This week we had a fascinating conversation with Grant Pierrus about all things interior design. Grant started a very successful blog back in 2015 and is now running a boutique marketing agency, specialising in marketing for interior designers.
We talk about how design is both a passion and a lifestyle for him and what good design actually is. He gives us tips on how to partner with the right interior designer, what to look for and what to be aware of in an industry that is not as regulated as others.
Grant runs us through his tips for building a global brand and what he loves the most about his job, including his experience of going through vintage markets and auction houses with clients, many of whom have been with him for many years and are now firm friends.
Design was once considered a purely decorative function and he talks to us about how this has changed over the last few years to incorporate more wellness and functionality of a space, rather than just the soft furnishings.
As always we love to hear your comments and thoughts. Have you noticed the changing trends in design or experienced them yourself? Share with us either on our social media channels or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Interviewer - Farnaz Fazaipour | Property Investment & Ownership
London Property, home of super prime, where you can find informative educational and entertaining content, covering all aspects of property.
Hello, and welcome to London property, the home of super prime. I'm your host Farnaz Fazaipour. And today we're in conversation with Grant Pierrus, who is the founder of a boutique digital agency that specialises in strategic marketing solutions to interior designers, architects and design brands in the luxury design sector. So all about design, welcome to the show.
Thank you, and really great to be here.
So Grant, can you first of all, tell us about how your journey and design began? Let's start with your education how you got to London?
Sure, well, so I got to London in 2009, in the middle of the financial crash, and actually landed up with a great job in the city, heading up a marketing department for an accountancy firm. And our clients were architects, designers, art galleries, but major names, you know, names that everyday people would know. So it was very interesting, I got to go into studios and meet all these interesting creative people. And I've always been interested in property and design myself all the way back. And in Cape Town, I used to buy and sell properties with my ex partner and you know, we used to do quite a lot of that. So I was very interested in my role, getting to know clients, getting to understand clients. But I got to a point where I was just like, this is not for me, I know that, you know, being in a sort of on the creative side of the business, in a finance company, I'm going to hit the ceiling. So I went off to Central Saint Martins and studied interior design, and decided I was going to change my career. I moved into the design sector, and I founded a blog called Interior Style Hunter. And I was quite quiet about this blog at the start. But all of a sudden, the blog just literally exploded. The readership just grew and grew. And I was getting phone calls from design fairs around the world in Paris, Milan, Dubai, Shanghai, New York, London as well to say, come and talk to us about what you're doing. How are you building this profile for yourself? What is this profile? What are you doing? So I started travelling around the world to talk to people about digital marketing and design and how the two could come together seamlessly. And one evening with Rachel Laxer, who I think you've interviewed before, I was at a party at her house, and I met her. And she said to me, I love what you're doing, come and see me in the week. So I went later in the week to see her and she said exactly what you're doing for yourself, building that profile on a global stage. Can you do that for me? And it was like, tick. Yeah, that's it, design and marketing, my skills together come together and form this agency. And that's how it all began.
So fascinating. So what what was the so what was the sort of blog focusing on what were you?
I was writing about luxury design, and I was writing about product project reviews, and I was talking about styling and talking about interior design, I'd studied this at Central Saint Martins. So I really wanted to just share with people what I understood about design, what my thinking, my own thoughts about design, which are quite, quite precise. And you know, I talk to clients about design all day long. It's not just about pushing their companies actually about this is what I think about this or that or whatever. So I was writing about my own thinking around design.
So you literally live, breathe, walk, see everything design all the time, and it happens to be your job. So Grant with all the experience that you've accumulated, can you tell us what you think is good design?
