For the longest time, I ran my business as a service industry business but to be honest, I spent a lot of that time feeling that I was owed and that people were out to get me and so I was always hedging my bets and treading water in a pool of negativity. The stress then was often CRUSHING. Working with Lloyd Princeton and Perry Gladstone, I soon realized that I was basically operating a Fast Food Design Service while I was wishing it were more of a 5 Star Restaurant. Why weren’t these clients finding me I wondered? Why were the same get in get out people trying to take my ideas but never wanted me to execute them.
And then it clicked. If I wanted to operate a Luxury Service I had to provide the service that was not what one would expect from a Drive Thru but I had to go the extra mile. I was able to really refine this and my ideal client with Kim Kuhteubl who was my coach most recently which helped get past the growing pains of transitioning from Fast Food to Fine Dining. The last 3 years of running MHD have been the best and most joyous. I love coming into work and I am not afraid to leave work, travel or take vacations the way I used to be. I have an amazing team here in the office and so I am looking for the same when it comes to our suppliers and trades. Luxury Service means demanding excellence of yourself as both a boss and business owner but it also means cleaning house when it comes to your suppliers.
We ordered chairs from a supplier in February, they were finally delivered yesterday. The upheaval, drama and WORK that was involved on our part to get them into the clients’ house was significant and we weren’t making them. This particular supplier offers us great pieces with style and price point that are amazing so we let things slide and ultimately, they come through and do so politely which is kinda huge. I dropped a supplier a few years ago after they refused to honour their warranty on a table we had to return FIVE TIMES. The clients really wanted the table and we had designed an entire room around it. That supplier lied, cheated and were incredibly rude and so their cheap goods didn’t align with our luxury service model and so good riddance even if your product looks nice and you charm the pants off of designers and bloggers at Market. Bye Bye.
We have local suppliers too who we try to support but I have to say the service model between Canada and the US can be vastly different. While we have a lot to be desired here in Canada, service on the mfg and even local levels strikes me as very different to that of the US. We have clients who work in the customer service industry and from what I know of their amazing company is that Service is KEY and their commitment to it is admirable. I would love to send a few suppliers to them just for an inservice, it could be life changing. However, I am not able to control the service that others offer and their attitudes are also not within my control, what is in my control however is what I’m willing to be party to. We received a piece yesterday that arrived to the client’s damaged or unfinished more specifically. The supplier categorically denied any fault and said it was in perfect condition when it left their care. Despite photo evidence that proves to the contrary their assertion, there were no apologies, solutions, remedies offered - we were told to deliver it back at our expense and it would be fixed. That’s not a service model that our business aligns with. When our client sent us the email notifying us that there was an issue, our response was swift and apologetic. No fingers were pointed. Did we ask the client if they had damaged the piece? Were we immediately defensive? No - it’s not about us it’s about the client and the speed and efficacy by which we resolve a problem speaks to the service we want to provide. Suppliers often make it difficult for designers to resolve matters - lots of red tape and sign offs - but the good ones see things the way we do - there’s a problem, let’s fix it and then after the matter is resolved, let’s figure out how we can avoid this from happening again either together or individually or both.
While I’m disappointed that the supplier responded in a way not befitting the service I expected, I’m not surprised. There was a pattern that had already emerged and this was the final straw. Better to cut ties now and move on so that we can continue to work our magic and not have it dulled by those who aren’t up to the task. Resolve, move on and learn for the next time. This is essential in offering a luxury service. Level Up. We’re game.
I often muse about what I would write a book about if I were to write a book. Sure, there’s the appealing coffee table book where we stage and style and craft photos to dazzle with. That’s got lots of appeal but is that new to the genre - not particularly. I can’t imagine holding back projects to shoot for a magazine let alone a book… it kills me to no end knowing that I have several projects that still need to be shot as it is!! I have SO much amazing work that y’all haven’t even seen yet!!!
Then there is the teacher in me who wants to educate and humour the world with fabulously horrendous anecdotes about the design industry. Good LAWD I could offer a PhD program in “What NOT to do… in your Design Business…” with an honours degree in “How to be a Great Design Client..” or “How to Survive Your Renovation and Still Be Talking to Your Designer and Your Spouse!” I get a lot of designers asking me to write one of the latter options. Now, the pre-coaching Meredith, would have said that she had a hell of a week this week but post-coaching Meredith doesn’t see it as so. First of all, we had an amazing install in Rye, NY this week that I’m super proud of. It’s really coming together to be something spectacular. We’re also working on several killer projects with Dream Clients so that’s just pure pleasure coming to work each day knowing that these are the things we are working on. However, we’ve had some hellish bumps in the road as well but with all the amazing stuff coupled with a CHOSEN mind set, I’m more than half full looking at my glass.
