My Interior Design Client Is Giving Me Sleepless Nights

Dear Laurel

Found your web page and blog today.

I’m intrigued at the effort you place with all of your fabulous detailed advice, especially where to purchase items.

Would you consider doing a post specific to hiring an Interior Decorator, navigating communication and how the designer can help you find your style, not theirs.

Possibly how to compromise when expectations are not met and what those negotiations may reasonably look like without terminating the positive relationship.

Thank you. I will continue to enjoy your site.



And then I got this letter about a designer with an interior design client who’s making her mighty uncomfortable, not to mention is abusive.


Dear Laurel,

I’ve been reading your blog for at least three years. About 25 years ago, I took some design courses and then worked in a furniture store for a couple of years. But after we had not one, but two sets of twins– 18 months apart (!), it was too much and I stayed home to take care of the kids. In fact, I ran a little daycare with the help of my sister. Fast forward, the kids are all doing great and are in college.

About 18 months ago, inspired by everything you’ve taught us, I decided to open up my decorating business. As I had been active in our school’s PTA and then school board, I was quite well-known in the community and I got some very nice jobs and did a local showhouse which brought in some other jobs.

One job, is just finishing up and the client is a dream. She loves everything I present her and is very appreciative of the help.

So, about six weeks ago, I was very excited when her cousin called me for some design help.

They had just renovated an apartment in Manhattan and were in the process of purchasing a converted barn near me in Northern Westchester County.

So, I met them at their N.Y. apartment. And is surprising at how different the cousin is from my favorite interior design client. While the client is warm and vibrant, the cousin, who’s quite a bit younger, is anything but.


But, there’s more, Laurel. Her husband, while excruciatingly handsome, is also a rude, condescending, mocking asshole. Sorry, I don’t know any other way to put it.


I’ve already done about 25 hours of work for them and my design fee of $1,500.00 was used up a long time ago. However, despite a careful interview, they are vague about my selections and keep wanting to see more…

I’ve seen them four times now and every time I see them, I have a knot in my stomach.

I suppose I should just stick it out, right? After-all, how bad can it be? Any advice on how to deal with them?




Hi Everyone!

Dr. Laurel is in the office today, to share much about how this interior business works from a designer’s viewpoint.

And, for you, if you’re going to be an interior design client, information about what to expect, protocol, how designers charge.  Plus, stuff that irks the hell out of us. And sometimes if it’s bad enough what makes us run for the hills!


However, here’s the deal. I have already written about these interrelated, topics, but from different angles. Three times. So, here’s what I’ve done. I’ve revised the other three blog posts and JUST republished them, so that they are all together.  A few of you who subscribe either on wordpress or bloglovin’, or see the posts announced on Facebook, might be wondering what’s going on because those get published automatically.

It’s just something I’m experimenting with.

Most of these questions and much more are answered in the other three posts.


The posts are:


How to know if your interior decorator is ripping you off

The Interior decorator from hell

A client who got fired by her interior designer


However, I have some things to say about both of these notes.


In the first one, if the client and designer are to have a good working relationship, there should not be ANY significant arguing at all. If you find that it’s a constant tug of war, then this is not going to have a happy ending.

And just because you don’t see eye-to-eye doesn’t mean that the other person is a loser. It’s just not a good fit as we say.

Even if you’re already pretty far in, it is better to break things off amicably than continue on.

As for helping you find your own style, I believe that is largely up to you. It’s a little like exercising. Nobody else can do that for you. So, get on Pinterest and start collecting beautiful interiors that you love.


Regarding letter number two with the interior design client that is giving the decorator sleepless nights.


I feel for you; I’ve been there and I’ve been in situations where I too have shown up with a knot in my stomach going to see my interior design client. That pain is there for a reason. It is there trying to warn you that all is not right with your world, but you are refusing to listen.

Maybe you really need the money. Oh, I’ve been there too.

Or, maybe you think it’s all you; they’re not really that bad.

Believe me when I say: It’s not all you and yes, they really are that bad. In fact, they are probably far worse than you realize.

