When Jessica Shaw, director of interior design for The Turett Collaborative in New York City, took on an entirely virtual design project for a home in the Midwood neighborhood in Brooklyn in 2019, she never suspected she was learning skills that would become vital to her business in 2020.
“I never met my client except on Zoom, and he taught me how to annotate documents and share screens during our consultations,” Ms. Shaw said. “His assistant had looked at our website and thought our work was aesthetically aligned with his vision for the home, plus they sent us photos of an Airbnb rental that he said was his dream home. The entire project was designed online.”
Interior design has always required a leap of imagination to go from paint chips, fabric samples, miniature tiles and furniture photos to a finished space. Long-distance interior design consultations often require extensive conference calls and PowerPoint presentations, but in recent years, some designers have added video conferencing to their communications. Once the coronavirus pandemic began, most interior design appointments moved online to meet physical distancing requirements or because clients were nesting in second homes far from their primary residences.
“We had met one of our clients only once at the Arlington, Virginia, home they’re renovating before the pandemic hit and they left for Maine,” said Annie Elliott, owner of Annie Elliott Design in Washington, D.C. “The rest of that project has been virtual, so we sent binders with our design choices and samples of fabric and wallpaper to them with instructions not to open the package until our Zoom call. We did a ‘ceremonial opening of the binder’ to start our virtual meeting.”
Daniele Busca, creative director of Scavolini USA, a design firm in New York City, finds it easier to work with clients who have had at least one in-person meeting before the lockdown, although he is doing virtual consultations with clients he’s never met in person, too.
“Zoom doesn’t make miracles,” Mr. Busca said. “You need to be creative and find a way to make up for all the senses that are lost, especially touch and smell, to generate excitement.”
Benefits of Virtual Design Meetings
Design consultations are typically done in someone’s home or in a designer’s showroom where samples are available. Both scenarios allow the designer and client to develop a personal relationship and for the designer to understand the client’s tastes and goals. But virtual design consultations have some advantages.
“Reviewing consultation documents online can be easier on Zoom because you can pinpoint something in the drawings to discuss,” Ms. Shaw said. “There’s also something different about looking at the design drawings and renderings on a screen instead of side-by-side at a coffee table. The visual impact can be more direct on the screen when you’re not distracted by the physical space around you.”
Virtual consultations can save time for designers and their clients since no one has to travel to an appointment, Ms. Elliot said.
“Our projects are usually close to our office, so virtual design meetings allow us to widen the area where we work because we only go to the house for installations,” Ms. Elliott said. “We plan to continue some virtual consultations even when we can meet in person again because it saves time for everyone.”
Another time-saver, Ms. Shaw said, is that couples can put themselves on mute to discuss something privately to make a quick decision instead of waiting until they’re alone after an in-person meeting and scheduling a follow-up call.
Challenges of Virtual Design
For designers, virtual design consultations require additional preparation for online presentations with renderings, photos and sometimes virtual reality. In addition, product samples are often sent by mail or messenger before a video meeting.
“Zoom presentations are more elaborate than the ones we do in the showroom,” Mr. Busca said. “It takes a lot more time to find creative ways to show the products and finishes and to demonstrate the function of the design. We need more photos, and we need to demonstrate our deep knowledge of the products we’re suggesting.”
Ms. Shaw prepares for Zoom consultations by opening all the tabs she may need on her screen to save time during the call, including a budget spreadsheet, a floor plan, a Pinterest board and a design presentation.
“With in-person meetings, I used to provide all the details first and then do a ‘big reveal’ of the final design,” Shaw said. “Now I work backwards and show the final design first to generate excitement and then get into the details.”
A challenge for Ms. Shaw is the inability to grab materials from her sample room during a meeting or to bring a client directly into the sample room to make choices.
“You also miss a lot of cues from people that you would get during an in-person consultation,” Ms. Shaw said.
Ms. Elliott said that a virtual design project for a family room in Vienna, Virginia, worked well because the homeowner, a landscape designer, gave her a lengthy FaceTime tour of her home, a sketch of the floor plan and full measurements of every space.
“It would be more difficult to do a fully virtual project for a larger project such as an entire house or a space with challenging architectural features or quirks,” Ms. Elliott said.
Preparing for a Virtual Design Consultation
Virtual design consultations require more work for both the designer and the clients, said Ms. Elliott.
“The more willing you are to be engaged in the process, the better it will be,” Ms. Elliott said. “If you take us on a detailed FaceTime tour of your home, take lots of photos and embrace a collaborative approach, it can be fun.”
“If a client and I haven’t spoken or met before and I don’t have much information about their project, it helps me if they can send me a real estate listing with photos ahead of time,” Ms. Shaw said. “Having easily viewable photos of looks they like or a Pinterest board and a floor plan can help, too.”
For any initial consultation, whether it’s virtual or in person, Ms. Shaw said clients should be prepared with a sense of their budget, goals and timeline for their project.
“You need to be honest about your budget,” Mr. Busca said. “Sometimes clients are uncomfortable talking about that upfront, but it will drive the decisions throughout the process.”
This article first appeared on Mansion Global.