As to the problems, well when a client or a trade withholds key information (budget) from you, you are immediately handicapped as a designer. Not only is it a breach of trust, it jeopardizes the entire project. We had someone that we had worked with for some time finally pull the trigger after years of discussing the possibility of said project and we were super keen to be given the OK to get started on it. Only after this person had signed on the dotted line to securing the space, did the bomb drop. Our budget was $100K less than what we’d always discussed. To be honest, I’m a lousy poker player and my face dropped telling it all. I was PISSED OFF. I felt immediately that all our time up until that point was wasted. In my head, I was trying to crunch numbers (not my forte) to see if we could still make this happen and I was hearing all the alarm bells going off (think the alarm in a Submarine including the echoes) telling me to ABORT ABORT ABORT. My heart got in the way, because I liked the guy. I immediately issued an ultimatum - all purchases have to be okayed through me. I was VERY direct about this. I couldn’t have the client going off and making side agreements on purchasing without running it by me. I knew that if we kept X budget under a certain number which would leave me with Y to properly design/outfit/fixture the space we’d be okay. Not my first rodeo but it quickly became a full blown circus.
I found my design process immediately micromanaged, despite assurances to the contrary and worse yet, agreements on purchases were made that were double what I had budgeted for and there was absolutely no concessions granted. My hands were tied with the initial drop in budget, but now I felt like my feet were also bound and a gag put around my mouth. My design process had become completely hijacked and to make matters worse, impossible deadlines were demanded of me, without any consultation whatsoever. Now, with coaching I have learned what I am willing to make myself available to and in a situation like this, it is really the only control I have. If I allow this behaviour to continue, I have to assume all the responsibility for the outcome. Mentally, creatively, I checked out which is always a bad sign but I allowed myself to be coaxed back in by Asa because the person we were dealing with, is a good guy. I don’t doubt that however, not all good guys are the right fit. There were few things said to me, probably in jest that were so offensive, I get spitting angry when I think of it. If you suddenly find yourself reminding me of my paternal parent, RUN. It’s not going to end well. I walked away from that relationship because it was on a train to misery and I’m not looking to revisit it with anyone let alone someone who isn’t blood or a best friend (my friends are my family). I will say, in the final weeks I had one foot out the door and I was ready to bolt - I just needed that final push.
When you make the choice to leave a relationship, albeit personal or professional and you find that that choice floods you with relief, you know you have done the right thing. Creatively, I don’t want to be tied to anyone who doesn’t value what it is that I bring to the table. I’m not here to do your specific and exact bidding unless I myself think it’s the right way to go. I’m not going to give you a lazy boy chair that looks like a stuffed garbage bag, even if you think it is the most comfortable chair in the world. At this stage in my career, I don’t log on to Ikea’s website, possibly ever. To me, there is no soul in work that requires me shopping there. I don’t want to shop there. That’s not the kind of work I want to do, nor will it yield work that is of the calibre I want to be known for. It’s a choice. I have left that phase of my career because it is not creatively fulfilling. I still have to work with budgets but I have other choices that strike a balance between satisfying my creative desires and my client’s budgets. Lying to me about a budget is a deal breaker. The trust is broken or in some cases built on a house of cards. No Dice.
We at Meredith Heron Design have a strict No Asshole policy and it’s a top down policy. I won’t be an asshole (even to suppliers who absolutely DESERVE it sometimes) and I won’t work with assholes. I tell our prospective clients this straight up, I don’t fancy it up and say it in a nicer way I’m direct and to the point. I value transparency and work hard to incorporate this into our process at every available opportunity. We want to have FUN and have a rewarding creative endeavour and we consistently work with people who enable this and encourage it. Our clients are a JOY to share the journey with and it compounds the fulfilment we feel at the end of a project a thousand fold. Sometimes, poor fits slip through our vetting process and you find yourself having to extricate yourself out of the relationship. I take no joy in this but the quicker you can exit the better for everyone concerned. We always do a debrief after such a thing because we want to ensure that we fill in the gaps, understand the role we played in the break down and look to remedy what needs fixing for future prospects. In this particular case, we thought our emphatic directives about how the project needed to be managed were enough, but alas they were ignored. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.
All this being said, I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all of the other amazing people we are working with and the creative we are generating. It is amazing and it is as it should be.
Opening Photo: I may compensate some days with carbs & wine.
I don’t remember the last blog post that I posted but I’ve written half a dozen in my head. After a request from Vanessa in my office for me to get back on the blogging horse, I thought I’d give it a whirl. I spoke with a few friends about it - my concern being all the effort it takes to take/edit and post photos to go with the blog and almost everyone said “Fuck It..” (the photos not the blog apparently they want to read what I have to say on things pardon my french but it summed things up nicely).
