Plantation Hopping in New Orleans

Our first few days south of the Mason-Dixon were spent touring Creole Plantations, one accessed by air-boat via the bayou. Alligators tried to climb in for a free ride and a red-blooded meal, making for interesting travel!


Bayou’s were dug by hand, both by slaves and by Napoleon’s army as a way to access the cypress forest interior. Once the logs were culled, they were floated either up or down river to their destination.

Interestingly, Louisiana had an “Enslaved People’s Bill of Rights” thanks to the Napoleonic Code.  Slaves worked from sun-up until 3 p.m.  After that they had to be paid!  Sunday’s were a day of rest, but if a slave chose to work, or to rent his/her services out, they would be paid for that time as well.  If a slave saved enough of their earnings to buy their freedom, their owners had to accept the payment and set them free.


Cypress was the wood of choice for floors and construction because it didn’t warp in the humid climate.

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Creoles (as opposed to Cajuns, who were actually Canadians) were the European whites and local free people of color who settled the Vieux Carre or French Quarter of New Orleans.

They built their plantations up and down the Mississippi, 350 between New Orleans and Nachez. Creole construction determined that hallways and stairwells were places where bad air, “ill humors” and ghosts collected and they therefore did away with them. All staircases were outside the dwelling and all rooms interconnected in an enfilade (some of the homes on our tour were added to over the years and stairways were enclosed with the house).

All homes faced the river and had an allee of Cypress or Oak trees (think Twelve Oaks from Gone with the Wind) along the path from the door to the water’s edge.


Inside, the ground floor, usually brick, was used for storage or sometimes as a convertible formal dining room/ballroom. General living was conducted on the 2nd floor to catch the breezes from the multiple French doors that opened to verandas encircling the house.

Cielings were often 11-15 feet high, carrying the heat aloft. Attics could have a 25 foot pitch, drawing heat up and away from the inhabitants. Almost unbelievably for homes built between the 1820’s and the 1850’s, there was cold, running water! Cisterns were mounted on roofs and in towers near the house which piped water to the kitchen (if it was in the main house) and to water closets tucked into bedroom corners. In one house there was even an early shower!!

Materials and supplies were shipped down river, arriving literally at the front door. Louisiana plantations were completely self-sufficient raising their own fruit, livestock and vegetables. Cash crops included indigo and rice, but not cotton, as the climate is too wet.

Our tours included visits to San Francisco Plantation, Houmas House (named after the local, indigenous people NOT crushed chick peas!) and Destrehan Plantation. Pop up your parasol and come out in the mid-day sun with us as we tour these aging, but hardly faded beauties.







Bette Davis and Olivia de Haviland used these stairs in the 1964 film “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.”  Miss Davis actually lived at the house during filming and stayed in one of the bedrooms!



At age 14 young men were separated from the main house and billeted in their own “bachelor” cottages.  Thought of as adults, they were treated as such and smoked, drank, had their own servants and took a role in the running of the estates.  Here’s an example of one below…




Destrehan was the only property we visited that had intact slave quarters and out-buildings.  Unfortunately, they were not original to the house but brought and re-settled from other properties.

And while all the houses were beautiful, you couldn’t help but feeling a bit sad…knowing their history…and the fates of so many now Gone with the Wind!

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved


New Orleans: design district shopping

We spent part of two days in New Orleans’ “design district” located along Magazine Street, a pleasant thoroughfare of low, two and three story buildings that ran for several miles between Jackson and Jefferson Streets in the Garden District.

Historically, a “magazine” is where a military unit maintains an arsenal of its weaponry and where it drills and parades its soldiers. Given the length of this particular street, it was also meant to show off that military and its might…in numbers and guns. This fact seemed to be lost on the locals I questioned about it.

More appropriately, the French word “Magasin” which translates to the American equivalent “department store,” fits the purpose and use of the street today: the only weaponry required being an American Express Card!

It was a good thing that I broke up this part of our trip. There was a lot of walking, and while the streets are flat and easy to navigate, the sun can be intense in the stretches where the trees thin out (a nice respite was the the corner of Magazine and Napoleon where there was leafy park with a ball field in the middle)! Too, Sundays are slower and lazier than the rest of the week; and while I don’t believe Blue Laws are in force, many of the shops are closed on Sunday and Monday including the yummy and superior French Patisserie, La Boulangerie at 4600 Magazine.

