Have you ever wondered what challenges our EED designers face with our out-of-state projects, and how we get out of the messes that we are presented with to create beautiful, functional spaces for clients? Today I am going to take you on a deep dive through the journey of one of our projects and our creative team’s mind!
It all starts with an email or a phone call with an address telling me a new property was purchased. We set up a phone call to review the scope of work needed on this project. Once I have that information I can provide the design package options, fees, and a contract. When the deposit in our account and a signed contract are in my hand the fun begins. It’s travel time and I need more united points! This project that I am going to share with you is in Merrillville, Illinois.
For this particular project, I needed to drive to Pensacola, fly to Chicago, and take an Uber ride to the hotel in Merrillville. I soon found out Ubers are nearly impossible to get from O’Hare to Merrillville and so are cabs. By the grace of God, I got lucky and an Uber driver agreed to pick me up, but only because he didn’t see how far he had to drive me. I could tell was not happy about the LONG trip to Merrillville from the words whispered under his breath, hopefully, the tip made up for it. I always take care of my peeps!
The first time I go to the property in-person, I do the initial measure and get photos and videos of all the spaces. This particular project was quite large with four separate apartment buildings, A-D. Building A housed a lobby, fitness center, community space with a large game room, patio with pool, and the leasing office. Buildings B-D had the same size lobby with a smaller community space and patio. My first impression was that this place was tired. The bones were good and it had a lot of potential. The renters were from a 55+ community. Some of them have been renting for over 5 years. They had built a family within this community. I noticed card games were ruthless; they showed no mercy! They invited me to play but I was scared I would lose my plane ticket money to come home so I stuck to the task at hand measuring, taking photos, and dreaming of what this space could be.
I interviewed the residents and asked them what they felt wasn’t working, what they wished they had, and what they would like to see. This helps me understand and provide feedback to the designers on where to begin the design process. Our clients were the investment company, but I feel it’s imperative to bridge the gap between the residence and the owners to find the needs and fill it. Our team had many meetings discussing my findings onsite and conversations with our clients. We also had to reign it in with that dreaded word – the budget.
Our goal was to create an identity for each space for the renters, provide furniture options that would be durable and sturdy for this age group and tie in the branding of our clients so that when they add this property to their portfolio it tells the journey of their company.
Our goal was to create an updated and cozy lobby space in each building with building A being the wow factor lobby. We got very creative on this project. One of the lobbies of the building had pergolas with porch swings on the inside and another had a book-lending library we started for every building! The best part of working with these investors is that they are open to new ideas but they communicate what they like and don’t like so we can start the re-design phase. I’m sad to report that our pergolas and porch swing idea didn’t make the cut for practical reasons, but we got our book-lending library idea to stick!
The challenge in the lobby spaces was that the ceilings were 18’ tall, which is great, but we needed to communicate and get the clients on board with visually lowering the ceiling to create the comfortable spaces and aesthetics that the space needed. We didn’t want the target renters to visit the site and feel lost in all the “space”. Another challenge was filling up the spaces on the budget we had. It forced us to get creative with artwork and accessories so that we could obtain quality chairs and tables. We didn’t want the card club gang to turn on us, lol!
We finally worked through everything and the design was approved! A day we, surprisingly, do not celebrate at EED because we know the reality of the furniture situation all too well. Most of what we designed will be out of stock or discontinued by the time we receive the payment, so having backup options without compromising the design is a must. I am nothing but efficient, just ask anyone on my team. I always have a plan B, C, and D. It’s just in my DNA. I would much rather be proactive instead of reactive any day of the week and twice on Sundays!
So now with all the furniture orders we can just sit back, relax and wait for the remodel to finish up so we can schedule install? Not quite. I received a call for help from our clients. Stating the residents were not happy with all the potential changes and that there is no one on-site to explain the design etc to them. They asked if I would fly out on-site to present the design to the residence with them so that they understood the direction of where we were going to go and how that would benefit them. Being the people pleaser I am, I rearranged my entire schedule to head back to Merrillville.
