Thursday, April 28, 2011

Food Reward: a Dominant Factor in Obesity, Part I

A Curious Finding

It all started with one little sentence buried in a paper about obese rats. I was reading about how rats become obese when they're given chocolate Ensure, the "meal replacement drink", when I came across this:
...neither [obesity-prone] nor [obesity-resistant] rats will overeat on either vanilla- or strawberry-flavored Ensure.
The only meaningful difference between chocolate, vanilla and strawberry Ensure is the flavor, yet rats eating the chocolate variety overate, rapidly gained fat and became metabolically ill, while rats eating the other flavors didn't (1). Furthermore, the study suggested that the food's flavor determined, in part, what amount of fatness the rats' bodies "defended."

As I explained in previous posts, the human (and rodent) brain regulates the amount of fat the body carries, in a manner similar to how the brain regulates blood pressure, body temperature, blood oxygenation and blood pH (2). That fact, in addition to several other lines of evidence, suggests that obesity probably results from a change in this regulatory system. I refer to the amount of body fat that the brain defends as the "body fat setpoint", however it's clear that the setpoint is dependent on diet and lifestyle factors. The implication of this paper that I could not escape is that a food's flavor influences body fatness and probably the body fat setpoint.

An Introduction to Food Reward

The brain contains a sophisticated system that assigns a value judgment to everything we experience, integrating a vast amount of information into a one-dimensional rating system that labels things from awesome to terrible. This is the system that decides whether we should seek out a particular experience, or avoid it. For example, if you burn yourself each time you touch the burner on your stove, your brain will label that action as bad and it will discourage you from touching it again. On the other hand, if you feel good every time you're cold and put on a sweater, your brain will encourage that behavior. In the psychology literature, this phenomenon is called "reward," and it's critical to survival.

The brain assigns reward to, and seeks out, experiences that it perceives as positive, and discourages behaviors that it views as threatening. Drugs of abuse plug directly into reward pathways, bypassing the external routes that would typically trigger reward. Although this system has been studied most in the context of drug addiction, it evolved to deal with natural environmental stimuli, not drugs.

As food is one of the most important elements of survival, the brain's reward system is highly attuned to food's rewarding properties. The brain uses input from smell, taste, touch, social cues, and numerous signals from the digestive tract* to assign a reward value to foods. Experiments in rats and humans have outlined some of the qualities of food that are inherently rewarding:
  • Fat
  • Starch
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Meatiness (glutamate)
  • The absence of bitterness
  • Certain textures (e.g., soft or liquid calories, crunchy foods)
  • Certain aromas (e.g., esters found in many fruits)
  • Calorie density ("heavy" food)
We are generally born liking the qualities listed above, and aromas and flavors that are associated with these qualities become rewarding over time. For example, beer tastes terrible the first time you drink it because it's bitter, but after you drink it a few times and your brain catches wind that there are calories and a drug in there, it often begins tasting good. The same applies to many vegetables. Children are generally not fond of vegetables, but if you serve them spinach smothered in butter enough times, they'll learn to like it by the time they're adults.

The human brain evolved to deal with a certain range of rewarding experiences. It didn't evolve to constructively manage strong drugs of abuse such as heroin and crack cocaine, which overstimulate reward pathways, leading to the pathological drug seeking behaviors that characterize addiction. These drugs are "superstimuli" that exceed our reward system's normal operating parameters. Over the next few posts, I'll try to convince you that in a similar manner, industrially processed food, which has been professionally crafted to maximize its rewarding properties, is a superstimulus that exceeds the brain's normal operating parameters, leading to an increase in body fatness and other negative consequences.

* Nerves measure stomach distension. A number of of gut-derived paracrine and endocrine signals, including CCK, PYY, ghrelin, GLP-1 and many others potentially participate in food reward sensing, some by acting directly on the brain via the circulation, and others by signaling indirectly via the vagus nerve. More on this later.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sudeep Reddy on Bernanke's Press Conference

He writes (correctly in my view):

This press conference looks like a more intelligent, faster-paced version of a congressional hearing. It's a lot of the same questions -- bond-buying, high oil prices, long-term unemployment -- except you would've gotten five lawmakers making speeches about gas prices before asking a single question. Bernanke looks the same as he does at a hearing. He's not exactly thrilled to be there, but happy to take questions as long as you want.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Baby Girl's Nursery Design

I'm living vicariously through a client of mine:  She's having a baby girl and I designed her nursery!  I'm doing the final installation today with my assistant, Meghan, and we're so excited!!

