The fine art of managing samples

Tips for finding the right mix when it comes to presenting concepts to clients
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
by Reisa Pollard

Regardless of the size of a design firm, there never seems to be enough space for samples. Before designers know it, they have more materials than they could ever possibly spec, and they’re bursting at the seams. With many designers working for themselves, or out of small spaces, having an excessive amount of samples is difficult or near impossible to manage. As technology has become forever intertwined in our lives, documenting information in a digital format appears to be the perfect solution.

However in such a tactile industry, this solution creates its own set of challenges. Re-furnishing, renovating, or building a new home is an emotional process. A rich walnut floor can be romanced when a client holds it in their hands. The width of the plank, the wood’s finish, the flooring’s texture all enhance their excitement and confidence in their decision. Once in the hands of a client, many products sell themselves. When products are exclusively shown in a digital format this whole experience is lost. A client may oppose a product strongly, and only after seeing it in person change their mind.

Conversely there are products that are the antithesis of sexy – i.e. grout. There probably hasn’t been a presentation put together to create a connection between a client and a shade of grout, nor does there ever need to be. Some products just don’t require a physical sample. Another product that does not necessarily require being seen in person is plumbing. Not because it lacks sex appeal, plumbing can be very sexy, but due to storage and the product being fairly understood. When a client sees an image of plumbing, rarely do they ask for a sample of its metal tone. Imagery of these products represent themselves very well, and the product tends to be very true to its image.

So, to sample or not to sample? We’ve come a long way from the mood board but some of us aren’t quite ready for 3D renderings. Whether designers prefer to lay out a table of materials or work solely from the Internet, it seems as if designers lean towards only one of those methods. The answer we have found lies somewhere in between.


Focal points
For any main feature in a space it’s best to have a sample. This is where a client’s eye will be drawn on a regular basis. Before installing a feature they will see for years to come, it is best they have a grasp on the material being used.

Natural materials
It is best to always have a sample of natural materials, such as woods and marbles. Natural products all have slight variations and online images don’t quite capture their unique beauty.

Innovative creations
Sometimes when designing a space, it can become an innovative concept that has never been created before. It may be so complex the designer hardly understands it, let alone the clients. Enlist the help of the trades involved to put together a small sample of what the creation will look like.

Unfamiliar products
Clients hire interior designers for ideas they would not have come up with on their own. However, just because they recognize a designer’s ability does not mean that they will be comfortable with unfamiliar selections. Having a physical sample of these unfamiliar products may help them understand the beauty of some of the selections.


Materials clients like
When a client is sold on a material they have chosen, there is no need to sample it. This may seem fairly obvious, but important enough to be mentioned.

Standard items
As mentioned previously, materials such as grout or plumbing don’t need to be sampled. Clients are very savvy to the home design process thanks to the Internet. Many products are easily envisioned and clients generally trust their designers to make these decisions.

Unrepresentative swatches
Sometimes a sample swatch does a product a disservice. A small piece does not always convey what the real deal looks like. This can dissuade a client from a fabulous product that might just be perfect for them.

Sticking to the enticing products allows the client to focus on the feature items while the designer takes care of all the details. Finding a balanced mix between samples and online resources when presenting a concept to clients allows designers to direct their attention to the innovative features while avoiding standard items.

 Reisa Pollard is principal of Beyond Beige Interior Design in Vancouver.

1 thought on “The fine art of managing samples

  1. Grout not sexy true but it still should be a staple in a well stocked materials library. Working as an architectural librarian and as a library consultant, grout has always been a must have resource. Clients (and designers) want to see their tile selections laid out next to grout color selections. So let’s here it for grout!

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