The relationship between designer and client is crucial to the success of any project. But how do you know if the chemistry is right? Is there any way to tell if the client/designer matchup will work—or if this is the wrong client for you? Designers Susan Zises Green and Joy Moyler draw on their decades of success to share tips about how to size up clients during initial interviews, what to look and listen for, when to bring up the delicate subject of budgets, how to insure respect, and why you might want to be careful about turning clients into friends.

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Michael Boodro  00:02

Like any close relationship, the client designer connection can be fraught. The designer is charged with making the client’s dream home into reality. And the process, which can last years, is rife with pitfalls. From minor misunderstandings, to major delays, to blown budgets. It’s an intimate and personal collaboration. Yet it is also a business relationship. And personalities, personal tastes, even personal issues all come into play. 

Sometimes it seems a minor miracle that any design project arrives at a successful completion. So is there any way to tell early on if the client designer matchup will be successful? Can you predict in the first or second meeting if successes are in store? Or that this is the wrong client for you? Are there signals you should be picking up? What should you be asking? And what should you be listening for? I’m lucky to have with me two designers who have navigated this complex territory for years, and whose many repeat clients testify not only to their skills as designers, but to their ability to handle complex human interactions. 

First is Susan Zises Green, who for more than 35 years has been creating classic interiors filled with fine antiques and contemporary craftsmanship in Manhattan, the Hamptons, Palm Beach and Nantucket, where she has a home. Her beautifully appointed rooms merge tradition with warmth and grace, and are always supremely comfortable. Her work has been featured in every major design magazine, and she has participated in the Kipp’s Bay showhouse eight times. Welcome, Susan.

Susan Zises Green  02:02

Thank you, Michael. I’m delighted to be here with you.

Michael Boodro  02:05

We are also fortunate to have with us Joy Moyler, whose background includes stints working with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Thierry Despont, and Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani, where she was the head designer of the Armani international design studio. So it’s not surprising that her work is infused with the love of fashion and history. She has adapted both traditional and contemporary interiors, and all her work is infused with details and vibrant color and addition to residences across the country. She’s working on a golf resort outside Moscow and a seaside Villa in Portofino. Hello, joy.

Joy Moyler  02:39

Hello, Michael, thank you for having me. Always a pleasure to hear your voice.

Michael Boodro  02:44

So I wanted to get a sense from each of you. I mean, you’re both at very illustrious points in your career. But I want you to think back to early days when I think it’s probably more likely to happen. But either one of you had a client disaster like have you ever fired a client? Have you ever had a client fire you? Susan and why don’t we start with you?

Susan Zises Green  03:05

That’s a very fascinating question. It’s sort of like tumbleweed in my brain going backwards. So the first part of your question was, did I ever have a client fire me? I think that was the first. I had one client fire me was 35 years ago. I had several employees. I had a very, very nice client. We got along famously and then one day, the client told me they could no longer work with me and that they did not have enough money to continue on this project. We parted amicably and a few days later, I returned to my office about five o’clock, we were just about closing. And I answered the telephone, and I never answered the telephone in the office. I just happened to be standing here and picked it up. And I said, Oh, good afternoon, Susan Zises Green. And he said, Oh, this is so and so from so and so company. Can I ask you a question about the four poster bed that you’ve ordered from Mr. Mrs. so and so. And my heart started racing. And I said, yes, certainly, how can I help? And he asked me the question. And what happened, to cut to the chase, is they retained my assistant.

Michael Boodro  04:22

Oh, my God, that’s like almost a cliche horror story.

Susan Zises Green  04:26

You can’t make these things up. We had a big partner desk and this young man worked right across from me. And I was horrified. The betrayal was terrible on both sides. It was so painful. He walked into the office about 20 minutes later, and I looked at him and I said, you are fired. And when he recovered from his shock, I said, How could you do this? How could you look me in the eyes and he was charging I think 90% above cost. And we always charge straight retail. We still do. And it was really very sad for me because I liked him very much. But I thought he was a criminal. It was very painful to me.

Michael Boodro  05:14

Also the client betrayed you, as well.