My client was looking for a fun, sophisticated nursery.  {When I walked into her living room for the first time, it looked like it had been done professionally, although she did it herself, so she has an amazing sense of style.}  She wanted fresh & happy and not over-the-top girly.  She's drawn to paisley and florals.  I thought I'd share our plans with you, so here's the floorplan we created for her:

And here's a quick peek at the pieces selected:

{The mobile (top left) has been custom made in our colors from Pink Perch on etsy.   We've done curtains out of the Schumacher floral (top right) and used the paisley blockprinted crib bedding, lamp, chair & table pictured.}

Here's a close-up of the Schumacher fabric:

It's wild & fun & not your typical girly floral. 

We mixed a few Pottery Barn kids pieces with a custom green viney chandelier by Stray Dog Designs  (one of my new favorites for lighting!) and an overscale seaweed print that we'll be tacking up with nailhead.  The "LILY" drawing on the right is a mock-up of a framed fabric panel with wooden beads & letters draped over it for the room.  The green polka-dotted fabric at bottom right is the fabric we used.

Here's a pic of the project {mid-stage} to give you an idea of what it actually looks like:

We're leaving in a couple of hours & I cna't wait to share 'after' pics with you!!
Even if I never have a little girl of my own (fingers still crossed though!) at least I got this chance to do little sweetie Lily's nursery!!  She's due in May and we're so happy for our clients!! 

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wendell Cox on Municipal Boundaries

From comments:

The arbitrariness of the municipal boundaries that drive much of the historical core city and suburb analysis does indeed create significant problems. We commented on this in PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN CORES AND SUBURBS ( 

We concluded: "An eventual more precise analysis of urban cores and suburban trends will be welcome. Yet, as our analysis of trends in New Jersey indicated, even the growth in more urban core oriented municipalities was minuscule compared to the state's suburban growth. Further, much of the urban core growth in the nation came from areas that, although formally located within “city limits” actually were on the suburban fringe. This was true, for example, in Kansas City, Oklahoma City and even Portland. This suggests that the small share of growth reported in urban cores would be even less if it were based on census tract data; and suburbanization, as a way of life, may indeed be even more prevalent than this year’s numbers suggest."

Deborah Popper on "Subtracted Cities"

She writes about how shrinking cities can take control of their destinies, while being realistic about what those destinies imply:

Detroit stands as the ultimate expression of industrial depopulation. The Motor City offers traffic-free streets, burned-out skyscrapers, open-prairie neighborhoods, nesting pheasants, an ornate-trashed former railroad station, vast closed factories, and signs urging "Fists, Not Guns." A third of its 139 square miles lie vacant. In the 2010 census it lost a national-record-setting quarter of the people it had at the millennium: a huge dip not just to its people, but to anxious potential private- and public-sector investors.
Is Detroit an epic outlier, a spectacular aberration or is it a fractured finger pointing at a horrific future for other large shrinking cities? Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population in the census, Birmingham 13 percent, Buffalo 11 percent, and the special case of post-Katrina New Orleans 29 percent. The losses in such places and smaller ones like Braddock, Penn.; Cairo, Ill.; or Flint, Mich., go well beyond population. In every recent decade, houses, businesses, jobs, schools, entire neighborhoods -- and hope -- keep getting removed.
The subtractions have occurred without plan, intention or control of any sort and so pose daunting challenges. In contrast, population growth or stability is much more manageable and politically palatable. Subtraction is haphazard, volatile, unexpected, risky. No American city plan, zoning law or environmental regulation anticipates it. In principle, a city can buy a deserted house, store or factory and return it to use. Yet which use? If the city cannot find or decide on one, how long should the property stay idle before the city razes it? How prevalent must abandonment become before it demands systematic neighborhood or citywide solutions instead of lot-by-lot ones?
Subtracted cities can rely on no standard approaches. Such places have struggled for at least two generations, since the peak of the postwar consumer boom. Thousands of neighborhoods in hundreds of cities have lost their grip on the American dream. As a nation, we have little idea how to respond. The frustratingly slow national economic recovery only makes conditions worse by suggesting that they may become permanent.
Subtracted cities rarely begin even fitful action until perhaps half the population has left. Thus generations can pass between first big loss and substantial action. Usually the local leadership must change before the city's hopes for growth subside to allow the new leadership to work with or around loss instead of directly against it. By then, the tax base, public services, budget troubles, labor forces, morale and spirit have predictably become dismal. To reverse the momentum of the long-established downward spiral requires extraordinary effort.
Fatalism is no option: Subtracted cities must try to reclaim control of their destinies. They could start by training residents to value, salvage, restore and market unused sites and the material found there. They might supplement school drug-free zones with subtraction-action ones by reacting quickly when nearby empty properties show neglect. Children who see debris-filled plots and boarded-up buildings learn not to expect much from life. Just planting a few trees often makes a deserted lot look cared for.

