The Designer-Client Relationship

Black and white farmhouse kitchen with river rock fireplace in the seating area

What Is A Great Designer-Client Relationship?

Let’s say you’ve started the search for the perfect interior design and/or kitchen & bath designer for your next project. What is the key to a successful relationship with any designer? Honest communication from day one. Here are helpful ideas to create the ideal designer-client relationship for your interior design and/or kitchen & bath design projects. 

I have many years of experience with successful designer-client relationships. During our initial meeting, I am often asked “what do you need from us?”.  My best response is “honesty”. We can talk about the project, and look at inspiration boards and portfolio images but if everyone is not being honest, not only will the project will fail so will the designer-client relationship. Let’s begin with how to be a great client.

Finding The Perfect Match.

If you are considering working with a designer, let’s talk about what it means to be a great client. I have participated in hundreds of interviews with clients. During these conversations, we were deciding if we could work together, much like a job interview. Regardless of how a designer charges, what the timeline is, or what the preferred style is, the designer-client relationship is paramount. When the designer is not the ideal design partner for the project it will be hard to maintain a great collaboration.Designer Client Relationship Image of a designer and client reviewing color choices

The Designer-Client Relationship: The Interview.

Here is the first question you should ask a designer you are interviewing: “Who is your ideal client?” Now that may sound like an odd question. Regardless of who you are interviewing, everyone has their own way of working. Unfortunately, there is no one system, process or formula for hiring a designer. Success will come when you find the right person. So finding out if you [ the client ] are a designer’s ideal client type is a filter you can use as you begin the interview process.

Who Is The Designer’s Ideal Client?

I have used this question when interviewing architects for a project for my own home. Surprisingly, several were thrown by the question.  They could not articulate to me who their ideal client was. As a client, you have certain expectations from the designer and team who will be realizing your project. If you are not a good fit for each other, the results could be disastrous. As the client, you also will need to be honest regarding what you will need from your team. Some clients need less hands-on help than others. Be honest about what you feel you need. 

Image of an interior designed by Sharon L Sherman Thyme & Place Design about the Designer Client Relationship

Designed by Sharon L Sherman

The Big 3: Initial Questions I Ask A Potential Client. 

1/How did you find our firm?
2/What is the scope of work and the timeline for your project?
3/What are you willing to invest in your home?

Why do I call these The Big 3? From my perspective, these are the 3 most important questions I can ask you. Generally speaking, these questions will help you determine if I am a good fit for you, and will me determine if you are a good fit for the way I work – ensuring a successful and profitable working relationship for both of us. 

How Did You Find Our Firm?

First, I would like to know how you found me. Are you a referral from a client? If you have been referred, then that would mean you have a bit of an idea of what working with my firm would be like. Or, did you conduct an internet search and find me that way? If you found me through an internet search, I would ask you if you have reviewed my portfolio,i f you have read my client’s testimonials and my “how we work” page. 

A Google search for designers is a fine place to start, by the way. But once you land on a designer who seems to be a fit at first glance, think it through carefully. Review all aspects of their website and their social feeds. If you are looking for a mid-century modern look and the designer’s portfolio pages are filled with coastal grandma style, that may not be a good fit. Do you want someone who specializes in a particular field like kitchen and bath design or are you planning on refreshing your dining room? Make sure the designer you choose offers you a menu of service offering choices like I do, to ensure you get exactly what you need. 

What Is The Scope Of Work And The Timeline For The Project?

Secondly, we need to look at the type of project as well as the timeline. Generally speaking, I specialize in kitchen, bath, and millwork projects. Furthermore, our materials are custom, so they will take time to produce. If you are looking for something outside of the services we provide or a faster timeline than we can accommodate, we might not be a good fit. These are important details if you are looking for a fast turnaround or have a specific deadline you need to meet. Again, being forthright during the interview process avoids problems down the road. Remember, in today’s world of design extended delivery times may impact your project and are out of our control. 

Designer client relationship color rendering of a dining area

What Are You Willing To Invest In Your Project?

Be honest about how much of an investment you are prepared to make. Unquestionably, this is one of the most important factors in a successful designer-client relationship. I have over 40 years of experience designing kitchens/baths and interiors. I bring a unique set of skills and knowledge to every project no matter how large or small. Our products are of the highest quality as are the skills of the teams I work with.I provide a concierge level of service to my clients who desire that level of service, but I also have other levels of service offerings, too, which are all listed on my website.

