Tell us about your award-winning design business, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Ltd.
The key to an award winning business is to be completely motivated by the craft itself, not by the money that it generates. When a company comes from this frame of mind, it feels alive and welcoming when a person walks in. Then, through the design process, pleasing our clients through creating unique and beautiful kitchens and baths further generates this good energy. What makes it so wonderful for me and for my designers is the collaboration with our clients. Truly enjoying what we do and enjoying interesting people that we meet is very satisfying for us.
Getting the word out there is also key to a company’s success. Almost from the beginning (25 years ago), I made it a point to get my work professionally photographed, and, eventually, this perpetuated even more success. I realized many years ago, that I had all of this great work to show but I wasn’t getting it out there. So, I hired a marketing person, Priya Gupta, and, through her ability to make contacts and to get my work showcased, she has really been a big part of putting me and my company on the map. The way that she’s presented JGKB in our ads and through the editorial that she’s helped to get published, it becomes apparent to the public that we, the designers, are exceptionally talented. This is very contagious, first from a potential client looking at this published work, then coming in and meeting us and finally seeing that we share their excitement. Throughout the entire process, our clients rest assured that we are dedicated to doing the best job possible and at the same time, they are amazed at how we can make a typically stressful process inspiring and joyful.
Also, the follow-through is very, very important throughout the entire project and beyond. We are big on communication and respond immediately to phone calls and emails. If someone calls and needs some kind of service work, we get our service manager, who happens to be my husband, over to the home within 24 hours. They see that he, too, is just as dedicated, and, they can’t believe that we do business the old fashioned way – taking care of our customers because we care . We will provide this service as long as the client needs us, and, at no charge. Our philosophy is that, since the client came to us and believed in us, then, it’s our job to show them that same unfailing dedication. This word spreads like crazy so much so that I’ve had many clients tell me (through the last 13 years) that one of the reasons they decided to work with us is because they heard that we take care our clients, even years after the work is completed.
What inspired you to pursue this business?
I am a very visual and creative person who also loves math and engineering. I also really enjoy meeting people and helping them to realize their dream kitchen or bath. So, all of these attributes are necessary in a business that demands the use of all of these skills. I knew that I wanted to go into some kind of design when I was 12, discovered that I loved to draft in high school, and, through pursuing that, found out about the kitchen design business. As soon as I landed my first job in the business, I discovered that I was a natural at it. Starting my own business was necessary so that I could create the kind of atmosphere that felt good to me and to my clients. I worked at great places as a training ground, but, all of the places I worked were “sales” oriented, not committed to design first, knowing that this naturally makes the sale. It took some time, but, I eventually put together an excellent and dedicated staff . When we had more clients then I could handle, I was blessed with finding designers who are just as talented and who share my same philosophies.
Was owning your own design business always a dream you aspired to?
Not really, I was a little reticent to do this since I saw my two former bosses struggle with the responsibilities that come with owning a business. As it turned out, though, because I was able to put into place an excellent staff and design team with a very stringent system of operation, the business pretty much runs itself. If so, could you briefly share with our readers your business success story? A lot of hard, hard work and a lot of hours. Mainly though, it’s a dedication to our clients that drive us, along with a dedication on our part to make an extra effort to make every job a beautiful one. I noticed that a lot of other similar companies don’t make an effort to market themselves. I spend a lot of money on photographing projects and then getting the work out there. I found that this pays of, tremendously. After all, what good is it to create masterpieces if you don’t share them with the world? This may sound self aggrandizing, but, it actually took me years to realize that, as long as it’s true, there’s nothing wrong with announcing it with confidence.
It’s also very important to find a great location. Because I grew up in Chevy Chase, MD, I realize that people from this area and further north don’t like to go downtown where parking and traffic are always a frustration. I was invited to open a showroom at a couple of design centers downtown, but, after considering it, I came to the conclusion that the location would be a hindrance to constantly overcome. So, the location that I found is only a mile north of Washington, D.C, right on a main road, Wisconsin Avenue. This make it easy for those who live just outside of D.C. and also easy for those who live downtown to reach our location. With two store front windows where the traffic jams up every morning and every evening, people have nothing to look at while sitting in traffic, so, they look into our showroom and other storefronts. I’ve had many clients tell me that they had been admiring our displays for years and couldn’t wait for the day that they were ready to come in and start their project!