It's very interesting question, and extremely subjective. And I think you've got to understand the relationship between the person who is looking at the piece of design or using that piece of design. And that's what that's what determines whether it's good design or not. Does this work for me? Does this work for you? Does this work for another person who that was intended for? For me, it's quite particular and quite nerdy. Because I really understand design, I'm passionate about design, I push the boundaries of design. But for somebody who's really not interested in design, something functional could do exactly the same for them. So it's extremely subjective. I think, design is intrinsic to who I am. And that's basically it's designed first with design lead first, and we think about design we talk about design, we share design. I'm in the markets with my clients. Just yesterday I was in a vintage market, knee deep and stools finding a great one for a project with a club Client, I've been in attics with with clients in the south of France, digging up antiques. You know, I've been in auction houses with clients looking for design. And I've taken on that role myself and I go and find interesting design all around the world, I share that mostly through my Instagram and share things that I'm seeing that I'm finding things that I'm learning about design as well. So I'm really passionate about design myself.
So I love passionate businesses, where entrepreneurs have kind of gone from one thing to another, and it's kind of evolved naturally. And now you're at a place where a private client can come to you and say, okay, Grant helped me, I want to redo my house. So how does that journey start?
We've now come to a point where private clients call us to figure out who to work with, how do they tackle this design project. And generally, that starts with it with a conversation, really understanding the nature of their property, what they're intending to do, we don't really look at budgets and style. At that point, we really just want to understand the mechanics of the project, and really understand personality, timelines, etc. From there, we evolved our conversation into looking at style, what kind of designers out there do you resonate with. And with that knowledge, we sort of put together a bit of a shortlist for them, and say, This is who we think you need to speak with. And this is why this has this, this designer can do this, this is this this is this, it's very clear as to why we think who the right match would be. It's playing matchmaker, really. And if they agree with that, we then contact those designers and ask them whether they have the capacity, able to and willing to, to put in a proposal or pitch for the business.
Okay, and then after that's happened, then the designers will go and look at the project, and then they'll send in their pitch. And then what happens there with your role.
When we ask the designers to pitch, they come back to us with you know, three or four different proposals, depending on how many firms we've gone out to, we sit with the private client and work through each of those proposals, the fee structures might be different, the project plans might be a bit different on each of those. So we work with each proposal, figuring out which is best going to fit with our private clients goal and approach to their project that they that they want to take. It's at that point that we broke a relationship with the with the designer, and that's the start of a journey. We're involved. It's part of that process. I'm just interested naturally. But also, through the designer, we get updates through the client, we get updates. And so we monitor and watch this project happening over time.
So you're, you're here, because design is very much your passion it's been is it's a part of who you are. And, you know, whereas historically, maybe designing things was it was it was a luxury for people. Now, design is just an important integrated part of all of our lives, our expectations at home, our expectations in the office, how things look that we use. So how have you seen that develop in your world and amongst your clients and amongst the requests that they get from their clients?
Well, we've seen an enormous shift in the last five years towards integrating wellbeing and design together in projects. A lot of our clients have been doing this for way longer than that. So they've got enormous experience in doing this. And it's in thinking about the little details about how people experience space. So thinking about the volume, do we feel really comfortable in huge volume of spaces? where actually we need to be, you know, relaxing and feel comfortable? Do we need to be more cocooned? Do they need to lower the ceiling? You know the types of materials that are around you? Are they natural materials that your body will recognise and respond to as opposed to being sharp edged, you know, tables where your body immediately feels a little bit more hesitant around that. And what designers do, what great designers do today is think very carefully about the experience of their client in their home. How does design support them? How does design enable a particular lifestyle, whether that be you know, aimed at being a happy family home, whether it'd be a glamorous pad in the city to entertain, whether it'd be a country house for an extended family? How do we enable that property to actually fulfil and deliver deliver that lifestyle. And when you've net when you've actually achieved that goal, it's then looking at those details, which materials? What are the spaces need to be? How did the spaces flow? Who is using what space? At what time of the day? How do they respond to what is there before you even look at sofas, chairs, rugs, carpets, it's actually getting the space, right, getting the flow in the property, right. And I think there's a huge difference between working with an interior designer and working with an interior decorator, for example, you know, if you really want to carve up the space in the house, you need a designer who has done, you know, an interior architecture degree, for example, that is actually able to move walls to shape shift to create extensions, for example, whereas interior decorators incredible what they do, they come in after all of that done, and finish off the space. So I once heard someone say, you know, in America, they have the terms defined quite clearly within the UK, it's, it's very much blurred, and I'm not quite sure why it is. Because I think both have valid points. And basically, an American once said, to me, an interior decorator deals with everything that falls off, when you flip the house upside down. The interior designer deals with everything that stays, which I thought was a great description. So the
so the interior architect would be the one who will decide where you're going to sleep now you're going to want to switch right here. And you know, if you're in the bathroom, and there's your sink, you know, which way do you want to step to get your shower or whatever. So those are the different things and then I guess on top of that, you've got people who are designing the lights. And you know, what are the components go into a project from ground up?