Feeling peckish, we’d stopped earlier at Surrey’s Cafe Uptown, 4807 Magazine, for a more proper lunch in a setting more in tune with 1923 than 2013. Charming and friendly, this “find” had “real” food at “real” prices. The portions were generous and the service came with a smile.

Clothing, accessory and hair/skin care boutiques dot the landscape in and between all the home furnishings establishments; but truth be told, there isn’t much to write home about. Sundresses, peddle-pushers, straw and canvas totes, and a whispy, unfinished looking cocktail frock or two comprise the bulk of the offerings. Vintage and Flea-market shops seemed to be the popular alternative. A local told me she orders all her clothes on line because there’s no where to shop for fashion except Saks! Two exceptions to this may be Wedding Belles and Baby Bump…though I suspect not necessarily in that order!

Other than some good “antiquing” I had no expectations of what I would find along the way. A bit surprising -and then again not- prices were in line with New York: a Flo Blue plate for $135 and an Ivory handle serving fork for $80.

At our first stop, Libby Bonner greeted us warmly at British Antiques, 5415 Magazine Street. Her shop was choc-a-block full of silver, china and 18th and 19th century furniture. Everything gleamed; and this eagle eye found no dust anywhere! Making us feel right at home, Libby spent more than an hour helping us make selections and sharing anecdotes about the store, her life and her experience. Turns out she has a son, recently re-located to New York!

At 4112 we found the first of a precious few shops catering to the contemporary and fashion forward customer. Tanga Winstead of Villa Vici has created a warm and inviting shop of mostly white, gray and stone colored furnishings and accessories that got our juices going. Interesting materials in interesting combinations had us lingering around the well chosen selection of Mitchell Gold sofas, chairs and ottomans. Most intriguing were her choice of light fixtures, which were among the most exciting things we saw on the whole trip!



A bit further down the road, we visited Ann Koerner Antiques, 4021 Magazine Street, specializing in a wonderful array of Swedish 18th and 19th century pieces. When we entered the shop several ladies were seated in a semi-circle as though in the middle of a tea party! I felt we’d entered something VERY private, but all assembled, sensing my hesitation, couldn’t have been more welcoming. Apparently, it’s not unusual to just drop in, set a spell and have a chat in New Orleans! How different from our rush-rush, in-out, fast-track lives up north!!

Next door at 4017, we visited with Karla Katz of Karla Katz & Co. who features French and Italian period furnishings and had a number of gorgeous chandeliers. Turns out Karla did a stint as a designer in New York but is now happily settled back home.

Our next stop, Shawn Smith Home at 3947, turned out to be our “spiritual” touch stone on the street…not that we knew that entering his shop/design studio. Beach-washed furnishings, shells, candles and accessories boldly highlighted by objects in black greeted us as did a sweet, young salesperson who apologized for the mess of packing boxes strewn about: a new shipment of merchandise had arrived. In our minds, a most exciting moment. Tradition with transition and a modern accent made for happy browsing as we went deeper into the shop and up some shallow steps where we were greeted by the man himself! Personable yet direct, Shawn drew us into conversation about shoes, hometowns, clients, project work and design education. 40 minutes flew by before we exited to the street to take a call from the office. Several minutes later, Shawn and his design assistant strolled by, stopping for a moment to reconnect, then going on their way, only to meet up with us again in another shop. New Orleans suddenly felt a bit more like home, with friends on every corner!

In that vein, a Hurricane Katrina to New York transplant, Elizabeth Sullivan turns out to have spent a year living only 2 or 3 buildings north of me in New York! She returned home to NoLa to found Interior Designs, Inc. , 3814 Magazine, a mecca of transitional furnishings, lighting and art mostly in “griege” tones. Standouts in her shop were these two amazing shagreen (stingray) covered chests. And no, you don’t want to know how much…even on sale!



Around this time our energy began to flag, so we stopped into Smashburger, 3300 Magazine, for a snack. Too close to dinner to sample the juicy looking burgers and tempting french fries, we settled on a chocolate malt. It really hit the spot as we headed into the home stretch.