Today you are a recognized as one of the top design talents in the country -one that inspires so many other designers.
Why, thank you!
Do you have any advice for those designers who are inspired by what you have achieved and hope to someday reach your level of success?
Oh, yes. First of all, LISTEN to your clients and RESPOND to their needs. I’m a firm believer that I’m simply the tool that’s able to create for them that which they love. By listening, you can meld with them, get into their head and create a space that totally reflects their inner beauty. They may not know what they want, but, it’s my job to decipher that through our having very meaningful communication in several meetings. Our business is a service business and I never feel put out if a client can’t make up their mind right away because that’s why they need us, to do what it takes to get them to a point where they can make decisions without any doubts. So, always be supportive and responsive without fail. So, if you come from this frame of mind with everything you do and say, the clients will feel supported and appreciative and the work will naturally shine. If you handle yourself as a professional in this way, the referrals will pour in, and, thus, the success will follow.
As far as skills, I can’t emphasize enough that it’s very important to learn how to hand draft. When the designer can draw concepts – whether they be in plan view, in elevation view or a small perspective – this breeds confidence in their client. They just know that they are in talented and capable hands. Also, the client can understand concepts that are difficult to explain, so, they feel more comfortable that they have properly interpreted the ideas that are being presented.
So, this leads me to giving out a big secret to all of the designers out there. When I work on the design, I do this right in front of the client in the showroom. I feel that design time behind the scenes is a waste of time. Why not have the people you’re designing for be present as the ideas are explored. This is a huge time saver since you’ll never spend time, going down the wrong road, most likely drafting something that they may not like. What we do first is we focus on the mechanics of the floor plan, using tracing paper to “play” with the space. This way, the client is there to see why I’m recommending something other than what they thought they wanted. The client also can have input as we’re working together so that I can understand better how they use their space, and then, we can decide together if what they are asking for really works or not. At the end of this meeting, we have a layout,and, they thoroughly understand how it evolved . Most importantly, they are confident that it’s the best that it can possibly be for them and for how they function in their home.
The next step is to have the plan view drafted on Autocad, which includes very simple elevations. These drawings hardly have any detail (what I call “skeleton” elevations). In the next meeting, I use the same technique, placing tracing paper over the elevations and then work out all of the aesthetics with the client (door styles, mouldings, counter thicknesses, hoods, etc) while they watch and engage in the design details. At the end of this appointment, I have a scroll of tracing paper with elevations of their new kitchen all hand drawn, and, on occasion, I’ll draw some perspectives to help understand a difficult concept. This scroll makes it easy for the client to understand and imagine their new space.
The biggest advantage of using this technique is that the client has played an active role in the creation of their kitchen and/or bath. They feel as though they were a co-designer (which in fact, they were!!). Most of all, they feel like the new space is a true reflection of their personality. Now, the design is done, and, all you have to do is finish up the formal drawings. This works like magic and makes the clients so happy that they don’t hesitate to move forward. If you have an experience with a client who can’t make up their mind and can’t move forward, it’s because something doesn’t feel right to them with the design, but, they can’t figure out what it is. This technique clears up any and all ambiguity. It’s a very inspiring experience for everyone. Even after 25 years of doing this kind of work, I still get chills and goose bumps when great ideas fly around the design table throughout the process.
You recently launched an interesting new web-based kitchen design service, Kitchen Design Online (KDOL). What was your inspiration for creating this online service?
Throughout the years, I’ve been hearing people grumbling about not being able to afford going to an experienced designer mainly because they equate this with having to pay a higher price for better quality materials. I’ve had clients come into me saying this after meeting with someone at a big box store, a discount cabinet store, or a lumber company. They are always pleasantly surprised that I can offer them great design along with less expensive products. They also are amazed at how the plan for their new kitchen is so much better then what they though they’d ever be able to have.
How does KDOL help DIYers looking to remodel their kitchen or bath?
So, for those people who, unfortunately, don’t realize that they can work with and can afford experienced kitchen designers, I got the brainstorm to offer kitchen design on the internet at a reasonable price. I thought that this would be a great way to bring excellent design to the masses, all over the world. I also realized that this is the wave of the future, communicating, working and shopping on the internet in the comfort of your own home. This site only focuses on the design and is not a place to buy cabinets. By having a great design in hand, the client has the freedom to take these plans anywhere to be able to compare prices, and, can rest assured that whatever company eventually supplies the cabinets, the design will work, from execution to completion.
