Mary Jo Martin asks interior designers and lighting showrooms to speak frankly about the positive aspects of the lighting showroom and interior designer partnership, along with advice on how to create better synergy between them.
Robin Baron Design, New York City
Celebrity interior designer Robin Baron has known since age nine that she has a strong passion for design: fashion and interiors. Though she didn’t grow up in a creative family, she knew design was her calling. She pursued a career in fashion and – after several years working as a fashion designer with her own private label – Baron transitioned into the world of interiors because she wanted to be able to provide a long-lasting sense of home for her fashion clients and their families. She believes that her services have an impact on every person who lives in, and visits, those homes.
She’s now taken her successful career in interior design one step further by launching her own line of home furniture, hardware, and rugs. Baron has designed custom lighting for her clients’ projects for many years and is looking forward to adding a line of lighting to her home furnishings collections in the future.
“I look to showrooms for all the technical specs I’ll need — size, weight, light output, delivery, pricing, special finishes, customization options, etc.”
A Love of Lighting
“My clients love to have special and unique pieces, which has always inspired me to design lighting for each project. I also love to mix vintage pieces that I find,” Baron states. “Lighting design has elevated significantly in recent years, which makes it easier to combine new pieces with old and vintage pieces. I find fixtures at vintage shops, lighting showrooms, High Point Market, as well as online. However, I only order online from companies that I’m familiar with. Nothing takes the place of seeing lighting in person — especially when you can view a whole collection at market. It helps me to truly appreciate the level of design and all the details that are involved.
“We have relationships with quite a few lighting showrooms. I have confidence in the products and services they provide. That said, I’m always looking for new resources. Good business people are always open to learning from those they come across, and I think it’s important to continue to educate ourselves. Since there can be a lot of similarities among trade showrooms, I find that the absolute most important thing to offer is great customer service. Service and relationships are what makes the difference. We’ll go above and beyond for each other when we have mutual respect.”
Robin Baron Design is a full-service firm that manages everything from construction through decorating. Baron considers lighting – along with hardware – to be the jewelry of any room, and since she describes herself as “jewelry-obsessed,” it’s obviously a sweet spot for her.
“Great light fixtures add personality to my projects,” she adds, “but to light a room just right, I always take into account more than just the ‘look’ of the fixture itself. In order for a room to feel well-lit, I make sure all areas of the room are addressed with lighting. While I’m not afraid to use recessed high hats in a lighting scheme, I always try to make sure there are decorative fixtures added in one way or another. This serves not only to bring a fab piece of ‘jewelry’ to the room, but also allows for more lighting options and for more surfaces to be lit!”
Her Design Process
Baron has a typical routine she uses when preparing for each new job, and says it’s been the key to producing the design work that her clients love.
“I don’t believe in keeping a library of designs in-house because I think it makes most people lazy. I say that having the advantage of living in New York City, where great design and resources are at my fingertips.” she explains. “Instead, I like to start every job fresh. I go out once or twice with a client before we really get the design underway because I want to see their visceral reactions when they see styles, colors, and designs. In the first few shopping trips, I don’t share my opinions as much as I usually would; I watch their reactions. We’re not making final decisions at that point or deciding what goes where. I wait for their natural responses and let inspiration flow from there.
“This method is advantageous because I get to spend some one-on-one time with my clients, which helps me get to know their personality and style much better. Showing them pictures doesn’t create the same type of interaction or relationship. Being in showrooms and around clients inspires me, and there is always an ‘Aha!’ moment when we both know we’ve hit upon something that will be central to the design. It is a bit more time-consuming to do business this way, but this assures me that every project is truly about, and for, that individual client…and for me, the fun is in the hunt!”
When working with showrooms, and especially when she has clients with her, Baron prefers to be left on her/their own. “I don’t want any help unless I ask for it,” she notes. “I want to go at my own pace and in my own direction. But I do look to showrooms for all the technical specs I’ll need — size, weight, light output, delivery, pricing, special finishes, customization options, etc.”
“The showrooms I work with on a regular basis are great, but I would encourage all vendors to work towards a fast response time. It could often take several days to hear back from a vendor, even if it’s a fairly simple answer. When we’re in a time crunch, every minute counts, so having quicker response times would make all the difference to designers who are usually on deadlines.
“I’d also encourage showrooms to implement websites that make ordering easier to do online. We’re in a digital age, and I want to give priority to my trade-only vendors — especially since I know that they will stand by their product after the sale and support and service as needed. The temptation to buy from major online retail stores will be much less if a trade-only vendor has a website that is easy to navigate and has e-commerce capabilities.
When it comes to that service and support, Baron says that even when considering buying direct from manufacturers to get better pricing, she’ll still often opt to buy product through local showrooms so she’s got their added layer of service and protection.
With all of the changing trends, new offerings, and especially new sources of competition for lighting sales, Baron emphasizes that it’s crucial for designers to keep their finger on the pulse of the industry.
“There are so many lighting websites and discount websites — and the public has access to so much information now that they used to rely on us for — so it’s more important than ever for designers to be very familiar and build relationships with manufacturers, showrooms, and other sources,” she explains. “We need to know the products and sources we’re dealing with so that we can be the experts for our clients, and so they see our value. It’s disappointing to watch some of the things happening with online vendors who can’t be reached or refuse to assist when support is needed. We don’t want our clients to get taken in by those types of vendors,” she comments. “It’s important for designers to go to the trade shows and build relationships with manufacturers as well as sources in our local markets. We’ve got to keep up with the latest trends in style and design, business and economic outlook, and changes within our industry. Designers must be experts in the markets and industries they serve.”