Are clients more difficult today than they used to be? “In this new world, particularly of social media, a lot of people feel as though they are a designer, and I think that sometimes gets in the way when you’re working with a client,” says designer Sheila Bridges in this week’s episode of the Chairish Podcast. “Sometimes they think they can do our job.” For this episode, host Michael Boodro is joined by Bridges, along with two other renowned designers, Richard Mishaan and Josh Greene, to examine how the relationship between client and designer has changed in the era of social media, and how designers can successfully work with challenging clients.
In this episode, we find out how to deal with difficult clients and more:
- Challenges of working with clients
- What ignited a shift in client behavior
- Establishing boundaries and understanding expectations
- Paying due diligence
- Red flags to watch out for
- Photography agreements
- Client relation best practices
Get to know our high-profile guests:
Named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN and Time Magazine, Sheila Bridges founded her own interior design firm, Sheila Bridges Design, in 1994. She recently launched her own product line originally based in French toile wallcoverings — called Toile de Jouy — that has expanded to include a variety of good home goods. Toile de Jouy motifs challenge some of the stereotypes about the African-American experience. Her work is embellished with thoughtful pieces and colors, and has landed her on the Architectural Digest 100 and Elle Decor’s A-List from 2011 to 2019.
Owner of Richard Mishaan Design, Richard Mishaan holds more than three decades of experience in design, combining his knowledge of fashion, architecture, and interior design. He has crafted style ranging from urban to beachside in his distinctly layered and luxe, colorful style.
One year ago, Josh Greene founded his own firm, Josh Greene Design, that focuses on creating stylish environments balancing functionality, warmth, and comfort. He has over 15 years of design experience and has been featured on publications such as the New York Times, Architectural Digest, and House Beautiful.
Discover the work of our marvelous guests, and find more tips:
- Tour Sheila’s colorful home in Reykjavík via The Cut
- Inside Richard’s chic space in New York via Architectural Digest
- Check out this beach house from Josh and his former partner via Architectural Digest
- More tips for handling challenging clients via Kathy Kuo
Connect with us on Instagram:
- Chairish: @chairishco
- Michael Boodro: @michaelboodro
- Sheila Bridges: @harlemtoilegirl
- Richard Mishaan: @richardmishaan
- Josh Greene: @joshgreenedesign
Lead photo by Chris Mottalini / Design by Sheila Bridges
READ AND LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE EPISODE:
Michael Boodro 0:00
This is a Chairish podcast and I’m your host Michael Boodro. Today we’re tackling a topic crucial to every design project. The client. Clients are more informed and design savvy than ever. But they’re also more demanding and difficult. And if so, how do you navigate their demands? I’m excited to sit down with three very successful and experienced designers who are with us today to discuss how they handle clients. I’m happy to have Sheila Bridges whose tailored yet colorful work on townhouses, penthouses and country houses has won her acclaim and a place on both the AD 100 and Elle Decor A list. Welcome Sheila. I’d also like to introduce Richard Mishaan, who for more than three decades has crafted everything from urban areas, to beachside barns and his distinctly layered blocks and colorful style. He’s also on every top designer list you can imagine. So glad you’re joining us today, Richard. And I’m so pleased to have Josh Greene, who after a five year partnership at Hernandez Greene founded his solo firm a year ago. He executes clean lines, yet warm and livable spaces for a new generation of design lovers. Thanks for being here, Josh.
Josh Greene 1:31
Thanks for having me.
Michael Boodro 1:32
The idea of this has been prompted by so many designers telling me that they feel that clients have become more difficult. And I’m not always sure what that means. But it’s actually something Sheila and I had talked about as well. So I’m so happy she’s here today with us. Because I would like to get the take from you guys. Is that true? Or is it a myth? I mean, I do think clients are more informed via the internet and social media. But are they more difficult? So Sheila, since you inspired this whole thing, I’m going to start with you.
Sheila Bridges 2:01
I think it’s sort of a double edged sword. I think clients are way more informed than they’ve ever been before, thanks to television shows about design, the internet, and shopping online. So I think that part of it is actually great. But I think in this new world, particularly of social media, a lot of people feel as though they’re a designer. And I think that sometimes gets in the way when you’re working with a client because they have such access to design, they can read so much information, and it’s right at their fingertips. I think sometimes they think that they can do our job.
Michael Boodro 2:47
Richard, how do you feel? You’ve worked with all kinds of clients on all kinds of projects. So have you noticed a shift over your career?
