Q & A with Ann Clements, ac design

Ann, How is the recession affecting your business?  You’ve obviously had a very successful career spanning nearly 20 years and have a client list other designers would die for but are you feeling the effects of the changes to the business environment of the past year or so?

Well I think it’s affected all business’s but it’s created interesting dynamic in the business of interiors that has had it’s advantages.  My business is very much about balancing beauty and it’s communication power and functionality, cost and timing but often a client will find cost a determining factor for many parts of the design decision criteria.

Part of the value a client purchases when they hire me is the fact that Interiors is a complex business involving thousands of suppliers and knowledge of the ranges they’re carrying, the new trends, the new technologies and the cost of all of these.

Since the challenges have hit the market, the competitiveness of many of the suppliers have sky-rocketed.  The result for my clients have been brilliant because I’m now able to source products of increasingly good value for my clients to achieve the desired change to their business.

In effect it is meaning the budget required for a client to give their business a visual make-over is much more affordable and there’s never been a better time for them to invest in change in their business than today.

Wow, so there are a bunch of business’s who should be taking advantage of this opportunity right now but how do you hook a person who needs a business makeover or a kick-start into an ‘interior design’ relationship which they’ve never experienced and may be cynical of?

(she laughs)  It’s true, if you’ve never had an interior design experience or worked with someone like me then there will be often an attitude of not needing us and perhaps not realizing the value that we offer your business but the effects of my work are almost always profound for clients.

I sometimes think of the first visit with an interior designer as like a visit to the doctor, or a visit to one of the many types of holistic healers or therapists for a business.  One conversation with an interior designer can help you clear your head as to the parts of your business which are under-performing and why.  A serious visual and functional health check for your business is invaluable and all business’s should have that conversation with an interior designer like me.

The way your space is laid out and what your space looks like is the primary energy or visual power that affects your staff, their relationship to their job and their productivity on a daily basis.  It determines weather your clients walk in and think: ‘this company ‘feels’ impressive, professional and worthy of my trust’ or not.  And in my experience it effects how much your work-space is utilized by both staff and clients to effect business growth and success.

If you consider that your interior and layout influences all of the people that your business interacts with and the value you gain from each of these relationships, then exploring the science of interior design becomes worth considering.

Actually, I always offer complimentary consultation to my new clients.  It gives me an opportunity to get a feel for them and for the change and creation they’re wanting to inspire in their business.  It gives me an opportunity to tell them how they can achieve that and in which ways I could add value to their team for this period of evolution towards greater results and a happier, more productive place of work.

That’s generous but I can see how it would work.  So you are open to potential clients calling you out of the blue and you are willing to meet with them and discuss the potential for what they want to achieve and how you can help them do this?

Exactly, I travel regularly all over Europe for my work.

I’m based in the UK but when I’m not crunching numbers, sourcing products and drawing regulatory or visual plans, I’m face to face with the clients.

I’m the facilitator for them to realize their visions or goal so that relationship is crucial.

Therefore, that first meeting with me for them to get a feeling for what the experience will be and the kind of value I will add is of real value and I’m happy to make that first step without commitment of any sort.

You mentioned ‘desired change’ just earlier.  Is that what Interior design is about for you?  A clients desire to achieve change or improvement in their business?

My clients are incredibly varied, from boutique hotel developments and re-fits to offices for firms such as financial consultancies or the corporate offices for an international brewery.  I’ve worked on large retail complex’s to the more intimate individual shop fit outs and on doctors offices to maternity wards.

You could say the one thing that all clients have in common is the desire for ‘change’ but I think I prefer expressions such as ‘define’, ‘evolve’, ‘adapt’, ‘create’, ‘connect’, etc…

In truth sometimes my work is very functional.  The depth of knowledge in current regulatory requirements for the site, preventative design requirements, essential functionality requirements, space flexibility requirements and often requirements that exceed the budget and require a strategy to achieve both the result regardless.

Sometimes that’s like the birth of something, a true creation from start to finish where you’re changing a blank canvas into a powerful tool.  In this situation, the value engineered by the interior designer forming working relationships with the project team to optimise the design has significantly cut costs and created a much more functional space for the client.   When the Client, Architect, QS, structural engineer, M+E (HVAC), Product Suppliers and Interior Designers work together simultaneously, clients always get the best result.

Can you be more specific about the knowledge base you draw on to contribute to your part in that equation, in addition to a talent and flare for the look of a space?

The role I play in this ‘define’ and ‘create’ type interior evolution, is to use the visual and functional power of an interior to embody the space with the energy required to directly energise the business.

Ergonomic’s is a knowledge base drawn upon to ensure the space flows for it’s users and encourages the behaviour’s relevant to that space.  Creating the space for the business to thrive with increased efficiency and less frustration.   Where the business’s directors are comfortable, I will often consult with all the staff in their company to try to intimately understand how the business could improve their personal spaces ergonomic’s to motivate them and increase their productivity and in turn this has often led to a distinct improvement in the staff performance in the business.

The sustainability or ‘green’ attributes of the design encompasses a whole new depth of knowledge from the different types of lighting used in the space to ensuring that the lifecycle of the products used are a fit with the ethics of the business.  You see now that many business’s are really caring about their ethical associations.  You have chocolate and cosmetic companies who are completely changing the ingredients of their product to stop the use of palm oil to reinforce their commitment to protect our rainforests and this corporate responsibility applies in every area of the interior of a space.  We ensure our business’s interiors are created with integrity and all environmental values considered.

