Talking to Clients


First of all, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. And, I think they asked for some kind of pastel. So, just nod often, eventually, they’ll go away.

If not.

Say things like:

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”


“No, that’s not going to work.”


“No, because it doesn’t fit with the “vocabulary” of the building”.

(Put “vocabulary” in “air-quotes” and raise your eyebrows.)

Try to look aloof. (well, of course)

When the client opens their copy of “Home and Garden” magazine to show you the kitchen that is “not exactly what they want, but it kind of gives you the overall idea”… try not to appear as if you want to stab them in the eye. Mention that Martha Stewart came up with a line of pottery while she was in prison. It was a custom line of nativity figurines. This might shift their attention. Then, spill your coffee on the magazine.

Ask them if they have any family in Norway. (ideally, they should)

Talk about the weather as needed. It will fill in the awkward pauses. Plus, it will give you a chance to mention thermal heat gain. They won’t care about thermal heat gain, but they won’t really know what it is either. Hence you have the upper hand. Wave your upper hand in the air nonchalantly, like you didn’t really need the upper hand anyway. I mean, you’re just SOOO bored with the whole upper hand and all. It’s a burden.

Compliment their shoes. Unless they aren’t black… Wait, do they have tassels? If so, try not to stare at them.

Make sure to explain the design to the client. Start by trying to explain it to them the way you would explain it to a 4-year old. When you begin to sound condescending (and you will) shift gears, and try to explain it the way you would explain it to Renzo Piano. They will look at you with awe (tell yourself this is “awe). They don’t know who Renzo Piano is. And, that’s sad really. Try not to look down on them for this. Don’t mention Renzo Piano in the discussion at all. That would be cruel.

Use simple, straight-forward language. They won’t know what “dichotomy” means. Say “contradictory elements” instead. If they still don’t understand, simply explain that the forms are diametrically opposed to one another, creating an intrinsic tension. They’ll nod…slowly. Then, remind them about the “vocabulary” of the design. Again.

No, they cannot have blinds on the windows. Also, they’re “curtain-wall” not “windows”. Jesus. And, it goes without saying, but curtains are not appropriate on curtain-walls either. Sure, custom, recessed, retractable blinds, if they must.

If the client notices something they like in the design, they may want to add more of that thing in other places. They may say, for example: “Oh, I really like the curved wall over there. Can we add more curved walls?”. Now, obviously, the interns added the curved wall and you must have missed it in the redlines, so NO. They cannot have more curved walls. In fact, now that you think of it, “that” curved wall doesn’t really fit with the “vocabulary” of the design… Erase it. Now.

The client may come to the meeting with some of their own ideas. Try to imagine a horse grazing in a lovely meadow while they talk. The horse is black. Sleek. Powerful. You can hear the warm growl of an Aston Martin in the distance. I’m sorry, what were you saying?

Remember, the phrase: “I’ll have to check the building code” will help you avoid most direct conflicts with the client. Remind them that the building code requires a lot of glazing; for the fire department; and the safety of the children. Note: Marble is not flammable.

Always allow the client to speak first. Appear to listen. Then say:

“I hear what you’re saying, but it’s not going to work, because of this… thing …that’s not really important to you.”


You’ll be fine,

{ coffee with an architect }




photos are from tim_d’s photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license)