Ep. 11: The Design Process with Barbs and Blanche!

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While Barbs and Blanche were in Santa Barbara this week checking in on a client, the two sat down to talk about the LCo design process!

Our process is very unique to us and our team, and is something that we’ve spent years working to perfect! We’d love to hear from other designers what their process is like - read on and drop us a comment below!

The show notes

a word on Inspiration vs imitation

Before we jump into our full on design process, we want to quickly touch on inspiration vs imitation! Inspiration is really important for designers and we take it really seriously at our firm. It’s one of the first things that we all initially connect on! Our brand is everything to us and consistently says “organic desert living” - from our employees to our design aesthetic! 

There should be a bigger emphasis these days on inspiration vs imitation! Yep! We said it! This episode isn’t all about how challenging it is to have your work ripped off...but it’s really challenging. It’s important in the design community to encourage each other to produce our own, original work! However, there’s also no such thing as a new idea and you’re never the first person to do something…or the last. As an idea evolves there should be an identifiable change; take in the inspiration from a project, digest it and then regurgitate it so that you feel confident enough going to the original creator and saying “thank you for the inspiration, here’s my interpretation of it.”

Our team draws a lot of inspiration for organic desert living from traveling (whether that’s together or apart), exchanging ideas we see on Instagram and Pinterest in our never-ending group text, reading, design markets and keeping our eyes open to the world around us! As a team, we do a lot of “saving and tracking” - we save color palettes, tile, furniture pieces, you name it! We will save something until the time and moment is right. For example, we’ve gone to a design market, fallen in love with a specific chair and all say “this chair is going to have this moment,” and it was a year and a half before we used said piece, but it’s that important to wait for the right moment!

Imagine waiting a year and a half to debut a specific chair in all its glory with a design concept and scheme that your team produced for a client, only to see an identical interpretation from another designer in your network on Instagram two months later…sucks huh?! As with any industry, it’s important to have a 360 vision, be original and produce new and innovative ideas!

How does our design process affect our clients?

Some people think we’re amazon prime for design and we’re just chucking out designs, but it takes a lot of time, detail, and doesn’t happen overnight. Every design we produce is well thought out and purposeful, and a lot of times unique to our client and their needs. There’s a lot we require from our clients in the forefront to make sure we’re on the same page, and most importantly an aesthetic match. Like clients hold us accountable, we also hold our clients accountable and it’s super important that they  understand what’s entailed in that accountability. The designer/client dynamic is like a full on new dating relationship! We say this all the time, but as a client you are literally inviting us into your home and lives! It’s important to the success of a project that we communicate and start out on the same page in order to set the tone for the rest of the design experience.

The design process

Every project timeline depends on our schedule, the type of project (is it only interiors? new build? renovation?) and how booked we are. Before any sort of contract is drawn up, we have a real conversation with the client to figure out their style. As we mentioned previously, everything we do needs to be a brand and aesthetic match! Some of the questions we ask could be “On a scale of 1-10, how ODL are you?” “How traditional are you?” “How modern are you?” It’s a negotiation, but it’s so important to communicate beforehand to make sure we start out on the right foot. During this stage we also talk budget. Budget is a huuuuuuuuge part of the design process and believe it or not, even the biggest projects have a budget! We spend a lot of time allocating budget accordingly based on the scope of the project and while every part will be beautiful, not every part can be the stand out star! (Part of being seasoned in design is knowing this and knowing when it’s time to pull back and stop. Knowing when to stop actually also means your project is likely more photographable, more understandable, has more depth and is more effortless for your clients).

Once the contract is signed and the deed is done, the madness begins! Every project gets a lead designer who starts the process by making a group Pinterest board between the whole design team and the client, and sending off a client questionnaire (we coach them through both if needed). We use Pinterest because it is such a visual vehicle, and is a great partner to the client questionnaire; with one being written and the visual, we cross check both to stay on track and on the same page. The other thing this process does for us is it allows us, as the expert, educate the client and either temper expectations or debunk certain things (“I have 3 kids I can’t have white”...not true!). Before we spend any hours actually designing, this process is a must! 

After this part of the process is complete, we gather as a design team and talk game plan. Something that we want to point out is that although every designer has their thing, we don’t often repeat styles or moments! So! This means that for every space we design, we start with a blank white piece of paper. We talk concepts, look at saved and past work, look for new product and technology and different ways of styling. We ask ourselves what the vibe for the space is and how we want it to feel for the client and every person that walks into their home. More than anything, design is about two things: feel and function. When designing, we usually build around lighting and furniture first. Every selection weighs on another and can be a domino effect if something wants to be changed. Each lead designer designs the project to a pretty finished point, then the whole team reconvenes, Kristen looks over the furniture choices and the budget, timing and lead times with furniture. There are a lot of times that she changes some things, and the team has a negotiation period before the design even gets presented to the client. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into a design - what do we do if something comes damaged? What do we do if a furniture piece gets sold out? We always have a plan B for our clients and make sure that it’s thought out prior to presentation!

After our internal design meeting, the lead then goes back and adds styling pieces after the furniture and budget are approved. Our view on styling is this: there’s a very fine line between Target quality and actual quality. You want things that are original and that your neighbor and everyone else on the block doesn't have also. You also want a throw pillow that can be washed and a throw blanket that will last longer than 3 months! When we style we always stay within budget, but you’d be surprised how much of the budget actually goes to styling elements! Once the design is styled, it goes by Barb’s eye again before it gets sent to the client along with big long email that explains EVERYTHING. We provide digital links to everything (colors, fabrics, etc.) so that the client can become really familiar with the pieces. For renovations though, we present in person usually so the client can actually see in person the color and texture of hardscapes and ask us any face to face questions they need to. This email sells the design and is so important for the client to read BEFORE looking at the design, and then we sit and not so patiently refresh our email for our response - the anticipation! Communication is huge! We want and need our clients to tell us if they don’t love something, however they hired us for a reason so if we feel strongly about something, we also will push you to go slightly out of your comfort zone. 

After the client has given initial feedback that consists of constructive feedback, we schedule a design walk. A design walk is where we actually walk through the space and measure to make sure everything fits. This is also an opportunity for the client to get even more specific about what they love and don’t love, their needs and all of the little details. This is where we usually negotiate (most of the times with husbands!) until things are absolutely perfect! Once things are perfect, we’ll begin sourcing for styling pieces, which we don’t do in person that often anymore because we now have a warehouse and can now order things to be delivered straight there! Thanks James and Vince!

Most people think the design process stops when the project is designed, but the process isn’t over until the grand reveal after our team installs the design! Installs are so much fun and are really gratifying to see a concept that has been in the works for so long come to life! We’d be lying if we said every install went perfectly, though. You can plan and prepare to your heart’s desire, but there’s always going to be something and you just have to roll with the punches! At the end of the day, everything can be fixed and remember that plan B we talked about earlier? You’ll be happy you thought that through! 

We hold all design project things (furniture, styling, etc) at our warehouse versus dropping pieces of furniture off and install projects in one swoop. Clients are not conditioned to be able to understand a finished space, one piece at a time, so that’s why we do our installs this way. Ultimately, the reveal is as great as it is because we kick our clients out of their space so we can do our thing and give them a photo ready reveal! 

We very much covet our design process - it’s worked for us, but we’d love to hear how your design process differs from ours! Leave us a comment below!

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