Ever since the housing market crashed in 2008, I have realized the line between commercial and high end residential projects has been blurred. In the pre 2008 era, there were lots of custom built-ins and high quality furniture that designated to high end residential market used in high end residential projects, but now we can see many less expensive modularized commercial grade cabinetry and knock off furniture that used to be selected for commercial projects used in high end residential projects. In terms of project deadlines, high end residential projects now are asked to be completed just as quickly as commercial projects without considering maintaining high quality craftsmanship. Without high quality materials or craftsmanship, I once wondered if we still can call high end residential projects high end? But considering the high end residential project clients are still just as rich as pre 2008 era, I believe I still have to consider the residential projects coming from these affluent clients as high end, but in reality, these clients’ mindsets are no longer truly high end. Therefore, I think we should call today’s high end residential projects commercialized residential projects.
Has anyone asked you to recommend any general contractor or formal employee? Yes, and I also have asked for references on general contractors and employees. Asking for references may sound making sense before hiring anyone, but I realized it actually created blind spots for my own judgement.
I needed a designer who was analytical and technical oriented but I ended up getting one who was outgoing and talkative. This designer’s formal employers told me she was great! She was a pretty good presenter and a good sales person who had great taste on FF&E, but she was not very good at drafting and not very technical oriented. She had very limited experiences on construction and job site supervision. So, she might be great for other design firms but not necessarily suitable for me.
I also worked with a designer who had bad reputation from one of her ex- employers, but I looked at her resume and found she was working for that particular design firm for over 10 years, so I wondered if this designer was so bad, why the employer who bad mouthed her kept her for so long? Later on I found out that particular employer did the same thing to all of her formal employees who left her. If she felt everyone who left her and moved on was basically a traitor, of course there will be no good designer for her.
I also tried to find a GC for a high end residential job, and I found one who had really good reputation. Well, I soon realized he was very fast but was not very detail oriented, then I also realized this GC had done mostly commercial projects and had limited experiences on high end residential jobs. No wonder his craftsmanship sucked!! He might be fast which most commercial project clients liked, but his lousy workmanship really couldn’t deliver the quality work the clients were looking for. So, I couldn’t keep working with him on high end residential projects in the future.
After these 3 incidents, I definitely stopped relying on references as much and used my own judgement more before hiring anyone.
In order to have good service related businesses, you must have more polite and nice people in the society. After decades of prosperous economy development driven by mostly manufacturing in China is slowing down, China is trying to promote service related businesses at home such as senior caring facilities, hotel and restaurants…etc. You might think China will have no problem to make this smooth transition since the economy development in last few decades in China was extremely fast. Well, I will say it will take China much longer time to have top notched service related businesses in all spectra, and the very reason is because of China’s super fast economy development.
The extremely fast economy development in China has elevated many people to middle class, millionaire or billionaire status, but it failed to elevate most people’s sense of responsibility, integrity or etiquette in the same time. In contrary, the fast boomed economy made people become greedy money chasers, they became very selfish, rude, and hostile to others. Everyone became everyone else’ competitors, For being successful, stepping on other people’s backs in order to climb to the top becomes necessary. People lost the compassion towards others because they were not considered as human anymore but competitors, and if they are my competitors, why should I treat them nicely? Having that in mind, you won’t be surprised to see people often arguing on the streets, pushing people hard and fighting for seats on subway trains, or cutting in lines in China, and you will also be shocked to hear people say thank you or excuse me over there.
Therefore, when you go into the stores to ask the clerks directions or any other questions without buying anything, the only answer you will get is “I do not know.” No extra assistance or advice. It will make you feel those clerks are so unhelpful or unfriendly and you just do not feel like going back to the store as customers in the future. While visiting restaurants in China, most greetings sound very superficial and machine-like. The waiters will sit you down and disappear, you usually need to yell at the waiters and tell them you are ready to place orders. Otherwise, you will sit there forever and no one will come to you to take orders. I even encountered waiters who ignored me on purpose when I waved and asked them to come to take my order in many occasions, and if you keep yelling loudly, then you will see the waiters coming to you with very stinky faces.
