Last Spring, I had the pleasure of being part of a panel discussion at High Point Market with other well-respected designers who work in the luxury home space. The topic was working with the luxury buyer. After about an hour of lively discussion, an audience member asked a question of the panelists, “Why is this luxury?” She said, “I understand that it’s expensive and limited people can afford this, so it’s exclusive. But why is this luxury?” The room went silent. The question was brilliant and a significant one. We must maintain sight of why we are providing this service and that there needs to be something more behind it all at the luxury price point.
Why is any expensive item a luxury, and are they a luxury?
Take the high-end automobile industry, for example. What makes that brand-new Mercedes worth over $200K? Sure, it’s expensive, and therefore there is an element of exclusivity, but what makes it luxury? The vehicle’s safety features, impeccable service post-purchase, the ability to customize and personalize, styling, and performance are all great reasons to look at that car if it’s in your price range. The same concepts apply to luxury design.
Every one of the designers on the panel referenced the concept of time in one way or another. Because time is the ultimate luxury, our clients tend to understand the value of buying back their time. Could they do their own decorating? Of course, they could. But at what cost? With busy lives, paying someone else to handle a task often makes sense, especially when you know they can do it faster and better (I defiantly don’t control my bookkeeping for a reason!)
To truly bring luxury to a design project, we, as designers, must have streamlined systems that make the overall process easy for our clients. Understanding their lifestyle is essential to creating a strategy that serves them best. My clients are less likely to be full-time residents of the Virgin Islands, and even those who travel extensively for work and pleasure often spend entire summers off-island. I needed to find ways to do a whole project without them being physically present and make it easy for them to access all information and feel involved with their input while on the go. It’s a luxury to have someone else do all the leg work to bring you a fully rendered plan that suits your desired aesthetic and budget. All you have to do is hop on Zoom for an hour and give feedback or open up the shipped box with all the samples to finalize a few selections.
What makes the items we source a luxury?
Well, just like that Mercedes, customization is a significant feature. If you’re 6’5″ and have never had a comfortable chair that fits you correctly, you might be pretty excited about having a custom chair explicitly built for you. And, of course, this costs extra, but it can be worth it in the long run. One-of-a-kind items are a luxury as well. Meaningful and personal items with provenance that may be touchstones of a past era can be unique and worth the splurge.
Quality is a luxury.
In a world full of disposable fashion and furniture, our clients often like investing in high-quality, handmade pieces that can be passed on to future generations. When your designer takes time to dive into your world, understand your goals and lifestyle, and bring the minor touches that connect you personally to the space, that is luxury. Luxury is the level of service where every time you turn around; there is a thoughtful detail to notice. If my client says, ” I think we forgot to order a full-length mirror for the master bath!” I say, ” I have two options in my car right now. Hold on, and I’ll bring them in,” She knows I’ve anticipated her needs. That is my definition of luxury service.
Everyone in the interior design space advertises luxury. How do you find the right designer if you want genuine luxury-level services for your home project? Well, some professional organizations can help you, like the Ethos Design Collective. The Ethos team interviews and reviews the level of work with a trained eye, and they vet all members, meaning they have been working at a high level for an extended time. All styles are welcome, of course, but they want to see a level of work that involves something other than filling a client’s home with items from Pottery Barn. The design firms on the Ethos website are well-established and active in other areas of the design industry. Thus, they can offer their clients a depth and breadth of design and custom furnishings that may only be available in some places. If you’re shopping for luxury services, it’s important to ask the right questions, and Ethos is an excellent shortcut for homeowners.