I have been a lobby interior designer for over thirty years. By any standard, I am likely the most experienced (or one of the most experienced) interior designer of condo and coop building lobbies in the New York City area. I’m aware of every single possible mistake that can be made when a building sets out to hire an interior designer for their lobby.
Simply put, I’ve seen it all. Most mistakes that people make when they hire a lobby interior designer are due to not getting enough of the right information right off the bat. These kinds of mistakes can result in stress for residents during construction, materials that don’t hold up to wear, and traffic patterns that make getting through a lobby more like running an obstacle course.
So, if your building is getting ready to hire a lobby interior designer, here’s a list I created that will help save you some of the headaches, heartache, and torment of your lobby rehab.
Avoid these 6 common mistakes when hiring an interior lobby designer:
Mistake #1: Hiring an interior designer who’s never designed a lobby before.
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, in fact, this simple oversight is more common than you would imagine. If you hire a designer who is inexperienced with lobby design, you are actually hiring a residential designer.
Notwithstanding this person may be very experienced in home design, when you hire a bonafide lobby interior designer, you get someone deeply conversant with ADA compliance and regulations, fabrics that can withstand day-to-day foot traffic, local rules that affect everything from where and when a truck can unload to how to manage the varying tastes and opinions of residents.
Without that knowledge and expertise, your lobby interior design project can become a long nightmare.
What to ask before you hire: “How many lobbies have you designed?” Then, ask to see them. You be the judge!
Mistake #2: Hiring an interior designer who’s overwhelmed with other projects.
It’s can be difficult to resist a designer who arrives with a dazzling portfolio, but . . . you don’t want to hire someone who has ten concurrent projects in rotation at one time and uses freelancers to keep things afloat. This could make your lobby project drag on and on
What to ask before you hire: “Do you have a permanent staff? Do you have an office?” “Do you have client testimonials we can see? References?” Or, even better yet, “Will you take us to see your finished projects?” Give them the opportunity to showcase their smarts. (Word of advice, be cautious of interior designers who work from home.)
Mistake #3: Hiring an interior designer who’s unfamiliar with the logistics of working in your local area.
This can be like hiring someone from the Tanami Desert to design a rain garden in downtown Pittsburgh! For example, New York City is where I mostly work, is very complex—with a wide variety of ordinances and regulations to navigate. Your building could get into costly trouble if your lobby interior designer doesn’t adhere to the rules. The designer with a gorgeous portfolio of lobbies in another city may not be the best choice.
What to ask before you hire: This one’s fairly simple—”Where have you completed the majority of your projects?” If a few of them happen to be local, let them take you for a personal tour of these spaces. Then do more research, such as contact coop boards or building management companies to find out how people actually felt about the process and the finished space. Due diligence here is a must.
Mistake #4: Hiring someone who’s just getting started as a lobby interior designer.
Now, if you’re trying to give your great-grandson a jumpstart on his new career – then by all means welcome the idea. Just make sure to hire a veteran to provide proper mentorship. For the other 99.87% of cases, a budding new designer simply doesn’t possess the level of experience with residents, coop boards, building management, and staff to pull it off. And, be advised, there are a lot of personalities to deal with as each party can play a role in the decision-making.
What to ask before you hire: “How long have you been in business? “How many projects have you completed since you started?” “Can we interview a board member from a previous project?” Let them show you their track record.
Mistake #5: Hiring an interior designer who doesn’t charge enough (what??)
Listen, I know this sounds crazy, but if the price is too good to be true it probably is. Dig deep into the proposal and you’ll likely find some big holes—which is the perfect storm for your project going way over budget. Save yourself some time (and vacation money) – save the cheap prices for Dollar General.
What to ask before you hire: Make sure to get an itemized proposal and a written assurance that any work that is outside your budget and scope will only be executed upon your written approval.
Mistake #6: Hiring an interior designer who doesn’t understand the difference between rehab vs. new construction.
You see, new construction is easy—because these buildings are unoccupied and you don’t have to account for people roaming in and out. But in an occupied building, once the laundry room, elevator and mail room are installed, access to each of these spaces becomes a huge issue—as the residents’ lives cannot be overly disrupted. When they are (and they will be), it wreaks havoc for everyone.
What to ask before you hire: “What lobby renovations vs. new builds have you completed? Do you tend to focus on one over the other?” Once you have a good feel for the level of experience, go see for yourself.
If you are getting ready to hire a lobby interior designer, follow my advice and you can avoid many costly and time-consuming (not to mention stressful) mistakes.
Just a note:
I’ve developed processes and protocols that enable my firm to deliver exceptional results in lobby interior design. We have an intimate understanding of the nuances of construction in the New York City area including local regulations, compliance, and permitting. We are highly experienced in navigating and managing resident/management expectations. We are adept at keeping our projects on time and on budget. And, last but not least, we create extraordinarily beautiful spaces that are functional, comfortable, and stand the test of time.
Peruse our gallery of finished lobby interior design projects here.