Here's Why I DON'T.

Design is an art; a mosaic of information and collaboration and personality all wrapped into a space occupied by the people it reflects. A child’s first steps, family dinner, eating a gallon of ice cream on the couch while watching a love story… your home is there for it all.

For this reason (and many others), I place the client, their families and how their home needs to function first before ever inserting a design style like Modern Farmhouse or French Country or Gothic Revival. Placing the design esthetic onto a project too quickly will immediately restrict and confine the possibilities before it has ever gotten off the ground.

listen + understand


First – meet with the entire house. While there typically is one person running point on the project’s vision, meeting with every member of the house is critical to understanding the spoken and unspoken soul of the home. We spend time talking about the physical wants and needs of spaces, how they work or do not work, but we also talk about the household’s daily routine some questions I may ask depending on the house dynamic some examples include:

The Growing Family with Small Children – do you anticipate having more children? How long do you see yourselves staying in this home? Have you thought about how the home should function as your children turn into teenagers? How would you like the children and adults to coexist in each space? 

The Empty Nesters – how long to you anticipate living here? If staying for as long as possible, should we consider all first-floor living? Bring your laundry up from the basement? Do you have grandkids that will visit? Do you host your family here? And if so, how many need to sit at a table?

The Individual – do you entertain? If so, how often and tell me about a typical party. Do you want your space to meet your immediate needs but also be easily adaptable for future possibilities? Is this a starter home? Should we look at resale value for the next 5 years?

Each home is different, so the conversations need to be different. Many of the first discussions come from a personal base line because the home you occupy is very personal; it is the soul of a family. Whether that family is one person and their cat or a couple with seven children all under the age of ten, it is your place of peace and recharge. Your home needs support you in the quiet and in the chaos and this cannot be done if the end goal is only to look like a picture in a magazine…but trust me… with a little patience you can absolutely have both!


Second – we dream together. Once I get to know the family, and they get to know me, I have them dream with me. Dream about the home they envision, the sounds and smells and noises and laughter. We continue to talk about the family dynamic and try our hardest to take the “crystal ball” approach of envisioning the home 10… 15… 20 years down the road. I do a visual listening exercise with them (more about that later!) to help them understand their dreams through imagery.

Yes, budget is important, but it is not as important in the initial design process as many think it is. Think of it this way… nothing is worse than spending $80,000 for a gorgeous new kitchen, just to find that the sunroom you go to build a few years later can only be built off the kitchen, forcing you to redo part (or all!) of the space you just spent money on. Trust me… while this step may seem like its adding cost, it is not… and may even save you thousands of dollars!

Just like adding style in too early, you essentially clip the wings of your project talking about money BEFORE you gather all the information, immediately reducing the possibilities of your home before it ever begins. Again, budget is important, and I need to make sure the client can carry the budget we set, but you would be amazed what you can do when the budget is tight… but you are never going to know what the true design intent is, if it already begins watered down.


Third – turn the dreams and conversations into sketches and concepts.  By this step my head is spinning with ideas and my hands are itching to draw! I go to my office, shut the door and deep dive into all I’ve learned.  I spread out all my notes from the previous steps and work… and rework… and rework again… until the solution begins to reveal itself!  Crumpled yellow trace paper scattered all over and pen and marker on my hands (and somehow oddly my face?) deep diving into the concept and dreams of the client.

While sketching, I understand the functionality of each space, comprehending the use day to day as well as the maintenance and longevity.  Again, designing to a particular style, simply due to a desired “look” is a disservice to my clients.  In no way does this mean the desired look cannot be attained, it simply means that an understanding of the overall must be reached first. 

For example, many images of kitchens and pantries are flooding my feeds with glass cabinet doors or open shelves, showing a clean and organized set of dishes and food, all reflecting the color palette of the room.  You get no argument from me that they are beautiful images, providing a clean and polished visual, however for those who live in those spaces do not have the time or extreme discipline to keep that kitchen or pantry clean (and only purchase foods that match your color palette) … I can promise you that the clean and polished space will quickly become disorganized and feel messy.  Design elements should not cause stress.

now you add style!

At the core, I am a problem solver and creative thinker.  My ability to design in various styles releases the restriction of creating the same space over and over again, providing a space for the client who not only spends a lot of time and money to create, but who also deserves to live in a space that reflects them.  Additionally, it allows me to learn and compare multiple styles, taking all the best parts of various elements to create a successful project.  Design is constantly evolving, and I make it my goal to involve with my client through every step.  You will NEVER hear me say “well that is just how it’s done” or “that is how I’ve always done it” … instead my mind always says, “how can we do it?”

People over aesthetic.  Always!

Do you agree?

Do you wish you went through with process with your project?  Is this exactly what you do when designing? 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!  I always enjoy collaboration!

Jessie Ellis

Jessie Ellis

Wife, friend and dog mom with 18+ years of education and 12+ years as a commercial design professional. Always inquisitive, creative and empathetic; trying to live each day with intention.


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[…] own design process, as I share highlights of in my own post “Most Designers Specialize in One Style: Here’s Why I Don’t” I explain a very similar methodology and how it is critical to any successful […]

Susan Whittock
Susan Whittock
1 year ago

Wasn’t able to type in my first and last name above