showed the decorator brother wincing as the homeowner again and again argued with his choices and changed the plan–a little bit of realism! Another big downside of decorating shows is that some people feel that watching them has educated them to the point where they feel they know as much as a real decorator or designer.

  3. Rasheeda Traughber says:

    excellent post my friend! thanks!

  4. free makeup says:

    Gaga is definitely childish in my personal opinion

  5. Carla Aston says:

    Anne, you really hit the nail on the head. I so often get people who proudly show off their diy projects and look to me expectantly for my opinion. It is always a tedious and difficult situation and with each one I have to carefully weigh my comments. If I’m nice and say even the mildest of positive comment, they run and tell their friends (my possible future clients) that I love what they did and blessed their work and wow, how clever they are. Usually this is not how I feel and I don’t want it to get around that I “like” some of the poor taste or bad decisions they’ve made. I have to protect my reputation too. In situations where I feel there has been some good ideas, I will comment on those specifically and carefully avoid anything else. If I really think they’ve blown it and they made some big mistakes, I turn the question back to them and say, “Are you enjoying the space? How do you like what you’ve done? Is there anything you’d do differently?” I try to redirect it back to them and not comment at all. Thanks writing about something all interior designers experience!!!!

    • Anne says:

      Hi Carla, thanks for your comment, it’s good to know we all experience being put in this same awkward position. Your way of handling it sounds excellent but you’re right, the hardest part is trying to word our response so that it doesn’t sound like we’re giving our admiration and approval to something we as professionals would’ve done differently. This whole DIY phenomenon IMHO stems from HGTV and others creating the impression that everyone “should” be able to do these things themselves. Most people wouldn’t dare cut their own hair or fix their own car (not with the sophisticated electronics in cars these days) but people think they should be able to remodel their homes themselves. Even if professional installers are hired to do the work, it still makes so much more sense to hire an interior designer before they buy anything to make sure the end result will be the best use of space and aesthetically pleasing. Even if I could cut my own hair to professional standards, that doesn’t mean it’d look good!

  6. Juliane says:

    Anne, I enjoyed reading this and agree with your points all illustrated in detail. Good design doesn’t happen overnight. It needs a professional for a finished look and extra polish.
    Kind regards,
    Norbridge Antiques

    • Anne says:

      Juliane, thank you so much for reading my blog and for your comment. I believe most people don’t realize they can afford to hire a designer. An hour or two of professional consultation may be all that’s required to steer them in the right direction so they invest their money wisely.

  7. Shelly JOseph says:

    I love to sew and have done gowns for friends over the years.. I’m always amazed at some of the creations that I come up with, I realize this is my gift. I realize that a good designer is has a gift as well. After reading your blog (and getting my new job).. I’m going to hire one.. I love certain things and frankly I’m tired of trying to get it right… Someone who has the gift will do a much better job and when all is said and done maybe I’ll make them a gown.,… Thank you Thank you for your insight and the delicious way you share your wisdom

    • Anne says:

      Shelly I am chuckling because while I can sew I would never in a million years attempt to make myself a gown. I have sewn an heirloom christening gown using French sewing by machine, but it took me months, and let’s face it, that doesn’t involve any fitting! So I am in awe of artisans who can create beautiful clothing. I did make myself a pantsuit but it was…okay. It fit but it was boring! If I helped you with your designing and decorating, I’d be happy to get a gown in return! Thanks for your comment and good luck!

  8. alexandria woods says:

    Wonderful post.
    It ticks all the boxes.
    Mario B.’s room is so lovely and yet it stands out to me that the sofa looks to the back of a chair and for some reason I have great difficulty combining the two ideas in my own decorating.
    Looks lovely in print but something seems a- miss in real life.
    What are your thoughts.
    Seems that many husbands would have a problem tip toeing around in M. B. room, and yet, I must admit that I love the cluttered look.

    Again, thak you for your wonderful post.

    • Anne says:

      Thank you Alex. You bring up an excellent point. I also noticed this and wondered about it so I went and looked at other photos of the room. In two other photos, that same chair sits to the right of the sofa but in this photo, it’s been replaced by a slipper chair. So it does look lovely in print but I doubt that’s where it’s meant to be in real life. You know how models in fashion magazines are always tweaked? Hair is gelled and sprayed to look fuller, their clothes pinned to fit them perfectly, and the photo itself airbrushed to “slenderize” them and remove imperfections. Well, interior photos are a little like that too. Rooms are styled: furniture and objects are arranged to create a pleasing composition for the photo. I am thinking this is why that chair has its back to the sofa. Good noticing!