It didn't rain!

You know you've been gone from the office for a while when you have to think about your passwords when logging back into your accounts.  I have to say that I would love another month away, but that's just not the way it works...  And I've realized just how many junk emails I get a day and it is CRAZY.  I need to get some sort of filter on there because for some reason I get multiple emails a day from women all over the world in their 20s asking me to marry them.  And I also get emails about enlargers.  (You know the kind I mean. ) Somewhere along the line, I must be logged into somewhere or some search engine or whatever as a lonely middle-aged man.  (Don't know what's up with that because I am not lonely.  ;)

Anyway, we had a really great break!  We dyed Easter eggs:

And the Easter Bunny hid them:

My children had peeps for breakfast:

peep! peep!

{they're honestly really gross to me but they are pretty cute.}

The kids looked far & wide for eggs:

Our backyard was pretty muddy but that didn't stop them:

I set an Easter table & we had our family over. 

{I used a massive piece of peachy-pink & aqua woven paisley fabric that I bought a while back as the table cloth.  It usually hangs out in our family room as a throw blanket.}

I topped it with a frayed aqua linen remnant and then loaded it with aqua bottles of daffodils from my garden as last-minute easy centerpieces. 

{I pretty much do everything in my own home last-minute, so I was lucky that I'd even planted my daffodil bulbs last-minute (this March!) and they came up late enough that they just bloomed this past week & I had flowers for Easter.}

We made eggs with everyone's names on them for placeholders:

{I only took a pic of this one because I took the pics before the party & didn't want the eggs all sitting out.}

My mom made these beautiful pansy cupcakes:

{She used actual pansies, which are edible}

...And I turned 29!

~And there it didn't rain!~ 
It almost always rains on my birthday so we were shocked when the sun held out & we had temperatures in the 80s.

Hope you had a happy Easter & I'm so envious of any of you that are still on vacation!!! 

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chris Leinberger, Wendell Cox, Drunks and Lampposts

In a New Republic piece, Chris Leinberger says that Wendell Cox's statement that the census shows that central cities have had a small fraction of urban population growth is beside the point.  He argues, correctly, that the census definitions of urban and suburban are pretty arbitrary: if one is in the City of Los Angeles, she lives in an urban area, if she is in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills or Pasadena, she is in a suburban area.  One visit to LA reveals that this is silly.  Just because the light is there doesn't mean the missing keys are there.

But Leinberger then makes a statement that is also un-illuminating:

Likewise, the suburbs of those core cities include classic subdivisions and McMansions, like the home of Tony Soprano, but they also include booming places like Old Town Pasadena, Reston Town Center near Dulles Airport outside D.C., and revitalized Jersey City and Hoboken, NJ, on the other side of the Hudson River from Manhattan.
I now live in Pasadena, and before that, I lived in Bethesda.  They are both indeed wonderful places (for me anyway); they are also quite "walkable."  But neither strikes me as booming, so I looked up their population growth between 2000 and 2010.  The Bethesda Central Designated Place grew by  a little over 9 percent; Pasadena grew by 2.3 percent.  The country as a whole grew by a little less than 10 percent.  It is hard to make a case for booming.

But perhaps the issue is supply.  If no houses are available, then it is not surprising that population has not grown much.  Ryan Avent has correctly made this point.  But the residential vacancy rates in both Bethesda and Pasadena are in excess of 7 percent--not huge, but not exactly tight either.  And Pasadena's condominium market continues to face serious problems.

Personally, I love the kind a communities Leinberger favors--I seem to live in them.  But  some urbanists engage in hectoring that really bothers me.  Lots and lots of Americans appear to love their cars and their isolated houses.   So long as they interanalize the costs their lifestyle imposes (and I have long been for a tax that puts a floor on gasoline costs), people should be able to live how they like and where they like.

Raphael Bostic on a layered housing problem

He gives an interview here:

There is a triple threat facing the elder African American LGBT population in the Detroit area. Even though small in number, this particular group of people encounters difficulties in finding retirement homes, safety, recognition and financial security. Dr. Raphael Bostic, the assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development, attended an April 16 summit organized by KICK (an agency for LGBT African Americans) to address such concerns. Dr. Bostic spoke to BTL about discrimination and other issues faced by these elders.

