When designers are given ‘carte blanche’ over a project

by Patricia M. Cove
Posted 5/5/21

Normally this space is reserved to talk about design trends, styles, colors and architectural elements. These are the foundations of design. Rarely is it discussed exactly how those design projects evolve to completion.

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When designers are given ‘carte blanche’ over a project

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Normally this space is reserved to talk about design trends, styles, colors and architectural elements. These are the foundations of design. Rarely is it discussed exactly how those design projects evolve to completion, which is a very different and separate area within the design world.

Over the years, I have learned that design or architectural firms have options as to how they will approach a project, interact with the client and end up with a project that is truly “successful.” Design is often placed in the same category as art. So if you look at design in that realm, the artist’s creation is the vision, and its success is purely subjective. A painting is successful just because the artist painted it. That is usually not the case in design and architecture. Usually, the “artist” has a client to satisfy!

My approach from the very beginning was first and foremost to make the client happy. No matter what the client wanted, I was going to make that happen and I did. Was every project “successful?”

Well, let’s just say, purple walls, blue trim and a pink ceiling was not a color combination I would be using a second time. Were my clients happy? They were, for a while, until they realized that a color scheme is a “background” not the main event. And I should have been the one to guide them in a different direction. Lesson learned!

Another thing I learned along the way is that sometimes design firms are given what is known as carte blanche, defined as “being given complete freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best.” Now, here is an option I can get my arms around! A blank canvas of four walls, a ceiling, a floor and 500 square feet of total design freedom — a designer’s dream. It did not take me long to realize that Philadelphia is not New York, or Beverly Hills or Pam Beach.  Philadelphians watch their pennies.

I discovered that when I once asked a client if she planned on replacing an antique Oriental carpet that was clearly thread bare. The look of horror on her face was all I needed to realize that the carpet was not going anywhere.

Equally surprising was the realization that there are design and architectural firms who will only accept carte balance projects, or at least projects in which they are given much freedom to express their own visions and ideas. Prospective clients should know this in advance so when one of these firms is awarded a project, it becomes the total vision of the designer, and the client accepts the final outcome. Problems can arise when the client realizes this mid-way through the process, discovering that the designer has not incorporated their lifestyle, design tastes and living requirements into the final design. The project is the signature of the “starchitect.” Clients beware!

It can take a while for design firms and also potential clients to discover the most comfortable, expedient and successful design process. Those with several years under their belts have realized that the most successful projects are actually collaborations that involve first and foremost the desires of the client and equally the courage and professional guidance that an established design or architectural firm can provide. It would have taken courage for that young designer, striving to make the client happy, to say that purple walls, blue trim and a pink ceiling might not be the best way to go, but at the same time be open to all the client’s tastes and ideas. The “give and take” of the designer/client relationship is key to the success of any design project.

I always laugh at that TD Ameritrade commercial when the grimacing client stands at the entrance of an all-white room with two white balls as chairs as his decorator beams with pride.

There certainly should have been more collaboration on that project, but in the meantime, I am still waiting for that “carte blanche” phone call! Any takers?

Patricia M. Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill. She can be reached through her web site: patriciacove.com.

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