This is also a wonderful tool for other professionals in related businesses:
Design Build firms - These companies typically have their own sources for cabinets, so, they won’t go to a showroom since they only design if that company provides the cabinets. They can save themselves time and money by using our service. This is because their specialty is designing a structure, and, even though they can design a kitchen, it just isn’t something that they do on a daily basis where they have the level of knowledge and skills that kitchen designers have. So, they either decide to design the kitchen themselves, which takes up precious time where they could be working on the bigger picture or overseeing another project -or- they could add a kitchen/interior designer to their staff, whose salary would cost the company a lot of money per year.
Either way, many times, the client will not get the best end product possible. There are always firms around that are exceptions to this but, I find that they are few and far between. Many times I’ve heard people say that, while they liked working with their Design Build firm and liked the outcome, they wished that they had a kitchen designer work on the kitchen part of their project. They say this because, in the end, they realize that the kitchen could have been better. Clients dedicate a lot of time and spend a lot of money on their project, so, for them to have any regrets or reservations does not reflect well on the company that they hired and relied on.
KDOL can spend the time communicating with the client, design a kitchen that the client will inevitably love, save the Design Build firm time and money, and, along with all of this, ensure more referrals for their company. It’s a totally win-win situation for everyone involved!
Interior Designers - A lot of people don’t realize that interior design is a completely different business than kitchen design. Interior designers specialize in fabrics, furniture, wall coverings and space planning in rooms other than the kitchen. There are exceptions to this as well where the interior designer can design a beautiful and, we hope, a functional kitchen, but, again, these designers are few and far between. I would never try to design any other room other than the kitchen because I don’t do that every day and therefore, my lack of knowledge would be a disservice to the client. So, KDOL can be a compliment to the interior designer, expanding this professional’s offerings in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. We offer to work with their client directly, or, to work with the designers behind the scenes so that they can have complete control of the project. We have one designer in Canada who uses our service and chooses to work with us behind the scenes. We even add her logo to the drawings (she LOVES this). We make her look very good, she can take the design to the cabinet supplier, get a better discount since the cabinet supplier didn’t have to do the design work, sell the cabinets to her client and make more money. This also frees her up to be able to work on another project while we prepare the kitchen plans.
KDOL can spend the time communicating with the client and/or with the designer, save the designer time and ensure referrals to the company. Again, a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Architects - I’m always amazed at how much knowledge architects are required to have about all aspects of designing and building structures. They have to spend an enormous amount of time drawing designs, preparing a gazillion details, researching and specifying products, and keeping up with new requirements in building codes and simply staying current with their profession (that’s only the beginning of what they have to know). Since they need to know so much, how can they also spend time being a specialist in kitchen designing? Some are able to design beautiful and, we hope, functional kitchens, but again, this is usually the exception. So, the benefits for Architects using KDOL’s services are very similar to how we help builders and interior designers. We save them time so they can get other work done, or, can spend more time with the client or at their job sites. The collaboration of working with KDOL, whether with their client or directly with them behind the scenes, always ensures a successful outcome and a happy client. For architects, we almost always use their logo or more often, send the plans via AutoCad so that they can incorporate the plans in with all of the other house plans.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Traveling to new places is always a great inspiration, no matter where it is. Looking at other kitchen designs or any interior design magazine can spark ideas. Just walking around or going out to a restaurant while being aware of the surroundings will give me ideas. Just t he other day, I was in a restaurant and was admiring the ceiling detail and the type of wood they used. Working with other professionals opens up the door to new resources, new products or even old ones that I was never aware of before. Working with architects and seeing the design of the house to be built, or, an existing house and it’s character. I’m doing a kitchen in a French Normandy style home, and, we’re using the same stone as the stone walls outside as well as the brackets on the porches. and overhangs.
Tell us about a favorite home decorating or remodeling project.