Sadly, both times we shopped the street, Perch -at number 2844- was closed. A trendy design studio, we were really interested to get inside for a look. A phone number on the door suggested we could make an appointment. Being New Yorkers we were interested NOW…not 10 minutes from now & moved on to look in the windows of the also closed Dunn & Sonnier florist and antique shop which had a STELLAR pair of gold and crystal girandols in the window…somewhat out of our budget!

A few antique malls later, we made our last stop at Spruce Home & Garden at 2043. A stylish mixture of indoor, outdoor, slick contemporary and hunting lodge oddities (think deer hoof bathroom hooks), they also seemed to have T-shirts and some interesting jewelry.

Well nothing ventured, nothing gained…but I’d say we covered the waterfront here! Lots to see and do…including a stop at the Bank of New Orleans at 5435 to refuel!!

Next week: a tour of three Creole Plantations

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved

Spotlight New Orleans: and now for something completely different!

Hi Everyone! Know I’ve been a little scarce lately. I scalded my main typing hand with hot oil while making fried chicken last month, spending 5 hours in the ER. A few days later, all of my email, email contacts and email folders were wiped out by a hacker. So it’s been a bit of struggle getting back up to speed!

Since then I attended KBIS, the largest kitchen and bath trade show in the country with some 400 vendors showing their wares. I had hoped to bring you back all kinds of new product introductions and insights into the future of kitchen and bath design, but honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed.

What did intrigue me was the host city, New Orleans. I had never been before and was fascinated by what I saw and experienced, so over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of what I saw and did during my week south of the Mason-Dixon. Following that, we’ll return to our more traditional Q&A format.

Today we’re going to look at some of the houses in the city’s famed Garden District; but before we do that, I feel it appropriate to begin with Katherine Hepburn’s famous monologue from 1937’s film Stage Door…

“Hello mother, hello dad, the calla lillies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower the calla lilly, suitable for any occasion, I carried them on my wedding day, and now, place them here in memory of one who has died…”

This, for me, sums up New Orleans quite well. Callas were in bloom everywhere…and yet…there was also a sense of death about this place…”to poor for paint and too proud for white wash.”

I spent a few days with friends in this house. When the driver pulled up, I gasped and said, “I didn’t know they lived at Tara!”


At almost 6,000 square feet, they call it “the big house” for a reason. Built in 1854 for a cotton merchant, it has many of it’s original features including the dining room’s electrified gasolier (seen below) and the sexiest spring on a hinge I’ve ever seen, copper-plated and on the swinging door from the kitchen.



I was billeted in the 1000 square foot guest house at the back of the landscaped property, which while bucolic, is still very much in the middle of the city. Ann Rice’s former home is around the corner, as is Nicholas Gage’s.

Most nights a mocking bird shrieked to the moon light, all night, as I creaked open the iron gate to the property and tip-toed through the garden, around plantings, planters, hedges and fountains. The book/film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was VERY present as I keyed my door.

I didn’t think to take a picture of my little house which I mostly saw late at night, or maybe, I was just too creeped out that the shutters were nailed shut? During a thunder and lightening storm one night the flash breaking through the louvres kept me up and listening for ghosts and ax murderers.

Over-all New Orleans is amazing for the wealth of period homes that are still standing, block after block, 150+ years later. During the mid-19th Century, New Orleans held 1/3 of the nation’s entire monetary value, which explains a lot. In every direction you go there’s one magnificent property after another. The house directly across the street was undergoing a complete gut, large addition and a dig for a new swimming pool.


Working our way around the neighborhood, we saw the following homes in various states of repair and refurbishment. Some were pristine, some down-at-the-heels. All wonderful!

Tara in town anyone…


Spanish Style…


Yalla (yellow) as forsythia…


Sea Captain’s folly…


Creole style…with the stairs outside and no interior hallways…


Hidden among the elms…


Ready for rockers on the porch…


Victorian Brick-A-Brack in a really awful salmon pink…


This house was SO BIG that I couldn’t get into one shot. Honestly, I think it looks like a bank…a casino…or a brothel



Elegance is not determined by size…


More Victorianna…


This was just a beautiful house… The one below has great Gothic touches at the windows and along the porch



In the end, wouldn’t you just want to come home to this?


