When a new client calls me for the first time they usually ask if they should have pictures or samples of what they like to show me. I almost always say no, preferring to read the person when I meet them to get an unfiltered sense of their style. I’ve been doing this for so long that I joke about not even needing to see the house at this point. I can usually get a really strong visual on a house and it’s layout just by talking to its owner. But meeting the client in person is not always necessary either. I have a client that I have never met, yet we have been working together for more than 15 years.
In the late 90’s I had a local client called Amy. She was fantastic to work with and we had just finished a top to bottom project designing and decorating her new custom home. Amy’s brother and his wife, Athena, came for a visit. They were leaving Chicago and headed to New England where Athena, a prominent cardiologist, had accepted a position with a leading hospital.
Athena loved what we had done in Amy’s house and wondered if I might be able to give her some paint color suggestions for her new home. It was on old historic home that needed a total facelift. Amy said, “She’ll do better than that, she can decorate your house for you”. And so our pen pal relationship was born.
This was pre-email and I-phones so we did everything the old fashioned way – via the US Mail. I remember the first sketches and room dimensions I got. Doctors aren’t known for their penmanship skills and I just stared at the scraps of paper with their crooked lines and scribbled numbers and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I started to scale out the dimensions she had given me and to my amazement, everything worked out perfectly. Her notes were so accurate and her pictures so detailed that I could visually walk through that house and know every stairwell, every window alcove and every bedroom without ever stepping foot in it.
Eventually, I pulled fabrics, wallcovering and furniture selections into little care packages and sent them off. There was something about Athena that made it very easy to convey to me who she was, and what was important to her, without having too say much at all. Fortunately, my selections conveyed an understanding of her needs and tastes and my packages were sent back with notes saying, “Yes, let’s order!”
When we started, Athena had one 5 year old. Now there are three children total and that little 5 year old is almost finished college. We’ve done 2 major renovations and decorated nearly every room in the house. We had the opportunity to meet face-to- face several years into our relationship when Athena and her family came to Baltimore one Thanksgiving. We both decided that we really liked the way things were and felt we already knew one another, so we passed. Sometimes a couple of years pass between phone calls, but when its time to embark on a new project we pick up right where we left off.
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