But, in reality, none of that matters. What matters is how you feel.


And, if you’re feeling this badly, you need to get in, get on and GET OUT!

Sure, I pepper it with the usual glib-humor, but I am dead-serious here.

I don’t believe that I’ve talked in-depth about the ONE client from hell that I had; a bona fide sociopath. Yes, indeed; a beautiful soul-sucking SNAKE. I’ve skirted around it.  She’s the one where I tried to fire myself, but should’ve tried HARDER.

I LOST a good $15,000.00. She was threatening to sue me and so I caved. And I lost that money when my husband was out of work and yes, we desperately needed it. I too, thought, “oh, it won’t be that bad. I can handle her.”

Well, that was utter foolishness on my part; I couldn’t handle her. She’s a freaking professional LITIGATOR IN NEW YORK CITY. She had my head in a vice and she squeezed it with all of her might.

Therefore, if I can save one person, the hell I went through, it will be worth it.

If you even THINK an interior design client might be a problem,  DO NOT TAKE THE JOB. If they become abusive, obnoxious, pull sneaky tricks, undermine your integrity. Do not give it a second thought. Forget the money. These types will bleed you dry. I learned the hard way.

Much Love,

PS: I really don’t like to end on such a negative note. Over the 20 years of running my interior design business, I had the privilege of working with dozens of the THE most wonderful, delightful interior design clients, one could ever hope to have. They enriched my life immensely and invited me back again and again to help them with their homes.

PPS: Please check out the hot sales! Once you’ve finished the three hours of reading I’ve assigned you. haha. But, it’s a holiday weekend and crappy weather, so stay warm and safe. I hear that it’s going to be bitttttttter cold on Monday.


Here are the other posts again:


How to know if your interior decorator is ripping you off

The Interior decorator from hell

A client who got fired by her interior designer


20 Responses

  1. Laurel,
    Thank you for all the guidance you have provided over the years! I was recently reading some of your older posts. “I hate my house! Help for a small living room” from 2015 had some great suggestions. I have a very narrow console where I would love to have two small ottomans for extra seating. Unfortunately, the ottoman in this post are now unavailable. I also adore the beautiful accent chairs you included in the idea board at the bottom but haven’t a clue where to find those either. Is this a blog post you might be able to update? Our 1951 ranch house just went through a wonderful renovation I think you would love, but we still have this small and kind of oddly shaped living room that I’m constantly trying to get right. It has a beautiful baby grand in it, though, that my two daughters use as well as a lot of other nice elements. Anyway, the previously mentioned blog post spoke to me. I’ll stop rambling. Thank you, again, for all your help!

  2. Laurel, you’re totally right. And you’re a very good designer! But not everyone is like you, in fact you’re one of the nicest people in the industry! So you’re the only one (at least for me, try and call Timothy corrigan’s office or Miles Redd and ask all of these questions). You have great taste and you’re honest, trustworthy, and your ego is not as big as a house. rare find. Sadly not practicing anymore. Excuse my black humor and behavior. I still like them though. hahaha

    1. Hi Val,

      That’s a darling comment! I just try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. And, even when people aren’t behaving as I think they should, I try to consider what their motivation is. I believe that the strongest motivator for all behavior is fear.

      Fear both stops us and in other cases, propels us.

      But some fears we impose upon ourselves. Other times, it’s a situation that we have no control over. I believe it’s when people try to control that which they have no control over that gets us in trouble. And fearing that which we do have control over keeps us from moving forward and growing.

  3. I don’t get that shady structure designers have. No price lists on website (I get that it depends). You have to write and ask. I would prefer to have a menu of services like at a restaurant so you can choose what do you want from there. Be inspired at least. Just beautiful pics so you have to figure it out. And then “what budget do you have”? Arghhh. No offenses. But it’s pretty shady…The dermatologist here. My industry is weird too

    1. Hi Val,

      Well, designers have access to millions of products, so a price-list would not be possible, unless you are talking about an e-commerce store on a designer’s website.

      The way I handled the budget was not to ask for a precise over-all number, but to say, something like sofas generally range from $2,000 – $5,000 on average. It depends on the style, manufacturer, fabric and cushion fill, etc. Then, I would wait for something like, “that’s fine.” Or, we can’t spend more than $3,000 for a sofa. And then I would do the same thing with club chairs, tables… Then, I would have a very good idea of their price-range.

      Then, I would do a quick guestimate based on what they just said. And I say something like, I can put this together for you for between X and X at the very most. And then, don’t forget that there’s shipping/handling and tax which is about another 20% or whatever. Then, I would listen to the feedback. Like, “Oh, I thought it would be more!” or, X amount is our absolute limit.

      And then I was sure not to show them items that would put them over budget.

      Clear communication about these things is essential. There should not be any mystery to it. As for the designer’s cost to their clients, that needs to be clearly spelled out in the letter of agreement. I rarely had any issues with the pricing. Occasionally, their budget shrunk from their original estimate due to unforeseens in construction. That sort of thing.

      The point is to always be honest and upfront regarding costs. In other words, treat your clients the way you wish to be treated when you’re a client for someone else.

      All of this is discussed at length, but we have to have a clear idea.

  4. I’d love to have your opinion about my experiences with a designer. The area is rural, with no furniture stores and no way of finding fabrics and furniture without the help of a designer. My frustration with this designer is the time it took to complete a rather small one room job. She would leave the house with a goal clearly stated, then I wouldn’t hear from her for at least two or three weeks when she’d appear with fabric samples. If I didn’t like them, we’d repeat the process until this went on for months before things were even ordered. During the second, again, small one room project, I became so impatient with this process that I just went along with the things she brought the first time. Of course, now I’m very unhappy with what she did. I just don’t think it should take four to five months to get a job going. Am I wrong or too impatient?

    1. Hi Mary,

      Well, actually, yes, it can take that long. Especially if the there’s a holiday in there. But, I’m sorry that it wasn’t what you were expecting. I always discussed this in my letter of agreement and verbally with my clients so that they would understand up front. No surprises. (or as few as possible!)

      After your designer left with her assignment, she has to go back and order the samples and that can easily take a couple weeks for them all to come in and then she has to schedule an appointment to see you.

      Most commonly, from start to finish for one room was about 6 months. The fastest was about 3 months. But, that would be with someone who made decisions on the first or second go-around. And then there was nothing that backed things up like a back order on a fabric.

      However, some rooms took 9 months or longer. Sometimes that was because of a problem I had no control over, a slow renovation, the client going on frequent vacations and/or being slow about returning emails to schedule appointments. All sorts of reasons.

      I was just talking about that in the previous comment with my friend and colleague Heather Bates.

  5. Great posts (all three). I am shocked at the treatment Chris revived by this designer. I know some work this way. But clients need to have “touch points” throughout the process. I have a client who is a tad adhd and finally placed an order for a fully custom sofa. Turning a bowed arm chesterfield into a 10’x10’ sectional. Original quote was sent in early October. She is super busy but was able to settle on the fabric. Now, instead of 6-8 weeks, we’re looking at ready to ship estimate for April 16th, because orders from Atlanta Market earlier this month have to be produced first. She understands this, so now we will attack the drapes and swivel chairs so her hubby can at least feel like something is being done. This drives me nuts. She is a good client, but her schedule really gets in the way of completing the project in a timely fashion!

  6. Laurel,

    Wow that was a lot to swallow! Yes, yes the rudeness factor is everywhere today. I substitute teach in a couple public schools, mostly upper elementary and middle school, and boy are the children rude. I think to myself, what are their parents like or whoever is caring for them? This reminds me of my mother, age 93, and her report cards that included “deportment”. Those were the days!

    I also wanted to mention, the Wall Street Journal has a mansion section each Friday. The section shows real estate trends, remodeling, as well as an interview of a celebrity, Kristin Chenoweth, athlete, musician, etc. Thought you might want to check out the section if you have not already.

    One last thing, the Journal also had an article over the weekend entitled, “Why We React Badly When That New Sofa Arrives” by Ms. Slatalla, editor of When I read the article I thought of you. Have you experienced panicked clients? You will get a good laugh when you read this.

    Time for Netflix!

  7. I had an experience with an interior designer who, in hindsight, reluctantly took me on as a client in the middle of an extensive renovation/addition to my home. She prefers to have total control of a project from start to finish but agreed to step in at the end to help me with paint colors and furnishings. She handed me off to a design intern whose selections were then approved (or not) by the designer. It seems most everything we ordered was so custom or “new” that lead times ranged between 6-9 months. A custom coffee table arrived damaged and was immediately sent back to the designer, repaired, then re-delivered to my home. Once in place it was obvious the table was far too large for the space. She was supposed to come back for one last visit on site but never did. The experience left me underwhelmed. I still have that table and hope to use it in my living room that I am now redecorating with the help of your blog. Having said that, not all was bad. She is an extremely talented nationally award-winning designer who does beautiful work. While she provided me with good advice I felt like the neglected stepchild. I paid a lot of money for that advice. Just wish I had known about you and the products you offer. Oh well, better late than never.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Ugh. Yes, it sounds like she is/was a tad (understatement) over-extended. A lot of designers do this. Giving the benefit of the doubt, some people have trouble saying “no.” But more often, maybe they are in denial about what they can handle so that everyone leaves happy. Or, they’re greedy. (not worth it!) Or, some other job became a time-sucking burden. OR, she’s having personal problems. Or all of the above. :] Still, she should’ve showed up for a final walk-through so that she could ooh and ah over her work. lol

      And yeah, the super high-end stuff usually have these incredibly lengthy lead-times. Sources like Profiles (designer showroom at 200 Lex) and Holly Hunt are two that come to mind.

      Actually, I love really large coffee tables, as long as they aren’t too tall. I am imagining that it was not styled right away? That could be the problem. That is, unless it’s so big that people are constantly busting their shins on it as they try to shimmy past it.

  8. Thank you Laurel, I don’t think you can ever talk about these subjects enough! I have been running my own Interior Design company for 25 years and I find I can always improve on communicating with clients, setting up reasonable expectations and heeding the ‘red flag’ warnings I get with certain clients. No matter how much you (I) need the money; it’s not worth it! Unfortunately I just had a good client ‘go bad’ (mainly because she hired an accountant who has no clue how designers work) and I have had to chase her for money for furniture and window treatments that have been in her home for months. I put up with a lot because I love what I do but when I have to hound clients for money, the relationship is OVER.

    1. ugh! no kidding. And I too have made the mistake as I said of not billing BEFORE something arrived. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and mine are on the business end as paperwork is not exactly my forte. I know some designers who charge EVERYTHING 100% up front. That certainly makes everything easier and protects the designer, but I would feel uncomfortable as a client getting charged 10s of thousands of dollars for furniture that was only going to be on order.

      That’s why a retainer isn’t a bad idea. In the beginning, my (don’t laugh) $500 retainer was refundable. No design fee. This was back in 1996, but after a few years that became the design fee per major room for a number of years, but by the time 2013 rolled around, it was up to $1,500. I made 95% of my income through product sales. I couldn’t be bothered with the hourly thing and those who ONLY charge by the hour, unless their work is low-end are losing money. I mean, how many hours does it take to order a sofa?

  9. I agree, my first hubby was a chartered accountant and I read some of the articles in his journals. There I learned about “cutting your losses”. Give them a bill for the $1500 and get out of there with your dignity. If they insist on retaining you, give them an outrageously high quote. You have the colleges to pay for for 4 kids!


    1. It’s the truth! I once had a consult client and I wasn’t 100% sure at the first meeting, but I was at the second meeting and sent her an email politely releasing myself. Well, she still sent me the design fee. lol. But, of course, I sent it back.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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