So do clients hand everything over to you or do they remain heavily involved?  Are you their design conduite to achieve what they have in their mind or do you visually create what they want to achieve as a more functional or financial type goal?

I find that each of my clients know what they want in some or multiple ways and we begin with a great deal of dialogue where I tease out the answers I need so that I can deliver for them what’s in their head or their heart.

Some articulate their vision perfectly but do not have the broad knowledge of suppliers, regulatory restrictions or requirements or an idea of the costs and the essential tricks to reduce those costs and ensure a result to a deadline.

Other clients know their own business instinctively but do not have a clear vision for communicating their purpose visually and I can present them visual scenario’s to inspire as many people know what they like once they see it.

Others simply know the difference they require to their bottom line and have admitted that if their visuals relationship that staff and clients have with their business space will bring the business more revenue and loyalty then they’re prepared to make a strategic investment and look to see the results on their P&L statements for the new year.

Whatever the scenario, over the years I have developed an understanding as to how I can ascertain what a client wants and needs and how to deliver this and all the advantages that my knowledge base and experience allows to save them money, provide value and improve the experience.

Understanding and interpreting a clients needs has become somewhat of an artform and once the client has had a taste and realized the direct improvement to their business they also get to know with greater clarity, the parts of the overall experience they want direct involvement with and the body of work they prefer to hand over to my expertise.

Can you tell me more about the impact of your design work on different business’s for whom you have designed spaces for?

Absolutely, the results stories are that which make this work so rewarding.  The passion I feel for the impact that interior changes can make to a business ensures that I genuinely love my job and get a real kick out of working with my clients.

In one office I worked on, the staff’s attitude towards their space changed dramatically after I completed the redesign.  They were no longer ashamed of their office and started inviting clients to meet them in their offices.  This saved them travelling time, hotel costs, car running costs and man hours for the internal staff to meet clients away from the office.  The clients response was also recongisable as they knew there was a client suite for them to use with great coffee, wifi to plug their laptops in, a landline, a trade resource library and reception staff who could assist with any requirements.  In return this company became an extension of their clients business and their relationships were more genuine and regular with more loyalty and dependence on their business,  The change to the space changed the culture of that business entirely.

The ability for a business to market incredible looking visual representation of their office’s lends to the credibility of the business and inspires new clients to place their trust with that business.   And I always love to see the effect a smarter space has on the staff because they genuinely up the standard of their physical appearance to match a space.   You genuinely see new hairstyles, new clothes and new attitudes, it’s brilliant.

I think it’s important to realize that interior design is not just about spending money, it’s more about strategy.  There have been times when rearranging, a bit of paint and the perfect piece of image defining furniture have been all that the space needed.  Again, that scenario is what I speak of as a trip to the interior doctor.  Spend a hour or two with me, let me design a price a strategy and the fresh energy which flows through your business is invaluable.

A client had a fantastic old cinema building that they wanted for an office.  Once the design brief was established, the business secured a massive project and the staff/team doubled in size, and the cinema space became too small for the business but they loved the space.  With the proper interior consultancy we understood the business enough to adapt the design to allow them to accommodate the size of their increased team.  As we design with job roles, teams and outcomes we designed the space to produce outcomes.  If you think each staff member only worked a standard 40 hours a week and so typically 2 days of a week, holidays, sick days and working from home or visiting other offices.   The teams committed to working in a fluid environment.  Some roles required nesting while most roles where happy to see the whole office environment as their nest.  People discovered that it created a fun way to work, as lots of different spaces where provided.  This meant that staff became more responsible and independent and responsible for their actions and times.   The team also discovered on days where they needed to be by themselves and concentrate they could, and when they wanted thinking time there were perfect places to sit or stand or just to read.  Once the team realised the benefits of the new way of working they found work became enjoyable as it was easy to be productive, as files were placed where they needed them.  It’s all in the detail and strategy.

With another business we designed with the fluidity of their client base in mind.  We designed a flexibility into the space, so if the business lost its largest client and the staff dropped by 50% the design allowed for this and on the other hand if the business increased its numbers by 50% we had a strategy in place to accommodate different staff levels at different times without the office being overcrowded or feeling half empty.

I guess often you think of interiors as simply nice furniture arrangement and choice of colours and fabrics or a distinctive branded look but there’s clearly a lot of psychology, strategy and depth of knowledge with suppliers and new industry innovations that are considered.

For sure, it’s a lifetime of experience enabling me the advantage of many of the answers already programmed and accessible by clients.  Successful commercial interiors are the result of a unique and sensitive response to location, architecture, and client vision. Though philosophically open to new influences in technology and sustainability, it is important to push the aesthetic envelope to give our projects the strong, inspired identities.  Strong working relationships with environmentally responsible suppliers are invaluable and the new products being introduced to the market are more innovative than ever before. We invigorate, brand and transform commercial spaces to help our clients improve their interiors to meet their business developing requirements and I love to be a part of them realizing this value.

Do you have any final words of interior design wisdom for the readers?

(she laughs)  Absolutely, my direct phone line is 0113 225 2969 and my website is at  www.annclements.co.uk   I absolutely recommend this discovery for anyone who felt a flicker of inspiration to explore the possibilities whilst reading this.


~ by idacdesign on January 10, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: