Mary Knackstedt:Partnering With Clients

Mary Knackstedt

Acclaimed interior designer and author Mary Knackstedt reveals how interior designers – and retailers – can strengthen their professional relationships.

During an educational session held last High Point Market, interior designer and business strategist Mary Knackstedt, FASID, FIIDA, of Mary K Interiors based in New York City, shared her ideas for helping home furnishings retailers adapt the sales approach applied by many leading interior designers. Today’s savvy consumers don’t want to be sold; they want assistance from knowledgeable professionals. According to Knackstedt, the author of 11 books including The Interior Design Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Profitability and The Challenge of Interior Design: Professional Values and Opportunities, interior designers often become close friends with their clients because of the role they play in enhancing their clients’ lives. Lighting and home furnishings retailers can benefit from creating similar relationships with their customers.

Know Your Limits

“We can’t do it all,” Knackstedt says of interior designers and professionals in all areas of home furnishings. “We can’t [possess] an in-depth vocabulary in all categories; it goes far beyond that.  Fortunately our clients don’t expect us to know it all, but they do expect us to be able to get the answers,” she states.

Being proficient and speedy in finding those solutions for clients goes a long way in cementing the designer-client bond. In addition to product resources, Knackstedt recommends creating a list of consultants and craftsmen in various areas of expertise.

Designers might see a product that seems ideal for a particular project, but there may not be a qualified installer nearby. “You might have to consider that it will cost more to install if you need to bring in a qualified person from a distant city,” Knackstedt cautions, adding, “If it can’t be installed properly, don’t do it.” Customer satisfaction is crucial; if you don’t have a trusted professional to do the installation, your relationship with the client will suffer for it.


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“A good designer asks what is important [to the client], what works for them, and what do they need to feel the space is functional.”

— Mary Knackstedt


Digging further into a topic or material that a customer expressed interest in is an example of going the extra mile in a way that builds trust and rapport. “Find those special articles [on that topic] and do some research on how it can benefit your client further,” she advises.

Even more importantly, keep your list current. “There might be a 20- to 30-percent loss of resources each year,” Knackstedt explains. “Perhaps a company has gone out of business or they might no longer do that type of work. It’s good to have a number of resources for any given area.”

Be an Inspiration

Think of what you can bring to a space that is different from what people have seen. “I’ve heard designers say they don’t want their clients to see their homes,” Knackstedt remarks. “Why not? If you can’t invite someone into your own space, you have a problem [as an interior designer]. It’s not the same as inviting them to your studio or office.”

With interior design being such a visual profession, it’s paramount for designers to encourage clients to come into their spaces to see what they can do. Knackstedt proposes the idea of showing them your closets; how does it work and what is your system for organizing the contents? When you open up a kitchen drawer, show them what’s in there.

Clients are looking for inspiration. “Why not show them how to do a party in their home? The designer could bring the wine, appetizers, and flowers and the client invites their friends over for a get-together. It puts you in front of a new audience,” she comments.

Another option is to host a party for a client such as a “tea party” for their children. “We show how to do a proper tea with their daughters in their best dresses. Clients love it because it involves their children,” Knackstedt explains, mentioning how an interior designer held a Sports Night party at a client’s home to test out the acoustics and layout of a home theater. “I see more and more people wanting the experiential,” she notes.

“A good designer asks what is important [to the client], what works for them, and what do they need to feel the space is functional,” Knackstedt says. “I’ve reached the point where I want what I want — and I want it done right. That’s why they go to a designer.”

One interior designer in the seminar audience noted that she has had several clients recently who want two sleeping areas, but with one common space that is shared. This arrangement is particularly sought after among couples where there is a snoring issue or for a spouse who must get up extremely early for work and does not want to disturb the other person. “This could then lead to designing his and her bathrooms, which actually is not that different from historic times,” Knackstedt quips. “Let the client know that other people are asking for that same thing so they don’t feel self-conscious. Creating separate sleeping areas doesn’t have to do with the quality of the clients’ relationship, but how well they can function. We need to respect that and offer it.”

Above all, clients are looking for guidance and an expert who is passionate about what they do. “You are the new, fresh, exciting person they know who can help them incorporate [what they want] into their lifestyle,” Knackstedt explains. “Don’t be afraid to show clients who we are. You become part of their lives, and I don’t think we should erase that. Dealing with change, and lifestyle changes, is part of our life.” 

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