What were the common concerns discussed at the KICK summit?
The elder LGBT population has significant challenges. They don't have children who can offer them help and support. If they are with a partner they often don't have access to their (partner's) pension funds, so they can become extremely vulnerable rather quickly. This is a really important conversation, and a lot of the gay and lesbian elder population has not been a (focus) of that conversation. Somehow they are a hidden population.
Elders in African American communities have difficulties, elders in general have difficulties and LGBT elders have difficulties, so this really overlays three types of groups. We don't really know much about the challenges that this group faces and they are forced to be invisible because sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes, so landlords can and do discriminate against these (people). So sometimes they have to go back into the closet. One of the things we are trying work on is how often these issues arise so we can talk about it in an informed way and hopefully get to a place where that kind of discrimination happens a lot less frequently.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why does S&P matter?

Are they telling us anything about the US fiscal condition that the whole world doesn't know?  Is there anything to suggest that their past insights have been particularly penetrating?  Just wondering...

Simple Pleasures & a Winner

I'm attempting to take a vacation from work with my family this week.  My husband, Dave, teaches high school English and is off this week so we have a nice little break.  We're not actually going anywhere this week, so as I'm sure anyone who works from home knows, it's hard to take a vacation at home when your office is right there staring at you.  ;)

BUT...  we're making a list of things to do- and living right near DC we've got a lot to see & do- and I'm trying to focus on family time & enjoying the little things. 

{we have a lot of these in our grass right now...  not so pretty in the lawn but perfect when your 3-year old gives you a bouquet of them}

I loved reading through the comments on the Tracy Porter Giveaway post

For anyone who didn't see it, the comments were about simple pleasures in life and you can read them at the end of this post.  It's so interesting to see that so many of us share the same simple pleasures.  It must be in our DNA or something.  I thought it would be fun to list a few of them as reminders that every day we have the opportunity for happiness.  It's in our control and we can decide to be happy & enjoy something, even if only for a few minutes.  I think it's these little simple pleasures that day after day make us love our lives & appreciate them & the people around us:

~ A cup of coffee or tea & taking the time to really enjoy it ~

~Fresh breezes blowing through the house & sleeping with the windows open~

~ Time spent talking with your partner~

~ Reading a book~

~Adoring the things our kids say & do~


{I love those long laugh-filled dinners...  in the pic above taken this past summer, my family is laughing at the painting of the woman I found & love at an antique market.  I call her "Dr.Lilondy" because she looks like my dad's doctor.  She's hanging in my foyer now across from the Da Vinci sketches.}

~Listening to the rain~


~Relaxing weekend mornings~

~A good meal~

~ Walks~

~Walking through your garden & appreciating the little changes ~

~Cooking with someone you love  & taking the time to make a great meal~

~Going out to eat~

{Image from}

~ A hot bath~

~ Enjoying the sunshine~

~A nap~

~Watching the sun rise~

~...And watching it set~

~Cuddling with little ones~

~Birds chirping~

~Watching your kids play & playing with them~

~Watching them sleep~

~And let's not forget our fur babies...  Watching our pets play & playing with them~

~ Design blogs!!~

~Exercising: biking, running, hiking, yoga, VOLLEYBALL ;) ;)~


~ Carry-out~

~A new magazine~

~Sitting on the patio/ porch/ deck alone or with someone you love talking over the day~

~ Getting into a bed with crisp, clean fresh sheets~

{photo of our bedroom by Helen Norman}

~ The water: the ocean, a lake, a pond... it does something good to us~

{me hanging on the john boat with a friend on my dad's pond in high school}

~ Hearing your family laugh from another room~

~ Swings & hammocks~

~A great movie~


~Being barefoot~

{image via}
~Outdoor showers~

~Creating something, whether it's a craft, a drawing, a vignette... anything~

~Sitting by the fire~

~Music...  classical & relaxing or blasting in the car~

~Watching ducks & birds...  this cracked me up that mulitple people had some form of this in the comments but I so agree!!~


~Being the only one awake at dawn & spending a quiet moment alone~

~Laying in bed with our kids... reading, chatting, snuggling~

~Walking to get ice cream on a warm evening~

...And I thought this was one of the most romantic comments left by Bryan, Jen, Noah and Kiki too! :   "I absolutely love when my sweet hubby is able to call & Skype us from Afghanistan ... he has been deployed there for almost a year and everytime the computer sings that he's online, my heart flutters."

...And, finally, I think it's all about time with the people we love...

{My Geedaddy & my 3 year old, Christian}

I've loved writing this blog for the past 2 and a half years and "meeting" all of you.  Reading things like the comments above and getting little comments or emails makes me realize that there are so many of us out there who share the same loves, passions & appreciation for life & all it's got to offer us.  I know I'm getting super-cheesy, but it really is great to be connected to such amazing people.  Thank you for sharing.