Richard Mishaan 2:54
Well, I agree with what Sheila is saying. And what’s interesting is, it’s time now to prompt your client as to when certain phases in a project are over. So let’s say for example, we have to select stone and millwork choices and things of that kind. So you have to say to them, okay, no more inspiration shots. No, don’t bring me anything more. We have to wrap this up and say now we’re going to make choices in furniture and fabrics and other things. And you’ve got to move them along, because they do come back. And they think we have all the time in the world and we don’t. So you have to direct them in not being difficult.
Michael Boodro 3:41
I mean, there are studies, psychological studies, on people in the supermarket. Too many choices freezes people. They don’t know what to do with it and it may be better to offer them three brands of pasta, for example. Or maybe it’s better to have five possible stone surfaces and not 20.
Sheila Bridges 3:56
I think that’s part of the challenge with the internet in particular. I mean, it used to be that you would meet with a client and let’s say they were looking for a chandelier for their dining room. Maybe we would present five amazing chandeliers, but we’ve looked at, you know, 100 chandeliers to get to those five, and now they have access to 1000s and 1000s of images of chandeliers. Whether it’s, you know, things that they see on Pinterest and things that are inspirational, as well as just, shopping all night or staring at the computer screen looking at sites like Chairish or wherever. Insomnia mixed with wine is a very, very dangerous thing in the evening. And so I think, because of that they have the expectation that you’re going to be presenting and then presenting and then presenting and that there’s always something better. Maybe one more chandelier. So I think for me, that’s really been the challenge.
Michael Boodro 4:55
Well, they say that Instagram has inspired FOMO, fear of missing out, and I think it applies to design as well. Now, Josh, you grew up with the internet and social media and stuff, which I did not. So how does that shape your clients and their expectations of you?
Josh Greene 5:10
So I’m one of these people. And we’re like a small group of people where I’m like, half analog, half digital. So we were just kind of getting cell phones in high school. And I didn’t get my first email address until I went to college. So I was, like, I did grow up. As I was younger, you know, I didn’t have all of these things. And, I’ve been around working in the industry for probably 15-16 years, but really on my own in the last 5-6 years. So I don’t really have a long term point of view on how clients got more difficult. But certainly, some relationships are easier than others, I would say. And going back to the other point, in terms of presenting options, I sometimes actually think that I have too many options. But I do find that if I do have a lot of options, I’d rather have more. And then we work together to edit down. And I usually go through that process. I can sort of guide them to what I think is the right decision.
Michael Boodro 6:19
So my other question is, we’re living in a gilded age. There’s a lot of very high end clients out there. And I’m assuming you all have had some contact with them. I know most designers want to get clients with bigger budgets. Of course, that’s a wonderful dream. But my question is, I’ve had designers say to me, that the wealthier people are now the more obnoxious they can be. And I don’t mean to be rude about it. But is that the case? Now, Richard, what do you think? You don’t have to name names.
Richard Mishaan 6:47
I’m not naming names. So what’s interesting is when people bring me photographs of certain projects, and they’ll be in magazines and things like that, it’s funny, in a sense. It doesn’t matter how much money they have or not have. It’s more, what are we identifying here? What are you looking at? Because show me a photograph and I could be thinking, are we talking about these moldings? Are we talking about chairs? Do we have three Warhols and George Condo paintings? Is that what we’re looking at here? Because that does make it so exciting. But if they don’t, again, you have to bring clarity to what it is that their expectations are and what they’re responding to. Where are we going with this entire thing? The other thing too, is, my projects really end up looking like a combination of things. I’ve worked with so many people who collect so many things and it’s more up to me to put together what they have, than to go out and shop. And so it’s not about, again, how much they’re spending, but it’s more editing down and putting back together. More is not necessarily more, unless it’s really good, right?
Michael Boodro 8:09
That’s rare. That’s rare. So the other question I wanted to really ask about is, if there’s a generational difference, I mean, maybe Josh, you can maybe answer this. Do those clients who have grown up on the Internet and are used to this, do they expect more to see more things and to be shown more things? Are they less willing to commit? It’s funny,
Josh Greene 8:31
It’s funny. I would say, even my clients are a little bit older, definitely come to the table with things that they have seen and maybe just not as much, or maybe not as often.
Michael Boodro 8:41
Well, when I grew up, you know, people were advised to tear the pages out of magazines and now they create Pinterest boards. But I do think that would be a useful tool for a designer to have a sense.