Wow, there are SO many! I have to say, however, that my favorite project is my own home. It was through this process that I realized how important the collaboration is with other professionals. My architect, Amy Gardner, with whom I now work with on a regular basis, was such an inspiration. She helped me to refine the designs for my kitchen and my baths in a way that taught me more about contemporary design. Washington D.C. had been renowned for years as a place where most people want traditional design in their traditional houses, so, I had more experience in this kind of design. For me to learn more at this point in my career was very, very inspiring. She, too, said that she learned a lot from me, so, the symbiotic relationship was such a joyful experience. Being able to live in a space that we designed for me reminds me every day of how much I enjoy what I do. This was also the first project where I was introduced to and used green products. Amy is one of the first in her field to be a LEED certified architect, so, what better teacher could I have had!
What’s your favorite color? I always struggle with this question because I love so many colors. I find it interesting that trends in colors changes as time goes on. In the ’60s it was olive green and harvest gold, in the ’70s it was brown, orange and yellow, in the ’80s it was black and mauve in the ’90s it was ochre and tomato soup red, in the 21st century it’s been dark brown and aqua and now it’s orange and gray and light ice blue. It’s important to go with colors that speak to you rather then just going with the trends so that your home won’t be dated. I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve been in that still have the mauve and black theme, and, I know that the last time the house was updated was back in the ’80s. Not only is it dated, but, it reminds me of a time when design went through a very bad period, so, it has such a bad connotation for me and I’m sure it does the same for others.
I believe that people have colors that compliment and resonate with them, like, fall colors, pastel colors, natural colors, etc. For me, I fluctuate between natural muted colors like blue/gray (periwinkle), sea foam green or vibrant royal colors like turquoise and orange. I find that various shades of soft green are safe colors when designing since a lot of people seem to like that color.
What are your five favorite pieces of home décor from your home or elsewhere?
In my home I absolutely love the antiques that were handed down from my parents. These inspired me at a young age to notice details, so, they bring back good memories for me. They are also an excellent example of craftsmanship, something that is precious these days since it’s presence in our world today is waning. I love the reclaimed oak floors and wood beams in my house because it has a lot of character and had been in some other structure somewhere at some time in the past, so, it has some mystery about it that intrigues me. The same goes for the antique light fixtures that I bought for various rooms, especially the chandelier in my dining room, they feel as though they have always been in my house and have that same craftsman character that antiques tend to have. I bought an antique bronze sculpture of Pan by a famous French sculptor, Durnot, and this is in the middle of my antique mahogany, round dining room table under my favorite chandelier. Every day when I walk in, I admire these items and their arrangement.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction and joy that comes from surrounding yourself with items that resonate with you and at the same time, compliment your home. I truly believe that spaces have a certain energy which can be affected positively or negatively depending on whether it truly resonates with you and compliments the home. This is the key to great kitchens too, they do just this, and, I often joke that my secret to great design is that I use Western Fung Shui. Many people in the western world don’t understand this philosophy. For us, the concept of “things” having an energy of their own and that they can affect a space based on their placement, is foreign to us. It’s a subtle energy that feels good, so, pay attention to the next time you walk into a room that makes you feel good, and remember that this is exactly why.
What’s your favorite room at home?
Of course, my favorite room is the kitchen/family room including the butler’s pantry. It’s a space that is open yet warm where I can cook and socialize at the same time or just settle in and be comfortable in the morning and in the evening. It’s a space that’s filled with wonderful memories of family and friends. It’s also a space that I’m very proud of. It’s a reflection of my inner self, so, through admiring it, I’m admiring my own spirit. This is what I offer to my clients, a place where they can feel inspired, feel present, feel comfortable and safe and see in it, a reflection of themselves.
Who are your favorite designers (past and/or present)-those that have inspired you?
I am often asked this question, and, I have a very hard time answering it. I was never a student of other people’s work, although I studied some of them throughout school, but, I never focused on who they were and therefore could never really remember names. All I remembered was the visual stimulation and what I got from it that I incoporate into my own work. So, I’m funny that way, I’m kind of on my own island focusing mainly on my work. Just the other day, someone was asking me about this designer and that artist and I didn’t know most of them, which was a little strange to this person (and a bit embarassing). One time years ago, I went to the Interior Designer Awards in NYC, and, I hardly knew any of them. I guess I don’t compare myself to anyone, just like my signature in design, which really is, “no signature at all” . Every design that I work on is unique and original and solely based on any inspiration in the moment of its creation. I so have to say, that years ago, I was blown away by Fu Tung Cheng’s work, he’s an architect, kitchen designer and has a line of hoods that are fabulous and also sells concrete counter tops, fireplaces, walls, and other items that are simply elegant. When you look at this, you’ll see what I mean! I also admire the work of my architect, Amy Gardner.