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Oh & the winner of the Tracy Porter Giveaway (chosen by  a random number generator) is Cindy Ellison of MARKET DECOR!! Congrats Cindy!!!  Thank you so much to Tracy for her generous giveaway!!!   If you didn't get the chance, check out Tracy Porter's blog and store; you'll love her. 

Biker Hotline Article

The lovely people at Biker Hotline in the States have posted up a small article on my recent work. There is a huge amount of information on this site including show reports, news and a classified section. Click the link below to see my article and have a browse round the site whilst your there:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Upcoming Talks

I'll be giving at least two talks at conferences this year:

Ancestral Health Symposium; "The Human Ecological Niche and Modern Health"; August 5-6 in Los Angeles. This is going to be a great conference. Many of my favorite health/nutrition writers will be presenting. Organizer Brent Pottenger and I collaborated on designing the symposium's name so I hope you like it.

My talk will be titled "Obesity; Old Solutions to a New Problem." I'll be presenting some of my emerging thoughts on obesity. I expect to ruffle some feathers!

Tickets are going fast so reserve one today! I doubt there will be any left two weeks from now.

TEDx Harvard Law; "Food Policy and Public Health"; Oct 21 at Harvard. My talk is tentatively titled "The American Diet: a Historical Perspective." This topic interests me because it helps us frame the discussion on why chronic disease is so prevalent today, and what are the appropriate public health measures to combat it. This should also be a great conference.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Obesity and the Fluid-in, Fluid-out Therapy for Edema

I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Arya M. Sharma here at the University of Washington. Dr. Sharma is a Canadian clinician who specializes in the treatment of obesity. He gave the UW Science in Medicine lecture, which is a prestigious invited lecture.

He spent a little bit of time pointing out the fallacy behind conventional obesity treatment. He used the analogy of edema, which is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body.

Since we know that the amount of fluid contained in the body depends on the amount of fluid entering the body and the amount of fluid leaving the body, the treatment for edema is obvious: drink less, pee more.

Of course, this makes no sense. It doesn't address the underlying cause of edema and it will not help the patient. Yet we apply that exact same logic to fat loss. Since the amount of energy contained in the body (in the form of fat) depends on the amount entering and the amount leaving, the solution is easy: eat less, move more. Well, yes, if you can stick to that program it will cause fat loss. But that's equivalent to telling someone with edema to drink less water. It will cause a loss of fluid, but it won't correct the underlying problem that caused excessive fluid retention in the first place.

For example, if you have edema because your heart isn't pumping effectively (cardiac insufficiency), the heart is the problem that must be addressed. Any other treatment is purely symptomatic and is not a cure.

The same applies to obesity. If you don't correct the alteration in the system that causes an obese person to 'defend' his elevated fat mass against changes*, anything you do is symptomatic treatment and is unlikely to be very effective in the long term. My goal is to develop a method that goes beyond symptomatic treatment and allows the body to naturally return to a lower fat mass. I've been doing a lot of reading and I have a simple new idea that I feel confident in. It also neatly explains the results of a variety of weight loss diets. I've dropped a few hints here and there, but I'll be formally unveiling it in the next couple of months. Stay tuned.

* The body fat homeostasis system. The core element appears to be a negative feedback loop between body fat (via leptin, and insulin to a lesser degree) and the brain (primarily the hypothalamus, but other regions are involved). There are many other elements in the system, but that one seems to set the 'gain' on all the others and guides long-term fat mass homeostasis. The brain is the gatekeeper of both energy intake and energy expenditure, and unconscious processes strongly suggest appropriate levels for both factors according to the brain's perceived homeostatic needs. Those suggestions can be overridden consciously, but it requires a perpetual high degree of discipline, whereas someone who has been lean all her life doesn't require discipline to remain lean because her brain is suggesting behaviors that naturally defend leanness. I know what I'm saying here may seem controversial to some people reading this, because it's contrary to what they've read on the internet or in the popular press, but it's not particularly controversial in my field. In fact, you'll find most of this stuff in general neuroscience textbooks dating back more than 10 years (e.g., Eric Kandel and colleagues, Principles of Neuroscience).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Behind the Scenes in an Interior Design Project/ Business

This morning I've been thinking about how in magazines & blogs we get to see the fun parts of interior design:  the befores & afters, the inspiration & the creative process, but rarely do we see what goes on behind the scenes: when designers are ordering goods for their clients, handling paperwork & coordinating shipping & contractors, and managing the project and clients' needs & expectations.

