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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Designers. Ugh!

Posted on September 4, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Prior to working at Custom Theater and Audio, I don’t believe I ever had any real world encounters with any interior designers. I mean, I’m sure I passed some of them in the grocery store – probably wondering why I felt that weird, cold, spinal shiver as I traversed their wake – or something but I never had any occasion to actually avail myself of their services.

Growing up, my dad was not one to pay others for any services that he felt he could have performed for free in house. House cleaning? No. He had my mom. Car washing? No. He had me. Yard work? Hells to the no! Didn’t you just read that he had me?!  So there was no way in this version of reality that my dad was going to EVER pay for an interior designer.

Not to mention that my dad pretty much had a minimalist sense of design style that would pretty much resemble the gloss, all-white world of George Lucas’ film, THX-1138. Rooms that would resemble stark, solitary prison spaces if not for the lack of bars on the windows and a splash of some-shade-of-brown color from the carpet. White walls, light colored carpet, with bare, minimalism throughout. He let my mom put up wall paper that was seriously -- I'm totally not kidding -- WHITE wallpaper on WHITE wall with little tiny WHITE dots! Those dots were my dad living on the bleeding edge of design. (My dad also had this Jedi-level sense when there had been some disturbance or “horseplay” in the home. Once my dad was foolish enough to put my friend, Dan, in charge of me and my cousin for a few days while my parents went away on a trip. Well, we bought these little disc launching guns and had some EPIC battles inside the house at night with all the lights out. But I guess these discs made some dents in the molecular coating of the paint on some sub-atomic level because when my dad came home, he took one step into the house, stopped, held out his arms like he was reaching into the Force and said, “There has been horseplay here! What have you boys been up to?! That Dan! He’s no more than a child himself! I will NEVER put him in charge again!")

So, I had no idea what to expect when I started working with clients and was told that I would be meeting with the designer. (And while my TV experience with designers has suggest that the field is almost entirely filled with extravagantly fab-u-lous and overtly gay men, in my personal experience in South Carolina they have thus far been nearly all female. Sexual orientation unknown.) At first I naively thought, “OK, great! We can work together and come up with a great plan so that you – you, the homeowner, you the boss on this job, you the one that is writing all of the checks that we’re both going to be cashing – will get exactly what YOU want. Go Team!"

Ha! HAAAAA! Because I quickly discovered that when you hire a designer, somewhere in the fine print there must be a clause that is so ironclad that it would be the envy of the Devil himself. The clause must say something akin to, “While we both understand that you have hired me and that you are technically ‘the boss,’ I will be making ALL of the decisions. Everything I say goes. It doesn’t matter if you say you really, really-really, really with extra special really-juicy-cherry-really sauce on it want to have something, if I don’t like it or just am having a bad day and arbitrarily say, ‘No, you can’t have it’ then you will understand that you can’t have it. And don’t ask me again. I’m sure this sucks for you, but I am the designer, and your signing this contract acknowledges that you aren’t big-boy enough to make all of your own decisions and that you’re essentially declaring yourself non compos mentis when it comes to decorating your own home.”

My first real-life experience with this was when a designer told a client that he couldn’t have a subwoofer. Not that we could find an alternate solution or that we could hide it away or that we could find a location that would be acceptable. No. That he COULDN’T have a subwoofer. I looked at the woman and said, “Really? You’re telling him he can’t have it? But he wants it.”

“Well, I’m the designer. And it is going to ruin my design. So it isn’t going in here.” (It’s really a pity I didn’t have the blog going back then. I probably could have added years to my life in being able to vent that stuff out. Instead it all had to just fester away in my spleen.) I was at a loss as to what to do. I looked at the homeowner and he gave me this pathetic shruge like, "Well, there it is. No sub, I guess. What else can we do?" I don't know, buddy. How about whip out some balls and smack someone in the face with them and say, "I AM having a subwoofer. And if you say one more word, I'm gonna make it the biggest damn subwoofer they make. You got it?" PS: Guy didn't get a subwoofer.

