As mere mortals in the world of interior design, we often go blind to the less-than-glamorous side of the industry. Designers, good ones at least, shield their clients from the day-to-day struggles caused by a discontinued paint color, missing shipment, unexpected costs and everything in between. From tight deadlines to furniture delivery mix-ups, interior design can be a challenging field. We talk with pro designer Sara Ray of Sara Ray Interior Design to get the inside scoop on what it’s really like to be a designer. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the life of Sara Ray!
What does a typical day look like, for you?
Every day is a little different, which is exciting! Some days, I’m meeting with clients to go over projects that are already underway or new clients to discuss future projects. Other days, I’m making selections, either in my office or with vendors. There are also shopping and install days, and, of course, all the ups and downs of running a business. There’s a lot going on!
We would guess that installation day would be the most rewarding part of the process. Does the day typically run smoothly or are you still fighting fires down to the last minute?
Yes, install days are the best! Typically, we try to think of everything we could encounter before the install gets underway, but of course, there can be surprises or unexpected things that pop up. It’s usually nothing too big, and we can resolve issues during the install, or we’ve already taken care of it before the big day. Sometimes, we’ll have to make an extra shopping trip during an install if we don’t have that perfect finishing touch for an area we are styling, or we realize we need more accessories (houses can eat up accessories quickly!). It’s so unbelievably satisfying to see a design vision come together in real life, after all the planning and specifying and ordering. Watching our clients’ faces light up when they see their spaces is absolutely my favorite part of every project.
Do you have any stories to share about putting out these fires?
Not long ago, I had a family who was moving to Nashville from Connecticut, and we were setting up their entire house prior to their move-in day. They were coming with very few of their own belongings. Their master bed was supposed to be delivered a couple of days before the install. Well, it didn’t get delivered. We tracked down the closest one at a warehouse in Atlanta, rented a van and sent someone to get it. We purchased a bed for them to sleep in for their first night in the house and set up the new bed the following day. There were definitely some moments of panic, but it worked out in the end!
What is your least favorite part of the design process?
I get frustrated when I have to rethink a space because a fabric or piece of furniture that was really inspiring to the design of the space has become discontinued.
What is the hardest part of getting started in the field? It must be such a competitive space. How do you handle this competition?
I was fortunate to work with some amazing designers for several years before creating my own business, so getting started in the field, for me, was getting my degree and working with experienced designers and learning everything I could. A particular challenge was taking the NCIDQ exam, which is our industry’s licensing examination. As any interior designer who has taken it can tell you, it’s really intense!
When I began my business a little over five years ago, I was excited (and a little scared!), but I knew in my heart that it was the right time for me to go out on my own. As far as competition, I actually appreciate the proliferation of interior designers in Nashville — as our city continues to grow, there are more and more potential clients. I truly believe there’s enough business to go around, and there are different specialties among interior designers. Potential clients can review designers’ website portfolios and see who may be a good match for them. I have good friends who are interior designers here in Nashville, and we regularly text each other questions about tradespeople, etc., and get together to chat about projects and best practices over a margarita or two. So for me, it feels more like an atmosphere of support and collaboration than competition.
Have you ever created a space you don’t love in order to meet the clients’ wants?
No, not really. I have my own design preferences, of course, but I appreciate other points of view and aesthetics, too. In my own home, I lean toward more modern design, mixed with vintage and antique pieces. I really strive to learn about my client’s vision and make that a reality, helping them discover their own style. I get turned off when I hear about designers pushing a particular aesthetic onto clients. Interior design is so personal, and at the end of the day, the client will live in the spaces, so they’ve got to feel good about the final result — it reflects who they are. Maybe it’s the kind of clients we naturally attract, but I find that we’re pretty much in line with our clients, design-wise. Some projects are more modern, some are more traditional — it’s that constant change and variety that keeps it interesting.
How long do projects typically take? Does the amount of time always surprise clients?
There’s really not a standard lead time, since we do so many different types of projects. Lead times vary based on whether it’s a remodel, addition, new build or décor project. Lead times do tend to surprise clients, though. Everyone is excited when starting a design project, so it’s hard to wait sometimes — but it’s always worth it in the end! I always try to give accurate projections of how long each particular project may take in the beginning so that my clients know what to expect. That being said, there can be changes and delays, especially with remodel projects. You just don’t know what you’ll find when you get into old walls and floors!
What is the client’s biggest misconception about the process?
It can be challenging when clients think that major home renovation projects can be completed really quickly and with a very low budget. Nashville is such a booming city right now that construction costs and lead times are not what they used to be. This can be surprising to clients if they are new to Nashville, new to doing construction or haven’t done a project recently. All of the TV shows make home projects look like they happen with a snap of the fingers, but good design and construction don’t happen overnight. When clients are investing money in home improvement projects, it’s important that the project is well-planned and well-executed. It takes a little time.
What makes all of this hard work worth it?
The best part is witnessing my clients’ expressions when they see their completed space, and knowing that I got to be a part of making their environment a place where they feel comfortable and enjoy calling home – it’s truly so rewarding to me. Interior design changes lives! I also love the whole creative process and working with my designers. It’s a collaborative process here, and I love working together on our clients’ projects. I’m grateful for our team!
What are three things you wish everyone knew about interior design?
- Interior design goes far beyond accessories and styling spaces. We create extensive, detailed construction documents and specifications, and my designers and I have been trained and educated in the use of materials, spatial relations, health and safety in environments, so we can create beautiful, functional spaces that last. This is what often sets interior designers apart from decorators or stylists. I love a good décor project, and we work on them every single day, but we also complete full-scale kitchen and bath renovation projects, for example, and work with builders and homeowners on new construction projects, from planning stages through completion.
- When putting together a furniture budget, put more money toward upholstered pieces that are used every day — like sofas and chairs that can take the wear and tear of daily use. With upholstery, more so than with other furnishings, you usually get what you pay for. I encourage clients to save money elsewhere, like on smaller items, such as end tables or consoles, which will get less use.
- Home improvement television shows are not an accurate representation of how things in our industry work. It’s TV magic!
Learn more about Sara Ray Interior Design, services offered and more at sararayinteriordesign.com.
This article is sponsored by Sara Ray Interior Design.