{some of my new textiles}

I think it's definitely because it's not an exciting part of the process and also because it can be a difficult part of the process, although project managment is waaaaay more than half of the project.  Everyone has their own way of doing things, but when I work with clients, this is how it basically goes:

We have an initial phone chat or meeting to discuss what the client is looking for and to chat about my company & how we work, our rates, processes, etc.  It's at this point that we decide if we want to work together.  Once we've decided to work together, we have a meeting in which the house is surveyed, measured, photographed or blueprints are exchanged if it's a new build.  We interview our clients about how they want to use their home & the spaces in it, their wants & needs, likes & dislikes, personal style, color & fabric preferences, etc. 

{image via stylehive}

From here we set about creating a design plan for clients based upon everything we've learned.  There is some back-and-forth about a few specifics as we create the plan.  I really like to include antique & vintage pieces in design plans, but it does make the process a little more challenging because you often have to snap up these pieces when you see them, sometimes before you've created the entire plan.   I typically leave "holes" in the plan for certain items that I know we want to find vintage or antique and then we're on the hunt for these items as the project moves forward.

Once we've created the plan, we present it to our clients.  I present one plan.  There may be an option or two to for the clients to decide between, but for the most part, the entire plan is laid out, even down to pillows & certain art or accessories if they're intrical to the design.  I do this because I feel that I know my clients well enough by this point that I know what the best option for them is.  {When I first started out, I used to sometimes create two plans, but I realized that  my clients always chose the plan I wanted them to choose and that the second plan was a waste of time.}  Just like there may be "holes" in the plan for antiques or one-of-a-kind items, there are holes in the plan for art & accessories.  I often present examples of art and/ or accessories I think we should use and once the project is moving forward, we both look for these items & are constantly on the hunt.

{DC Design House board close-up}

{Speaking of being on the hunt...  I am not one of those designers who can go out & be shopping for many clients all at once.  I can typically have 1-3 clients in mind when I am shopping but usually no more than that.  I have serious tunnel vision, I powerwalk, and know exactly what I'm looking for and so I can't keep a catalog of 8-15 clients in my head when I'm out & about.  I go out specifically for certain clients and sometimes I'll even walk around the same market multiple times with different clients in mind, each time noticing completely different things.  Sometimes I have consultation-based clients who say "If you're ever out and about and you see this, buy it for me & I'll pay you back..."  I used to think this was possible, but I've now realized that it doesn't work that way for me.  I have to go out specifically on the hunt for something because when I am out on the hunt for a client, I am out specifically for them. ...  and of course there are exceptions that just smack you in the face because they're so perfect! ;)

Once the plan has been squared away, we move onto the implementation phase of the project.  (The nitty gritty part we don't hear much about.)  I found a really great overview of the emotions connected to the different phase of the project on Jenny's Design Build's website:

Even if there is no construction....  once you get to the design presentation & begin implementation, there is a lot of waiting for clients to do, which is not fun.  Witch custom pieces, the typical time it takes to wait for items to be made is 8-12 weeks but often much longer.  There are almost always fabric & furniture backorders which can delay the project.  (And as a designer, sometimes you don't get notice from the companies about the backorders for a few weeks or even a month after you've placed the order & think everything is on schedule.  How fun it is to let your clients know then! ;) 

When ordering products- which sounds like an easy thing thing to do- but often manufacturers don't get back to you, inform you of backorders waaaaay late, or send damaged items.  Everything that happens is your responsibility to relay to the client and it's not always good stuff.  When I first started, having no idea of the time or risks involved, I used to give my clients trade-only items at no mark-up, not realizing that by doing this I was losing a lot of money & barely surviving as a business.  (My accountant had a talk with me ;)  For one, it takes a lot of time to order something & handle it the entire project.  You can get emails throughout the entire project about a certain product & its specifications.  And oh my GOSH you spend hours if something arrives damaged-  getting in touch with the company, arranging a pick-up, return & ordering a new piece & starting over.  (Think of a custom sofa that is being stain treated...  you have an order with the fabric company...  then it ships to the company to be stain treated... then it goes to the furniture manufacturer.. then it takes a mponth or two to be made, then it goes to a shipping warehouse and then to your client...  SO many things can happen along the way and you're in constant contact alont the way.  It's hours even if it's smooth.   Ordering trade items is very different from ordering retail items, which can even take some time if a return or exchange is necessary.  You end up losing money and working for free...  Once I realized all of this, I began offering goods to my clients at retail or just below retail prices (depending upon the product... pricing is different at different companies) and finally started getting paid for the responsibility & all of the hours spent managing projects.  I've found that for me, there really is no way to charge a client hourly for the implementation phase of the project because so many things can happen along the way that it's difficult to project.  (And no one wants to get a bill charging them for your time on a damaged item or get a bill for 3 hours for a sofa-  can you imagine?! :) 

