How to Sell to Interior Designers

Three prominent interior designers discuss the changing role of lighting in their projects and how lamps and fixtures matter more now than ever before. 

Interior designers are revered for their practiced eye for aesthetic balance, good taste, and knack for finding the perfect items that reflect their clients’ lifestyles and interests. We asked three sought-after interior designers what attributes they are seeking when selecting lamps and lighting fixtures for their clients.

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What Designers Want

“Today, for the first time in a long time, I am looking for highly decorative and large modern suspended fixtures,” says Mary Douglas Drysdale. “There are lots of new lamps out in the market that I find wonderful. They are ceramic, and modern and big, and are also including strong color.”

“When developing a lighting plan for my clients, I always focus on the two Fs: Functionality and Form,” explains Corey Damen Jenkins. “What are their daily habits? Do they read in bed? Do they entertain much? What sort of ambiance are we creating for the space: is it romantic, cheerful, or serious? Do they suffer from the ‘Winter Blues?’ What sort of lighting will best complement their complexions? These things may not cross their minds because it’s so subliminal, but it’s crucial for me!” He adds, “How people see themselves and others is key to their enjoyment of life and lighting has a direct bearing on that. After I’ve taken those factors into consideration, the process naturally evolves into selecting the best form. In my professional opinion, sconces and chandeliers are like jewelry – they should sparkle in a way that enhances, but not overwhelms, the overall outfit.”

When designing a room, Stephanie Seul-Tuliglowski first determines the function of the space and the needs of the client. “I find out whether they need task lighting for reading, ambient lighting, or just a pretty touch in general,” she explains. “I try to get a feel for the size and use of the room also.”

Where They Buy Lighting

“Typically we buy at lighting showrooms, but I would love to make friends with some more showrooms that specialize in interesting modern pieces,” Drysdale remarks. “Everyone in business today needs to give a bit on the prices of these things. Buyers and specifiers are having a hard time selling – and that is even with our lowering our fees and markups.”

“I purchase my lighting selections from both showrooms and antique dealers,” Jenkins comments. “It’s rare that a showroom carries every high-end lighting line I’m interested in, so one that carries 85-90 percent of my favorite brands under one roof is going to get my business before one that only carries a few. I also prefer vendors that honor my full trade discount versus me having to split it with a salesperson who’s working on commission.”

When shopping for lighting, Tuliglowski usually checks with her local lighting showrooms. “If they don’t have what I need in the store, I check their catalogs. Home centers and online shopping is also an option depending on the budget of my client,” she quips.

What Their Clients Want

There seems to be more attention paid to lighting in shelter magazines. We asked designers whether lighting has been on their radar more as well.

Drysdale is like many designers who tend to eschew installing a lot of lighting fixtures in favor of recessed lights. “I am your classic recessed lights with small openings [type of designer] though maybe [I’ll add] a single chandelier if needed, although I have had plenty of clients who don’t like them, [with the exception of] sconces – and often NO lamps,” Drysdale admits. “All of that is changing for me, however. I really like the new lamps I see and look forward to using more. I think this will be the decade of the resurgence of lighting fixtures that make a statement.”

Jenkins has noticed that lamps and fixtures are becoming more important to his clients.

“There are so many great things happening in lighting design right now,” he says enthusiastically. “I love the raw organic elements that are being infused into traditional lighting. Fine Art, Global Views, and Currey & Company just keep coming out with new creations at Market that make my jaw drop. I think Laura Kirar’s latest collection [for Arteriors] is everything,” he remarks. “Today, lighting is functioning as powerfully in spaces as artwork, in my opinion. The right sconce can push an otherwise conservative design into the realm of the Wow.”

“I definitely feel that lighting is more important in designing a home presently then in the past,” Tuliglowski comments. “There is so much more of a selection in kitchen, task, and ambient lighting now. With people making their homes more of a place to spend their time – whether working from a home office, entertaining friends, or just relaxing and enjoying their families in general – the availability and selection has really come a long way! People seem to care more about the designs and the mood of their spaces. There is no more glaring overhead lighting that you use to see a lot in homes. Lighting is the crowning touch, giving a home its overall ambience and mood.”

Where They Get Lighting Knowledge

“I have worked over the years with various lighting designers and have created more than 500 projects so I have also learned [about good lighting] along the way,” Drysdale states.

“In addition to my own experience and education, I have to say some of my best training came from working for five years with one of Michigan’s top lighting designers Faye Elizabeth Nicholas (formerly of Pine Tree Lighting in Lake Orion). Her eye for scale and beauty in lighting is just amazing,” Jenkins notes.

“When trying to determine special needs and new ideas for clients, I consult with my local lighting dealers and try to keep on top of [lighting developments] by reading as much as I can online or in magazines,” Tuliglowski comments.

What They Wish Lighting Showrooms Would Do 

“Have a highly educated sales force with good follow-through and a good understanding of the technical issues involved,” Drysdale notes.

“I think having a sampling of various lighting lines on display in the showroom can be a huge benefit for interior designers,” Jenkins suggests. “I realize space may be limited, but sometimes Web galleries and tear sheets don’t do [the products] justice. They can even be deceiving in terms of finishes and other aesthetics. I’ve found that when my clients see a chandelier in person it creates a tangible experience and is a far more impressive selling point. As the old adage goes ‘Seeing is Believing!’”

“If I bring a client to a lighting showroom, I try to have pictures and measurements on-hand so that the sales rep can help me in determining the best selections and choices for the functionality of design and room,” Tuliglowski says. “The style, finish, and amount of illumination that is given off by a fixture or lamp is always taken in to consideration when selecting the final choice.”

Tuliglowski has observed more clients showing an interest in LED lighting. “They are primarily interested in eco-friendly usage and having a more efficient, longer lifespan of their bulbs. It would be very helpful to clients as well as designers if lighting showrooms offered online newsletters or pamphlets that would keep us up-to-date with new lighting styles, developments, and functionality for interiors and exteriors. Photography that shows the product in a room setting would also be helpful in determining future uses and purchases,” she adds.

Mary Douglas Drysdale: Established her Washington, D.C.-based firm Drysdale Design Associates, in 1980. The recipient of many design awards and distinctions, she has been on House Beautiful’s list of Top 100 Designers in America seven years running and has been a frequent guest on several HGTV programs. She has also been ranked as a top designer in lists compiled by Architecture & Interiors, This Old House, and Washingtonian magazines. Her signature style bridges tradition with modern in an original, timeless manner.

Corey Damen Jenkins: Is the principal of DWV: Design With Vision, LLC, in the Detroit area and is the winner of HGTV’s hit reality television series Showhouse Showdown. He is known for injecting spaces with a fresh, continental mix of elegance and modernity. In December 2012, he was named “Interior Designer of the Year” by FGI-Detroit and his creative vision has been featured in many leading national and local publications.

Stephanie Seul-Tuliglowski: Before establishing her own interior design firm in Joliet, Ill., Stephanie Seul-Tuliglowski enjoyed a successful career as a professional faux finisher of furniture and homes. She later taught faux finishing techniques for 14 years.

More Lighting Designers we have covered:

JULIE NEILL CUSTOM LIGHTING DESIGNS

ANDY BURNS: AWARD-WINNING LIGHTING DESIGNER





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