As a restoration and remodeling company, the conversations we have with clients about their goals and vision for a space are constantly flowing. We love this. It fuels us, keeps us and the homeowners excited during the project, and also allows us to effectively help them transform their vision into a reality.
With that said, our clients typically come to us with a relatively strong sense of what they want to accomplish and how they want it to look. Whether it’s an addition for more family space, a respectful restoration of a historic home, or that wine cellar they’ve dreamt of for 20 years, the mental sketch of their goal is in place. But while that sketch may exist in their minds, the more defined lines relating to specific materials they want to use are typically missing. Or they may be there, but they may need a little redefining. Let’s take a closer look at what this process looks like.
How Do We Help Clients Choose the Right Material for Their Project?
In the early stages of the conversation, it all comes down to asking the right questions. Here are a few that can nudge the dialogue in a helpful direction:
- What is your budget?
- How do you need the remodeled space to perform? (This relates to functionality and durability.)
- What's your interest in maintenance?
- What is your family and pet situation? (Pets can have quite an impact!)
- How important is resale value?
Open-ended questions like these get clients thinking and offer us a clearer perspective, allowing us to more knowledgeably make suggestions.
What Happens When a Client’s Material of Choice Isn’t the Best Option?
In our industry, the customer isn’t always right. And, at the end of the day, that’s OK. They've contacted us and entrusted their goals to us knowing that we’ll help them make the very best decisions. Input is just part of the process, and it’s an essential part.
As an example, a client once insisted that they wanted Italian marble for the floor of their children’s bathroom. We personally love marble and had to agree that from an aesthetic standpoint this would be a stunning material choice. But, from an even more important functional standpoint, we just didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of marble in a bathroom for kids. Why? Well, marble gets slick when wet! Incredibly slick. The idea of kids sliding around after bathtime didn’t sit well, so we offered suggestions for equally beautiful flooring that would offer a safer level of grip for energetic little feet. Tubled marble, travertine tile, slate tile, teak wood, and other slip-resistant material choices were brought to the table as better alternatives. As a happy side note, we did use Italian marble for the floor in the master bathroom, so the clients got to use their material of choice after all, just in a more appropriate location.
Photo: courtesy Gerety Building & Restoration Bathroom Portfolio
Making the Best of a Poor Material Choice
Remember how we mentioned that the customer isn’t always right? Well, they may not always be right, but when it comes to material options they do have the final word, and it’s our job to work with what they select after we’ve made our recommendations.
As another real-life example, we once had a client who was certain that they wanted a decorative concrete floor for their new kitchen. We explained the risks of the floor cracking over time and the challenge of creating the exact design they wanted. Specifically, we knew that the shading/coloring of the concrete may not end up being exactly what they hoped to achieve. But our client had an artistic background and was still adamant that concrete would provide the creative expression they wanted in their floor.
We ended up creating a small sample for them, without committing to the entire floor all at once. After the flooring section was poured, we waited for a few days as it cured, then prepared for the next stages of the project. Our client came to us and said they didn’t like the floor after all and that they were concerned by the settling and already-developing cracks. The sample allowed our client to see for themselves what they were truly asking for and also allowed us to much more easily remove it and go back to the drawing board. Other options such stone, tile, or wood were definitely going to be a better choice.
What Happens When a Material Can’t Be Procured Within Our Client’s Timeline?
Often the specific vision our client has involves unique, beautiful, and valuable materials. We can circle back to Italian marble as an example once again. This is not a material that can be put in the back of a pickup truck at your local home supply store; it involves careful selection, time, coordination with suppliers, and even travel. As always, communication is essential. Conversations about materials take place very early in the building or remodeling process so that we can structure some of the time frame around their procurement. If our client has a strict timeline or budget that their material choices don’t mesh with, we can then proactively pursue other options that will ensure they are thrilled with the result.
Using Technology for Efficient Material Selection and Planning
Technology is an essential part of our toolkit these days. Not only can we utilize programs that show our clients a preview of their project, but we also keep carefully organized collections of photos as samples. If a client wants to know how a specific marble will look on a kitchen island, we likely can pull up a photo to give them a clear view of what they can expect.
Sites such as Houzz.com are becoming increasingly useful as well. A homeowner can come to us with an Ideabook packed full of kitchen design and material examples, perhaps pointing out elements they would like from one sample combined with a feature from another. Any time you can take your client from a hypothetical to a tangible example you are going to propel your project forward that much faster. A picture is worth a thousand words! Or a thousand emails ...
Provide Tangible Samples
As powerful as technology may be, there is still no substitute for touching materials and immersing yourself in the subtle differences of color and texture. Because of this, we provide sample boards for clients, allowing them to enjoy a meet and greet with their favorite options.
We also have brought current clients to a past client’s house to see materials installed. This is a more unique circumstance for obvious reasons, but if the details can be worked out, it offers an invaluable opportunity.
Staying Current With Product Trends and Materials
Being on the cutting edge of trends and material options is essential, especially because your client is relying on you to be the expert. So, how do we do this?
- Membership in trade associations
- Developing relationships with other, complementary, industry experts including interior designers, suppliers, and architects
- Attending trade shows and reading design and products magazines
With these professional relationships firmly established, we then feel comfortable introducing our clients to suppliers and vendors who can answer all of their questions and provide unique insights.
Regardless of whether you heavily rely on technology or prefer old-school methods, the goal is the same: to help your client find the ideal materials for their home. The process can't be rushed or minimized, and the investment of time is always worthwhile. Your client will be thrilled, the project will endure, and it creates a more efficient building process for you as well.