What’s your personal design style?
Another difficult question, since, I appreciate all design as long as it’s done well. My personal design style tends to change based on my life experience or based on what I’m exposed to. I have to say that I now prefer clean and warm contemporary, a preference that I can thank Amy Gardner for, the architect for my major home renovation. Has it evolved over time? Yes, it certainly has, and, the only way that it couldn’t have evolved is if I were either stuck in a rut or dead! I’ve gone from leaning toward classical/traditional style to the clean and warm contemporary style.
I believe that the absolute joy of living this life is the evolution of our spirit through our lives by being open to learn and being open to give ourselves the freedom to welcome all experiences, good , bad or different. The reason I’m getting a little deep here is because, I’ve witnessed clients, and, other professionals, who are afraid to try something different than what they are comfortable with or have been surrounded by all of their lives. These people will say, “you know, I really love these contemporary kitchens, but, I’m afraid to do it in my own home.” I have to admit that I too, was kind of like this when I approached Amy to take charge of my renovation since my house is a very traditional bungalow.
I honestly thought that I had no choice in the matter since the kitchen needed to compliment this very traditional American style. She knew that I had an affinity for Asian contemporary, particularly Japanese contemporary, through our initial conversations. When we had our first meeting to discuss the exterior of the house, I was totally and completely amazed! I had learned through school that Japanese architecture was an inspiration for the American Bungalow style, BUT, I had forgotten about this. Well, Amy reminded me about the history of the Bungalow style(she’s also a professor of architecture at the University of Maryland). I was pleasantly surprised because here I have a Bungalow and I also love Japanese architecture! So, she got out the elevations of the front of the house, and, VOILA, my bungalow was turned into a Japanese Tea House that still looked like a bungalow! And then, she told me that the addition on the back can be contemporary, which pleased me even more. So, Amy did for me that which I do for my clients…a sign of a true professional…she tuned into my likes and dislikes and brought out in my project that which resonated with me! Finally, the contemporary design in the back where the new kitchen would be located, allowed us to design a contemporary kitchen and this, for me, was a Breath of Fresh Air! So, you see, if I stayed locked into my traditional taste and didn’t allow her to explore a different style than I expected, then, I would have missed the opportunity for my style to evolve.
Many of us have a product we’ve bought for our home-that now makes us think-”what was I thinking” - do you have one?
Yes, I certainly do, even designers make these mistakes. I remembered a cowhide rug that my parents brought back from brazil. I was always fond of it and thought that this type of rug would look great in my new family room. I found a company (Kyle Bunting) that makes these rugs in all kinds of absolutely beautiful patterns and colors. I was in awe and just had to get one, so, I did. What I didn’t realize is that these rugs are only good to use in low traffic areas since, otherwise, they’ll eventually go bald, literally! I made that same mistake with my Corbusier Lounger, it has pony hide on it, and, that’s balding too. Then, the whole animal skin theme these days is really not kosher if it’s authentic. This I realized when I brought a client over who is active in the Humane Society and is a vegetarian, and, the worst moment was when I showed her my sheep skin rug in my bedroom (made by Kyle Bunting). It was an aha moment for me. I justified it by saying, well, at least I’m honoring the animal by putting it’s hide to good use and admiring it. That went over like a lead balloon!
I also… 1. put a second dishwasher in the butler pantry, and, I never use it. 2. put a dark cork floor in the upstairs addition and it’s fading from the sun that comes in the sliding glass door. 3. Put a tub with a wood surround in my very large master shower and the wood isn’t treated well enough to withstand the moisture. I assumed that if it’s made to go around a tub that they used a Durata finish which is impenetrable. So, I should have asked. 4. Put in a prep sink with a pot filler that never gets used (was hoping my husband would make salad while I cooked…yeah, right!) 5. Oiled and waxed the reclaimed oak floors instead of polyurethane, it looks absolutely beautiful…for the pictures. Needs to be re-waxed at least twice a year. I was told about this, but, did it anyway. This is a good example of form over function, and, I’d probably do it again knowing me. We put in a stereo system, not thinking about new technology like Apple TV or similar technology.
Describe your dream room.
I didn’t think that I had one, but, after thinking about it, I actually do!