{image from}

Shipping is another beast.  EVERYTHING has shipping on it.  Even a yard of fabric which is shipped on a roll & costs money.  Every time something is moved somewhere, it costs money.  Many companies do not have an exact shipping price until something actually ships, which is often difficult for clients to understand.  (Rightfully so.)  Some companies do a percentage - which I love for estimates- and others are pretty consistent.  The longer you're in business, the better it gets, but I am still not comfortable enough to be able to give a firm shipping estimate to clients.  Every time I pick up a new vendor, there's a new shipping policy & different rates to try to learn.  Generally, shipping can be anywhere from 10-20% of an order and can be more or less so it's a pretty big range.   

Working with contractors & managing is another time-consuming and risky part of the project.  We spend a lot of time with contractors & going back-and-forth relaying ideas, answering questions, and overseeing the project.  I've also come to realize that it's much better to have a flat fee or a percentage fee for this part of the project because again, clients want to know what they're paying up front, and because designers need to be compensated for their time.

Once you've placed all of your orders & are handling them, your client is waiting and you & your client are seeking out those "holes" in the projects-  the details & the one-of-a-kind items that will truly make the space feel personal & real.  This part of the process is seriously easy for me when it's in my own home, but much more difficult when you're working with a client because you have to get their approval before you purchase and there's often only 1 item and if you leave it that day, it will probably be gone if/ when you return.  Buying trips with clients are wonderful, but the client is either paying for your time or a mark-up on the goods. 

I have recently started having items for my newer projects (if possible) shipped to a receiving warehouse so that final installation can take place all at once.  I think this is really important to a project's smoothness factor.  Until very recently, I used to let items trickle in to clients as they were ready, but this can worry clients.  They analyze each & every piece & begin to get scared because they're seeing just the pieces of the puzzle and not the overall picture.  Clients are always happy with the results in the end, but having items come in one by one often results in phonecalls, understandably, because it can be scary to see a bright green sofa arrive in a white room with nothing else in it.  (Speaking form my own experience in my own house....  oooohh even I was panicked! haha!)

{My living room when my green sofa first arrived-  eeeeek}

{My living room once everything else was in...  photo by Helen Norman}

Once all of the furnishings & softgoods are installed in the room, it's time to do the final accessorizing.  With my clients, I have been stressing the importance of this and I don't do projects without this final step.  Once everything is in, we get to tweak & add in those great one-of-a-kind items, hang artwork and do flowers & plants & personal items to finish off the house.  Clients then get to see the vision fully realized and they get to see how beautiful & personal their home really is.  They know just where to place flowers when they have parties, or how to set up the best way for guests.  It can even get as detailed as helping clients pick out dinnerware and/ or soaps. 

{Dinnerware at a client's home...  photo by Helen Norman}

This is a great time to have the home photographed, and I really think this is an important part of growing your business.  I started out with photos I'd taken of my old townhome about 3 and a half years ago and slowly grew my business from there, weeding out older projects & badly shot photos as I could afford better ones.  I'm still in the process of doing this, and hope to be always doing this as I grow as a designer & continue to get new projects.  Clients love sending friends & family photos of their finished home because they're proud of it.

{A recently photographed client's home- The Hart Family.  Photo by Helen Norman}

I really am new to this business - three and a half years- so I'm still really learning & evolving myself.  My assistant, Meg, is helping too & we are constantly refining our roles.  In our business, the most important thing to us is that the client is happy & feels taken care of and we are constantly figuring out new ways to make this happen. 

A couple things I've learned both the hard & easy way:

1.  Stay in control of the project.  Some clients are used to being in charge and can take over a project and unintentionally send it out of whack.  You have to be firm in your processes and follow the systems you've set into place, and explain to clients why things work the way they do.  (Of course you want your clients very involved in the creative aspects of the project, but don't let them change the way you run your business.)

2.  Be firm in your fees & pricing.  Make sure you set fair fees & stick to them.  You want the clients who value what you do, not the ones who don't feel you're worth what you're asking.

2.  Know the parameters of your project.  Some projects keep growing and growing.  They may start out as a consultation and evolve into a full-home renovation.  As soon as you realize the project is becoming something other than what it started out as, reevaluate, do a new contract & set new parameters with your client.

3.  Not every client is for you.  (I think this is important for designers to know...   I have lots of friends who are designers and we know that we each have our own types of clients.  For example, the client who would want my good friend wouldn't want me.)