Susan Zises Green  05:18

Without a doubt, I did tell them. I did say that to them. And it happened once. And that was the last time. Once you learn from each mistake.

Michael Boodro  05:30

And Joy, what about you? I’m sure they were mistakes. I don’t know if it was as drastic as that. That is really a nightmare story.

Joy Moyler  05:37

It was. That is a nightmare story. But I’ve heard similar stories, unfortunately. They tend to be somewhat rampant in their industry. I’ve never been fired by a client. But I did fire a client, when various vendors were calling me over the period of two days to inform me that a particular client was running rampant through the DND building using my resale number to shop with her friends who were visiting from out of town, and simply saying, oh, you know, this is through Joy Moyler interiors. And they were just calling and saying this just doesn’t feel right. And this particular client had been shopping with me a great deal through the building. So she knew some of the houses that I had accounts with and she previously purchased items for herself. And under the tutelage of purchasing more items for herself, she was, you know, saying, I want to purchase this on the purchase this and she was giving her credit card at the time, except that the shipping was changed to her friend’s residence. Which is why they signal to say that she’s clearly here, shopping on her friend’s behalf using your resale number.

Michael Boodro  06:54

So these are two nightmare clients. So clearly, my question to you is looking back, do you think there was any way — Because we’d like this podcast to be helpful to other designers. So were there any clues early on, Susan, in your first meeting with that client who betrayed you? Was there anything looking back at you thinking, oh, that was a tip off?

Susan Zises Green  07:16

No, absolutely nothing.  I thought they were a very nice family. I don’t know whose story is worse — Joys or mine. They’re both awful. But I too had a situation where I fired a client, it was tremendously satisfying to do so. My client is from one of the most famous families in New York City. And this is not a person that’s accustomed to being fired. And when I said to her, “I’m so sorry, but you’re going to have to find another designer, I no longer wish to work for you,” I thought her eyes were going to fall out of the sockets. And I mean, what she had done was something similar to Joy’s client. We would go shopping, we’d purchase something, and she and a couple of occasions, asked the vendor to send the bill to her. I gently reminded her, I’m so terribly sorry, but when we work together, the bill comes to my office. And my office pays the bill. And I established the groundwork, she didn’t do it. I mean, she did do it, excuse me. But she did so many other awful things that I needed to speak with somebody about this as I’ve never experienced this. And I went to my father, who was a businessman, and I asked him what to do. And he said, Susan, when you are in business, nobody ever promised you a rose garden. You just need to decide if you want to continue with this woman who’s causing you a lot of stress or you decide not to continue with her. And that was very good advice. I decided not to continue with her. And I felt better. I felt that I could live with myself much more happily without her. And Joy, you may have felt the very same way.

Joy Moyler  09:10

I do. And I think in both of these stories, and multiple other scenarios which I’ve heard, I think the beauty and the story is that we have been fortunate to work with wonderful purveyors and vendors and makers, who we’ve long established powerful, great working relationships with who respect us enough to call us and let us know when something strange is happening here. And if we didn’t have those wonderful relationships, both of these situations could have continued on for quite some time before we became aware of them. But it’s always even more upsetting as you say Susan, when it’s someone to least expect. You know, people from very well all heeled families that you’d never ever suspect, you know, who would who would do something like this. So that’s when it hurts a little bit more. You know, because you start every relationship, you know, I think whenever we get new clients, it’s almost like speed dating times 15, when you’ve got the client on the other side of the table, and you’ve got a few minutes to chat with them, and then you get up, get a drink, come back. And it’s almost like it’s sometimes another person sitting in the chair. But you have to just keep asking these layered sort of questions. And I’ve always believed that in any interview that I have, I’m interviewing the person just as much as they’re interviewing me, regardless of who’s on what side of the table. I always sort of approach it in that clear heart so that I could obtain whatever information that I hope would help me do my job best. But sometimes you just don’t know.

Michael Boodro  10:54

Well, that’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about both of you. Because I mean, wisdom is hard. One is we know and you guys have certainly won a lot of wisdom over the years. When you’re interviewing new clients, as you were mentioning Joy, do you have a set of specific questions that you run through with them? Or are there more free flowing points that you cover? Do you have a written checklist, do you send something to people early on for new clients?