  9. Get Your “House Fix:” Fun Weekend Links says:

    […] A Designer’s Thoughts on the DIY Trend & HGTV’s Influence: Anne Lubner. […]

  10. Paula Doelling-Lynn says:

    Emphasizing your ‘personalized’ and professional view while sharing it with other professionals who share similarities. Way to relate.

  11. Barbara Jacobs says:

    Anne, this is a great post. Very inclusive with all the reasons to go with a professional. Your images really communicate your points, and it’s not easy to do that (my experience, anyway). As a professional color consultant I always bring in an interior designer when client needs more than my experience can contribute.
    In fact, on my web site I offer a pdf download of the article “tips for working with a design professional” that I hope addresses some of the points you raised.

    It’s great to read so many good comments, too. Thanks for your interesting and attractive blog posts!.

    • Anne says:

      Hi Barbara, thank you very much. Sometimes it takes just as long or longer to find the images that express my thoughts, so I appreciate your enjoying them. I just signed up for your newsletter and am interested in reading your article. Thanks for your comments!

  12. Lisa La Nasa says:

    Thank you Anne, for the well written and insightful article!
    As a professional Interior Designer, I have seen the other side of DIY and the television design programs through completing several shows for a national cable network. Well, I will say nothing more than it is not DIY when the homeowner involvement is staged for the cameras and the real work is being done by construction crews!

    The Interior Design profession is struggling as the middle child between Architecture and Decorating. We are having an identity crisis, partially brought on by ourselves, but greatly exacerbated by HGTV explosion and the lack of industry regulation.

    • Anne says:

      Linda, you are most welcome! That is quite interesting that the DIY on TV is not really DIY. “Reality” shows are not really real, are they?

      And I agree that Interior Design is caught between Architecture and Decorating partially brought on by certain organizations who do themselves and the industry harm when they denigrate interior decorating, as though making an interior beautiful is so easy a caveman can do it! Millions of photos of homes for sale on the internet show just how hard it is to make a home function and look beautiful! Thanks for your comments!

  13. Eric says:

    This is a great read, and one every DIY should do before going forward in either scenario. As a manufacturer and retail showroom, we love both designers and DIYers. I think the real beauty of designers isn’t mentioned above, though, which is helping truly bring an individual or family’s vision to life. DIY can partially do that, but not nearly as well at times as having a professional who knows the right questions to ask, the experience of mistakes made in the past, and the possibilities that one might not consider that only experience can provide. There is a place for DIY, but both sides should be considered!

    Fireclay Tile

    • Anne says:

      Thanks, Eric. Yes, bringing the individual’s or family’s vision to life is what it’s all about! As I tried to express, my goal and joy in the collaboration between a DIY’er and a designer is to create synergy. From Wikipedia: A synergy is where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome. If used in a business application it means that teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person was working toward the same goal individually. There is always room for DIY because not everyone can hire out the entire project, but consulting with an interior designer is a huge step toward final results live up to the dreams of the DIY’er. Thanks for your comment! Anne

  14. Karena says:

    Anne, many people do have a great sense of style, color and scale, others not so much. Hiring an Interior Designer can save one so much time and money in the long run!

    Art by Karena

    • Anne says:

      I agree, Karena, there are many people who have loads of talent who are not interior designers, but that alone often does not guarantee the best results (see Rebecca’s post below). That’s why I suggest DIY’ers at least consult with an interior designer before undertaking their project, if only to get a second opinion. Always best to check with a specialist who has the experience to know what the pitfalls are so they can be avoided! Thanks for commenting! Anne

  15. guylaine says:

    thanks anne for the email, and for the acknowledgement.
    i appreciate the inspiration my blog post gave you — it’s really nice to know when a simple post can actually be of contribution. 🙂

    btw, you did a fantastic job in writing this post. very thorough and very true.
    even if i am a graphic designer and have quite a good eye for other forms of designs, and even though my home is beautiful and often gets complimented, i would never have the arrogance of calling myself an interior designer. i think human beings ought to learn about these distinctions.


    ps. i love that quote about beauty!

    • Anne says:

      Thank you Guylaine. This post has been percolating in my mind for quite some time but it was your post that made me put pen to paper, so to speak. And by the way, I’d never think I could do your job either!

