At Interior Alchemy, our first phase is one of my favorite parts of the design process – it is learning about YOU, how you use your space, and what you want your space to do for you.  To gain an understanding of you and your project, we explore the existing physical structure and the way the space functions well for you and also what dissatisfies you about it in an effort to learn everything possible that will help us craft a better and more personalized solution for you.

The goal of the DISCOVER phase, is to collect all of the information we will need in order to adequately analyze the problem during the next DEFINE phase.

Discover Phase Steps

Client Interview

As soon as we sign an initial Design Services Agreement with you, we will schedule the Discovery Session with you.  We will meet with you in your space and, ideally, everyone who will use the space.  For example, if the project is a residential kitchen remodel, then the adults, children, and pets should be present at the Discovery Session.  If the project is a commercial restaurant, then the hostess, servers, bartenders, cooks, bussers, expeditors, prep cooks, and dishwashers should be on hand.

It is a critical step in every successful design process to meet and talk with those who perform tasks in the space.  For example, the standard height at which we install a shower head may not be tall enough to be used comfortably by someone who is 6’10”.  Or, considering a commercial space, it is important to understand the processes the kitchen staff members goes through to do their jobs and to hear from them which tasks cost them time and/or quality in performing their duties.  The right time to find out this information is before we begin designing.

Likewise, if the client is interested in pursuing LEED or other green-building certifications, we will need to understand what protocols we must follow during the entire design process and talk with you about how it may affect design fees, materials, budget and timeline.

The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to tidy up the mess, as opposed to understanding it’s a “day one” issue and part of everything.

– Tom Peterson

Finished design facing out to hand sketch of design

During the interview, we will ask about what your style goals are for the space, but we will also ask you about how easy or challenging it is to perform tasks for which the room was intended. We will ask each user of the space questions to help us arrive at the true causes of the problems they experience.  These questions will guide and direct future design decisions to ensure that we arrive at the best design solution possible for you and your design problems.

Here is one example from real life experience:

During the Discovery session, a client of ours had told us that they “want to add a window in the kitchen.”  That is a ‘solution’ – one possible solution out of many.

But we still don’t know what the problem is.  If we haven’t defined the problem which created the desire for a window, then we have little hope of making the best decision for the client about where to locate the window, on which wall, how high, what kind of window, how the window operates, etc.

If we were to assume that the client wanted a window above the sink, that would have been a pretty good guess, but we would have been wrong.

After answering our follow-up questions, it turns out, the client wanted the window because the room was too dark, but they also wanted access to fresh air because the spouse tended to burn things often.  Asking a few more questions, we found out that the kids play in the backyard on the other side of one of the kitchen walls and the client wanted to be able to keep an eye on them in the backyard while standing at the range.

By asking the right questions, not only did we learn that we needed to add brighter daylight temperature lighting in the room and that we needed to increase the venting capacity of the range hood, we ended up installing french doors on that wall which solved every one of the client’s problems, AND offered her the added ability to access the kids quickly if one of them hurt themselves while playing – a bonus that she hadn’t even thought of.

It is up to the designer to define the problem.  And we do this by asking the follow up questions we need in order to form solid design solutions.  It’s our way of giving our clients what they want and also making sure we don’t miss giving them what they need.

We will also request information from you which may have an impact on the design such as:

  • Neighborhood restrictions
  • HOA covenants
  • Historical Preservation requirements
  • Your interest in pursuing any green certification protocols

Layers of restrictions beyond just the limitation of the actual physical space tend to add layers of complexity to a design project and must be addressed at the beginning of the project to avoid costly mistakes and redesign.

Analyze the Existing Space

During a tour of the space (if it is not a new construction project), we will discuss what your goals are, what you love about your space, what areas are the most problematic for you and why. We need to understand how you and others use the space, what your routines are, what you find are problem areas which make performing work in the space more difficult than it needs to be, so that we gain the insight we need to be able to analyze our potential solutions through your eyes, not ours.  We don’t design to earn fancy design awards.  We design because it improves the way you experience life.

The results of this exploration will become critical elements during the next DEFINE step where we look at various work zones and use activity mapping to determine how to make your life easier through by considering floor plan changes to improve your life through better design.

Graphic created by Interior Alchemy during the DEFINE phase of The Libertine restaurant project. Copyright 2019

This is also the ideal time to share your magazine clippings, inspirations images, a swatch of fabric you adore so that we can gain a complete understand of everything on your wish list.

Inventory of Items to Remain

We will also take inventory of the items which you want to remain in the space.  If there is art, a light fixture, or furniture your grandfather made, this is the time to tell us about it and show us everything you want to keep for the new space. The last thing we want is to get to the last part of the design process and then have you remember your grandfather’s oversized, hand-carved, table that’s been in storage for years and then also to come to the realization that we have designed a space that no longer fits that heirloom piece.  We will create an inventory of everything to be included in the new space and take measurements so that we keep these pieces in mind as designing begins.

Project Scope Defined

At this time, we will confirm the scope of the project with you.  The scope is particularly important to set correct expectations.  Scope refers not only to the physical space (for example, the importance of making it clear that a kitchen remodel in an open floor plan will not spill into the adjacent dining and living rooms), but scope also refers to the performance aspects of the project and who does what.  Some clients want white glove service – to meet with us a few times and let us do all the work, bring samples to your home for selection, etc.  Other clients, may prefer to go shopping with us, or they may wish to handle the procurement of certain items on their own because they “know a guy” or have been working with a certain artisan for years.  It is imperative that we understand at this time how much of the project you want us to do.  This way, we can meet your expectations without confusion.

Project Team Defined

During the last part of the interview, we will discuss the project team and the allocation of team responsibilities.  During the original consultation meeting or call, we will have already discussed your project team – if you have an architect, an engineer, and who you have in mind for the labor and installation.  If you have already come to a decision about your assembled team, then we will also discuss where Interior Alchemy’s responsibility begins and ends.  For example, architects who are used to working with ‘interior decorators’ may not understand the full range of interior architectural services and plan-drafting that we, at Interior Alchemy, can deliver.

There is some overlap in architecture and interior design services.  It is important to determine who will be responsible for this important body of work such as floor plans, elevations, flooring selections, etc. The diagram below illustrates the potential overlap of design services we offer.

Field Measurements of Existing Space

Regardless of whether or not you have digital floor plans, we will take our own field measurements of the existing physical space. We will measure the space to be designed, take account of the existing structures, barriers, openings, and general conditions that exist.  We will not only measure every wall, window, door, and ceiling height, but we will also note locations of existing electrical outlets and switches, plumbing fixtures, appliances, door/window casings and trim, and anything else that intervenes on the space. Depending on how large your project is, measuring could take less than 15 minutes for a small room with few windows or doors, or more than 2 hours if we are measuring an entire home.  It is important that we begin with measurements which we know that we can trust.  The ability to install a project after weeks, or sometimes months, of design work will depend on accurate measurements taken on this day.

photo credit: TWP Inc. | Decorative Mesh, Wire Mesh, and More! Measuring Cabinets via photopin (license)

Once we have collected all the information which will have an impact on the design during the DISCOVER phase, we will move onto the DEFINE phase where we will synthesize the information, define the problems and begin formulating the design concepts and solutions.


Percentage of Designer’s Total Project Work

The Discover phase typically comprises approximately 2% of the designer’s total project work and, at the completion of this phase, the designer’s role in the project will be approximately 2% complete.


Percentage of Design Work Completed