Joy Moyler  11:07

 Most of my work in the last, I guess, three years have been referrals. So that definitely helps sort of, you know, the vetting process and checking out whether or not something is a truly authentic project. Or if someone’s a looky-loo just kind of trying to shop around, and that sort of thing. So the referrals are wonderful, because they give you sort of behind the curtain sort of introduction to someone so that the conversation is not a litany of questions. It’s more about just getting to know someone, which I really love, you know, because it’s such an intimate relationship. You want it to be a positive experience and an enjoyable experience for the client as well as for yourself. But I do kind of ask questions generally like, do you have some items in the home that you absolutely would love to remain? Because I would never want to say, oh, that’s got to go when it’s grandma’s Curio and it’s beloved. So I tend to ask those kinds of questions like, do I need a passport? You know, where is this project? Those sorts of things. But it’s very sort of light hearted conversation, it’s usually followed up by a second conversation as part of the dating, getting to know you process, it often involves a glass of wine or light fare, something like that, so that it’s very just sort of personable, and just to talk about their lives and what they hope to gain through the project.

Michael Boodro  12:48

Because it is kind of like dating, like you said, or seduction. So what about you, Susan, do you have specific points that you try to address early on? I mean, it’s nice when it’s a referral, as Joy was saying, or, you know, repeat customers are best, obviously, repeat clients. But now people find you through Instagram, social media, that kind of thing. So how do you approach somebody who calls your office and said, I’m interested in having you work with me?

Susan Zises Green  13:11

My approach is very similar to Joy’s, and I admire that she can have some wine with the clients. I never would do that because I don’t know what would come out of my mouth. But I’ve been in business a very long time. And many, many years ago, my former husband once said to me, Susan, every kitchen has a roach. So the two stories I told you were pretty much my two roaches. I’ve been very blessed to have a long string of wonderful, wonderful clients who have brought joy into my life. And I hope I have brought joy into their lives. No pun intended, Joy. And I’m a very intuitive person. And  sort of after so many years of decorating and meeting with people, I get a feeling that this is going to work or if it’s not going to work. And most of the time, it’s worked beautifully. If I get a bad feeling about anyone, I will not even start the job because long ago, I had a fabulous project. It’s too long of a story to tell you here, but I’ll just give you a synopsis. I had a bad feeling about the client. But the project was so phenomenal. It was a beautiful apartment in New York City. And I thought it was a newspaper worthy story. And I went against my better judgment and it was a disaster. And I learned never to sidestep my instinct. Always trust your gut, because it is never wrong.

Michael Boodro  14:46

Right. But of course it’s never easy to say no to a beautiful project that you would love to do. But I think especially when designers are starting out and they’ve got you know their staff and they’ve got to have enough revenue coming in to cover their nut, so my question would be, are there specific things that you look for that you think? You know, it’s instinctual I understand, but are there things that you look for that you think this is a red flag?

Joy Moyler  15:15

Yes, I look to see how they treat the house staff, I look to see how they respond to the door man, to the person who’s making the beds, who is cleaning the bathroom, I look to see if they are respectful to them. That to me is a major red flag. And actually, to the reverse of that I actually got a client in one of our most premier buildings in New York, because he was seated in the lobby waiting for a car and he saw me sitting in the lobby as well. But I got up to help one of the cleaning staff take big heavy black garbage bags to the curb, and I saw him struggling. And he is very much a supporter and friend of the Dalai Lama and he took that gesture of just being like, oh my god, this is someone that I need to work with. So you know, people are looking at us the same way we’re looking at them. But above anything, respect is a big, big factor to me that can make or break it. If someone is arrogant, or dismissive. I’m not sure where the project is, I can’t participate in that.

Susan Zises Green  16:31

Joy is so right. And I follow those lines as well. But I also love most of the time, to go to a client’s house for the interview, and see how they live. I also look and observe how they treat their children and how they treat their dog. They know if they’re bad to the dog, they got to be bad to me.

