The painter: Well, I am so picky here. I think paint is one of the most important things in the house. If you just leave it to your contractor, the odds are that he will not get you the best painter. He might not think it's that important, and he will want to keep his bids down. Tell your GC that you will get the painter, and then do your homework. Go see a paint job he has done. Talk to people who have used him. Talk about preparation (more than 65% of a paint job is in the preparation)—caulking, mudding the walls, making necessary repairs before the job starts, the endless, endless sanding —if he is the one doing prepping. I consider what the painter does before the application of paint to be so important that I can't possibly stress it enough. Was he neat and clean? Were the people you are interviewing happy with the final results?
When to Call In a Specialist
The talents and skills of other specialists can be exactly what you need to make it happen.
I am an interior decorator: ergo, I am a specialist. And as a specialist, I know that my business is incorporates a lot of other specialists. My job is to get inside a client’s head, get to know his or her dreams and design a way to get there in the most beautiful and practical way possible—that's my specialty. To do this, I need the talents and skill of other specialists—and I call them in all the time.
The first specialist I call is usually an architect—although I am licensed to draw plans in the state of Florida, that's NOT my specialty. I can come up with a wonderful scheme for a client, but I often need the special help that comes from an architect—to do the best space planning, to plan the ugly but molto importante work that goes on behind the walls—electricity, plumbing, etc. This can often be done by your contractor, but a really good architect is going to do it best of all. He will help me plan my woodwork and produce the working drawings for this:
Then the next specialist is, of course, the builder or contractor. This person is so, so important. Do your homework here—speak to lots of people who have used this builder. Were they comfortable with him? Were his estimates and bills accurate and understandable? Was his work of the quality they planned and paid for? Did he check on the work on a regular and timely basis—in other words, was he involved or just a "salesman"? Most important of all, is he bonded and insured. Do not overlook this!
Now both of these are lavish jobs, but they need not be. The two above specialists are of great importance even if the job is a much smaller one.
The next specialists are the mainstays of any job, no matter how small, unless you are planning to do the work yourself—and you might be, but you should know what you might be missing.
If you are going to use wallpaper, the same questions will apply. And to both of the people about whom we are speaking, an important question is—have they done the kind of work you are requesting before. For instance, has this paper hanger hung fabric before? Or scenic or hand painted papers? Or grasscloths?
I would always call in a specialist to make curtains because I think fabric is too expensive to waste it on almost-there workroom. Does this person really make curtains or are curtains just a sideline?
The same goes for upholsterers. I don’t like most “bought” furniture, preferring to have it made by skilled craftsmen. There are so many really good craftsmen out there, most of them delighted for work. There is no reason to succumb to the beauty of the catalogs (and believe me, many of them are beautiful) and just order things willy-nilly. You are then paying for their marketing budget when buying your furniture. If you find the right craftsmen, you can usually make the pieces at similar prices—and they will be made here in the U.S.A. with fair wages and better working conditions—which should concern you even if it doesn’t.
Of course, I would call in a good electrician if it were power we were talking about. I certainly don't want to become the Human Potato Chip
Or call in a plumber. That little leak can become a waterfall with very little persuasion. The same goes for tile repairs where water can seep behind the visible wall and cause dry rot.
And then, there are the specialists of specialists—the colourists such as Donald Kauffman who will do incredible paint plans for you using all kinds of paint formulas. (Incidentally, this is not the kind of specialist for the faint of heart, financially speaking, that is!)
Leigh and Leslie Keno
Or art conservators, or historical preservation specialists...
Or antique restorers, who not only will help you get something repaired, but will tell you when NOT to do something, so that you will avoid being one of those people on Antiques Roadshow who have just learned that if only he hadn't refinished Aunt Bessie’s chair, it would be worth $20,000.00!
And I do NOT just buy frames for prints and other pictures—I take them to a specialist framer who will work with me both to complement the picture and to complement the room in which it will go.
I sometimes think that I spend my day going from and checking on one specialist after the other, but that’s what we do. We don't just design—we call in specialists and make it happen!
Photos courtesy of Leta Austin Foster & Associates.
Leta Austin Foster runs the award-winning design firm Leta Austin Foster & Associates and divides her time between Manhattan and Palm Beach. She is also author of the popular design blog Decorating with Sheets.