Josh Greene 8:50
Yeah, I think it is. I think it’s really good to start out at the beginning of a project to have somebody who has been sort of active on Pinterest, or even if they’re like, I really like these sorts of things. It is helpful. It gives you like, okay, well, I guess I know, kind of where we’re going. And then you can take that information and put your spin on it and expand upon it and all of that. But, you know, it kind of depends. Some clients that I’ve had are much more constantly sending things on Chairish or anywhere online, you know, or companies where you can find these amazing pieces. So, basically, it is the personality of who that person is. If they have a lot of time, and they want to be online, and then want to look at furniture and are obsessive and they like to hunt, then they’re going to be the ones that are sending you more things. So it just depends, I think, on their personality. I don’t know if that is necessarily an age but I would say it’s probably people more around my age like you know, 30s and 40s that are pretty active.
Michael Boodro 9:49
Right. Right. And I think you know, it’s around them. Everybody’s on their phones all the time for that age group and I think it’s, again, fear of missing out. But you brought up a great point that people give you lots and lots of ideas and send you lots of images. It used to be when I, you know, we won’t say how many decades ago when I was young, the role of the designer was somewhat different. I mean, I remember reading about designers who were actually social arbiters for their clients. They would show them how to entertain and how to live. I remember reading one crazy woman who wouldn’t allow the cleaning lady to move the ashtrays once the designer had placed them. There was that much of an acknowledgement of the role of the designer. And, you know, many of them became walkers, which thank God who doesn’t exist anymore, or they would get them onto boards of museums. So obviously, that has all changed. But it seems now that in a way, the pendulum has swung the other direction, where designers are expected to be on call all the time, or getting emails all the time. Do you have that problem with your clients? Richard, why don’t we start with you?
Richard Mishaan 10:52
Yeah, so people are constantly looking, especially after hours. That’s when they have their iPad, and they’re looking at things. And they’ll call me and they’ll say, oh, you know, there’s a chair that’s being auctioned in London, Phillips, do you mind looking at it? Or suddenly, I’m getting texts at dinner with chandeliers and all these things from auction two days later, and I’m kind of thinking, oh, my God, we’ve already selected them.
Josh Green e 11:21
Or I’ve gotten emails or texts that said, Hey, I bought this.
Richard Mishaan 11:29
Oh, yeah. Well, you know what? That’s in their defense. So collectors don’t think, where’s this going? They just buy it, and then later, they’ll find a place for it. Yeah. But a lot of it goes to storage, too. But it’s more that we are on 24/7.
Josh Greene 11:45
I don’t mind when they, as long as it’s not like, sort of changing the essential like direction of where you’re going as a team, then I think it’s fine. Sometimes it’s fun. It’s like, oh, well, that was actually awesome. And it was one less thing I had to find.
Michael Boodro 11:59
Right. Right. But, Sheila, how do you feel about this? Because to me, it could tip over the line to a lack of respect. Yeah, I
Sheila Bridges 12:05
Yeah, I think sometimes it does tip over the line. I think it’s about sort of the access now that people have, you know. Before you would have meetings with a client. You’d have dialogue with them and meet with them in person and also have conversations, and there would be correspondence in terms of the administrative task of actually getting these things done. But now there’s just constant communication. So I might get several texts from a client, and then several emails from the client, you know, throughout the course of the day, and also on the weekend and the evenings. So that’s what I mean, there’s just more access because of the fact that we are on the grid sort of 24/7.
Michael Boodro 12:47
If I have access to Chairish, why don’t I have access to my designer? Exactly. So how do you navigate that? I mean, do you have meetings at the beginning with your client, where you try and set parameters, whether they obey them or not?
Sheila Bridges 12:58
I don’t think I ever tried to sort of set parameters. I think it is important, however, to kind of establish some boundaries kind of early on in the job. So my friends always tease me and call me a first responder, because I usually respond to them so quickly. I am the person at 5 am, who gets right back to you. But actually, it’s again, double edged. I mean, I think about, you know, what happened to the first responders, you know. You think about the World Trade Center and so I’ve actually sort of taken a step back from that. And so now, if clients text me on the weekends, a lot of times, I really will wait until Monday morning. I might answer on my own because I can’t help myself, because that’s just my nature. I might put it in my draft folder. But I do try to establish some of those boundaries. If I get, you know, texts and emails on Christmas morning that aren’t really about wishing me a Merry Christmas, but they’re more about, you know, that their lampshade is crooked, I mean, those things to me just aren’t priorities. And I think that they can wait. So I think it’s up to every individual designer to sort of establish boundaries and parameters within their own lives that work for them.