  16. Anne says:

    I just read a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson (via 27 Ground’s Facebook page): “Love of beauty is taste. the creation of beauty is art.”

  17. lindsay says:

    LOVE THIS ARTICLE. I am a ‘real interior designer’ and I find it frustrating that DIY is the hottest thing. I worked really hard and attended the top college for interior design in the country and these DIY people are calling themselves designers. Someone tell me why? Putting contact paper on your wall as wallpaper or painting your cabinets doesn’t qualify you to give out design recommendations to people. I feel badly for the people who are following their advice. I went to school and have worked for 6 years with top firms… I know what material to use and where…

    Thanks for addressing this huge issue!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for commenting, Lindsay, glad you love the post. I think people are inspired by the TV shows and somehow get the idea that interior design is not that hard and they don’t realize otherwise until it’s too late – or they never realize their mistakes. It’s frustrating!

  18. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful post! I had an incident with a client who although hired me, felt that what she and her husband saw on HGTV was reality and did not understand why I was charging for the hours of research I did for their project. They balked at my time billing invoice (which had been discussed with them throughout the project) and pretty much demeaned my role as an Interior Designer. They were both doctors and I guess they did not recognize that I too am a professional and deserve to be paid for my time. I wonder how they would feel if I said that I dabble at being a doctor because I watch Grey’s Anatomy… It can’t be that hard right? 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Oh Michelle I think we have all been in this situation before. How would they feel if their professionalism was demeaned because we watched medical TV shows and read how to books — they’d feel the same as we do! Thanks for that 🙂 Anne

  19. Barbara Segal says:

    A beautiful, well thought out post. Thank you for putting in words what so many Designers experience and feel. The best to you!

    • Anne says:

      Barbara, I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment before. For some reason, technology hiccupped and I didn’t get a notification. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and thank you for taking the time to let me know. All the best to you too!

  20. Blayne Beacham says:

    Did you get my last comment? I am afraid I messed up 🙁

    • Anne says:

      I got it – see below, and thanks! I agree, a poor photograph makes the room look bad, no matter how good the design. Amateurs usually produce amateurish results.

  21. Blayne Beacham says:

    AMEN AMEN AMEN! So many people take their own pictures and ask me for my opinion… The first things I see are that the lines aren’t straight or it’s not exposed right. When you want a professional result, hire a professional!

  22. Marcy says:

    Bravo Anne!

    Irwin and I have this conversation often- in fact we discussed it again just the other day-
    Very often DIYing is penny wise DOLLAR foolish- and A huge part of the problem is, as you said, the unrealistic expectations people have and the greatly misunderstood fact that Design is not easy nor is it totally spontaneous, as it may appear to be on television. And, although Candice Olson walks casually through her studio and fills a basket with the design elements she plans on using for a particular project- that is not how it works off camera. Many hours and much research and sourcing is done to arrive at those selections- a fact which is mostly lost on the average viewer-

    Thank you sharing in writing what many of us in the business think and know.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks, Marcy! Oh yes, I have to roll my eyes at how “easy” interior design is on the TV (NOT!) and the myriad mistakes DIYers make that are very expensive and preventable. I just read this discussion question on LinkedIn from Olivier Peardon, pres & CEO at Brunschwig et Fils, I’ll post it here: (warning, it’s scary!)
      At the wholesale level of interior design supply, we are seeing more and more surveys and statistics revealing that the end consumer of our products (very high end home furnishings) have changed completely. Not only are the new consumers newly wealthy and thus don’t have the history or knowledge of using a decorator to do their home, but also they are empowered. These consumers want to be part of the process of their home decorating, and want to do it themselves. They want direct access to our products and decide on their own if they want to hire a professional or not.

      How do the readers of this discussion feel about decorating their multi-million dollar home? Do you use a decorator? Why not? Do you know how to find very high end home furnishings?

      No comments were posted, but it should be interesting to see what’s said.

  23. Julia @ Hooked on Houses says:

    Great post! I think some people have a natural gift for decorating and DIY, but let’s face it–a lot of us should really call the professionals when we’re faced with a big job. Good point about asking for a professional’s opinion, too. I’m not a pro, but I’ve been in the awkward position of trying to figure out how to tactfully respond in similar situations.

