Design Snobbery

{remember this scene from Pretty Woman?}

Design snobs.  You know the stereotype: clickity clacking heels, suits, haughty expression, a distaste for low budgets and new entries into the field.   Now, do they really exist or we are imagining it?  Have you ever walked into a store and suddenly looked down at what you were wearing and felt like you didn't belong there?  Was this because someone in the store "made" you feel that way or because of your own insecurities?

I know that a lot of people I've spoken with outside of the design industry- mainly friends & family- think that a lot of interior designers and in-store decorators/ salespeople have a "snobby" way about them.  I think a lot of this can stem from talks about budgets and brands and general nonverbal communication.

People fear someone walking into their homes and "judging" them & their house.  It's a designer's job to look critically at a space, so yes, it won't be all pats on the back when you invite a designer into your home to begin a new project (you wouldn't want to pay for that, would you?)  but it shouldn't be a barrage of judgement & cristicism either.  When I walk into a home with a new client for the first time, it's not the time to judge, it's the time to observe, and I always approach a new project knowing that I've been called in because the owner understands good design and is looking for something more in his/ her home.  I understand that designing is not his/her profession and don't expect to see a magazine-worthy space (that's my job! ;) ;)   Depending upon the budget given and the parameters of the project, I help the client determine the best level they can get their home to.  I help them figure out where best to allocate their time & money to get the best overall look.  I know many people fear telling a designer their budget because they are afraid we are going to use all of it or go way over or judge them for it.  I tell clients that yes, I will use all of the budget you 've given me, but knowing the budget up front helps me figure out how to get the best look for the amount of money you have for the project.  Money is one of the designer's tools whether we want to hear it or not.

So the question is- why do designers have a snobby rap?  I know many of us like nice things and we deal in the business of appearances.  (On one level...  For most of us, it's the business of making people feel something, but it's an appearance that elicits that feeling.)  I'm really affected by my surroundings.  Whenever I go over to my mom's house, I start OCDistically rearranging her sofa pillows the way I like them.  (my poor mom, I wouldn't do this to anyone else...  except my maybe dad!)  So I'm sure if one of her friends saw me rearranging her pillows, she might think I was ridiculous and takingo ver my mom's house, but in reality I do it because my mom's house feels like my house to me (I did used live there for a looooong time) and I treat it just like I do my own house...  Maybe I look like a design snob when I do this?  (I'll have to make sure I never do it in a suit! ;)

I've heard a story about a designer telling a client that something in her home made the designer want to throw up.  After laughing (because seriously???!! really??!) I couldn't get over that someone would say that unless he/she was on a reality show and had been coached by the producer to say it.

I have also noticed in-store design consultants (whom I personally know & really get along well with & love) come across as a bit impatient or snobbish with customers who don't know much about the product or what they want or how to communicate what they want.  I KNOW these women are great people, but I know that the customer walks away feeling not-so-good when this happens.  I think some of it comes about from the customer being uncomfortable shopping for something she's not used to shopping for & dont' know much about, and I think some of it comes from the consultant doing it day in and day out and knowing the right questions to ask but not doing it as if it were the first time for the customer.  Because the customer is stepping out of his or her comfort zone while shopping or inquiring about a product he/she doesn't know much about, he/she needs to be treated carefully & with understanding.

I myself had similar treatment when I called a fabric distributor whose samples I carry for more information on one of their velvets.   I asked him to tell me about the velvet in regard to kids & pets & durability and his response was very insulted: "Why are you asking me this?  It's a high-end commercial grade velvet; one of the best in the industry."  (reeeeeeeally huffy)

I simply responded, "I haven't used this velvet before in a project, was never formally introduced to the pros/ cons of your line by a representative, and wanted to speak with someone who had experience with it."

"Oh," he said and then nicely went on to tell me how awesome it was and how long it would last, etc.  But my point is: why that response?  I wasn't surprised because I had gotten similar responses from him before, but really, why was there a need for that?  I actually love the company and have gotten so used to his responses that I'm fine with it and am not even bothered when I get one of those splashes-of-cold-water-responses, but it would be nice not to have to deal with it. 

My intern, Meghan, used to get off the phone with showrooms sometimes and remark at how unfriendly the people on the phone were.  We actually chose our upholsterer based on his friendliness and willingness to answer questions over the phone (once price & quality were taken into account of course) and he's still one of the best people we work with.  Think about how much business went his way simply because we felt comfortable asking him questions. 

I'm not one of those people who's going to say, "why the attitude?" or let it make me feel small or intimidated(which is what I used to do) but I am going to look for other possible future alternatives.  (Unless in the case of the velvets, everyone else is really nice, the service is amazing, and I'm so used to the dude's personality and it's almost funny.)  I don't think most people are intentionally rude or snobby or brisk, but it can harm them or their company anyway.  I've realized that most of that type of treatment isn't personal, but I'd still rather not have to deal with it. 

But why designers with the snobby rap?  We deal with appearances, we critique people's homes, we're in a field that is out of many people's comfort zone...  what else?

Competition.  I've noticed that there are a couple of different types of designers: those who share and those who compete.  There's no ifs-ands-or-buts about it, some designers view all other designers as competitors.  To some extent, I guess this is healthy, but to another extent there can be some cattiness in it.  I have lot of designer friends and believe that we all bring different styles & skills to the table.  The client that's right for me is not the client who might be right for my friend and vice versa.  The better my friends do, the better I can do.  If I can send over a client for a friend who might not be right for me but right for them, they might do the same for me one day.  There are designers out there who view other designers as competitors and as a reslt, just aren't really very friendly when meeting them.  I've even had a situation pretty recently, when I came accross an old family friend who is also a designer and I felt her hackles raise.  This is someone I've known since I was 5 and who has been designing a decade longer than me.  But I felt it and to be honest, even writing it now, it feels weird to me because I care about this person.      