NEXT WEEK: Shopping Magazine Street a/k/a the design district

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved


I’m about to hire a designer to renovate my kitchen. What references should I ask for, and how do I use them to make my decision? –LA, City Island NY

Great question!

In the old days, you would have simply asked to speak with a couple of satisfied clients by phone. Today, there are as many ways to communicate as there are clients (well almost!)!!

Of course phone contact still works, but you can also email, FB, Tweet, Google, look for Yelp reviews, check for on line reviews on sites such as Thumbtack & Houzz or ask for recommendations within your own building or neighborhood.

You can also look for Testimonials on your candidate’s web site, however, this is my personal “least favorite.”  I mean what is a designer going to post?  A bad or mediocre review?  A made-up review?  While it may look nice, you’re never really sure…unless you actually speak with the writer…how accurate or recent these postings are.  I also find them a bit too self-congratulatory; but to each their own.

That said, in the designer’s defense, it’s a tricky business getting a former client to be supportive without their wandering off into other territory.  They may love their new space, love working with the designer and love the compliments they get; but it is interesting how they find the ONE thing that went wrong to focus on.  Or, they zero in on what it cost them and how irritating it was to actually have to pay a professional!

It’s also extremely difficult, once you’ve exited a project site, to get back in.  Potential clients who want to see actual work you’ve done are making a reasonable request.  Former clients don’t often recognize that.  They’ve lived through demolition, construction, installation, endless invoices for materials, time and advice and just want you out of their lives so they can enjoy their home.  Letting you back in, even for a go-see when they’re out-of-town may feel, a year or more later, a bit intrusive.

So what is reasonable to ask for?  Well, certainly you can ask to speak with a satisfied client…and you ask to see a space; but if the designer seems hesitant, don’t immediately feel that they’re trying to put you off.  Phone calls and emails must be exchanged, schedules coordinated, pleasantries offered and drop boxes full of more recent pictures of children and pets reviewed.  And still, you may get a gentle rebuff: “sorry we have house guests that week,” or “the housekeeper is in that day” or “the new puppy isn’t used to people yet.”  Certainly these are plausible reasons and you may mesh schedules a week or two later…but sometimes…not.

The designer’s second line of defense is the written recommendation.  Sometimes a client is happy to provide this if it keeps strangers from storming the barricades.  Other times, they’ve written one and posted it to LinkedIn or another site and feel they’ve done their duty.

So what’s a client to do when they only get approval for one in-person (i.e. phone conversation) contact?  Well, you should feel free to ask to speak to vendors that the designer works with, i.e. contractors, suppliers, painters and the like.  After all, you want to know that the designer is a “fair dealer,” that s/he met the vendor’s deadlines for ordering, wasn’t unfairly demanding while fighting for the best for the client, was attentive to the job site and reported issues BEFORE work was completed.  These folks can also tell you how the designer treats their personal staff and if they pay their bills on time.  Good references all!

In short, if offered a variety…or even limited…references, remember BETTER to have two really positive appraisals in any form, rather than four from cornered, harried former clients.

And, failing that, trust your gut!  Does the designer follow-up?  Are they taking care of you during the interview process?  Are they making you feel valued?

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved

Am I able to browse through the design buildings in New York without a designer? –KC, Portland ME

Yes…and no. When you say “browse” do you really mean “buy?”  Is this the question you’re truly asking?  If so, you’re not alone.

New York City has several design buildings dedicated to finely crafted and custom-produced furniture, lighting, carpets and textiles that are TO THE TRADE.  This means you need a decorator, designer or architect to place your order.  One of these same professionals is also your key to accessing NET pricing (the Trade or discounted price).  In addition, there are also a plethora of workrooms, retail shops and furniture galleries liberally scattered across the City that cater to the buying public at large.

In the old days (and by that I mean as little as 20 years ago) Trade showrooms were anywhere from cool to outwardly hostile to the casual shopper.  You needed a card-carrying industry professional, or a letter of introduction from that person to be admitted to the hushed hallways full of Henredon and Hinson that comprise the Design and Decoration Building and The New York Design Center.  Rather quaint by today’s “Checking in on Four Square” standard.

