Interior ShotLast year I was contacted by a client who, with the best of intentions, passion and energy and, believing he had everything sorted, threw himself into his property’s refurbishment. His builder was given full responsibility for the day to day project management. After just 2 weeks into the project, the cry for help came in.

Engaging an interior designer at this late stage is not uncommon but, is fraught with problems. The client may not know the interior designer’s work and approach, the existing design may lack professional aesthetic and practical input, and the space for conflict and/or compromise is wide.

The purpose of any refurbishment is to fulfil a human need. Having early professional input is critical in the design and delivery of an outcome that successfully satisfies that need.

The project contained perfectly suitable technical information for any builder to follow. What was lacking is what turns a house into a fully functional and comfortable home. Lighting would have failed to meet the required outcomes for ambient, accent or task needs. Electrical sockets were placed randomly, some of no use to anyone. Wardrobe doors did not open as they clashed with the beds. Radiators were poorly placed and affected furniture layouts.

Quite simply, the technical plans would not have met the client’s practical needs or realised the vision he had of how he would be living and experiencing his new home.

We may think these sort of design issues would not happen under our own watchful eyes, but, they do, and often.

Back to my project. The build continued at pace and headway had to be made quickly despite the lack of design specification, including furniture, fixings and equipment. We kept as far as we could to the original plan. Where design decisions and compromises had to be made, and quickly, the agreed alterations also had to be within budget or as close as possible to it. Do not expect an approved design to be static; they rarely are.

The client’s preference was to source products organically as the project moved towards completion which would have had created conflict with the build programme. The need to specify, source, and order all the required products had basically been overlooked.

I knew action had to be taken and the cry for help became a call for action. Immediately mood boards were produced, specialist stores and shops visited, wall colours tested and chosen, all within a few weeks. Luckily, (or was it by design?) all the chosen materials came within a few days of being required on site. Any further delays would have paused the project.

If you have the freedom to make your design options, choosing what you want when you feel the need to, then you are in the fortunate minority. In my experience, deadlines are generally always set around a ‘move-in date’ or, a need to be settled before the school term starts. Expectations are therefore high. As a designer, my desire is to help my clients make their choices and inevitable compromises at the start of the project, when they have the greatest freedom, not at the ‘11th hour’ when the result is in some way less than desirable and when additional costs can no longer be avoided.

My advice is to nail down everything at the start, understand your build, products and ordering schedule and be ready. You will then be able to leap into your refurbishment with confidence.

Bradley Viljoen Design Ltd

This article first appeared in the May issue of SE22 magazine.