Well, I mean, got, you know, you've got firstly, space planning, so what is happening where on the property, then you've got to look at things like flooring, you've got to look at wall coverings, you know, structures of walls, you've got to look at lighting, and you've just touched on lighting, lighting is absolutely crucial. And it's often lighting consultancies that are that are brought in because it's such a highly specialised skill, to get the lighting, right to understand the lifestyle of clients. What do you want the lighting to be, for example, you know, Sunday lunch, as opposed to a Thursday night or Friday night cocktail party, you know, the lighting moods are very different. So you need people who really understand the type of client that is purchasing these properties. And this is this is why an interior designer is often also the centre point for a lot of specialists, consultancies to come together. And their role is to drive that vision forward and deliver it.
So you start with the interior designer, on a project, and then go backwards from there.
Exactly. So we'd always say, it's when you're appointing your architect, that is when you need to start working with your interior designer as well. Because the design is going to have some really good insights into, you know, the height of the Windows based on how you like your sofas, for example, your window could be just too high, just too low, and actually not look very good behind your sofa, for example. So it's little details like that, that the interior designer and architect will work together on really, really well.
So we know how your passion got you here and that wonderful newsletter that raised the awareness. But importantly, you know, this amount of involvement that you have, the way that you're driven to follow trends to seek new new things, enables you to strategically market rather than just promoting your clients on an individual basis, you're actually pulling your sleeves up and getting really involved. So can you talk to us about how that strategic marketing defines you as as a unique selling point for your company?
Sure. I mean, so when we think of strategic marketing appears agency, we have an intrinsic understanding of design. And that's what I've just tried to communicate through all those answers. And I think that gives so much confidence to people who are working with us that we know this industry, so well. I mean, today, you know, just today, for example, we're in the heart of the design centre, they've freely just handed out whatever room you would like to be filmed in. It's yours. I have a very big profile in the sector. I know a lot of people and I can problem solve things very quickly for people. And I think it's that attention to detail that passion for design, the knowledge around the sector is crucial. And that often gets us conversations with potential new clients from that. It's then sitting down with each firm and saying, right, what is it you need to achieve? How many projects per year What size team do you need? Where are these projects? What types of projects are these? What kind of designer Do you want to be known as is this low value multiple projects are working on two projects a year, you know, and, and that's, that's all we need to do. But they're very high value projects. So it's, it's figuring out what kind of profile they want to build, what sort of visibility, they want to build, thinking about their clients very carefully, as well. Because some private clients don't want to work with an interior designer, that is too visible, it feels a bit risky for them, sometimes other people want the celebrity designer, you know, so it depends on who each firm is. So we then work with each company, and build strategic plans that we implement, over a good few years, I mean, our average client has been with us for five or six years, that don't leave, which is great, you know, it's really great. And it means that we're doing something, right. But we also take a long term view with them. And we understand where we need to move them to, and we get to work.
And it's an it's this involvement with your client, and this kind of deep understanding of what they're doing and where they're heading, that actually enables you, as as as a byproduct, to help people identify which professionals to use for a project. So how did how did that come about just in conversations in, in social events? Or is that kind of naturally evolved?