In a more modern world, one affected by changing trends as well as a down economy, many showrooms now allow a broader spectrum of buyers to peruse their wares.  In a few cases, the rules are bent and deals are struck for “partial” discounts, up to 20%.

Don’t be fooled however.  While this may sound like a good deal, your interior practitioner is likely to be entitled to something more like 40%.  And on a large order, perhaps more.  You may also want to consider the value of having someone standing behind the order, protecting YOUR interests (not the manufacturers) and making sure that you get exactly what you’ve paid for, or even troubleshooting on your behalf in case of damage.  Not knowing the rules can cost you.

Another pitfall of going-it-alone is the sheer volume of choice.  One fabric showroom may have 30,000 samples on offer (not kidding).  Where do you start?  How do you choose?  Like being turned loose in a candy store after closing, one too many oompah-loompahs may give you a stomach ache!  Eye fatigue is also a factor.  At some point it all begins to run together because you’re not shopping from a preconceived plan…you’re just “browsing.”

So while you can roam free through the trinkets and treasures of greater designdom, do your homework in advance, make a plan, and limit your experience to 4-6 showrooms, tempting as it may be.

You may also want to consider that the larger design buildings provide a purchase-only service that you may want to look into, usually at no cost or a nominal fee.  You work with a “in house” designer or decorator for that purchase, combining the best of both worlds.  Further, designer referrals can be obtained for larger projects.

Have fun…and caveat emptor!


© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved

Is all this paperwork necessary? My decorator is constantly sending me things to sign. –LB, Sparta NJ


Sorry, but have to chuckle here! 🙂 If you think your decorator sends you a lot of paperwork, all I can say is be aware that what you receive is only about 1/3 of what he/she gets in the design office “in” box!

Despite the continuing march of the digital age, paper still proliferates in design offices in the form of catalogs, brochures, mailers, personal notes from vendors and constant (minute-to-minute) offers for new products and materials. The designer (or decorator) has to boil all this information down, keeping the relevant and jettisoning the undesirable.

The next step in distilling the “fine wine of design” is to isolate and present individual elements to the appropriate client/project. When that doesn’t satisfy, the designer/decorator goes out into the field and takes pictures or tear sheets from the various vendors. Out of those choices She/he narrows it down to between 1 and 3 selections for the client to review.

Once the client makes a selection, the real fun begins. The designer/decorator contacts the vendor and requests a formal quote for that item. This can run to several pages that covers -in part- the terms and conditions of the sale, how long the quote is good for (usually 30 days), how much the item costs, any up-charges for optional finishes, leather vs. fabric and/or white glove delivery service and the like.

The designer/decorator then reduces these points down to “the basics” for the client in a “Proposal.” In addition to the nuts and bolts details, the designer/decorator may have their own conditions or recommendations to add. For example, if the item is not recommended by the designer (due to poor construction, long lead time or is inappropriate for the design) and the client insists on making the purchase, the designer/decorator may include a clause that states they did not select the item and, in fact, they specifically recommended against the item, thereby excusing the designer/decorator from any responsibility for damage, delay or personal disappointment.  Another example would be to confirm that YOU, the client, saw and approved fabrics or items of merchandise previous to this communication.

And here’s where the signing comes in…

Designers and decorators want you to pause, at this moment of greatest desicion, and understand that what you’re about to sign confirms a “custom” order (where fabric is cut or furniture is built to choices YOU’VE made); an order that will be 100% non-refundable; that you are aware of where your money is going; that you confirm you’ve seen the particular item and that you approve it wholeheartedly and without reservation.

This is a serious commitment.

Often a photograph of the item is included so you can visually confirm the purchase. Sometimes the designer/decorator will have you sign that as well. And sometimes even the back of a piece of fabric or the back of a carpet sample.


Our memory can sometimes convince itself of something we’ve seen…a color…a pattern…a cabinetry finish and that this memory is true. We get caught up in the excitement.  When the item arrives, we’re sure it’s wrong because we “remember” it as being darker, shinier, furrier, more contemporary or more antique.

So the purpose of having you sign these various documents (or sample items) is multi-fold: it provides and protects YOU with visual clues so that there are no mistakes; it insures that you get EXACTLY what you want….whether or not you remember between the time of purchase and the time of delivery; and it gives you something to compare to when the item arrives, should there be a question.