I arrived to find out that no one from my client’s team would be meeting me and I was on my own. Just me with the angry card club gang. My life flashed before my eyes. This is how it all ends. I’m going down in Merrillville, Illinois by the Card Club Gang. In reality, it was one of my most rewarding moments. It was a great conversation and feedback and they stuck it out with me through all the technical difficulties. They asked some great questions and brought up some good points that we were able to address. I was not exactly thrilled to be thrown into the pit, but the Card Club Gang was gracious and kind, and I helped them to understand the direction with visuals and conversation. It reinforced the fact that anything can be solved through an open mind, kindness, and conversation!
Yay, the remodel is completed and we are ready to install buildings A & B. Another trip to Chicago and I learned a car service is the best way to go since Ubers are not a fan of the long drive. Let’s just call my driver Jon. I’m not sure who at his company passed him off as a safe driver able to drive passengers, but if I find out, off with his head. Jon was watching a TV show on his iPad while talking on the phone in rush-hour traffic. Jon was also a gum-chewing enthusiast. I was literally laying down in the back trying not to vomit from the sound of the loudest gum chewing I have ever heard and all slamming the gas then the break- in rush our traffic. I literally have a video of this, so DM me if you are interested. It’s only funny now because I am alive, but man I think I must have done something to Merrillville in a past life or something. It was out to get me! I was meeting an employee who drove our van to the hotel. She was so kind and went and grabbed me some tea for when I arrived. Thank you KayAnna, I love that girl!
The next after recovering from my ride I was pumped and ready to install! “I love install day,” said no EED designer ever! Why, you ask? I will tell you why but I must state that we LOVE and appreciate our clients very much and we love being part of their team. So on this trip, we got Building A setup and Building B partially set up. One space out of two was ready so we had to unload all of the furniture into another room in the building and would have to install that another day. As a designer, it’s disappointing not to be able to finish your creation.
I wish I could say this was the only challenge on the install day, but alas, it was not. At some point during construction, the backsplash we spec’ed for the kitchenettes changed in style and color by the clients. It was not communicated to the design team, and we showed up unprepared and needed to make a quick pivot and come up with a plan B. The tile went from white modern 2×14 subway tiles and was substituted with blue picket fence tiles that now didn’t work with the accent wall, the fireplace tile, the shelves, or the accessories we purchased for the shelves.
So I came up with a workable plan and I thought, okay it’s just one building. I communicated it to the clients so I thought we were good until we showed up a month later to install the other part of B, C, and D. This time I was smart and brought two employees to help with the installation.
Unfortunately, we were about two weeks too early. They were not ready for us, again. One of my employees and I decided to check out the rest of the spaces. As we did our assessment, we noticed that the blue tile ended up in ALL of the kitchenettes not just in A. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to cry, but I did not, well maybe a tear or two squeaked out, but I put my big-girl-designer pants on and came up with a solution– Shopping. Time to go shopping to get the pieces we need to pull this design together. We regrouped as a team. I left them with the movers to get done what they could. Not only was this a great break from the drama, but from the smell. “What smell?” you ask, well let me tell you, the toilet water aroma emanating from the community room we were working on. A day prior, a bathroom on the other side of the wall had overflown onto the carpet the we were setting up, and it hadn’t been cleaned up, but I digress, back to my happy place!
After shopping, the final placements of the accessories, and all the pillows were fluffed it was time to head back. Can you guess the best thing that happened on this trip, besides the fact we were finished? The Card Club Gang came up to me and thanked us. They were so pleasantly surprised by how the design came out and the furniture that they wanted me to thank the new owners. I couldn’t think of a better way to thank them than to give them a video of the amazing compliments. These people didn’t have to say anything, but their kind words meant so much. We cannot design spaces if we are not given the opportunity by our amazing clients. Through all the drama, travel, unpleasant aromas, last-minute changes, and buildings not being ready, there is beauty in the mess.
I choose to remember the beauty, the smiling faces, and the kind words. We cannot control every situation, but we can control how we handle it. Who knows, you might even crave a little mess now and again because you’re just that good!
Thank you for reading,