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Why the Interior Design Community has a Love/Hate Relationship with HGTV...and other fun philosophical topics.

I love a good makeover.  Always have.  Always will.  But there is a funny thing that happens when a makeover is produced for TV consumers (as opposed to only being relevant and important to the person getting the makeover)...


...the 'viewers' become the MOST  important factor and the person actually having the makeover done to them, is put into the backseat.  You see, show business is not call SHOW BUSINESS for no reason at all.  The show is "selling" you an outcome, and that outcome is often not based in reality...because, well, REAL reality is slow, boring, expensive and often fraught with set-backs.  Viewers rarely get shown the actual time and expense it takes to achieve those WOWZA moments.  Reality has to be heightened, so that the audience (who are not newbies, after all) feel that *special-ness* that comes with the unbelievably fantastically revelatory "cry-inducing moment".  The objective on HGTV is trying to get "eyeballs" on their product (the shows, the products they produce and the advertising they sell because of it all) and to keep you hooked into watching more and more.  I watch it too, and I love their shows...I just am very aware that I am being sold a manipulated version of reality.  I love it for what it is really great at:  an exceptional way to inspire people to change and try new things, and a way to make it all seem accessible to anyone.  It makes high-design seem much more democratic than it ever has been.  "We all can live in well-designed and beautiful spaces!" is the message.  That much, I totally and completely agree with!


You see, I actually HAVE a 'real life' experience with this phenomenon....I participated in one of the first nationally televised shows called (cue high drama) "Fashion Emergency".  I was one of the lead Makeup Artists for a well-known high-brow Spa & Salon in the region, and, as such, I was tapped on the shoulder to be the Makeup Artist who "transforms" the Cinderella into a Princess with a wave of my magic lip brush.


It was a very revealing experience, and a little unnerving to see myself (and hear myself) in the finished product.  And, make no mistake, a PRODUCT it is.  There are spontaneous moments, to be sure, but the main goal is not so much to make the client feel comfortable and safe, but to give the audience a good show.  Which means that the lipstick I used was stronger than I would have normally done, so that it could show up better on film.  In fact, everything was taken a little farther, stronger than my spidey-sense told me was best for the client.  She was sweet and very understanding, but there was a strong energy of her feeling like a trapped (victim is too strong a word) participant in this mini circus.   That look in her eye that conveyed her feeling a little out of control...I wanted to give her a hug and tell her it was all going to be ok (actually, I think I did just that).

" can hit two aspects most of the time, but rarely can you get them without significantly short-changing the third."

This situation was NOT how I prefer to give customer service (did I mention that I worked for Nordstrom for many years--six--so good customer service is a habit I will never break) and it left the impression of just what kind of reality is sacrificed in the production of "reality television".  Yes, she did look fantastic and appropriately "made-over" on film, I did get accolades within my company, and it burnished my reputation and standing with other clients.  It just felt a little tainted because I don't think the "Princess For A Day" (who went home with all of the products for free) ever was able to connect with the experience and use it in her life going forward.  It all seemed like "too much"...  Just so the audience didn't feel like it was "too little".  That still kinda bugs me.  I never saw her again, and I was well-known for my fanatically devoted returning customers who would wait to be helped only by me.  She never came back; and I can't really blame her.


Now, over a decade later (and the many hundreds of reality shows we all have witnessed), I feel it is important to convey this information to you--the consumer of real-life actual customer service.  My brief television experience taught me to question the "magic" of the "show".


Why?  Because my philosophy affects the way that I interact with my clients on a daily basis.  I strive to live the mantra, "Underpromise and Over Deliver."  Or put another way, if the expectations are beyond all reality, then the outcome can be nothing but disappointment.  Conversely, if expectations are in the achievable range, then the sky is the limit for how good my clients feel when we make a slam-dunk "win"!


How does this matter to you?  Well, in TV-land, we are told (shown, actually) that not only can you re-decorate a room in one day, you can do it with custom-designed pieces, with a carpenter on-call, a paint-brush in hand and all while looking like a million bucks, all for astoundingly (read, unrealistically) little money.  I bet you already know (or at least suspect) that custom designed pieces not only cost more money, but they are rarely delivered in less than 6-8 weeks.  Yes, folks, if you choose the fabric...and a furniture company makes something with that fabric (a chair, a sofa, a bench) then that means they have to build it...from scratch...and there is a queue of others waiting for their items to be made also...and the fabric might be on back-order...and and and.  Should you then never order custom furniture?  Of course not--don't be silly!  It is a fabulous way to get the exact look you are trying to achieve!  All that I am trying to convey, is that you should be realistic about the cost for the item and the time it will take to get it delivered.  The same goes for the services of carpenters, painters, and makeup artists, for that matter (big smile).


Time to hit you with my PROJECT PHILOSOPHY (drumroll please)...


You see, it is my experience that if you look at any given project, you basically have three main measurable components to manage:  TIME, MONEY, and QUALITY.  And further, you can optimize for any one of those things, but then usually the two other facets will be reduced in importance.  For instance, you can want a sofa VERY FAST and for VERY CHEAP, but then the results will probably deliver in the range of LOWER QUALITY.  Is this a bad thing?  Nope, not at all, as long as you are aware of the trade-off and you are willing to sacrifice for it in the end product's longevity and performance.  Conversely, if very HIGH QUALITY is your only strong objective, then you will find you need to wait longer and pay more money (Crocodile Hermès Birkin, anyone?) for that single extreme objective to be met.  I think you understand the gist.  You can hit two aspects most of the time, but rarely can you get them without significantly short-changing the third.


What I find myself trying to do for clients, with this knowledge and philosophy in place,  is trying to get into the sweet spot (the STAR on my picture) where we are optimizing for ALL three objectives without sacrificing too much on any one of them.  I truly DO want to get you the best quality items I can find, for the least amount of cost and the fastest I can do it.  For each element in the room, that sweet spot will be different, but my set-point objective will be to try to keep, and optimize, the balance---all based on your needs and wants.


You see, I think when you hit the sweet spot you are actually swimming in something wonderful called VALUE!  To me, that means that the perception that you, the client, has of whatever we are doing/purchasing/making has a high value to you because we are meeting your needs and exceeding your (realistic) expectations!  I don't want to source elements for you that are inflated or high-ticket just for the sake of being high-ticket, and I don't want the process to take a longer time to complete so that I can bill you for more hours.  I think a fear of the unknown--specifically about skyrocketing hourly fee charges AND not knowing if the decorator will impose their design will on you even if that is not the style outcome that suits your taste or lifestyle--keeps people from hiring a decorator.  "Unendingly expensive" and "Dictatorial"--two very legitimate reasons to cause fear and halt progress!  That is why I created my business on the backdrop of transparent hourly billing to the level of service that suits YOU best--this make really good sense for both sides of the equation!  Nothing opaque, and you are driving the bus. Together, we can finish one room at a time (or more), on budget (or darned close) and with a minimum of fuss...I know we can.  It's what I do!


You can't make me STOP watching HGTV, it's just way too fun to watch!  And I don't want you to stop watching either.  It's a bottomless wellspring of ideas, decorating inspirations and feel-good stories.  Just make sure that when you bring "reality television" into REAL reality, you manage your expectations with respect to the three aspects of TIME, MONEY and QUALITY.  That way you can be genuinely and authentically thrilled with YOUR decorating outcome and your WOWZA reveal!

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