Josh Greene 14:12
I think there’s something about boundaries in any relationship that you have. You have to establish healthy boundaries, if and especially when things are going over the line. I think, you know, I would say we all, as designers, we’re in a service business and we want to please people and we want to make things as best as we can for them and their homes. But there is something to be said about remembering you have to protect yourself and you have to not let it affect you so much.
Michael Boodro 14:50
But those must be difficult conversations. On occasion has that ever backfired on you when clients really gotten angry with you? I mean, I’d love to hear from any of you about that.
Josh Greene 14:58
No, because they couldn’t get a hold of me?
Michael Boodro 15:01
Well, you say, you know, listen, you’ve been bugging me with too many emails, you gotta back off and give me some time. Oh, I’ve
Josh Greene 15:07
Oh, I’ve never said that to a client but what you do is establish the boundaries. You just maybe say Oh, hey, thanks for the email, I’ll get back to you on Monday. If they’re contacting you over the weekend, there are things you can do that are still polite. So letting them know that you hear them, but saying, like, look, I’m not on at your beck and call. But then also if they are at an auction, or if they’re at a flea market, and like, what do you think of that? Usually, then it’s like, yeah.
Richard Mishaan 15:35
There’s something interesting about them saying, should I buy this? Do you like this? You could say, yes, I love that. But sometimes they’ll send me bathroom fittings, and I’m like, wait, you know, this changes everything. So what I say is, that’s a long discussion and we’re meeting Thursday so let’s save it for then, And they don’t understand how it interacts with every other thing in the bathroom. Right?
Michael Boodro 15:58
Right and or the fact that you can order and you don’t need to grab it off the shelf.
Richard Mishaan 16:03
But for example, they have a shower that has a rain shower, and it has two showers on each side, and it has handheld showers. So Axor makes these components that have three controllers. Now, other companies don’t interact with Axor or so it’s like, I can’t explain this to you right now and nor do I want to. So it’s kind of like we’ve done the research. I don’t want to get into it anyway. So I’ll just say, Thursday, we’re going to meet.
Michael Boodro 16:31
And people in they’re generally fine with that?
Richard Mishaan 16:34
Sheila Bridges 16:38
I think so for the most part.
Michael Boodro 16:41
I am sure you’ve all had bad clients. I mean, we’ve all had bad relationships. I’m sure you’ve had bad clients. And I guess another trick to navigating that is to recognize bad clients early on. And I think that’s probably something that you learn as you go.
Josh Greene 16:59
I wish there was a way to know and I don’t think there’s a way to know. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve only had two clients that I had to part ways from, and nothing recently. And I think, if it’s so clear, especially when you know you’ve had a great client, when you have somebody who’s abusive, or who is demeaning, or disrespectful, to you or your team.
Michael Boodro 17:22
Yeah, the team is really important. If they’re not nice to the team, and nice to me, that’s horrible.
Josh Greene 17:27
Yeah, right. I think then, once you’ve had, you know, great clients and great relationships, and then you have sort of a bad apple, you can identify it more quickly. The one that I’m thinking of was a long time ago, and I had worked with them before. And then it turned out well. And it was a smaller thing. So it was like when they came around again, a bunch of time had passed. And I thought, you know what, we know how to work together, it’ll be fine. And then we started working together. And then very quickly, it was like, this is even worse, and it was surprising. And so before we ordered anything, I cut ties, because I was like, they had a big proposal summary and I was like, if we place all these orders, then we’re in it. This is the time we have to stop. And so, I made that decision.
Michael Boodro 19:03
Sheila, has that ever happened to you?
Sheila Bridges 19:05
Yeah, I think so. I guess there are different types of, you know, if we’re going to say bad clients. Sometimes I feel as though I’m thrust in the middle of a marriage. You know, we definitely all sort of play psychologists. And so I think that sometimes those have been some of the clients that I’ve let go of over the years, that they’ve sort of put me in the middle, when they can’t really agree on things and it speaks to more than just their home. I just don’t like to be put in that kind of a situation with sort of back and forth with the husband saying one thing and the wife and so I think in those instances I’ve sort of withdrawn. I think maybe this is one of those things that just you know, you get more experienced with and the more you meet with people, but I think you know, as they’re interviewing you, you should be interviewing them. And there are a lot of things that appear, you know, right at the beginning of a job if, if we have a standard letter of agreement, it’s not that complicated. And I think that my prices are fair and they’re certainly within the industry standard. But if you try to over negotiate with me about my fees, and just want to beat me down about what my hourly rate is, and then about this, and about reimbursement goals, and how about this, and that and everything I tend to start to bristle a little bit and feel as though I’m not really sure that this is somebody who I am going to have a long term relationship with. Many of my clients, I’ve done, you know, one, two, three even four of their homes. And if at the beginning of a job, you can tell and see that someone is not really looking to have a long term relationship with you and they just want you to help facilitate and make purchases and get things done. So, you know, I think you just sort of have to pay attention to those cues. But usually they’re there.
Josh Greene 21:11
I think a big red flag is in that initial contact that a potential client makes with you. If they ever phrase it as, oh, you know what, I just need a little help. Then you’re like, nope, they don’t. Then they’re too insecure to not know what they don’t know.
Michael Boodro 21:29
Richard, have you ever had this happen?
Richard Mishaan 21:29
Oh, my God, one of the interesting things is, when they beat down your team, you have to part ways in the end, because you can’t do everything.
Michael Boodro 21:45
Well, also, it’s very hard when you’re starting out. And like so many designers, it’s like, I think people actually take advantage of that sometimes.
Sheila Bridges 21:53
I mean, you’re not always or at least, I’ll speak for myself, I’m not always in a position I love. I love to walk away if I’m in a leveraged position financially and feel like I can do this if it’s a very, very difficult client. But there’s also times and certainly in my career, where I couldn’t walk away where I really needed that job. And so you just have to suck it up, you know. But it’s not ideal, obviously, if they’re excessively difficult.
Michael Boodro 22:20
Just to help other designers who are listening, are there any red flags? Like you raised a good one, Josh, but are there any other red flags that designers should look for? And if they can afford to, should they walk away at the beginning?
Richard Mishaan 22:31
You know, interestingly, for a huge developer that I worked for, I have only had one bad situation in my life, which was really bad. And the whole city knew about this. So everybody was on my site, and everybody said, what can I do to help you? And I said, I don’t know, nothing, I gotta get through this. But he said, let me teach you a lesson. He said, when I do my deals, I do more due diligence on who I’m getting involved with than on the deal. Did you google this person before? Did you do research on who he was? And I was like, no, I didn’t. And it was all on the Internet. He had sued everybody he had in his life. And I thought, Oh, my God.
Michael Boodro 23:20
Well, it’s just like, the clients have access to the internet but so do the designers now.
Josh Greene 23:27
Yeah, I think you know, it’s funny. Like, also, I think, just really, it’s hard if you need the work, or if you want to produce a good project, and you want to do it, it’s hard to walk away when you do see these red flags. Like, if you find something on the internet that says that there were stories about somebody in the paper, about bad behavior, or maybe somebody’s bad behavior in their family. I had a client who was the child of somebody who was known to be publicly very abusive, and I thought, oh, well, the child’s charming, like, they’ll be different. And that didn’t turn out to be the case. But I also think what Sheila said, when they’re really beating you down, and they’re really nitpicking your agreement – I mean, I’ve seen a lot of different designers agreements, they’re really not that different. So if there’s somebody who’s like, really nitpicking it, then definitely a red flag.
One more thing. If they had been working with a previous designer, and then they’re not working with that designer anymore, I would say more than likely that they are the problem and not the designer. I’ve certainly called other designers, and if that was the case, like I would be fine if somebody called me, you know.
Michael Boodro 24:53
I wanted to ask you a more practical issue, which has to do with photography and imagery. I mean, I know when I was editor of Elle Decor, a lot of people wanted to be anonymous, but then there were a lot of designers who had clients who wouldn’t let any photography be taken at all. And, you know, one of the ways I mean, magazines aren’t as important as they used to be, but in social media, Instagram, and all of that. So it seemed to me that was a growing problem for the designers who wanted to have their work seen and evaluated and maybe be hired by new clients. Do you put that in your contracts? How do you deal with the issue of photography and social media?
Josh Greene 25:28
It’s a line item in my agreement, that I have the rights to photograph it and use it for promotional purposes.
Michael Boodro 25:34
And people don’t cross that off?
Josh Greene 25:37
No. But I also think, though, that let’s say there was a situation where a client really didn’t want it, it’s not like, I’m going to show up with my contract in hand like, with a photographer at the door, you know, try and being like, well, it is in here.
Richard Mishaan 25:59
Well, more than that, there was one incident where we had this client, and we shot the house, and she was supposed to show up for the portrait. And then she had the husband called the magazine and the editor in chief that happened to be Michael Boodro, and threatened to sue, do you remember that?
Michael Boodro 26:19
Josh Greene 26:21
She didn’t want to be photographed?
Richard Mishaan 26:23
No, she wanted to be photographed and she had them come back a second time. And they said no, because of continuity, and the trees will be different. And she said, we could Photoshop it. And then she was suddenly creative directing the magazine. I mean, it was like, yeah, who are you? And then at the end, it didn’t go well.
Michael Boodro 26:44
Sheila, what about you?
Sheila Bridges 26:47
For me, I think, you know, for the majority of my career, I think most of the clients I got and the work that I got, I really got from having those images seen in magazines. And so, I would say in the last decade, it’s gotten harder and harder, because a lot of our clients want us to sort of guarantee anonymity if in fact, they even are willing to publish, or let us even photograph. And even though it’s in my contracts, I think it’s sort of stated that, ultimately, they have the final sort of word on tha with their permission. We want the rights certainly, if nothing else to include in our professional portfolio. So you want to be able to do that. But remember, before, it wasn’t a digital platform. So portfolios were actually these physical books, which you sent out to people to potential clients and, you know, prayed that they would come back to you without coffee stains because they were so expensive to produce. So I think it’s gotten challenging, you know, also, because I might put a photograph out there and then someone else picks it up, and then puts it on Pinterest. And first of all, I have an agreement with the photographer, they’ve been paid. And so they’re using it out of context, you know. I think it just has created some challenges, at least certainly, for me. And it’s hard if the clients don’t want to publish, because I think, you know, how else do people see your work and know what you’re doing. And it’s gotten to the point some years where people will run into me at a design function and say, so what are you doing? I say, I’m designing and they say oh, I haven’t seen anything of yours lately. And that’s because, you know, we just can’t sometimes get that clientele, but they also are people who are very, very private. And I think particularly after the recession, there are a lot of people with a lot of money. But times have changed. A lot of people don’t want people to know that they have as much money as they have. And that’s why they don’t. That’s why they want you to guarantee anonymity, and that’s why people don’t want to be in the magazines.
Josh Greene 28:57
I think you have to have the images. I don’t know. I mean, I feel you have to and it would be like having your arm tied behind your back.
Michael Boodro 29:03
Yeah, it’s like working in the dark in a way. I mean, like you said, your friends don’t know and your colleagues don’t know what you’re working on. I think it’s very hard.
Josh Greene 29:11
I think today, it’s really a requirement to be putting out a lot of content, I think to get more eyeballs on your work. So you really need the assets to be able to do that.
Michael Boodro 29:21
Right. So I wanted to switch this around. Let’s talk about good clients for a second. Because in the old days, as I said, I’m an old person. You know, there were many designers who had very close relationships with their clients. I’m sure you still do have some and you know, you would do several projects with them and they used to take them shopping to Paris or London or you know, antique fairs or whatever. Does that still happen? Is there still that kind of friendly respect with clients?
Josh Greene 29:47
Probably not in the way that, what do you call it like you’re not their sponsor or but you’re like their patron. You know, like, I think there was like this whole idea of an Upper East Side decorator hat. I mean, I, you know how to project that, you know, installed this last year and we met in Paris and did the flea markets, they were there for their own business and I flew over and we did that. And then I’ve gone other times to shop for things, and I kind of love the idea of a client being more game for it. I have a client whose husband did a lot of work in London, and I was sort of like, if you ever want to go to London, like I’ll meet you there. Because I think it’d be fun for them.
Michael Boodro 30:32
I think it’d be very educational. And maybe it’s one thing to go online and see a lot of stuff on chairs, but to actually physically see things. I mean, if I could afford a designer, whatever, I would want to take them to the flea market in Paris or go to London to do antique fairs and things like that. But does that still happen with you, Sheila?
Sheila Bridges 30:49
No, not so much. I mean, I’ll purchase those things, of course, in Europe, but you know, it’s a lot of texting and sending emails and FaceTime and sort of presenting things that way. But back in the day, I would go over to Paris, and we did that long weekend that all the designers did. And we’d fill up containers and ship them and come home and you know, clients have these really individual, unique, one of a kind things that no one else had. Which to me, that’s the fun part of our jobs, sort of the thrill of the chase, and, you know, sort of searching for these really unique and interesting things. You know, I don’t want my projects to look like every other designer’s project. And the way that you do that is by sourcing from all over the world. And I don’t mean by buying things online, but physically going and seeing these things. And I think clients who are open to sort of being educated about things, I mean, those are kind of, to me, the best clients because they want to learn. And if you are interested in art history, or the history of decorative arts or any of these things, and you travel to places like Italy, or to London or to Paris, and there’s just so much there, then it’s kind of hard not to get excited about it.