Multiply this process by 10, 30 or 100 items over the course of a project…and yes…you may find yourself under a Tsunami of paper. Just remember, these documents are there to insure that you are charged for, and that you receive specifically what you’ve asked for. They call it “specification” for a reason!

Happy shopping!!

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved

Can you tell me what makes a kitchen Kosher? I have a neighbor who keeps Kosher but I don’t see much difference in our layouts? –ZF, Lambertville NJ

And that’s probably a good thing…but the differences ARE there.

Primarily, Kosher means “clean” or “pure,” not only in the scrubbing bubbles kind of way but also in the manner that butchering and food preparation are handled.


Traditional Jewish law calls for the separation of meat products from dairy products. The Bible states “Thou shalt not eat a kid in its mother’s milk.” Back when populations inhabited villages, this was a likely occurrence. In the modern world, less so, but as long as it’s “possible” the prohibition remains. Why? It’s about respect. Respect for the animal (and how it’s treated) and respect for the self…and what you put into your own body.  In the same vein, pork and shell fish were prohibited because they were known to cause illness.


Therefore, separate dishes, utensils and pots and pans are kept and used for each of these food groups. In addition, there is a “neutral” food group that is considered neither “meat” nor “dairy” called Parve. Parve items may be eaten with either food group and could consist of vegetables, eggs, fish, fruits, nuts and bakery items made with a dairy substitute.


So how does all of this apply to the kitchen? Well…deep breath…sigh…It means you need to have or create separate areas or zones for storing and preparing these items without them co-mingling.


In very large, modern kitchens (600-1000 square feet) this often means 3 ovens, 3 dish washers, 3 microwaves and 3 sinks, one for each food designation. The more average kitchen would have 2 of each but you can manage with only one, albeit with some restriction. Many Kosher kitchens are vegetarian avoiding the need for any of this; but just as many are singularly “meat” or “dairy” with the occupant eating one or the other food group outside the home. Parve of course works with either.

In observant, but more relaxed households, single appliances may be used by running the cleaning cycle between uses for the various foods and cleaning the counters and preparation surfaces thoroughly with bleach or other cleaners.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the refrigerator. Where do you put 3 of those?! It is believed that food groups only co-mingle their properties through the transference of heat, therefore, once the item is cold (45 degrees or lower), storage with the opposite group becomes moot. Some households maintain 2 shelves for dairy and 2 for meat, sharing the space but respecting the act of separation. Of course you can have 2 or even 3 refrigerators if you have the space, but in this instance, it isn’t necessary.

Ovens, because they radiate and transfer heat do not fall into this category and therefore need to be separate.

Finally, the goal of any good design…in this case kitchen design…would be to arrange all the elements in a pleasing way that allows space and function to coexist with the latest and the greatest. After all you don’t want 3 sinks lined up like soldiers or the oven and dish washer doors to block the traffic flow!

Summing up, no, your neighbor’s kitchen really shouldn’t look much different than your own. The only way to tell, in some cases, would be to open up the pantry doors.

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved

Hard Work Takes a Holiday!

We’ve all been working really hard these last few weeks, crunching numbers, considering fee structures and reflecting on plans that fit our time and budget! I know it’s been a little dry, with no pictures or fun things to amuse…and…well…money is a serious business. That said, as a reward this week, lie back and take a break on this beautiful Lincoln era bed and watch the ceiling fan make lazy, circular slices through the air!


© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved


Types of Fees Charged By Interior Designers — Part IV, Monthly and Annual Fees

For larger projects, those north of $500,000.00 with construction, and more likely in the million to several million dollar mark (or single family homes larger than 10,000 square feet), a designer’s fees will add up quickly. With change orders, redesigns of specific parts of a project (and this can happen for many reasons from taste issues to sound construction practices) as well as client brain freeze (not kidding!!) it can seem as though you’re drowning in demands for payment from your architect, contractor and designer (often $50-$80,000 or more per month during a project’s peak) and decision-making that can that can slow, halt or otherwise impede progress…costing even more money if not resolved quickly.

So what is a client to do? How can the costs be controlled? And how can the professionals you’ve engaged feel appropriately renumerated and able to fully deliver on your project without arguments over TIME invoices?