While you may be surprised at the investment required for concierge level service, especially if you have not undertaken a project in many years, your best interests are my best interests. It is my responsibility to help you invest your money wisely. I will do my best to honestly educate you, based on what you desire. If you decide to hire me for this level of service, I also take seriously my responsibility to help you avoid costly mistakes. If you read my testimonials, you will see that I have done this successfully now for many clients over 20 years, clients who have invested significantly with me in their homes, because they trusted my expertise and specialized kitchen and bath design knowledge.

What Are The Next Steps In The Designer – Client Relationship? 

If we decide we are a good fit for each other, then we will discuss the different services I have available and then you will decide what is best for the level of investment you wish to make. Once that decision has been made, I will have you sign my letter of agreement and we will be on our way to a fun, satisfying and mutually beneficial business relationship – one based on compatible personalities, respect, and trust. 

I am so fortunate to have great clients with whom I have become great friends. Although that was not the intent, that was the outcome. Clients have come back to work with me on additional projects again and again. To repeat, honesty, trust, and mutual respect are the keywords of success. I hope that these thoughts and ideas help you better understand the designer-client relationship. These considerations make collaboration with a design professional an enjoyable and successful process, ensuring the outcome you’ve dreamed of for your home. 

All designers are there to guide, educate, and bring personalized luxury to your home. We curate the factors that ensure wellness, health, and safety features have all been carefully considered and integrated into the design of your home. We are – and I am – committed to making your home your sanctuary, your place of safety and contentment. Your place of peace.


Sharon L. Sherman, ASID, NCIDQ, CID, CKD


Sharon is the founder of Thyme and Place Design, headquartered in Wyckoff, New Jersey. She’s been practicing kitchen and bath design for the past 40 years and is a Past President of the American Society of Interior Designers – New Jersey chapter. She is a current member of the editorial board of KB&B Magazine, the official magazine of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. 

Her award-winning designs and editorial comments have been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, Design Milk, Bergen NJ magazineKitchen & Bath Design News, Woman’s Day, Country Decorating, Design NJ, New Jersey Home Magazine, 201 Magazine, The Best of Bergen, Savvy Living, The Vue, The Record, The Star-Ledger,  and Aspire as well as several books.

Her blog “Tips from the Trade” appears in digital form on and She has also appeared on HGTV’s My Big Amazing Renovation and episodes of House Smarts with Lou Manfredini.  In 2022, she was a featured *Voices From The Industry* speaker at the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s international convention and is available for further speaking engagements nationwide on all topics related to running a successful kitchen and bath design business. 






  1. Lenore Spinelli

    I love how you incorporated the designer is also interviewing the client. Both the designer and the prospective client have a choice to work together or not.

    • Sharon L Sherman

      Thank you, Lenore.
      It is a bit like dancing when both client and designer are trying to determine if working together will be a success.

  2. Jeri Cerutti

    So much wisdom and experience! Great advice for people looking for a designer.

    • Sharon L Sherman

      Thank Jeri
      Also important for designers in understanding what clients may be thinking about as well.

  3. Marina V

    You bring up some good points Sharon. Lots to be considered in a designer-client relationship.

  4. Leslie Carothers

    This is such an important post. Thanks for writing it, Sharon. Clear communication is the key to a happy and productive business relationship, and something I constantly strive to be better at, myself.

    I think it’s wonderful, too, that you’re now offering various service levels, so your clients can choose what’s exactly right for them and their project.

    • Sharon L Sherman

      Thank you, Leslie, I believe clear and honest communication is essential for any successful relationship.

  5. Scott Johnston

    The article is a nice refresher and reminder of the importance of a good introduction to a designer, client relationship. As I look back 45 plus years, I find where my ideal clients comes from changes every five to ten years however, what they want stays the same as does open/transparent communicational skills them. It must be working since 90% of my clients I never meet.

    My #3 question I ask my clients, is where have they been shopping?
    This gives me a little insight to the level of quality, style and budget they are looking to invest. And, helps me determine if I can be of service.

    • Sharon L Sherman

      Thank you for your thoughts, Scott. I appreciate your time and insights.


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Sharon sherman

My award-winning designs haven been featured in multiple magazines, industry publications and on television. That’s nice affirmation, to be sure.

But perhaps the greatest accolade I’ve received is the repeat engagements with so many clients, project after project, year after year.

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