Exactly that private clients started contacting me on Instagram, and introductions through other clients and saying, you know, we have somebody who's looking to do an embassy in central London, you know, who do we need to work with on this project, this is the style we're looking for. This is what we need to achieve, where it's going to be the best fit for this. And so we've worked with private clients placing hospitality projects, residential private projects and some commercial projects over the last few years. And the value that I saw, that I offered private clients through that process was very interesting. Because what we learned from that was, a private client would go out to five or six firms, and say, This is what we want to achieve, they'd land up with five or six pitches back on their table, and each one is completely different. Completely different. There is no standardisation, the fees range, you know, all over the place. There's percentages, commissions, what does that mean? What, how does this work, there's just no way to sort of gauge and measure across different design firms. The other risk that we know that is an issue in the design world is anybody can call themselves an interior designer. It's not a protective term. So just this afternoon, three of us could go and set up a design firm, and go out there and pitch tomorrow. And that presents an enormous challenge to private clients who don't understand this. So we realised that in this process of matching people up, it was important to say, they've been in business for more than 10 years. If they haven't been in business for more than 10 years, we're not recommending you, they have strategically thought about their financial systems, that 2 million pounds that you're sending over to the design firm for them to go and make purchases for you. Is that sitting in a trust account? Or is that sitting in someone's personal bank account? Do you know, your contracts? Are they're actually legally valid contracts, you know, is the design firm insured for the work that they're taking? So there's all these interesting points that a lot of people just don't think about, because it's a really creative process. But there's a lot of money on the line here. And we realised then that actually, you know, when we started speaking to private clients, we said, right, we need to think about this, this, this and this. And then we want to understand your project, we want to understand your personalities, we want to understand what it is that you need to achieve in your property. And then we go out to the market, and we say, right, we believe these three firms, they might sell it, it might not be our clients, it's the right match for for whatever the private client is, you know, these three firms are able to help you. And we'll invite those three firms to pitch with our project. And then we work with the private client to work through that and figure out which is the best match for them. So we hold their hand through the process.
That's fantastic. I can I can just see flash forward, that you could actually get these interior designers to pitch back in a standard format. So comparing like for like or become easier exactly the client.
The issue is, design firms do work. differently. So we this is where we add value by interpreting those, those proposals back to the private client and say, right, we know that this firm works in such in such a way, the pricing is slightly different, they will have a fee only price, for example, whereas designer B might have a design fee and a percentage on the spend. So there's a difference, and some firms just choose to work one way or the other. There's no right or wrong way. It's not, it's not specified in law, how they need to charge either. So clients need to think about this.
And in your experience, talking about these fees, in your experience, what do you find that most customers consider a fair way of dealing with interior design and the way that charging is done? And it's a difficult question to answer, because you've got clients who do it all sorts of ways. But I mean, it's helpful even for the clients that you have, we do in different ways, in your experience, from where you sitting, which method do you find are the ones that have uptake more frequently than other methods,
I think the fairest way for this relationship to work between designers and private clients is led by responsibility. So where you are asking the designer to take responsibility, they should be entitled to charge you. And so for example, that means that at the start of a project, we could start off with a design fee. And the client will then design up your home, create all the list sets needed of all the products that are needed, putting in all the specialists that are needed. And then from there, we need to look at how do we implement this? Okay, so you actually need a project management fee, because the designer needs to be on site every week, with the builders, looking at it, ordering things, managing things, problem solving with all the contractors, so that then becomes a project management fee. In addition to the design fee, again, they're being paid for a different responsibility now. And then you've got the actual acquisition, the purchasing. So the design is out there purchasing the sofa, specifying the fabrics, checking that it's all correct, putting everything into a warehouse somewhere, collating 1000s of items together, if you think about it in a home, putting them all together somewhere nice and neat, checking everything, sending it back, dealing with returns, and that you pay a commission on that, again, you're paying for the responsibility of them taking responsibility for the items. So that is the fairest way that we think it should, it should work. There are often challenges around the project management fee. But, you know, generally that is how it works in the sector, percentage commission, project management fee, and a design fee at the start,
Right. And also the commissions that you take on the items, generally, they balanced them themselves out for the client, psychologically, because the designers are getting a trade discount. So you're kind of, you know, on equal footing if you're shopping alone or a little bit better.