Joy Moyler  16:50

That is so true. If that dog’s got one light missing, you know you’re in trouble.

Michael Boodro  16:54

Unless it was a rescue and they’re doing a good deed.

Susan Zises Green  16:58

But I’m really serious about that. It’s very clear when you see how people treat their children, you know if they shoo them out of the room, if they’re rude to them, if they welcome them to join the meeting and sit down.

Michael Boodro  17:09

They introduce you…

Susan Zises Green  17:11

And I like to see how these young people relate to me. If they’re rude to me, or kind or sweet. These are small things, but very telling.

Michael Boodro  17:41

Now I have often said that being a designer is somewhat like being a marriage therapist. So what about the husband wife dynamic?  I mean, what if you love the wife? I often think the husband says oh, the wife can do whatever she wants or vice versa? Or if it’s two husbands one can do whatever they want. But then they always, not always, but they often will come in and then… how do you deal with that?

Joy Moyler  18:17

I can’t respond to that question on tape.

Michael Boodro  18:22

Oh Joy! No names need to be named!

Susan Zises Green  18:25

Okay. So last summer, I was decorating a project on an island, the lady of the house started to tell me that her husband was having an affair. And I started to scream and said, No, no, no, don’t tell me! Don’t tell me! You’re going to tell me all this and you’re going to hate me in two weeks. Because you know, I know what I don’t want to hear. I don’t want to hear anything. I cannot tell you how many times being a woman I’ve experienced this. And I have such warm, wonderful relationships with clients. But they’re my clients. They’re not my friends until the job is over. And I never have lunch with clients. I never have dinner with them. I never go out. You know, with the husband and wife for dinner. This is a job. This is business.

Michael Boodro  19:09

 I think that’s excellent advice.

Susan Zises Green  19:11

I know many designers that befriend their clients, they think it’s helpful. If you break bread with clients, the relationship changes. I like to be in charge. This is my project. I am the doctor. I am the professional. Stephanie and I went to Nantucket a few days ago. And we installed a house over a period of four days. The job is done. The client is wonderful. The client asked if I would have dinner. And I said yes I will so look forward to being with you. Next week when I go to Nantucket I am going to have dinner with a client. But I’ve never had dinner in the year that it took to do this project.

Michael Boodro  19:53

During the process, no.

Susan Zises Green  19:55

Because now we can be friends and I would like all of you out there to think about that. It’s very hard to have a business discussion when you’ve broken bread with a client. It’s hard for you and it’s hard for them.

Michael Boodro  20:06

And Joy, you’ve had several celebrity clients. And I mean, celebrities view the world differently, I think, than the rest of us. They almost think everybody is their friend as long as they need them. So it has been difficult for you not to socialize?

Joy Moyler  20:20

 I’m the total flip side, I mean, because so much of what they do, and their approach to life is about socializing. And, you know, I’ve been in Montana and to dinner and you know, and it’s just similar stuff, you know, but yeah, I mean, it’s just the social aspect of it is just so great. Not greatly fabulous, but it’s such a part of that dynamic, and the job and just, it’s a different mentality, they’re used to having people around,

Michael Boodro  20:50

That’s what I’ve observed from my little contact with celebrities is that you become part of their circle.

Joy Moyler  20:57

You’re part of the circle, you’re flying around with them and you’re going to dinners and events and things like that. And if you do not socialize, then it starts to look like you’re just there for check. It’s just the way they move around, and the way they see the world, so it’s just a little different. Most of my clients, I do definitely have dinner with them, that sort of thing. And if we’re traveling together, it’s kind of something that can’t be avoided, right? We have a stipulation that we do not discuss the project while we’re eating.

Michael Boodro  21:35

Oh, that’s a good stipulation.

Joy Moyler  21:36

Yeah, we just do not do that.

Susan Zises Green  21:39

You know, I think my way is a bit of an aberration because most of the designers I know, do socialize and go out for lunch, socialize. But for me to have lunch for an hour and a half takes a lot of time away, a lot of business time away. And it’s not about the money, it’s about getting it done. And if you go out a few times a week, and you’re going to lunch every day, it’s just too much time. And also I started working when I was quite young, and I had young children and a husband and after a day’s work, I just really want you to go home to my family and not run out.