Michael Boodro 32:14
Right. What about your clients, Richard?
Richard Mishaan 32:16
So I do give him a heads up and I’ll say I’m going to these fairs, and I’m going to these things and they’ll meet me at certain things or like I flew down to Miami Design. We went to Stoneyard. Then we went there, then we did the whole day. And they love it. And there’ll be a show, let’s say for example, Paul Kasmin, they will have Benetti. And I’m like, you need to go see this, you need to go see this. Or we will meet at the Armory. But it’s different in a sense, because they themselves love it as well. And so the clients go and do those things. And then they’ll refer me to things or I’ll give them lists. I don’t necessarily have to go with them. They’ll go like, you’re going to Paris and I want you to go see so and so and and look for this lighting fixture. It’s kind of like leading the witness button there.
Sheila Bridges 33:14
It is like, do you think the more that the client participates in a project, the better it is in the end, not only does it sort of look better, but they feel like it’s their own, you know. It’s a more authentic project, than just going out and blindly shopping for somebody and getting approval on these things. You know, I just think when the clients are actually involved in choosing things, you know, on their own, whether it is that they shop at night, and they buy something and then you get an email, oh, I bought this, where do we how do we fit this in? I mean, you know, you want the project ultimately to be reflective of them and not a view.
Josh Greene 33:53
Speaking of good clients, like I recently had two clients in LA and when we started, there were a couple of days where it’d be like, alright, we’re gonna meet. You know, they live very on the west side and then it’s like, okay, we’re going to eat, we’re going to meet, we’re going to shop, we’re going to hit all the LA places. And halfway through, you know their eyes are bloodshot, and they’re like, oh my God, this is a lot.
Michael Boodro 34:18
Like my husband, we go to a flea market and a few seconds go by, and he says there’s nothing in here, let’s go and like, we haven’t even looked.
Josh Greene 34:25
So I think, and then what I’ll do in a place like that is, you know what I found actually more effective was to let me go do their shopping. Because then the other thing is, they’re like, oh, they gotta get back by you know, back to Santa Monica by X amount of time to pick up the kids from school, or the nanny gets off or, or whatever. And I work with a lot of families that are maybe 40s and 50s. And you know, 30s, 40s, 50s and they have young kids and their active lives and it’s like chaos. So I think they love it when I will kind of pre shop for them. I bring things for approval to the house, and I think that is a great way to do it. And then you’re like, oh, this looks amazing. And then they love it. It’s there. It’s done. You can check it off the list.
Michael Boodro 35:10
Well, here’s another flip side of that. How many of your clients now, because everything is, you know, overnight delivery, free shipping and all this stuff. Is there still a client who’s willing to wait to understand the importance of custom? Or is it you know, what I call the rest of the hardware factor? You know, why do I have to wait 16 weeks for the sofa? Richard, you’re rolling your eyes.
Richard Mishaan 35:37
Now, you know, my office is a mix. And I won’t say that I don’t buy anything at certain places, I find it’s the opposite. I find that we get so complicated. And that sometimes it would be easier to just go out and buy something pre-made. But we don’t do that. However, in essence, people have to understand that some of the artisanal things take time. Some of the best things I own are our clients who actually had no patience and demanded their money back and so I have a dining table that’s all hand carved and that’s amazing that I’ve seen in photographs and I have things from Thomas Boog and he disappeared. He went to do you know the shell incrustation for Mrs. David Vial’s south of France house. And then these lamps never came, and we had returned the money. Now I think people have more of an appreciation, because there are so many fairs, like the salon, and all these things. And people would become more accustomed to realizing that there are very few of them.
Michael Boodro 36:55
Right. And they’re probably in shock as well, because that stuff is not cheap.
Sheila Bridges 37:02
It depends on the client. You know, yesterday, a client chose a carpet. It was, you know, hand knotted silk, made in Nepal, carpet from Stark Carpet. And, you know, we found out the price. And it was, of course, expensive. And the lead time was seven months. And she said, fine, I think because she really understands what it is and appreciates the quality. But then I have, you know, other clients who will not wait seven months for a carpet and they want me to search online and find something that is readily available. It’s just, you know, it really depends on the client.