    P.S. I’ll be linking to this next week on my blog. Thanks!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks, Julia, I’m excited you’re linking this to your blog! There ARE a lot of people who definitely have a flair for decorating and DIY! Unfortunately most aren’t knowledgeable enough in all areas to create a cohesive, harmonious result. Or as Rebecca points out, they don’t have the network of good craftsmen and artisans – and/or they don’t know how to allocate resources. When asked what I think, I waver between being polite and wanting to tell them how it could’ve been better. Thanks for commenting! Anne

  24. wendy says:

    What a great article, and so true. I run into this all the time and always have to tell the prospective client that I can save them money in the big picture of things. Some people understand that and some don’t. I just hate being called in at the last minute for colors on a new construction and see the mistakes that could have been caught, and the client wishes they called earlier. Now the issues have to be dealt with and costing more money. I am glad that the design shows inspire people, but please seek professional help when it really is necessary.

    • Anne says:

      Wendy, I know what you mean about the last minute consultations where you get to see all the mistakes you could’ve caught. Why does it seem to be a big secret that DIY is not as easy as it’s cracked up to be? Thanks for your comment. Anne

  25. Nyla says:

    Well written and so true! As an interior designer I have been up against this type of scenario and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are those who CAN work with an Interior designer and those that CAN’T. It’s not for everyone and there are several out there who think “how hard can it be?”. I think it’s all part of letting go of some control and since homes are so personal it’s a hard thing to do for some. I can say that those that have resisted in the past but did end up coming on board and becoming clients have realized the true value and would never embark on another project, decor or full design/ build without the help of an interior designer. The world of TV as well as the internet has put us in a position to work harder, more savvy and also be completely transparent in the way we work.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne says:

      Nyla, I agree, I think DIY’ers want the control out of a misguided sense that either they fear the designer will take over and the house won’t feel like theirs, or they think hiring a designer won’t give them the feeling of satisfaction of doing it all on their own. Both of those scenarios are not true. I can believe it that the DIY’ers who have learned the hard lessons become true converts. What’s that saying about hiring yourself as a lawyer–“A man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client”? If that can be said about the legal profession, doesn’t it apply to interior design in the sense that trying to be your own interior designer is an endeavor not left to amateurs? Thanks for commenting!

  26. Dora says:

    Wow this is so true! Even though I’m a graphic designer, the above totally applies to what I do. It takes just 5 minutes and a computer to design a logo, right?! *ha*

    • Anne says:

      Hah is right! Design requires a lot of thinking and musing and it doesn’t spontaneously arise out of the depths of our creative minds, it has to be wooed. Sure inspiration can be spontaneous, but making it happen is a whole other story. Thanks for your comment Dora.

  27. StacyStyle says:

    I am a professional stylist whose work appears in magazines every month and I can certainly tell you that with all my experience, all my connections, all my work at making homes look fantastic, I could never do what a trained interior designer does on a daily basis. Sure DIY is fine in many cases, but when it comes to great design, great innovation, inventive customization, that is the work of a professional. Believe you me, I have the eye to see it and it shows.

    • Anne says:

      Stacy, you are a very talented stylist, beautiful work! Styling is a talent unto itself that requires a great eye and you have one, so it’s gratifying to hear that you don’t think you could do interior design. Well, I couldn’t do what you do either! Thanks for commenting!

  28. Tammi Le Nair says:


    What a timely article for me as I just had a call from a client asking for help on a project gone totally wrong. Unfortunately for this client, she went to a local furniture store with an idea of what she wanted but the communication just wasn’t there. They didn’t hear her and she allowed the purchases because she thought in the end that it would be pulled together by the window treatments! It wasn’t.

    Communication is so important and we have to ‘hear’ our clients loud and clear and put it together for them. I’ve found that in furniture stores in my area, they feel they have the license to design as well when all they really are, are furniture salespeople.

    Not everyone is our client and that is where the honesty comes in. And when clients ask me what I think, I always start out with the positive and compliment them on it, but I do point out what could’ve been done differently to achieve a different result when I see something that just doesn’t work and they couldn’t figure out why until I told them so. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Yes, Tammi, it’s such a shame to see such preventable mistakes – costly ones too. Some furniture stores do employ interior designers but what is their main goal? To help the client or sell furniture? I think it’s a difficult position to be in. And do they come and see the home, really get to know the client like we do? I doubt it! I just heard that one high end national furniture chain issues quotas of pillows that are of inferior quality, but their designers have to sell them regardless.

      Yes, not everyone is our client, but if they are, they do deserve our honesty. Everyone else will have to live with their mistakes. Question: if a homeowner lives in a poorly designed house but doesn’t know it’s poorly designed, is it still poorly designed? YES! A friend of mine was telling me about the awful paint color choices one couple made in their 6500SF home but they were oblivious – but their visitors aren’t!