Joy Moyler  22:10

If I’m in Italy, and I’m traveling with my clients, you know, it’s generally a really long, long lunch. And I am often so tempted to pull my binder out or, you know, a notepad, because I’m already starting to think about the next thing we need to do. But I know that that would be considered a gauche gesture. So I just kind of go through it. And then once we get back, it’s full steam ahead. So that’s my way sort of negotiating the fact that I’m very aware, keenly aware that I’m there for work. But the social aspect is something.

Michael Boodro  22:43

I wanted to ask you again. First of all, Susan, what about you ever travel with clients? Like take them to Paris, a flea market? Obviously, then the socializing thing is a little different?

Susan Zises Green  22:53

Well, actually, no. Okay, I still try not to have meals, occasionally you must. One of my favorite experiences was going to London. And my client was meeting me in London. And I was pre shopping. And I was in one of my favorite places at that time. And my sales woman excuses herself to answer the telephone. And she starts to speak in German. And I said to her, oh, by the way, when my client joins us, you must only speak English. He speaks 14 languages. And I don’t want you to say anything that you would not want him to hear. I was so glad I heard her speak German. You have to be prepared for all of these, these events that could happen that could embarrass you. But anyhow, this particular client has been my client for close to 40 years for as long as I’m in business, and I’ve done a number of projects for he and his family over the time. And it’s just been a blessing. They’ve been a blessing in my life with so many reasons.

Joy Moyler  23:56

I think repeat clients are wonderful.

Susan Zises Green  23:59

Yeah. But I think that clients expand the scope of my life. I meet, as you do, very interesting people. I’ve had doors open to me that would never have been opened, had I not been an interior designer.

Michael Boodro  24:12

Right. And I wanted to get a sense from both of you, Joy let’s start with you. When you’re first interviewing a client, I would think it’d be disturbing if they asked too many questions. But I also think it would be perhaps even more disturbing if they didn’t ask enough questions. So what do you look for in terms of what the client is saying to you? Are there things that set you off? You think, you know, if they don’t express any interest, like you don’t want to work with this person. They’re not going to enrich your life the way Susan was saying a client will enrich your life. So what do you listen for when the client is talking to you?

Joy Moyler  24:47

I listen to see how committed they are to seeing the project through. I ask them almost quickfire questions to see how they respond because if they don’t respond to a quickfire series of questions, that to me is going to signal that they take a moment to make decisions. So that’s just something that I do, you know, sort of like Jeopardy sort of approach. Like, if I asked you a question, and you take too long to answer, how are you going to respond if I give you two bed choices? It sort of provides a little bit of insight to me. That’s just sort of the way my brain works. But I want to know, if they are really willing to let me take the reins, or if they have a lot of time on their hands, like what’s going on in their lives that they just kind of want to shop with me every day? Or do they want to collaborate? Or just kind of participate when I need them to? And just kind of let me do my job. I kind of ask them about going on in your life.

Susan Zises Green  26:03

You know, Joy’s just covered a lot of territory in her answer, which I think is terrific. And I would have to say that you can get clients that fill all of those boxes.  I presently have a client and I asked her a question. And I said, Well, which one of these beds do you like? And she looked at me and she said, Susan, I hired you for your taste, you make the decision. Now I mean, what can be more wonderful? And she is a delight. I mean, it’s very rare that you get this opportunity. But I valued what she said, she hired me for a reason for my expertise. And I went with that, and the house was installed. And the clients were just delighted, just delighted.

Joy Moyler  26:49

But there are so many clients right now who have access to the same resources and magazines. You know, when this happened? When our beloved shelter magazine started indicating resources in the backs of magazines. And the consumers, our clients, are then able to basically source the same sources that we could. They’re very savvy right now. And that sort of changed the design industry, I think, in terms of clients’ approaches to participating on the project. I honor your client Susan that said, let me just do your job. Because so many times, you know, clients, for the sake of Pinterest, are just developing these Pinterest boards to say, Yeah, I saw this and check out my Pinterest file, and they sort of want to create the direction for design for projects.

