One of our “typical” client concerns (we don’t really have typical clients, they’re all better than that, but work with me here) is what they need to do to get a great house. “Great” in their minds is a completely undefined “something” floating around in the ether… they can’t even begin to describe it but they know they want it. They come to us because they seen some of the wonderful houses we’ve done for others and they know we have a reputation for giving our clients what they want, not just another version of one of “our” designs.
And we do design wonderful, exceptional, breathtaking houses. We know what we’re doing, we’re passionate about doing it, we’ve done it enough that we’re pretty much the most expert experts you’ll find. But… sadly, not all of our houses are wonderful/exceptional and there’s a reason, one reason and always the same reason. The client. Great clients get great houses.
When I was younger, I thought I could make anyone’s house a perfect expression of my client’s desire, by the force of my unbreakable will and my rugged good looks if by no other means. I’d work endless hours, burn through multiple design options and show them how their house didn’t have to be just like everyone else’s. Sometimes I’d be successful and sometimes I just couldn’t get them where they needed to be and inevitably their house would be just… OK, better than if we hadn’t touched it but not close to what other houses we’ve designed have been. We still do the endless hours and the multiple design options (that’s part of the life of a residential architect) but at least now I know that it is not within my power to make it what it could have been. Great clients get great houses. Poor clients get exactly what they ask for.
Great clients get great houses, poor clients get exactly what they ask for. I like the truth of it so much, that I thought I’d say it again. Great clients and not so great clients share many characteristics. Sometimes they know exactly what they want, sometimes they only have a vague idea. Sometimes they have large budgets, sometimes they have very small ones. The real difference, the only difference, between a great client (the one that gets the great house, remember?) and the poor client is that a great client lets us be the designer and they resist the temptation to pick at a concept until the design clarity is gone. I’ve had great clients that would send me sketches almost daily, but they didn’t expect me to do just what they sketched, they where communicating graphically and they expected to get a sketch back from me proposing what I thought might be a better alternative. When a poor client sends me a sketch, they don’t understand why they’d get a sketch in return.
A great client, when working with multiple designers, say an architect, landscape architect and interior designer, will make clear to all parties where they stand and in what areas (if any) their (the designer) opinion will be considered as primary AND will let a strong design concept override minor considerations. Poor clients let the interior designer force (totally different than “suggest”) changes to the architecture or they let the architect overrule the landscape designer on plant selection or they’ll crush a strong design concept because they “can’t see themselves being satisfied with a dishwasher on the left side of the sink” (as an example of a minor consideration). The great client knows why they chose the members of their team, knows that it’s their job to make sure that the team members are playing nicely together, knows who’s opinion is important where AND let’s the designers work through design issues. They know when to leave a design alone.