I’d love to have a master bath combined with the master bedroom that is a contemporary Asian style, somewhat minimalist. The bed and bathroom would be one big room divided by a large but very simple double faced limestone fireplace. It will also have a glass Nana wall all along the back, the entire span of the bath and bedroom, as well as on the end of the just the bathroom which would allow the walls to be completely opened up to the outdoors on one long and one short wall. It would have a water feature on the opposite long wall, almost the entire length of the room, that runs down a horizontally ridged granite wall so that the water would have a ripply, fairly quiet, sheet of water flow along the entire granite slab. The water would flow under the room and then come out at the back in a troth through the deck and patio and into a medium si zed outdoor infinity pool. There would be a beautiful garden with bamboo and fragrant flowers, like orange blossoms, when in bloom.
Going back into the interior, the ceiling would have dark reclaimed walnut beams that sit on square posts in various places and at the corners of the room. One of these would go between the two Nana walls that open up. there would be another large double faced limestone fireplace, very simply done, on the back wall near where the water flows out into the troth. There will be reclaimed wide plank walnut floors stained fairly dark. Close to the interior fireplace will be a platform made using limestone with two very wide steps up, and, in the middle would be a recess that would contain a teak Ofuro soaking tub large enough for two, sunken down a bit with a 12″ border of loose, heated, black river rocks surrounding the tub at the bottom. The shower would have two parts to it, one part would be completely open, near the ofuro tub, and, the other part would have glass to the ceiling and would contain a steam feature.
The bedroom would have the master closet at the short end, the entire wall will have sliding, shoji-like doors, made using natural teak and frosted glass. Behind these doors will be a very well organized master closet with a large, square, teak chest of drawers in the middle of the room and a combination of teak shelves, drawers and hanging rods around the perimeter. The floor will be a rug that looks and feels like a tatami matt.
The furniture would be built in, a fairly low bed, recessed in the floor much like the ofuro soaking tub and built in teak tables with beautiful rice paper hanging pendants for lighting above the end tables. There would be a built in, low bench with a back on it and is the right size for a double futon. This bench would be low like the bed and will have many large throw pillows on it, comfortable for lounging, napping or reading a book. It would also be able to be adjusted up to a higher level to the correct height for massages.
I have to go now and start drawing this room, LOL!
What are your favorite blogs or home design/improvement websites?
I am a loyal fan of your website, you offer people informative, meaningful and realistic information. I have my own blog, but, am having difficulty finding time to keep up with it. Once I have more viewers and participants, I think that will inspire me to be more loyal to keeping it updated. The only other blog that I like is the one from one of my cabinet lines, Premier Custom Built, and the Premier CB designer’s Blog. Their website is wonderful too. If you’d like to see my house, and, get more inspiration checkout Amy Gardner’s projects. For lighting fixtures, I like to go to Lighting Universe . It’s fun to look at rugs at Kyle Bunting’s site. If you’re curious about wall systems, then go to Nana Walls. For more inspiration, go to Cheng Designs , or my website, Jennifer Gilmer There are so many more websites that I like to use, but, these are the ones that come to mind at the moment.
What are your favorite books, design shows and/or magazines?
Sarah Susanka and all of her “Not So Big House” books. She shows one of my projects in the Home by Design book which I did in Pescadero, CA. It’s an Asian style, of course. I also like Fu Tung Chengs books and another designer, Mick de Guilio, has a new book out which I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but , I’m sure that it’s a good one. I like a lot of magazines, I like Southern Living (they featured my house in this last October issue), and Trends, Trends Bathrooms, Trends Kitchens, Elle, Dwell our local publication, Home and Design I’m sure there are more that I’m not recollecting at the moment.
Do you have a kitchen or bath design or remodeling tip you’d like to share with The Decorating Diva.com readers?
Yes, use a kitchen designer, don’t DIY unless you’ve done it before on your own. Don’t hesitate to go to a high end firm to consult about your kitchen, always bring a copy of your space to scale, or, a sketch of the space with dimensions written in. Make sure the designer is listening to you, if not, don’t use that person and go to the next place. If you find one who listens, then, make sure you find out if they are good at following through with details, for instance, do they call you right back or reply quickly to emails? Ask them what other professionals work with them (architect, interior designer, contractor) since this is alone can be a good sign of their ability, but, it’s also a good idea to call that professional to inquire about who you’re selecting to work with you.