Susan Zises Green  27:47

I think at some point, we might have a discussion about this subject about clients shopping. How do we get reimbursed when, I mean, we’ve made some changes to our contract cover this, but it’s still not perfect. When I find a piece of furniture and a client… I mean, this happened to me. I found a fabulous piece of furniture that was quite costly. And the client went online and found something on some close out site that I didn’t even know about. That’s how savvy the client and found an armoire very similar to what I had selected. But without my doing the shopping and showing pictures, they never would have known what to look for. I spent all that time, all that effort, all the office time and people doing estimates and follow up and whatever else takes. And I was just out in the cold. I’d like to know how other designers handle this. It might be a good conversation, Michael.

Michael Boodro  28:47

I’ve heard this from a lot of designers that clients try and find a cheaper one but of course it doesn’t have the provenance. It doesn’t have the patina, it’s not authentic, whatever. But you know, I always say, this is my mantra for years, you do not hire a designer as a personal shopper. You don’t hire a designer, because you get a discount. You don’t hire a designer just because they’ll run around and, and do stuff for you. You hire a designer, because you want their vision, their taste, the atmosphere, they create their expertise on where the lighting, you know, all that stuff that you guys do so brilliantly that I can’t do. And part of it is education. And I think Joy, you’re right about the magazines for doing that, because they were doing that to make their advertisers happy. But I think then the internet really exploded that and now all the information is out there. But I think one of the things that we don’t get across is what really the role of the designer is and is not to do your shopping for you. That is like 100th of what you guys do. And it just drives me crazy when people think that having a designer is just a way to get into the DND building, for example. It’s just crazy.

Susan Zises Green  29:52

But I think it’s true, Michael and I think a lot of people don’t have the respect for the designers that they do for their doctor or two. tourney? Exactly. Sadly, if I’m having heart surgery, I’m going to go to a heart surgeon, I’m going to go to the most expensive probably, I’m not going to find out who’s applying to medical school and have them you know, think about doing it. Knock it off, you know? Exactly. I know. It’s crazy.

Joy Moyler  30:18

Thank you for saying that. I get so crazy about that. I say that all the time. We all do. We all do.

Michael Boodro  30:25

Yeah. Now that brings up another question that I want to ask you in terms of, especially with new clients, is this feeling out dating routine that you guys are going through professional dating? What point do you bring up money? The budget? How do you suss out? Do they have enough money? I mean, obviously clients that come to you, we would assume would have? No, they’re gonna have a fairly large budget, like you said, you go to the top, but at what point do you bring it up? Because it’s, you know, you’re doing this little back and forth, charming routine, and you’re sussing each other out and discovering yourself there. But money is a cold, hard reality,

Susan Zises Green  30:59

It comes up early in the conversation, they want to know what it costs. And I want to know if they have the money.

Michael Boodro  31:07

Right? If they’re willing to spend the money…

Susan Zises Green 31:09

Often I will say, Tell me what are your expectations? So are you expecting to decorate this entire house in one year? Or is it going to be over a period of two or three years? I try and be as gentle as I can because money is a very touchy subject and never want to embarrass anyone. Nor do I want to embarrass myself. So clients give me their budget, I asked what they anticipate spending. And if I think it’s not enough, I’d say well, is this for the entire house? Would you like to do certain sections? And as I just said, over a period of years? I’m very flexible. I’m going to be here for a long time, I’m happy to work any way that you’re comfortable.  I just want people to be comfortable with me. And money can be a very sticky subject. And I also find that generally, clients always think the designer will always go over budget. So often they will tell you that they can spend less than they really anticipated. And I say to them, I know you might think that I’m going to go over your budget. But please tell me how much you can truly spend. So I don’t waste my time shopping, I will show you things that are less expensive, or less quality than you are expecting to purchase. So it works both ways.

Michael Boodro  32:26

That’s a good point.