4.  Trust your gut.  Seriously.  If something doesn't feel right about a project or client, trust yourself and do not take it on.  If you can't be 100% passionate about a project, you won't do your best and it's not fair to the client.  If you feel that the potential client is going be very difficult for you to work with, don't take them on; it's not worth the stress.  Most of your clients will be with you for a very long time so realize there's no wham-bam-thank-you-m'am- in a full-service project.

5.  Constantly be thinking of where you want your business to go.  You have to remind yourself of what you're doing & where you're going and what your end goal is. 

6.  Put your clients first.  Always be thinking of your clients & how they are feeling.  Check in with them constantly.  This can be really tough depending upon how many clients you have at once.  It's important to know your limit of how many projects you can take on & still give great service.  {I have recently stopped doing two-hour or one-day consultations because -even though I loved helping clients get a quick gameplan for their homes- it was taking up too much of my time away from my full-service projects and it was really difficult to focus because I had so many clients to keep in contact with.  {I was honestly having trouble sleeping at night because of emails & communication...  I would wake up at night & remember people who had follow-up questions from consultations or who just wanted a tiny bit of advice over email and then not be able to go back to sleep becaues I felt so guilty for not having written them back yet.}

7.  Gather an amazing team of people.  Each person who does work for your projects, such as contractors, workrooms, artists, etc. is key.  Find the people you work best with & who do what they say they will do, and your life will be much easier.  It's taken me years to find the right people.  Once you have them, never let them go & treat them right because it takes a village to create a great space.  They can make or break a smooth project.

...  There's much more, but my day's starting & I've got to run!!

I know this is the not-so-pretty-part of interior design but I really think it's important to discuss how the behind-the-scenes stuff works.  Everyone does things differently and I am constantly evolving my own businesses processes, so I'd love to hear how any designers out there work and how they do the behind-the-scenes.  Let me know your thoughts!!

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

ps- Don't forget to enter the $250 Tracy Porter Giveaway!!  Click here to view it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All advice welcome

I am on a panel on budget issues with Paul Ryan on June 9 in Madison.  Needless to say, I am taking preparation for this very seriously.  I would therefore welcome any thoughts, links, etc. from anyone inclined to send them.  Don't worry if you think I have seen it before--I am looking for a dump of everything right now.

Prescott Bike Festival Report

Demo piece at the end of the day
(a better picture will be posted once I've made more progress)

My home for the day.

For it's first year the Prescott Bike festival turned out to be quite an event, with bikes old and new out in force to run up the hill in front of a crowd of a good few thousand! The highlights for me were as always the older bikes, especially the collection that was bought down by the Brooklands Museum not only were they on display they were also running them up the hill too! Here is a selection of my personal highlights:

Doug Earl Cotton
498cc J.A.P. (1938 Speedway Engine)
  • Doug Earle, who raced Zenith bikes at Brooklands in 1938, created this bike in later life as a replica of a 1930s Outer Circuit racer and sidecar.
  • It is likely that he used the bike for dirt/grass track racing post war. He then remodelled it with period style fuel (methanol) and oil tanks. The motorcycle and sidecar streamlined in hand beaten aluminium, streamlining on the front forks remains.
  • In the 1960s he was well known for his immaculately prepared Douglas sprinter, which competed with the "Boy" Tubb Grindlay-Perrless in appearance.
"Boy" Tubb Grindlay-Perrless
498cc J.A.P.
  • In 1928, Bill Lacey, riding a 500cc Grindlay Peerless at Brooklands, became the first person to ride 100 miles an hour on a british track.
  • The following year 5 or 6 replicas were built, one of which was bought by Edmond "Boy" Tubb in 1936.
  • E.C.E. "Ted" Baragwanath rebuilt the engine for Edmond. Eith this new found power he went on to win his Gold Star at 102mph.
The Brooklands Museum is a very important place in motoring history and I encourage you to become a Brooklands Trust Member. It's £30 a year and you get free access to the museum as well as discounts on events. More information can be found here:

More Great Machines
1908 Triumph (Belt Drive)

This also incredibly was running up the hill. The owner was keen to show me the bike when he saw my watercolour piece depicting the same bike. So much so that he wheeled it round to my stall so I could have a look. No clutch on this one a running start is needed to get it going, must be great fun to ride. One day I tell myself one day.

498cc Velocette
(love the Gordon's Gin can!)

J.A.P. Powered three wheeler / Sidecar outfit

J.A.P. Powered Sprint Bike

Manx Superior (Manx Bike with Brough Superior Engine)