There is something wonderful about the first time you ring the doorbell or lift the knocker at your first house call with a new client. The front garden and the decor on the porch tell you a little bit about them, but when the door glides back to reveal the entry, the picture begins to clarify.
We have developed a practice of meeting with prospective clients at our office before the house call. It is a half hour get-to-know at no charge: the client shares the big picture reasons behind seeking design help and we discuss our process and fee structure. When we get to the site the first time, we already know whether the whole house is being remodeled or if we're tackling a few specific areas.
Despite having already met one another, on the first site meeting the client is sometimes a shade nervous. They might say, "Here it is. Don't judge."
It took me a long time (and a number of my own home projects) to realize what this first moment must feel like on the other end. The moment the homeowner lets you into their personal haven is a vulnerable one for them. For some the uncertainty comes from imagining their own design attempts are under the microscope (a good designer doesn't judge, he assesses). For others, the biggest question is how does this appointment work.
The most important thing to note is that the house call is simply a fact-finding experience. The designer is there to gather notes relative to the project. Rooms will be measured as well as heirlooms that aren't going anywhere. Notations on existing materials and architectural details are gathered. Photographs are taken. There is additional discussion about the project and some of the challenges to overcome.
The house call isn't complete until the client points to something about the space (or to a piece of furniture their spouse has lobbied to keep) and says gravely, "This is what I was telling you about." There is further discussion.
What your designer isn't very likely to do on the first house call is make a lot of suggestions right off the bat. Until the floor plans have been rendered and the site notes unpacked, it can be an exercise in fruitlessness to make too many promises. However, there are occasions when the best fix is immediately obvious to a professional eye and while he will likely reserve judgment until his homework is done, he may float out a tentative suggestion.
The best way to be prepared for the house call if you are a client is to make sure the rooms haven't been cleared of signs of life. If magazines usually pile up near a favorite chair in a sunny spot, that tells your designer a lot. You like to bask in a particular corner; you're an avid reader of periodicals; you have a lot of issues of Cat Fancy for a self-described dog lover. The clutter and the crushed cushions tell us where and how you spend time at home.
The house call is intriguing for the designer and can be fun for the client once the ice is broken. Hopefully knowing a little bit more about what the designer is hoping to glean will make it easier to relax into the visit.
And cookies. Most designers will not turn down cookies.
Still digging into your research about how this whole design thing works? Check out our guide, 5 Tips for Working with a Designer!