Joy Moyler  32:27

That is very, very good. I think that’s wonderful. I find that the conversation, I think starts to come from me during the proposal stage when everything’s like Okay, let’s go let’s do this. And then I submit a proposal that’s usually when someone starts asking questions just with clarifications, which is fine. That’s what you want it to be. But with respect to budget, the budget can change at a moment’s notice when they attend an auction and go kind of reserved with a paddle. So then you have to have contingencies in your contract that allow for overages. I guess in the event of an increase to the budget, you know, kind of starts to get technical. And yes, Susan, those are all sort of crazy, uncomfortable conversations to have because you just want to be doing design work, not acting, you know, as a representative of Ernst and Young, being able to just get a project done right. 

Susan Zises Green  33:20

But there’s also something else that we might touch upon. A lot of times clients don’t know what things really cost.

Michael Boodro  33:27

Well, that’s true, too.

Susan Zises Green  33:29

And I had a very good example of this. This goes back about 30 years ago. This was a client who had truly a magnificent home. The entry hall was like most people’s living rooms, with a beautiful fireplace. It was really quite special. They gave me a budget of $250,000. This was a very long time ago. And I told them, this is not going to be enough money to do the entire house. But we can pick the areas that are most important to you. And we’ll concentrate on that. And they were okay with that. So we go to an auction, I think it was Sotheby’s. Oh, no, it wasn’t an auction. It was a dealer. And it was a table that was $50,000. And the client wanted it. And I said we can’t buy it. It is not within the framework of our budget. And the client said no, I want to have this. And he said to me, I didn’t know what furniture cost. They ended up spending $2 million, or more than a little more than that. It was a very long time ago, right. And that’s a case where a client had the money and just needed to be educated. Not pushed but coaxed because it didn’t fit within the frame of the budget.

Michael Boodro  34:46

You were the one who was concerned about their budget, not them. But I think that’s a very professional view. If somebody’s money, then you’re going to respect that.

Susan Zises Green  34:55

Well I am a professional, and we all need to act in a professional way. Then clients have more respect for us in our industry.

Joy Moyler  35:03

I think everything’s always an education. Even if they’ve got five or six houses, and they’ve been all over the world, our industry is often something that they’re just not really familiar with. They could be captains of industry. But yeah, as you say, you know, you show them a partner’s desk, that’s another tool that they won’t even, they may have seen in a million times, but they don’t know detail, the workmanship that goes into pieces, particularly custom pieces. Most clients don’t understand the constraints or the composition of a really, really good sofa. Why is a sofa $20,000? You know, right, understand that, so you really do have to educate them, why does it cost what it cost? It’s an education. And that’s not necessarily the same sort of sleep that you’re going to feel on another manufacturer’s mattress. So you really have to educate them constantly. And it’s just part of the process. And, you know, the best consumer is an educated consumer.

Susan Zises Green  36:17

But you know, speaking of education, education goes both ways. I do have to say, I have learned from clients as well. And one of the things I learned is, it’s okay to buy Restoration Hardware sofas, because most young people, if you’re dealing with people in their 40s, they don’t want an $18,000 sofa, even if they can afford it, they want instant gratification. They want that they want that sofa delivered in two weeks. And I’m so old now I want it delivered in two weeks too!

Joy Moyler  36:50

Well, you know what, some of these COVID delays RH cloud sofas are the only thing you can get quickly, so

Michael Boodro  36:57

and then I’ve heard designers say that even RH, you can’t get back quickly anymore. So you know, I mean, there’s been a lot of supply chain. So you know, I think that’s a very true point, Susan, it’s what people value. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, they may know they’re moving in five years. And they don’t want to necessarily take the sofa with them. And it’s almost like, it could be a burden, as they would rather collect ceramics or something that they’ll take with them, that’s portable. But they don’t care about the sofa. But there’s other elements.

Susan Zises Green  37:24

A lot of young people want to spend their money on experiences, not their homes. So they don’t want antique furniture. You know, or maybe they’ll have a limited number of antique pieces or get it from their parents. So I’ve learned from young people as well, it’s been a wonderful experience,

Joy Moyler  37:41

I actually wonder if our industry is going to change a little bit, there’s going to be a shift because during the pandemic. Everyone, of course, is rushing to purchase items for home. But now that everybody’s so anxious to get out of the house, I wonder if sales are going to decrease greatly.

