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Only Good Clients

Jeffrey explains the ideal client/decorator relationship and says what he thinks his castmates' talents are.

By Jeffrey Alan Marks

I’ve loved watching the first season of Million Dollar Decorators. For me it is fascinating to see Mary, Martyn, Kathryn, and Nate work with their clients and see how unique each client/decorator relationship is -- they run the gamut from impossible to deal with to totally deferent. Mary has a take charge attitude and knows how to get what she wants. The results speak for themselves -- Mary’s work is sensational and distinctly Mary. Martyn’s clients act as if Rudolph Valentino has entered the room when he shows up, and they let him do exactly as he pleases. His great skill is giving his clients exactly what they want while his work still maintains a characteristic Martyn flavor. Nathan's approach is very collaborative, and because he is so warm and a amicable he gets the best results in the gentlest manner. Kathryn’s casual, comfortable, vivacious rooms are a mirror to her personality. She has a joie de vivre that translates perfectly in her design style and method.

The finished product in any design is a direct reflection of the relationship between the client and designer. The completed Hungry Cat is a combination of my original design scheme and the client David Lentz’s revisions based on his own point of view. David is very specific about the way he wants things. He picked the art, barstools, outdoor chairs, tables, planters, sound-proofing, and changed the seating and table design in the bar.

They say “There are no great decorators, only great clients." The reality of our industry is that without our clients we are nothing. Our clients are our patrons. They supply the funds with which we get to create our visions. Of course when clients try to play designer the results are often less than ideal.

Recently Vanity Fair asked a globally renowned panel of top producers in the design industry to take part in a poll to pick the best contemporary building in the world. The overwhelming winner was Frank Gehry’s Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Anybody who has seen pictures of the building can’t deny how extraordinary it is, a truly original vision brought to life. Truth is that this building would never have been built without client funding, but more extraordinary is that the Guggenheim foundation was wise enough to let Frank build his masterpiece and express his vision to its fullest potential, and it is the "fullest potential" part that is probably most important. They let Frank do what Frank really wanted to do, no holds barred, and the result is arguably the best contemporary building in the world. The perfect example of clients not playing designer.

As designers, decorators, and architects, we all rely on our relationship with a client or an investor to allow us to bring our vision to life. How we bring it to life depends on the client's willingness to collaborate, or as the case may be, to relinquish control and let the professionals do what they do best. The creator/client relationship is the most important factor in the creation of any great work. Stories of creators and their clients go back to the beginning of architecture and design. The story behind the construction of the Taj Mahal goes that the "client" Shah Jahan hired the architect to build his finest work and upon completion of the project the Shah cut off the architects hands so he could never work again. The work we do relies entirely on our clients beneficence or compliance.

My job as a decorator is to design my clients' dream homes, restaurants, and hotels, and, speaking from over a quarter of a century in the industry, I can honestly say the bulk of the design that I have been involved in that does not work is because the client got an idea in their mind of what they wanted or what they thought would work, and I gave in to their vision rather than pushing harder for my own. The reality is you have to pick you battles -- and on any project there are always a number of them. I think that the best thing you can do when designing a project is find someone who’s work you really love and admire and then let them take the reigns. It not only makes the process much less stressful, but the finished product is always a far greater success.

Thanks for watching.


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