Listen To This Article
Sage Conti, owner and principal interior designer of Sage Conti Design, believes the design process should be fun. Today she busts myths about what interior designers do and why they are needed on construction and remodeling projects. She also shares her insights on the essential ingredients for happy clients and successful interior design.
SBT: How do you help your clients Sage?
Sage: Many clients have a hard time finding a vision of what their space could be and I love to figure out what we can do to have a space function better, as well as have a beautiful design.
SBT: I know sometimes people aren’t entirely clear about the differences between interior design and interior decorating. Can you clarify that?
Sage: Yes. If you take a new construction project, for example, and fully furnish the house with everything – light fixtures, sofa, countertops, hardware, tile and so on – then turn the house upside down and shake it. Anything that falls out would be considered interior decorating – furniture, accessories, pillows, vases and things like that. You’ll still see the tile, hardware, countertop, attached decorative light fixtures that are installed into your ceilings and walls. That all falls under interior design. An interior decorator furnishes a space for you. They’ll help you pick out paint colors, furniture, accessories and maybe even artwork. If you’re looking just to furnish a space, you don’t necessarily need an interior designer who’s going to think through all the new built-in cabinetry layout, where the hardware is going to be placed and how the finish of the installed sconces will affect the finish of the tile work around the fireplace, for example. Designers both furnish spaces and focus on the construction elements of the project.
SBT: So what are some of the common design issues that come up for your clients?
Sage: One of the reasons clients hire me is because they can’t formulate their own vision for their space, whether it’s one room or an entire house. Even when a client can point out the style they like, they don’t always see how they can apply it to their own space. That’s what I specialize in.
I love design kickoff meetings where clients bring images to me – magazine clippings, Pinterest boards, inspiration pieces, things that they have and love that they want to integrate into the design. It’s one of the first things we do. Then I pull in my ideas and we collaborate on what they want in a space. I give them my best advice in terms of what I think we can do with the space, and provide that full-scope vision so that moving forward everyone knows what we’re aiming for style-wise.
SBT: The Internet has created “DIYers” in many industries. Do you see that a lot? Do you find that you have to educate people about doing it yourself versus hiring a professional?
Sage: I often run up against that and, I’m open to the types of clients I take on. I have clients who need and want a designer to be with them every day throughout the whole design process. Others just need someone who has a good eye for style, design and quality. Those clients hire me to meet a hour or two every couple weeks and we brainstorm ideas and design solutions together for their project. I’m a DIYer so I understand that side of the coin, I’m happy to work with all different types of needs.
SBT: What are some of the outcomes homeowners achieve by working with a professional?
Sage: You get the best return on your investment if you have a new construction or remodeling project because you’re working with a professional who knows the ins and outs of the trade and the products. There are hundreds of decisions that have to be made quickly and cost effectively. That’s why the overall project vision is so important. Just knowing those kind of ideas in the beginning helps to formulate a plan as you’re making all those decisions quickly. I’m able to help clients zero in on the right product decisions, work with the builder and make sure that any decisions directed to me save the client from headaches and issues that may come up.
SBT: You believe design should be fun, which suggests that people may not always think it is. What are some of the common myths people have about the design process?
Sage: The number one myth is that people think it’s going to be too expensive to hire an interior designer. What it comes down to is knowing what you actually need for your specific project. I have clients who know that they want to do the research, they want to put the time into finding the right products, and they just need me to consult with them on an hourly basis once in a while. I also have clients who know they’re not good at design or they don’t have time to handle their full project themselves so they budget for me to come in and guide them step-by-step throughout the whole project. The best thing you can do is call a Designer and talk through you needs to find out if they can work with your type of project and budget. Another myth is that a Designer is going to come into the project and eliminate all the client’s existing furniture as well as take over the style direction. I love to evaluate what each client has and see what we can reuse before we purchase anything new. I also like to gain a sense of the overall style the client is drawn to, afterall this is their home not mine!
Another myth is that it’s less expensive to reupholster existing furnture than buy new. Alot of times clients think because they already have a piece, that’s most of the cost. I always tell clients if you love a piece of furniture for its look, its total comfort or its sentimental value than it’s worth it to explore the cost of re-upholstery. If you’re on the fence about reusing a piece, buy new. It often times prices out the same or less expensive than re-upholstery.
SBT: People are emotionally invested in their homes. It sounds like a lot of what you do is managing people and expectations.
Sage: Yes, absolutely. Seventy percent of my business is residential and 30 percent is commercial. Homeowners are much more emotional about their decisions and, they should be, when the project is their home! On the commercial side, I’ve designed co-working spaces, wine bars and office projects here and there. It’s completely different because I’m designing for the masses and have to make general decisions versus an individual homeowner who is attached to every detail.