Michael Boodro  37:58

A lot of people are wondering the same thing. So I’ve heard that from other people. Will the interest in home that’s been so frantic for the past year and a half somewhat diminish? Or do people learn to really appreciate their homes? I don’t know, we’re gonna find out. Now I’d like to ask each of you, what would be your advice to a young designer who’s starting out maybe as a small staff? How can they negotiate this client thing? Do they dare to say no? What if they know they’re maybe this is the best client, the easiest client they’re ever going to deal with? What would be your advice to somebody sort of starting out?

Joy Moyler  38:32

If they’re really new to the industry, they may have no idea what to look for, you know, no signs. I mean, Susan, I, we’ve been in the industry for a long enough time that I think we could probably read people a little better than some newer designers. So I think with them, it’s really going to be kind of just kind of feel it out, see what works for them, see what works for their business model. Sort of see what their goals are, what their structures, what they want to be. A lot of designers I know during the past year, took any project that sort of came to pass, because they were so concerned that they weren’t getting any more projects. And now they’re trying to figure out how to get rid of those clients so they can focus on, you know, larger scale projects. But when you’re starting out, you’re starting from the ground up. I have been in the industry for 30 years. And I still feel like every day I’m learning something. Every single day. I mean, now my thing is I’m still battling with contracts about changing things around because I’m not the biggest financial person and all that sort of like any of that sort of is lost on me. But that’s something that this year I promised myself I wanted to become a little bit more educated in my guess. So they may be focusing on the business aspect, and not on the design aspect or rather vice versa, designed and not the business, right? So there are just so many aspects of this industry. And I think paramount to is the vendor relationships, that’s something that I can just never stress enough. Sometimes those vendor relationships are going to protect the longevity of your design firm, far more than any of the clients that you have. Because if you have bad relationships, no one wants to work with you, you’ll never be able to order anything.

Susan Zises Green  40:22

Michael, I was going to say that, talking about young designers that they concentrate on the business aspect. Joy touched on that. I just wanted to add on to that. When you’re young law you think about is how beautiful this house for this apartment is going to be. You really need to concentrate on how am I going to pay my vendors? How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to get paid? How am I going to earn a living. So back all the time to saying trust your instinct. Do not take a job if you have a bad feeling. Get a job as a waiter or as a waitress to supplement your income, but do not take a bad job because lawyers are very expensive. And some of these captains of industries will really grind these young people into the ground. The other thing I wanted to suggest to young people: after some trial and error, I decided that the only way I could stay in business is being paid in advance. Not waiting until the furniture is delivered. So upon signing an estimate, it’s 100% payment, I decided that when these jobs are really big, or even if they’re smaller, I am not a banker, I’m a designer. I want to go to sleep at night, put my head on the pillow and not worry about money. I’ve worked this way for I guess, 30 years, maybe a little longer. If somebody does not want to pay me, if they don’t trust me enough, I don’t want them as a client. And if they don’t want to pay me, I don’t trust them as a client. Because I am true to my word. If I tell you, I will do something, I will do it. If I cannot do it, I will never give you my word. When I have selected everything and it’s ordered to me the job is done. If your contract is going to take an extra six months to finish your apartment, your home, it doesn’t mean I have to wait to get paid because we can’t deliver furniture. I like to pay my vendors right away. And if I don’t get paid, I can’t pay my vendors. And I pride myself on paying vendors as soon as the invoice lands at our office. So they will want to work with my office. They know we care about and that’s true. But I would advise all young people to start their business in getting paid in advance. They are not bankers, they’re designers. Just go forward and be fearless. You know, don’t be afraid if somebody said I’m sorry, I can’t pay you that way. They’ll always be another client. You don’t want the client that won’t pay you what you deserve.

Michael Boodro  42:48

Very good advice. Very good advice. I have learned so much from this. And I know our listeners will as well. And I really, I can’t thank you two wonderful women, fonts of wisdom. You’re brilliant designers and I just so appreciate your sharing all of this information with our listeners.


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August 9, 2021

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.