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How hard can it be? Five things clients say that mean something else

In the design industry, there are certain things that we hear from our clients every day. Some are compliments ("That marble countertop is so beautiful!") Some are fears ("I'm afraid that I'm going to pick the wrong color and the kitchen will look terrible.") And some are code for saying something entirely different.

Here are 5 of my favorite things that clients say that really mean something else:

1. How hard can it be? Although this looks like a question, it's not. It's a warning, telling us that we're supposed to come back with an easy and inexpensive proposal to fix this apparently simple problem. (And if we don't, they will know that we are needlessly over-complicating the project and, by implication, overcharging for it.)

2. Just. Clients use the word "just" as a magic spell. When used often and sincerely, they believe that it will magically reduce the cost of whatever they are asking for. ("I just want to add a wood-burning pizza oven in my kitchen.")

3. We're building our dream kitchen. Oddly enough, this is a statement of inflexibility rather than excitement. It's a "No-compromise" declaration:

Client: We'd like to keep the new kitchen small and intimate, with 14 foot high ceilings, double islands, and formal seating for 12.

Designer: To do that we're going to have to double the size of the house. Is that what you want?

Client: No, of course not--but this is our dream kitchen, and we want to do it right.

4. My last contractor was an idiot. This pretty much tells us that they will be calling us an idiot down the road. Because although their last contractor may have actually been an idiot, it is equally probable that the clients gave unclear directions or had unrealistic expectations--and in blaming the contractor, they're showing us that they're willing to avoid responsibility when things go wrong.

5. My neighbor remodeled his kitchen for only $20,000 (along with the unspoken second half of this statement, "so I should be able to remodel mine for the same amount."

Here's the thing: your neighbor didn't actually remodel his kitchen for $20,000. This is the same guy who said that he paid $35,000 for his Lexus, remember? And claims to win $15,000 at the casino every time he goes?

As I read over this list, it occurs to me that my next blog should be a list of things that designers say--and what we really mean. (It's only fair.)

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