Back then designers were actively confrontational against technology and almost every project had an us (the husband and I) versus them (the wife and the designer) kind of we're gonna have to go to war for this mentality. This was also before technology had really caught up and become as accepted as it is today. There weren’t as many great in-wall options, micro subs weren’t as prevalent and flat panel TVs were just starting to come on the scene. And they weren’t very flat and were VERY expensive. (I sold my first Fujitsu – a 42-inch, 480p model that was about 6-inches “thin” -- for $12,000!) So the big screen TV solution was either a 36-inch giga-sized tube that needed some massively deep cabinet or some hulking rear pro that needed an entire wall unit. (I remember another customer once said, “Between your TV and his cabinetry, I have more money in that unit than I did in my entire first house!") 

I have to say, things have definitely gotten better over time. Now the concept of an audio/video system as integral to the entertainment experience is now accepted and flat panel TVs have actually reached the point where designers are embracing them and no longer constantly trying to cover them up with mirrors or artwork or drapes or doors or whatever other crazy schemes they’ve come up with.

So the other day I’m on a job where we are trimming out a dedicated media room. Now, stop for a second and contemplate that phrase: dedicated…media…room. Ded-i-ca-ted. “Intended only for one purpose. Designed to carry out only one task, or set aside for a specific purpose.” So we have hung our 120-inch screen, and set our projector and are continuing on with the install tweakery when the spousal unit portion of the homeowner comes in with the decorator. She takes one look at our screen and says, “Oh. I thought it was going to be much higher than that. Can we raise it up?”

I explain that, yes, we can definitely raise it up. The room has like an 18-foot ceiling and our projector’s lens adjustment would allow us to practically put the top of the screen all the way up to the top. But I explain that we put the screen where we did after a lot of careful consideration and measurement and determining the optimum positioning. We took in the sightline requirements of the back row and what it would need in order to be able to see over the tops of the chairs in the front row and create a pleasing, comfortable viewing angle. Then we figured how high would be TOO high for those sitting in the front row. Then we balanced those out and found the best compromise. But, yes, if they want to raise it up, we can do it. It will only take a couple of hours and leave some holes in the wall.”

“But I want to put some drapes around it, and with the screen that low, it’s going to look funny. I really want to have thoI really want to have those drapes. It’s going to complete the room.”

“Well,” I ask, turning to the homeowner, “do you want it to look good when the lights are on and no one is watching a movie, or do you want it to look good when the lights are off and you come in here to do what this room was intended for: to watch movies? Because if we raise that screen up a couple of feet, it is going to be way too high for anyone in the front row to comfortably watch.”

“Well, what do you normally do around the screen?”

“Most of our media rooms don’t have 18-foot tall ceilings; usually the ceiling is 8 to 12 feet tall, and a screen this size would marry up close to the ceiling and then tie in with some crown molding or soffit or drapery. With a ceiling this tall, it is difficult to fill up the space above the screen. If the room was deeper, you could build like a proscenium or stage or something and create more of an architectural element up here, but the room realy isn’t long enough to do that comfortably.”


“What if we put some pictures or artwork on the wall above it?”

“Well, if the pictures have any kind of glass or reflective material in front of them, the light is going to bounce off the screen and light up those pictures and – in my opinion – be very distracting. Every time it is a bright scene, you eye is going to be pulled away from the screen to all the reflections that are happening above it, and that isn’t what we want. When you go to a real movie theater, you don’t see anything on the front wall to take your eye away from the image on the screen.”

In the end, the homeowner saw my point and she and the designer went back to the drawing board looking for some other solution. Score one for the A/V installers for a change! Huzzah!

Categories: September 2011, CTA, Rants

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Reply Richard Fregosa
9:41 PM on September 4, 2011 
Much like the other day, kudos for a reasoned approach, and instead of the rookie mistake when a member of the design team asks you something instead of bemoaning how your own "artistry" is now being compromised, you politely walked them through the options and then allowed them to change their minds.

Even in a dedicated viewing room - dedicated is still an adjective to describe a pretty important thing - it's still a room - as such it's still going to be held to the greater design aesthetic for the rest of the place, no matter how we generally try to spin it otherwise.

In all fairness though, even the most difficult interior designer is a pushover when you've got the oh so lovely opportunity to work with an "renowned" architect. I still get itchy from the last time that happened.

It's nice to get a win though - so rock on, mister.
Reply Rob Medich
9:35 PM on September 5, 2011 
Wow, I thought my blood was going to boil there at the end, but you saved it. Rock on, Custom Man!