Exactly, exactly. And, you know, again, working with more established designers who have been in the trade for 10 years or more, you know, they're going to have the best discounts already. They already have relationships, established relationships with their suppliers. So over the last couple of years, with all the supply chain issues, the design firms who've had very established relationships with their suppliers have managed to problem solve much faster than some of the younger new designers that are that are in the business, which has meant their clients have experienced more issues. So you've also got to look at what is the USP of that design firm. And it often is relationships with their makers, with their clients. You know, a lot of people at the moment are shifting production and making back to the UK, so they have more control. So it's thinking about all these little details that are not just about price and style.
So it's really important, you know, in all aspects, to make sure that you take advice from good people who know what they're doing. And listen to that advice. Because if you don't, the delays that are caused and the mistakes that happen, actually end up costing you more time, more stress and more money in any event.
Exactly. And if you are, you know, a developer developing a project, time is money. You want things done really fast. You need to be working with someone who understands those timescales. We have a client who works with the big house builders, all across the UK, just 200 projects a year. She has warehouses full of furniture, and she's bringing in furniture every week into those warehouses. So her design There's shopping from the warehouses. And that means that she can go from pitch to instal in four weeks. That's unheard of where most lead times for bespoke sofas are 12 weeks 12 to 18 weeks perhaps. So you've got to find the right match for you, you know, if you are working on a home, and you're looking for a certain level of design, and you're thinking about, you know, who's going to actually create this beautiful home for me or my family, or, you know, whoever it might be, you need to think about the personality of the person that you're going to be working with, they're going to be in your space for two to three years, you know, can I work with this person? Do they understand my family? Have they actually given my children some attention? Are they thinking about my children, because they need to design my children's rooms, too, you know, so it's thinking about personality, how they integrated into the family to on more personal projects. So personality is a key key element of matching with the designer,
Very much, very much as you say, you, you've got to be dealing with them. And, and also, when you're interior designing for personal use, it's a lot more emotional, than when you know, you're going and doing things for a house builder, who just says this is the budget, this is the delivery date, and this is what needs to happen. And then that's it their hands off? Yes. So sounds to me, like you've created yourself a very unique spot in the world. So you do travel around a lot. And you do keep us all very up to date with some beautiful things that you see around the world. So what is what what is the kind of little additional thing that's going on there with with the actual products versus the agencies and the and the clients?
So it's very interesting that you say that we see beautiful things all over the world. And one of my sort of key passions is really understanding design and understanding the integrity of a piece. What is the material? What is the skill behind this design? Who is the maker? Why have they designed this? It, it's almost like art in a way it gives that piece of value gives that piece, something really interesting. It's not just something from the manufacturer somewhere. And we are thinking about a very interesting concept to bring what to launch in the UK, around sourcing special pieces, or commissioning special pieces with makers were often directing designers to look at this maker look. Yeah, look there. Look there. And there is a there is some there is some interest in in us doing that a little bit more commercially. So we're moving that way.
Yes, I think I think I think it's an important piece of the puzzle. Because, you know, as you say, you're looking at so many different angles at this design. So before we say thank you and goodbye to you. Can you tell us so we've talked about interior designers, interior architects, being people that you represent what what other types of companies would benefit from your services or are benefiting from your services.
So essentially, businesses in the luxury design sector, who, who rarely champion their clients, who are really thinking carefully about the experience that they're giving their clients, we work with some suppliers to the trade. We're very careful about who we work with, what's the very private about who we work with, we don't go splashing our clients names all over the place gives us a strategic advantage and gives them a strategic advantage as well. And so our portfolio is made up of designers, architects, interior architects, and a few suppliers to the trade.
Fantastic. Well, we hope to talk to you again and you keep us informed on all of the great finds that you come across as you go on your travels. Thank you very much for speaking to us today.
It's a pleasure. And thank you so much. It's been lovely to see you again.
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