Why else do designers have the snobby rap?

Thinking you're somebody.  This is a biggie.  I think it's important to never assume that someone knows who you are or what you do.  I was at a designer showhouse once and remarked to the designer of the room how much I loved it.  I introduced myself and put out my hand to shake hers after our conversation began and when she didn't offer her name, I asked her.  Eyebrows raised and clearly insulted, "I am ______________  _____________."  I felt embarrassed myself and realized that she was annoyed that I asked her name, but I didn't have a program on me and had wandered into the room without seeing a name anywhere.  I was honestly just loving her work and wanted to know who she was/ make a proper introduction.  (I won't make that mistake again because it was awkward.)  But I promised myself then that if I'm ever in a position like that, that I'll remember that -however awesome I think I am- there's a whole world of people out there who don't know me.  Humility is a virtue.

ASIDE: On that humility note though, I do think you can go too far- one of my best friends said to me a month or so ago on the phone that she thought I'd looked great after having the baby but had been afraid to tell me in person because I'm "so weird about compliments."  This definitely made me laugh, but I felt kind of bad.  I recounted a a conversatioon I'd recently had when I'd met someone at a party and he said "Oh my gosh your skin is just glowing!" and instead of saying "thanks" I said something like "yeah , I guess the sun'll do that" and it was just kind of awkward because there was a group of us & it came off as sarcastic (I think) when I didn't mean it that way at all.   So I do know that there's also a point when you have to learn to accept praise or a compliment gracefully. 

Why else?

Nonverbal.  I had a friend in high school who people thought were snobby and she blamed it on her facial expression and she was right.  Her natural resting facial expression just looked snobby.  My mom mentioned recently that one of the kids at the school she worked at asked, "Ms.Cox, why are you always sad?"  hahaha  And she has deep, sad eyes (which have always reminded me a bit of Precious Moments) and she said she's now going to have to try to work on her resting facial position because when she walks around it looks like she's unhappy.  Not that I think we always have to go around like people are watching us, but I do think it helps to be aware of how we're being perceived.  Do we come accross as nice, pushy, sweet, polite, rude, snobby??  How do you want to be perceived?  Maybe you don't have to go as far as changing your natural resting facial position, but you can be aware of your nonverbal communication when you're engaging in some way with somebody.  Are you speaking really quickly, giving them the impression that you don't have time for them?  Are you letting them speak?  Are you showing them that you're interested in what they have to say and listening?  Even smaller things like- is your body angled toward them or away from them? Are you looking around the room for other customers or are you paying attention to the person you're speaking with?  People in our industry need a little hand-holding.  (Even I like it! :)

Clearly there comes a point of overanalyzation (And I think I might be there.. I often recount conversation from months past, thinking that something I said came across badly or that I talked too much.  I'm much more critical of myself than I am of others.) but I do think it helps to do it a little and to become aware of how you're presenting yourself.  I majored in communication in college and have always been senstitive to people's moods and behavior and the results are out there, that how you present yourself affects everything from who you marry to how much money you make. 

Experience.  Wow, I can't say enough about experience.  A year of working experience in this industry is pure gold.  Every year you get better, you learn more, you grow, you become more open-minded (hopefully!) you become more confident.  I think this in many ways explains why so many of the great designers of our day our older.  But inevitably, with that experience, comes confidence & knowledge, which are both good, but can lead to ego & cockiness & impatience with those who know less or have questions or don't understand you.  Everyone is a person and everyone deserves respect.  It doesn't matter who you are or what or who you know.  You might be speaking to the next ____________ (fill in the blank).  I think most of us know what it feels like to be underestimated and I'm sure most of us don't like it (unless we're about to win a game of pool.)  Treating "those who matter" with respect and treating "those who don't" (just by feeling this way about someone you have to realize it's wrong)  with indifference or anything less than respect just plain isn't okay.  The receptionist who lets you in the door deserves the same respect as the CEO you're visiting.  I think anyone who has been on the receiving end of a brisk "hello" and then watches that same person turn to someone else and introduce themselves and gush, immediately feels a bit dissed.  I watch this go on all the time at parties and events. 

Who's Who.  Once you really get into any industry, you realize that there are those who are industry-famous.  The rest of the world doesn't know them, but you & everyone you work with does.  There are parties and events and associations and circles just like high school!  Some people are popular and everyone loves them and some people are really good at what they do but people don't like them as much.  It's easy for someone new in the business to feel "small" when entering into everything.  I myself was really nervous when going to some of the first design things a few years ago, but was fortunate to have some really sweet people taking care of me. 

In the design industry, a lot of things have gone into creating that notion of snobbery-  judgements, money, the focus on appearances, impatience with those who don't know, competition, ego, exclusivity, narcissism, etc. and I think some of it is valid and also that a lot of the perceived snobbery is unwarranted.  There are so many people in the industry who do have incredible reputations & talents but are the most down-to-earth people when you actually talk with them.  As is often the case, many of the most successful/ talented/ celebrated people are the most real and have gotten as far as they have not only because of their talents but because of their personalities. 

I'm not sure what I accomplished by this long pictureless post but maybe by thinking a little more we can learn to not pass judgements as quickly on others who might come across as snobby or maybe we can be more aware of our own behavior and make sure we're not coming across in a way we don't want to be perceived.  Your thoughts??

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

-ps I just recently added this bit above about my design services in hopes that I get more reader-clients...  Since I've started the blog many of my clients have come directly from the blog & it's been so much fun!!
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