SBT: How do you help your residential clients overcome their fears and dispel those myths so that they can get beautiful, unique and functional spaces?
Sage: Part of my job is education. I help clients understand the costs, products and timeline. You can achieve style on any budget. You can design with the smallest budget you have, but you have to be willing to put the time into the research. Knowing your budget upfront is really helpful while understanding that you’re not always going to know the bottom line number until toward the end of the project. Another key piece is having that vision to begin with, otherwise you feel like you don’t have any traction. You’re just spinning in every direction.
SBT: What inspired you to get into interior design?
Sage: I have three sisters, so my parents had four girls growing up and they always inspired creativity in us. We grew up in a TV-free home. They had a large craft room that was open to us anytime we wanted to use it. Our parents also gave us free reign on our bedrooms. We could paint our bedrooms a different color every summer, which I did relentlessly.
My parents taught us how to shop for vintage and thrift items. They taught us how to repaint furniture and give it new purpose and life. I just loved redesigning my room, moving things around, making things function better and giving it a refresh every year. As I got older, I dove head first into the design industry to understand the business side of it. I love working with contractors and being on a job site with the construction crew and tradespeople. I enjoy problem solving. I like going through a checklist and making sure things are getting constructed properly and the contractor and I are on the same team to move the project forward. I spent three hours yesterday combing through white Carrara marble tile to select the 173 pieces we needed for a beautiful all white master bathroom, eliminating 110 pieces that we did not want to use because they were either too gray or had big veins running through them that the clients wouldn’t like. Those are the details that I know are going to pay off in the end and give the client the beautiful classic Carrara Master bathroom they’ve dreamed of.
SBT: What’s a lesson that you learned early on that still impacts how you do business today?
Sage: Clients are number one. The bottom line is that you want to have happy clients, so do whatever you can do to keep them happy. They’ve hired you, they need your help, they are depending on your services and they trust that you know what’s best for their space and their project. Also, keep communication open. That’s so essential when it comes to managing expectations because there are always changes to timelines in our industry. Finally, be kind to people whether it’s your representative at a showroom, the tile installer, the landscaper, the contractor or the client. Even if someone is upset and angry about something, just come from a place of kindness. There’s no better feeling than a happy client, or when someone feels like you’ve respected them and understand where they’re coming from. It makes the project run much smoother all around.
SBT: If someone is thinking about remodeling their space, or maybe they’re on the verge of a new construction project, what is one of the most important questions that they can ask before they get started?
Sage: “What is the function of each and every space?” I think design and style is important, but your space needs to function. If you have a beautiful looking space but it doesn’t function then what’s the point? I also think it’s important to meet with a designer face-to-face. You’re going to be working together as a team for a long period of time so it’s important to know that you will mesh well together.
SBT: Any last words of wisdom?
Sage: You really can achieve a style direction on any budget. You just have to open your mind to the fact that it may take a little longer. You can do things in baby steps. Start a project with a vision, then gather all your parts and pieces, get your quotes and start to understand what it’s going to take to get the project done the way you want it done. Don’t rush it if you don’t have to. Also, always go with the best quality you can afford. You want the products in your project to be there for the long haul so you don’t have to go through the process a second time around!
SBT: That’s a great piece of advice especially since we live in a world where we often want it done yesterday. So if you’re thinking of doing something later in the year . . .
Sage: Start planning today. Understand your project scope. Understand what you need. Start talking to a designer, an architect or a contractor now. Get quotes and start interviewing people now so you hire the right team for your specific project.
SBT: Excellent. So how can someone find out more about Sage Conti Design?
Sage: SageContiDesign.com. All my contact information is there and I am always happy to talk to clients on the phone. I also offer a complimentary consultation so we can meet face-to-face to talk about your project, walk through your space and identify where I can help you most.
Sage Conti is the owner and principal interior designer at Sage Conti Design, a full-service residential and commercial interior design firm in Concord, Massachusetts. Her ability to connect with her clients, combined with 13 years of experience, endless creativity and relentless work ethic, results in creating functional, beautiful spaces and experiences that clients love.
Gayle Nowak is a contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine covering influencers, innovators and trendsetters in business, health, finance and personal development. She also has contributed to Founderswire.com, an American digital news magazine and video channel that provides in-depth analysis and reporting on modern entrepreneurship and technology that solves global problems. She was previously a staff writer and contributor for several local newspapers in the Boston media market including the Ludlow Register, Ashland and Holliston TABs, MetroWest News and Taunton Daily Gazette.