Clients From Hell


One of my new (old) favorite home magazines is This Old House. Seriously - it's got some really good stuff in it! Including this article by Natalie Rodriguez entitled "Clients from Hell: A Field Guide." The six profiles are completely accurate and I've pretty much concluded that I've worked with all of them. More than once. I've often thought about writing a post on my "interesting" experiences but always stopped myself because I didn't want to focus on the negative. But, I think This Old House just opened the door for me. So, here goes!


The Hysteric is one of the most common personalities I've come across. The identifying trait: "Childlike inability to see the bigger picture." Oh, I can't tell you how many times I've had to calm people down during the design process. I haven't actually had anyone cry to me as the article describes, but I have had quite a number of panicked emails and voice messages as a home goes through changes. One time after some wallpaper was installed, I had the owner call me freaked out that it "looked like moss." Well, yes, it is green, I said. But her call got ME nervous, so I went to check it out right away. Turns out the wallpaper looked amazing. Just not so amazing with the old PURPLE carpet that had yet to be replaced with our new selection. Once the carpet went in, she loved the wallpaper. 


Another client called me in a panic after her kids' bathroom had been painted in some funky circus-like stripes that SHE requested. She wanted me to drop everything and immediately drive to her house which was an hour away because it "glowed" into the hallway. Well, yeah, it's bright lady. That's what you asked for! I was just starting out in my career at that point and I didn't handle the situation as well as I'd like. I got a bit defensive. But when someone gets so kooky over a few stripes of paint it's hard to please them on any level. (Can I also mention that this same client was picking through their child's hair during one meeting searching for lice? Ick! Not sure what client category that falls under.)


The Amateur Project Manager is another common personality. I don't mind when a client takes on the role of project manager. It can be a great idea! But there are some clients who think they've got it all figured out. And when that happens I wonder why I was even brought on the job in the first place. If, as a designer, you hear a phrase like "I could do this, but I just don't have time" or "I did all the design for our last house" you are probably going to have a really hard time pleasing your client. I've found that these phrases are often code for "I am a designer too but need you to buy crap for me with your trade discount." 


Ahhhh...The Chore Abuser. Yes, this really happens. And you know what? Sometimes I don't mind doing a small favor for a client. But there are favors and then there is expecting me to be a babysitter.  Or an airport shuttle driver. (I admit. I did that once. Never again.) The problem with us designers is that so many of us are natural caretakers. We put other people first because it makes us feel good. And we think if we "go the extra mile" for a client that they will appreciate us that much more and give us lots of work and many, many referrals to all their amazing friends with amazing homes. Sorry. Doesn't work that way. In fact, The Chore Abusers are the ones, I've found, who are least likely to make referrals. So you end up going above and beyond and then eventually - hopefully - get tired of the abuse and move on. 


I've probably got a few more stories, but now I want to hear yours. Designers? Which Clients From Hell can you relate to?