Josh Greene 37:41
I think it also depends on the type of project. There’s a lot of new construction in the city. So if somebody buys one of these new condos, and all they have to do is start decorating, you know, they probably don’t want to wait 12 months for, you know, a crazy custom rug. But if you’re doing a new build, for example, in the Hamptons, then you know you have the time as long as you have to make the decision and get it ordered.
Michael Boodro 38:06
Not everything is equally important to every person, you know.
Richard Mishaan 38:12
Not only that, you know, there are certain items in certain projects that people just never give you the time to concentrate on. Or they don’t make the decision. And when I had Homer, and when all of the shops in the city that’ll actually sell stuff off the shelves. Because they never made the decision on that side table, or that, you know, desk chair or whatever else. And then they come in and they want to borrow?
Michael Boodro 38:43
You know, when I was editor of Elle Decor, people would say to me and designers would come up to me and say, what are you looking for? What are you looking for? And you know, at first I didn’t know how to answer that. I just, you know, in terms of publishing, yeah, what projects did I want to see in terms of publishing them? And finally, I said, okay, what I want to see is when you get a great client. That’s what I said. I don’t want to see your ordinary projects that you’ve you know, you do a beautiful job. And you know, I could only publish 50 projects a year really. So I said when you have a client that you’re excited about who collaborates with you, you can be educated. You know, we always say designers have to educate, but some people don’t want to be educated. They’re just not interested. Yeah. So that’s what I said, when you have a great client, that’s a project I want to see. And I think that makes all the difference.
Richard Mishaan 39:38
But not every client is a great client. Something that’s interesting is that 99% of our clients are good clients.
Michael Boodro 39:43
You are very lucky, Richard.
Sheila Bridges 39:48
It’s rare. I mean, it doesn’t happen. You know, we’re here in the room talking about it. That’s the topic but generally speaking, yeah, I think most clients are good clients.
Michael Boodro 39:59
Yeah, sure. Josh?
Josh Greene 40:00
Yeah, for sure. And also like, you know, it’s even your clients that you’re close to, whether you’re friends with, they have their moments in the same way that you have your moment.
Michael Boodro 40:07
A volatile relationship. Absolutely. We all have our bad days, right? And is there any one trick that you employ or would consider employing if you had a client who was sort of difficult but not so horrendous that you want to ditch the project? Is there a way that you can sort of guide that client to be a better client?
Richard Mishaan 40:25
You know, I don’t know if they will become better clients. But something that I find interesting is a lot of people traveled so much now that they come back with ideas and they’ll say, oh, my God, we just stayed at this hotel. And I really love the way they did the bathroom. And what you do with the design meeting, is you look at the manager on their project. And you kind of look at them in a way where it’s like, don’t even write this down. But let’s pretend we’re going to look.
Michael Boodro 40:53
You gotta learn, you listen, things die.
Richard Mishaan 40:56
You listen, but you don’t. Next time they come, they can’t even remember what they said. So it is kind of like prioritizing really what’s important.
Sheila Bridges 41:04
No, I agree with Richard, I think, you know, people just like to be heard. And I do think it’s really important. To be a good designer, I think you have to be a good listener. And you know, sometimes they will sort of self correct, you know. They might have gone to Greece. And then suddenly they want everything whitewashed and blue. And then, and then they realize, you know what this is out of context, this does not really work in my apartment on Park Avenue, or whatever it is. But I think they just want you to listen and not be dismissive of their ideas.
Josh Greene 41:40
Yeah, I always say you have to let your clients win, you know, periodically. Because sometimes, you know, they have an idea. And I imagine yourself, like, if somebody, you were doing something and spending a lot of money and a lot of time and had a lot of emotion around it, and somebody consistently kept telling you no, or like, no, that’s not right. So I think you have to take the things that they bring to the table, and, and make it work. And sometimes I’ve been really surprised at how that actually is the thing. I would have never picked it but we use some old side tables that they had. And it was like, you know what, at least we’ll have them you know. If I don’t like them, or if they’re not right when we move in, the client will see. And then we can shop for the right ones. But in the end it actually looks great. That sparks creativity. And so I think too, I think you have to be open and polite and listen and you know, try and make it as fun and positive as you can.
Michael Boodro 42:34
Right. Okay, well, I want to thank my very distinguished guests, Sheila Bridges, Richard Mishaan, and Josh Greene, and I hope that all of your clients are good ones. Thanks.