So I’m hear, there may be pictures there may not be but if you want pictures you have my instagram to follow. You ARE following me on instagram non?
While the summer has felt like an actual summer (Hot) it’s also felt like I’ve had a wee bit of a break (Asa disagrees) and a crazy busy social life (read LOTS OF COCKTAILS). I’ve also been travelling a lot. Washington DC, NYC, Winnipeg and it’s only going to ramp up from here. We have two new projects in Winnipeg - #HandsartHouse and #LighthouseLodge. We’ve figured out the key to cloning our favourite clients - get them to buy more than one house! We’re working on the principal residence and their fabulous new lake house as well. The lake house is an Octagon shaped Log Home and I’m not threatening to paint the wood even!!! It’s very exciting.
We’re also working on long time clients’ #Naples home and we are about to install our #Rye project in NY. Our #Coaldale project in Alberta continues along with a few projects #Beech, #StGeorge and #TheHill here in Toronto. So yes, blogging slid a bit and after last week when I actually melted into a giant puddle of goo I’m thinking that I need the catharsis of blogging in my life again even though those French 75s we’ve been drinking have a similar catharsis… ha ha ha
In the middle of all of this we launched our second Fabric Collection with JF Fabrics - Selenite and Peacock books are now available to the Trade and we couldn’t be more thrilled. I test drove the red wine all over the sofa last week and while the crystal goblet I hoofed, didn’t make it, the red wine didn’t stand a chance against our Corenza fabric. We’ve finished all the wallpapering in our house and it’s amazing. I still have to hang some artwork back up, but given the heat of last week that didn’t happen. Maybe next week or the week after… I need another photoshoot to cross that finish line.
I know that this may seem like a laundry list of “what I did on my Summer Vacation” but I figured it was best to contextualize what’s been going on so that as we move ahead on the blog you’ll know where it’s all coming from.
Our Corenza fabric is on the sofa along with our Minx and Waters fabrics. I couldn’t be more thrilled with their amazing performance qualities and stylish great looks. Bring it red wine - just not in a smashing crystal delivery apparatus.
Our den dazzles with two papers on the wall and on the ceiling. These are from our new collection The Meredith Heron Collection Vol I available through designers and JF Fabrics.
Summer is in full swing and I’m finishing off the last bits of my powder room. Our amazing Spalet toilet from DXV was finally installed last week just under the Canada Day wire - and the birthday party we were holding for Luke the day after. Nothing like dozens of people coming to your house to make you realize you REALLY need the toilet on the main floor to be working!!! Last night our sink was installed. Because we were using wallpaper, the sink and toilet really needed to go in last. Fortunately that is now done which you’d think would be another X on the list crossed off but alas it’s actually presented a few more questions.
I love the grasscloth - Bejing from JF Fabrics Wallpaper and of course the Marble (8036-34) on the ceiling which is from the Meredith Heron Collection Vol 1 also by JF Fabrics. I’m not loving that there isn’t a break between them. Because the ceiling in the den turned out so amazing with the baseboard in lieu of crown moulding, I’m toying with doing that in the powder room. Alternatively, I’m thinking of using gros grain ribbon to delineate the walls from the ceiling. I’m also trying to create a different vibe in this iteration of the powder room from the last two. Neither I loved, but I keep finding that I’m leaning toward that palette of old - cream/heather/blush and I am trying to go boldly against it without being bold. Does that make sense? Given the drama of the den, I don’t want the powder room to be trying to steal too much attention. I’d like a progression. Normally, I can get a client to do WILD things in a powder room and that’s where we often opt for drama but in this case, we need a strong supporting actress. Of course I don’t want to be underwhelming so I’m looking at striking a balance with more dramatic accents.
Elegant and refined yes?
We have the Landfair Faucet and Wyatt Console Sink both from DXV. Storage and counter space in one!! So happy. I’m looking at having custom shades made for the sconce and we need a mirror to hide the plate that will cover the junction box where the old light used to be… so here are some ideas I’ve been toying with…
I love how the Golden Age movement from DXV resonates with the period of our house which is 160yrs old this year. Modern Trad just like me.
I’ve been playing around with fabrics - love the pop of green in this Schumacher fabric mostly because it ties in to the Den and the artwork is really fun. It livens up the neutrals nicely.
I also love this scheme which ties in the blues/heathers/iris from the living and dining rooms and introduces the deep hunter green as an accent. Tourmalines and slates. I’ll never say no to these but is it too homogenous?
A third option (well there are more than three to be fair this is all I’ve pulled together as I await more samples to arrive). Here’s a bolder option for sure which ties everything together colour scheme wise… which one is me though?
Opening Photo: Petros Koublis (we’re using his art for a client right now - DYING!)