My suggestion is a MONTHLY or ANNUAL FEE

Simply put, this is a flat amount that covers all time expended in a given period – a month, or over the course of a year (an annual “salary” if you will). It includes all of the designer’s output from drafting to shopping to on-site supervision; and you can call your designer without feeling as though the TIME clock is ticking for every second!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While this sounds a treat…and the perfect resolution, the actual numbers can be shocking at first. $6-$20,000.00 a month (or more) is not uncommon. The good news, again, is that this is an all inclusive number with no additional fees. REMEMBER, your designer is likely dedicating full, or a large portion of their time to a project of this size…along with back-office staff unless they’re a large firm (another animal entirely) You’ve hired an artist, a skilled craftsperson and a business all in one. Do not expect this to be a “bargain” endeavor! .

As a comparison, I would point out that if you hired a top public realtions firm or marketing expert to promote your buisiness, you would acure monthly fees of between $2500-$10,000 per month or more, depending on the size of the project…so there is precedent for this type of billing.

Also, if the aveage number of hoursfor a project begin to add up to 60+ per mohth at $200/hr, you’re already looking at $12,000.00 per month. That said, some clients prefer to see the invoicing come in hour for hour. Either way, your designer should be keeping track of the all the hours expended on a monthly basis…just in case you’re interested and ask. Clients are often surprised to find out how much time accrues and how quickly; but if this work were easy or simple, you’d be doing it yourself!

To the question I know you’re asking…What about months that tally up to less than say 40 hours? All projects have a range through their life, just like people. We start out slow, figuring it all out, then learn to walk and talk, then run during our power years, then slow down again. This is true of your project too. So while the intital months may tally fewer hours, during your project’s height, you’ll be edging toward triple-digit totals that will more than offset any imagined over-payment earlier on.

Finally, you can always ask your designer for an evaluation before the project begins. How do they see your invoicing playing out for the size of project you have? Of course you should be aware that no “hard” numbers will be available at that stage, but a seasoned professional can guide you to a reasonable conclusion.

Until next time…

Happy Chinese New Year and Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Wear something RED this week!!!!

© 2012-2013 Design Discourse / Ask Kent and Co. All Rights Reserved | All Rights Reserved

Types of Fees Charged By Designers — Part III, Per Square Foot Charges and Value Based Fees

Hi Everyone! Sorry for the delay this week. Massive computer glitches and related IPhone issues…and now ANOTHER superstorm!! Life is never dull…that’s for sure…

But picking up where we left off, today let’s take a brief look at


This is pretty self-explanatory. Each foot of space calculates out to a specified dollar amount; and whether that amount is $22.00/PSF or $200.00/PSF the end result is the same. This is an “all in” fee (unless otherwise specified) that includes all the time, effort and contingencies that your designer expects to expend for creating and managing your project.

This type of fee works particularly well for loft spaces and open plan environments where room-to-room boundaries may be unclear, i.e. is it more kitchen or more family room?

And it’s a great way to frame your costs. Everyone can imagine what one square foot of tile looks like. Then you simply mulitpy out…to 400, 1000 or 10,000 square feet.

In what increments you pay this fee, and when, are specific to your project and to each designer.


More likely to be offered by a large firm, the Value-Based Fee addresses specific skills that the designer brings to the project, i.e., LEED Certification, Architectural experience, specific types of licensing for your state, schools attended (Royal College of Art as one example) and other specialites that may have VALUE to the client and speak directly to the Fees that the designer is charging.

It also addresses where the client sees value personally. Are you a woman who looks for bargins in clothing but splurges on expensive shoes? Are you a man who knows no bounds on electronics but drives a 5 year old car? Do you vacation locally or abroad?

Many of these factors will help the designer create a Value-Based Fee Structure that speaks to what’s important to you. More specifically, is having built-ins more valueable than the quality of the actual furnishings? Are climate issues like UV rays, minimizing heat/cold air flow from large windows and the expense of covering those windows more important than, say, good/specific lighting.

I am not a particular fan of this method of charging, and have not been won over, but there are many who think this is a great idea.

I leave it up to you…and your designer to decide what works best for you!

Next time, we’ll look at monthly and annual fee options that work well for larger projects ($500,000 +)

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