How Designing a Home is Like Designing a Website

Colleen Stone's dogs

Colleen brought her dogs, Charli and Anya, to the Friday Forum. These cutie pies are on the Stone House Board of Directors

I had the pleasure of welcoming Colleen Stone, Principal at Stone House , to Matrix Group last week. I invited Colleen to come in and do a Friday Forum (lunch and learn) for my staff because while my team was working with Colleen on her website, I was struck by how similar her process is to ours. She designs homes, we design websites. We both make it a priority to get to know our customers and create something beautiful and extremely user-friendly. I called Colleen an Information Architect for home design. Here were my key takeaways from Colleen’s presentation.

Renovating a home is a big decision

  • Most people don’t renovate to sell. They renovate to make it better.
  • Renovations usually involve pain and suffering so do what you can to make the process less stressful
  • Renovating a home is intimate. You need to know the who, why, what and when of the home.

When gathering requirements

Gathering requirements is critical element of every design job. Here’s her formula for success:

  • Set the tone for the first meeting by making the client comfortable. She brings dogs and instead of doing an interview, she has a conversation.
  • You  need to gather data, i.e., how many bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. but most importantly, you need to develop a communication pattern with the client. This is the most important aspect of the project because this sets the foundation for getting to where the client wants to be.
  • Listen really hard, don’t do so much talking.
  • Ask questions in a random order. People give more honest answers if they don’t just go down the checklist. They will answer from their heart.
  • Walk the home with your client and talk about what works and what is not working.

Each family has a culture and a style

Colleen says that some designers develop a signature style; their customers want that signature style in their homes. Other designers strive to create something that is unique for each client. Colleen is part of the latter group. She believes:

  • Each family has a cultural and style. Some families are formal, some are more casual.
  • Your job as a designer is to figure out the elements of your client’s culture and identify what they don’t know and see.
  • The design part of the job means translating that culture into the design of a home.

Good designers educate their clients

Colleen believes that good designers devote 50% of their time with clients to education. Clients have to make umpteen million decisions and they can’t make umpteen million good decisions unless they are educated. When a client asks for something that, in your opinion, isn’t a good idea:

  • Sometimes, you educate them on why it’s bad.
  • Sometimes, you take their bad idea and turn it into a good idea.
  • Sometimes, you just flat out tell them it’s a bad idea.
  • Sometimes, clients surprise you and you learn something in the process.

Putting yourself in your clients’ shoes

I asked Colleen about techniques she uses to really get to know here clients. My favorite tidbits:

  • When designing a kitchen,  Colleen asks her clients to cook for her so she can see the flow of the cooking, especially if there are multiple people cooking together.
  • Colleen strives to create beautiful, graceful living spaces so that you can see elegant views from every vantage point, as you move through a house. Colleen asks clients how they move through the house, when the kids get home, where the traffic jams happen, etc.
  • In apartments, the biggest issue is always storage. She looks for practical and pretty storage solutions since most apartments usually don’t provide adequate storage.

I’m looking at the work of architects and interior designers in a whole, new light thanks to Colleen. Be sure to check out samples of Colleen’s work on her website.