How do you build a rewarding relationship with your interior designer? CWI.DESIGN principal designer Rachel Kapner knows all about it. “Making a happy client is really what I feed off of,” she shares.”If I have a new client, I’ll know if it’s a client for life: whether it’s one house, moving to another house, a second home, third home, wherever. I’ll feel confident that they would want me to be involved.”

Some have even tried to reserve Rachel for future generations. “A few clients were like, ‘You can’t retire until my child gets a home,” Rachel remembers. And while she can’t necessarily promise to decorate your infant granddaughter’s first home, she loves that her clients can depend on her again and again. “One client always says, ‘Trust Rachel. That’s my motto.’ A lot of clients have said things like that.” But how does such an enduring relationship begin?

What Should You Be Prepared to Discuss with Your Designer?

Taste can be surprisingly hard to put into words. Fortunately, Rachel is equipped with questions that assure she and her clients are on the same page. “Typically I would ask if a client likes color, how they feel about scale, what their design aesthetic is.” Some clients know can communicate this with ease. And then there are the others.

“I have some clients that don’t know what they want until they see it, so I have to sort of navigate.” Sometimes, purpose leads the way. “Where is it being applied? Who’s in the house? Is it young children—where we wouldn’t want to put a grasscloth in a powder room. If they’re going in there and washing their hands, the paper is going to come down in a year or so. And it can’t be cleaned!” Rachel says that’s just one of many “things that you have to process and take in, so that you know where to direct the client.”

But directing the client involves more than knowing which wallcoverings wear well; it’s also about expanding design horizons. “Sometimes I’ll show things that I know that are outside the box and bolder,” says Rachel with a wry smile. But whether it’s a bold swing or something a little safer, people consistently respond to the pieces she loves. “My clients tell me that they know when I love something and something is my favorite,” she admits. But Rachel doesn’t mind. “That’s usually what we go with—because they can see that I’m inspired and I’m excited.” Her enthusiasm increases their confidence in her ability to pull the look together.

What Happens If You Really Don’t Have a Vision?

It’s a frustration we’ve all experienced in buying a gift for a loved one. “I don’t know what I want,” they insist. But come unwrapping day, the look on their face says, “…but I know it’s not this.”

This is also a potential pitfall when it comes to design. But a designer who presents their vision effectively to a client need not fear unhappy surprises. “Once they see something visualized, they can say what they like and don’t like about it,” Rachel says. “Sometimes it can take a few rounds.”

“Typically, I also try to have a few different scenarios ready,” Rachel reveals. “I’ll have one look that I think would be spectacular—really stunning. And if it’s bolder than they want to go, then we can take parts of it and put it into something that’s a little bit more mild.” This flexibility helps clients feel in control. “I like to incorporate their tastes and their likes and dislikes because they feel part of the process. They’re not just being told: ‘This is what you do, and if you’re not going to go my way, see you later.'” Kapner is treating them the way she’d want to be treated. “It’s a process that is really a partnership. I want them to be involved as much as they want to be.”

And if they don’t want to be? “That’s fine too, as long as they understand they’re releasing control—if that’s what they choose,” Rachel explains. But for many clients, getting a room that feels like Rachel is what brought them to her. “People will come to me knowing how many years I’ve been in business, where they’ve seen my finished products, what my aesthetic is going in, and it makes everything easier.”

Pleasing the Clients, Loving the Projects

Ultimately, it’s not just the clients Rachel comes to care about; it’s the homes themselves. “One that comes to mind was a house in Summit. It was a Victorian,” she remembers. “I grew up in Summit, so I knew this house growing up.” She’d noted that the years had not been kind to it. “It just went down, down, down. No one took care of it, and it really started to decay.” Fate intervened. “My clients, whose home I had just finished, decided that they wanted to move to this house because it was in proximity to downtown,so they could walk and the kids could walk to school if they wanted to.”

The renovations were extensive. “They took it so far down that—when there was a huge storm coming—they had to bring in braces because they thought the whole house was going to go,” Rachel remembers. Ultimately, she was so happy to have had a hand in resurrecting this building that had been part of her life’s journey. “We brought it back to life,” she says proudly. “We gave it the same freshness it would have had in the era that it was built, but in a completely modernized way.”

And soon, her client’s downtown digs had people talking. “It’s on a corner that is so visible, everybody sees it all the time,” says Rachel. “I’ve gotten so many compliments and comments and questions,” she says. While her clients were very happy with the results, it turned out that other in the area had shared Rachel’s awareness of the property and dismay over its previous state of disarray. “So many people said, ‘Oh, I can’t believe it! Thank you so much for helping that house!'”

Now, You’re Ready to Talk to Your Designer

Remember — whether you show up with a packed mood board or without a clue — your designer will be ready with questions to help find your style. And if you don’t have a design wish list, there’s nothing wrong with letting the designer take the lead. You can still offer feedback if some aspect of the project is too far outside your comfort zone. A good designer will offer you both their best ideas and opportunities to incorporate yours.

“That’s my drive for all my projects,” says Rachel. “I get to pick things that I love, so I can enjoy them vicariously through my clients—all different styles.” And don’t be afraid to ask any question; she’s heard them all before. “I’m asked these questions a lot by clients: ‘What is your style? What is your aesthetic? Is that what I’m going to get?’ And I try to say, ‘I like everything. I love every style, every look, and I make it work for you.’ I make what works for the project fit.”