June PRO New England Meeting: Remodelers + Interior Designers Panel
By: Cheryl Savit for Kevin Cradock Builders
Hosted by Kevin Cradock Builders, the June PRO New England meeting featured networking followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Kevin Cradock, in the KCB Boiler Room. More than 90 members, non-members, and guests attended.
Justin Zeller, President of RedHouse Design Build, and Chairman of the PRO New England board, kicked off the meeting. He introduced guests and invited nine new members to introduce themselves: Gustavo Teza, Advanced Green Insulation & Fireplace; Jeff Swanson, Charles Street Design; Katie Fichera, Colonial Marble Company; Natasha Young, Young & Co.; Tess Woods & Jean Roberts, Modern Luxury Interiors Boston; Nick Andriolo, Roma Tile; Nicholas Paolucci, Mass Architect; Kristen Rivoli, Kristen Rivoli Interior Design; and Meg McSherry, Meg McSherry Interiors. Zeller introduced Board Members present: Rob Way, Ben Becker, Kevin Cradock, Asher Nichols, and Beezee Honan.
“Thank you so much everyone for coming, and it’s pretty awesome to have such a great crowd. And thank you to Kevin Cradock for having us here. I want to talk for a minute about PRO New England, the professional remodelers organization. This is a place where we bring everyone who is interested in incredibly high quality, incredibly high customer experience together, to be able to have the opportunity to have nights like tonight where you can mingle – which is important and fun – and learn something new. And then secondly, we have these amazing educational opportunities where we get to learn from a panel like this about how different people do things and what is important to them in their process,” Zeller said.
After introducing Cradock, the panelists introduced themselves: Kristen Rivoli, Founder and Principal of Kristen Rivoli Interior Design; Diane Burcz, Founder and Principal of Diane Burcz Interior Design; and Meg McSherry, Founder and Principal of Meg McSherry Interiors.
Why Work with Interior Designers?
“When I started my business, as a young remodeler, interior design wasn’t really on my radar. All I wanted to do was carpentry. Build stuff. As so many of us, I’m self-taught,” Cradock explained. “But as a business owner, self-taught, I didn’t actually know I’m supposed to have an interior designer. I knew that if I needed to build a house or do heavy renovation I needed an architect,” Cradock explained. As he began working with interior designers, he grew to appreciate what they offer.
“I’m passionate about what interior designers bring to projects. As builders and remodelers we should all be there because it elevates our work,” Cradock said. “Also, you’re not going to get published and you’re not going to win awards. Point blank. Randomly maybe, but not on a regular basis.”
Not only will projects be more aesthetically pleasing, but interior designers bring another viewpoint and critical eye to a project.
“I think a builder, an interior designer and an architect would bring different things to the project. I like to think that maybe we can expand the builder’s horizon,” said Burcz. “Every time I meet with a builder, I learn something from them, hopefully they learn something from me.”
Guidelines for Collaborating
“I imagine we’ve all been hired at different phases of projects and I think we would all nod our heads and say, the earlier the better. If we can get all the brains on the same page early on – whether it’s just the designer and the builder – with or without an architect depending on the project, I think that’s the biggest secret to how to do a successful project,” McSherry said. “Early, early, early, before the first nail goes in.”
“We do see things differently,” Rivoli said. “Being in at the beginning is really helpful in seeing what’s to be designed or being built, and saying ‘There might be a bed here or there may be a sofa here’ and we might need to tweak this a little bit or move a window over a little bit. I think those are some of the things that are helpful when we’re in at the beginning.”
Cradock agreed, and advocated for the professional team to meet without the client at the start of a project. “Our process is that we put the whole team together and we start in pre-construction. We have what we call an internal kick-off meeting where we get the professionals together and we get our ducks in a row. We talk about who’s doing what. When we’ve reached a consensus and feel good about that, then we have a kick-off meeting with the client. And we tell them what we all decided. We don’t give them a choice. They may make a request and we can all talk about that, but real clear communication from the beginning should be part of everybody’s process.”
Understanding everyone’s role in a project, and who is doing what cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to specifying products and purchasing. It’s important to respect the relationships that each professional has with vendors and decide what will be specified, by whom, and who will purchase.
“If the builder has a relationship with a particular vendor, I don’t want to specify things that the vendor doesn’t carry,” Burcz explained. Rivoli agreed saying, “we don’t want clients to get wedded to anything that might not be available.”
Designers are often asked where does architecture end and interior design begin, or vice versa. There is overlap. “It goes back to respecting everybody and what they’re bringing to the table. Everybody is in their own lane – the architect, builder, designer. We’re all specializing in our own thing and we all have to respect one another and our roles and be able to communicate that,” Rivoli said.
“As a builder from my perspective, it’s really important that we all value each other’s talents. Honestly, who should design the kitchen? The person closest to the client’s taste and has the most talent at that activity,” Cradock concluded.
Communication is another key element for a successful collaboration. The entire panel agreed that communicating often is important. The builders have information that the design team needs to know and the design team benefits from input early on. The panel agreed that asking questions, being vulnerable, and helping one another leads to the best result in the end – a beautiful project and happy client.
Today’s technology provides many methods of communication from cell phones to apps to QR codes. “We use QR codes. I’m obsessed with them. We have them in every room with all the cut sheets for all the products and finishes, all the manuals. We have our safety stuff on there,” Cradock explained. “If you are using QR codes make sure that they’re dynamic so you can continue to change and update them without having to reprint.”
How to Get Started with Interior Designers
Attending meetings and events is a great way for builders, remodelers and vendors to connect with interior designers. “Similar to the builder, vendor relationships are everything,” McSherry said. “If you’re talking about a white subway tile, there are a million vendors that sell beautiful, great white subway tile. But I’m going to go get that tile from the person that gets back to me quickly and is honest with me, sets expectations, and has my back.” She added “I think coming to these events and meeting each other face-to-face is better than an email or randomly calling. But it’s always good to send chocolate.”
Greater Boston is blessed with a large community of design professionals. The panel agreed that there are interior designers at many price points. Designers with larger teams and bigger overhead might charge more than smaller firms, but definitely look for someone with experience.
Often homeowners will contact the interior designer first. “I mostly get projects from clients and client referrals. I have many repeat clients and clients who give my name to friends – then I call a builder and bring them in,” Rivoli explained. While the interior designers can recommend a builder to a client, some homeowners still require the interviewing and estimate process.
Interior designers need to interview for their jobs, too, though, it was pointed out. “Most of the time the clients hire me first. Once in a while a builder that I have a great relationship with will recommend us. Sometimes there’s already a team, or sometimes they’re asking me for recommendations,” McSherry said.
While architects are often part of the team, they do not necessarily need to be depending on the scope of the project. Many interior designers have architectural design capacity and can handle space planning to a degree. Knowing when to call in an expert is part of the job, whether you’re an architect, builder or interior designer.
Cradock encouraged all of the remodelers to bring interior designers into their projects because they add great value. Roger Gallagher concurred “For fifteen years we’ve worked with an interior designer on every project we’ve ever done and I can’t imagine trying to do it without an interior designer, now that we’ve done it the better way.”