On the end, you can give those waiters, waitresses or clerks any training you want, if they are not nice people naturally, they will always treat their customers with fake smiles, machine-like greetings, ignorance, or big attitudes. You can build infrastructures in few months but you won’t be able to make people friendly or nice in just one generation. Having top notched service related businesses in China? well, wait for another 20 years.
Being a high-end residential designer, the hardest part is to be looked down by the commercial designers. It is hard to be hired by commercial design firms as a high-end residential designer. I know most commercial design firms think we high-end residential designers are decorators who do rich people’s draperies, but in fact, we do know more technical and structural stuff than you think. When we worked on projects with different professionals such as architects, structural engineers, AV consultants, GCs, landscape architects, lighting designers, millwork shops and so on, we actually worked very closely with these professionals in much detailed manner.
Most commercial designers worked on large-scale projects with very tight schedules, so they overlooked the details and focused on the overall projects instead, and because commercial projects were usually in large square footage, commercial designers’ tasks were divided in order to focus on certain tasks. For example, some designers will always do CAD drafting but will never write any purchase order. Some designers will always specify FF&E but will never supervise the job sites. Without knowing the full procedure of design, it is not possible to create any well thought through design.
Many commercial designers usually will not consider the small design details such as how the materials should meet or end at joints as carefully as the high-end residential designers. They won’t bother to know how the AV consultants to wire the automatic draperies or how the metal shops to weld or plate the metals, either. I believe they honestly just do not have the time to really care about these things, so they handed these things to other professionals completely and let them take care of the details and moved onto another project. Therefore, it created a situation that you let non-designers handle the design details. That is why many commercial spaces look great from far distance but when you walk closer, you will spot many poorly designed or executed design details.
Sometimes when I read some articles talking about luxury stuff for the hospitality projects, I was like, what?! you are talking about this in 2014?! I have used this stuff way back in the early 2000! That is right! When the high-end/high-tech stuff just came out to the market, they were usually expensive and limited in quantities, so they could not be used in the commercial projects which usually have more restricted budget and require larger quantities of products in stock, whom were those high-end/high-tech products sold to if they were too costly for commercial projects? well, to the high-end residential clients, and after few months or even few years later, cheaper knock-offs came out, and then you started to see these products pop-up in the commercial projects such as hospitality or retail spaces everywhere. So, high-end residential designers always got the chance to experience the cool stuff before anybody else.
One last thing I think most commercial designers never can achieve is having the luxury design taste or the ability to tailor-made very unique designs. The stuff they designed or specified always have, I am sorry to say, the cheap and modular look. I know they try hard to make some of the spaces they designed look luxury and custom designed, but even I stayed in some of the super high-end luxurious presidential suites at 5-star hotels, and when I paid attention to some of the designs such as coves, moldings, base boards, cabinet kicks or drawers, I was always amazed how cheap those details looked and how much the millwork looked like modular furniture.
I am not saying commercial designers are bad. I simply just want to let you know if you are looking for a designer to design your luxury home, please look for the designers who are specialized in high-end residential design or the commercial designers who also have extensive high-end residential project experiences. If you hire a commercial designer who does not have any high-end residential design experience to design your luxury home, I do not care how famous the designer is, he/she might not meet your expectations, and will be very likely to disappoint you throughout the process.
When working on a project in China, I heard a worker from a millwork shop said the shop was planning on getting rid of Formica laminates because they were too expensive and too high-end.
That was one of the realities I had to deal with when I was working on projects in China. It seems like everything has a cheaper replica in China. When I specified commercial grade materials from the US in China, the local vendors always could find some alternatives that looked similar or the same but half of the cost. Every commercial grade material I had specified in the US became the material for high-end residential projects in China. Now, I am curious what kind of stuff the designers specify for high-end residential projects in China?