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I'm the Interior Designer behind Janelle Steinberg Interior Design. I'm also a wife, mother, social tennis player, candle connoisseur and an avid list maker. I like wine, pearls, rainy days, museums and houses. I craft and bake on the weekends in my college sweatshirt and yoga pants. During the week I balance my toddler's playdates, my businesses and working with my clients throughout the country, (not in said sweatshirt or yoga pants).

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Maison Classique
Maison Classique

Behind the Scenes: Project Binders for DIYers

· February 9, 2010

This post is a hybrid of Do It Yourself and Behind the Scenes topics. Anyone who is a DIY fan and/or interested in the inner-workings of interior designers.....this post is for you!

I just had a lovely conversation with a reader from New Jersey (psst...she contacted me because she loved this post). She, like so many others, she is at standstill with their house (she has a Mr. Wonderful of her own, as well as two wee ones). She knows what they like, she likes to and is able to do it just hasn't come together yet.

Often times, like this dear reader, homeowners inherit architectural elements that need to be changed to suit their tastes before they can move on to implement their ideal home, make purchases and "bring it all together" (think perfect cabinets in a less than desirable stain, a sturdy staircase in the wrong style, or counter tops in an undesirable material or color). When this happens, the project quickly becomes more involved- it shifts from a decorating project to a full on design project that requires gaining bids, hiring contractors,  sequencing, and making tough decisions about durability, style and the credibility of those to be hired. We chatted for a bit and I told her my best advice: Break it Down and Keep it Organized.

What do I mean by "break it down"? I mean- make a plan (as best you can....if you get stuck- you can always call a pro!). Measure your rooms, take inventory of what you wish to keep, measure items you wish to keep and start listing out everything you need to complete your project. Break it down to the bare elements. You will go nowhere, and probably waste a lot of money and time, if you don't know where you are going and what you need. You need a plan.

That's how we designers do it- we plan. We don't go around and spend frivolously. We have A LOT of things to keep organized, we have A LOT of things to buy for our clients and we have A LOT of responsibility to our clients. Not to mention, we need to be really efficient because clients pay a premium for our time and talent. Do like we do- break it down and make a plan. A good plan is like a road map- you will know what needs to get done and you will finish your project once you know what it takes to get from Point A (existing condition) to Point B (completed house).

Now comes the "keep it organized" part. This is not an option. It must be done. Once you set yourself up, keeping your project organized is a cinch. You need to make a binder. This topic has come up twice in my life the last three days (once with my dear New Jersey reader, once with a fellow ASID member)- its a sign that I should shed the light for everyone reading. This is what interior designers actually do to organize their projects (you are getting a sneak peek into actual practice here!). And, if you are doing your own project- you will need to keep a binder, as well.

What is "A Binder"? Simply put- its a folder with all your project info. Want to drive a designer mad? Take away one of their client binders and watch them get ready to throw themselves off a cliff. That's how essential "the binder" is to each and every project. We really can't do anything without it. Its used as a reference and "home base" for every project. If binders were to get lost, stolen, burned in a fire or ruined in any other natural disaster- a designer would be screwed. Binders are also referenced after the project has been "dead filed"- they are important for the present and the future. (See my shelf to the right: large projects get the big binders, smaller projects or new porject starts get small ones, and current consulting projects get manilla folders,  which are placed in the mag file)

I specialize in larger projects- whole houses or at least 3+ rooms, so I usually start my projects in a 2" black binder. It usually moves up to a 3" binder by projects mid-point. Its just a simple, durable black binder. I label the outside spine with the "Sidemark", (our shorthand is "S/M"). A sidemark is the project name and is referenced on all project documents, PO's, computer files, etc. I looks like this: "S/M Smith". If you are keeping your own binder, there is no need for a S/M, but I would label it "Smith Residence" for easy shelf reference.

What's inside? I use pocketed divider tabs. Each tab is then labeled (each room gets a
section, as well as "estimates", "correspondence", etc). A designer's label tabs will differ from a do-it-yourselfers tabs. Just use common sense. Think of what you need to keep organized and give a divider section to each area you are working on (Living Room, Kitchen, Basement, etc.). You can add tabs as you need them. The key is to have one tab for each room, and a tab for quotes and estimates.

Keeping it organized: Once you have the system in place, you have to use it. Measure your spaces, take your inventory, take photos of items you are keeping- gather the essential information for each room. File each item in its appropriate divider section. File as you get or create information- don't let it pile up or float around. Just maintain the system and everything will be at your fingertips when you need it. Also, keeping everything together allows you to grab n' go, too. Take your binder on shopping trips and have it present at meetings. Reference and use the information.

When you get further in your project and you start to gather small odd and ends such as tiles (if you have a large tile or piece or stone, break the tile a
nd keep a small piece or ask your fabricator/installer to make you a small stone sample), paint swatches, fabric swatches, etc.- place them in a durable bag. I keep one binder and one bag for each project. These items come with me to site meetings, design centers, shopping trips, and they sit near my desk for reference at all times.

If you are doing your own project, and you follow these guidelines- you will get a lot more accomplished, you will use your time wisely and efficiently and you'll complete your project faster. You will also make less purchasing mistakes because you can reference concrete information, rather than trying to guess or estimate or go off of memory. You will have that wall measurement for a piece of art you are interested in, you will have your sofa upholstery fabric swatch to reference when shopping for throw pillows, you will have your paint and tile samples to reference when selecting your counter tops, etc.

For all of you brave homeowners who are design savvy &  have the time, energy, and resources to attempt a design project on your own- good luck to you! I hope this helps!

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