      Maybe I’ll get up the nerve to be more honest like you, thanks for commenting! xo Anne

  29. Rebecca Deming Rumpf says:

    Anne, this is fabulous. I just had a long conversation with my favorite decorative painter about this very subject today. This doesn’t just happen with homeowners acting as their own desiger; it’s also an issue with people who think they will save money on building their custom home by being their own general contractor. And unfortunately it tends to be the most creative and artistically inclined clients who go down these paths of destruction, because they feel that they already know what they like, or because friends and family have complimented them on their taste and their talents. It’s the inattention to the secret, unglamorous business aspect of design that causes most DIY projects to falter, in my experience. Whether your building a custom home or designing an interior, professionals bring huge value in two capacities not often associated with design by amateurs: 1. Designers and builders have a network of suppliers, craftsmen and subcontractors that we have worked with over the years. We know their abilities and limitations so we know which guy (or gal) is best suited to the challenges of each project. We know they are licensed and insured, that they will show up when they say they will, do an amazing job, and respect the client’s home and possessions while they are working there. In addition, since we have ongoing professional relationships with our subs, we have a much easier time resolving any issues that may arise than a DIY homeowner who is going it solo. 2. Project management, particularly allocation of resources, is huge. HUGE! It’s so easy for the DIY homeowner to get carried away and overspend early in the project and run out of money before the end. This commonly results in barren rooms conspicuously lacking in accessories and window treatments. Maybe the homeowner underestimated how much everything was going to cost, maybe she didn’t have the foresight to even draw up a budget for the project, or maybe she had a budget but overspent in some areas due to mistakes or frivolity. A design professional will evaluate everything the homeowner wants to do, and come up with a realistic budget for accomplishing those objectives, knowing which splurges will give the most “wow” factor, where to save money without compromising the end result, and helping the client stick to their own budget. In most cases, a designer will save the client at least as much money as the cost for the designer’s services in the long run, while making the whole project a more enjoyable, less stressful, and ultimately more successful experience.

    • Anne says:

      Rebecca, you are so right, it is often the most creative and artistically inclined clients who find out the hard way that interior design is way more than they bargained for. You couldn’t have said the two main benefits to working with designers that DIY’ers just cannot know: which contractors are reliable and produce excellent work, and where to allocate the resources. Judging by all the big homes with barely any furniture and no window treatments, it’s plain to see the poor allocation of resources. People just do not have a good handle on how much things cost. Thanks for your excellent insights! xo Anne

  30. Rissi Cherie says:

    Oh, Anne! If only you could make this piece hit the 6 o’clock news, or be interviewed about your thoughts on DIY-ers & decorators by Matt and Meredith on the Today Show! It’d be such a service to both groups! Personally, I know that I have fixed two or three design disasters that occurred after the client saw “interior design projects” on HGTV and thought they knew what they were doing.

  31. Sarah says:

    Very well said Anne and valid points. I do love it when clients attempt some DIY projects though because in my experience, it leads to a great appreciation and understanding of exactly how much work it really does take to pull together a great design. I have not though ever had anyone ask me about their DIY attempts without offering their own critique and for me – and hopefully this is not bold – I have always felt comfortable stating what I like and what I would have done differently. Ouch.. does that make me a bad person? 🙂 In the end, I have found that many DIY attempts have some advantage: it expands the DIY’ers creative process and makes them more realistic about what its going to take to bring a beautiful design to fruition.

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, I agree with you completely that in attempting DIY projects, people gain a hard-earned understanding and appreciation for all that goes into the project. It’s an eye-opener! I personally love working with people who are passionate about good design and really want their space to be beautiful. The designing part to me is the most rewarding, the implementation is not the most fun part of the project (until the “reveal”!). So I’d actually love working with DIY’ers to create that synergy of design, wherein we bounce ideas off each other and come up with something better than either of us would alone. As for are you a bad person? NO WAY! If a DIY’er first offers their critique and then asks for your opinion, they’ve made it clear they really want your honest opinion and have set the stage for you to offer your professional critique. In that situation, I’d do the same thing as you. Thanks for your comments, good points!

  32. Sarah Youngblood says:

    Very well said Anne. I have struggled with this dilemma many times and searched for the right way to respond to a client who has tried to save a dollar or two the HGTV way. Thanks for writing and addressing this issue head on.

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