Title: Navigating Client Dissatisfaction: What to Do When Custom Orders Fall Flat


As interior designers, we pour our hearts and expertise into creating perfect spaces for our clients. But what happens when a custom-ordered piece arrives, and the client’s reaction is less than enthusiastic? This scenario, while rare, can be a significant challenge for even the most seasoned professionals. In this post, we’ll explore how to navigate these tricky waters, drawing insights from experienced designers in the field.

Prevention is Key: Strategies to Avoid Disappointment

Before we dive into damage control, let’s discuss how to minimize the chances of client dissatisfaction in the first place.

Utilize Detailed Renderings

One of the most effective tools in your arsenal is high-quality renderings. As @sparkinteriorscolorado noted: “We are creating a rendering of the room with that product in, as well as an isolated rendering of the piece. We have samples and photos and our rendering and they sign off on it… so all that to say, I’ve never had a client not like the custom item.” Renderings help clients visualize the final product in context, reducing the likelihood of surprises upon delivery.

Implement a Thorough Approval Process

Ensure your clients are fully involved in the custom piece design process from start to finish. Have them sign off on every detail, including:

  • Design renderings
  • Measurements
  • Fabric choices
  • Material samples
  • Finish samples

This approach not only helps clients make informed decisions but also protects you legally if issues arise later.

Set Clear Expectations

Communicate clearly about the nature of custom orders. Explain that custom pieces are typically non-refundable and non-returnable. Include this information in your contract and have clients acknowledge it separately.

When Disappointment Strikes: Handling Client Concerns

Despite your best efforts, there may still be instances where a client is unhappy with a custom piece. Here’s how to handle it:

Listen and Empathize

Start by listening to your client’s concerns without becoming defensive. Acknowledge their feelings and show that you understand their perspective.

Encourage Adaptation Time

Often, clients need time to adjust to a new piece, especially when it’s part of a larger design scheme. Consider asking them to live with the item for a short period before making any drastic decisions.

Contextualize the Piece

Remember that custom items often look different in isolation. As @nifty.nest pointed out: “It happens and 9/10 times its when they see it without ALL of the decor, rugs, art, lighting, etc. surrounding it. Once it’s not alone and stark 90% of the time they end up liking it and seeing the big picture.” If possible, complete the room’s installation before making any final judgments about a particular piece.

Explore Modification Options

If the client’s concerns are specific and fixable, consider offering modifications:

  • For upholstered items, discuss reupholstery options
  • For wood pieces, explore refinishing possibilities
  • For lighting, consider changing shades or bulbs

While you may need to charge for these modifications, offering solutions shows your commitment to client satisfaction.

When All Else Fails: Damage Control

In cases where the client simply cannot accept the piece, consider these options:

Offer to Resell

While you’re not obligated to do so, offering to help resell the item can maintain goodwill. You might even find another client who loves the piece.

Use in Another Project

Consider purchasing the item yourself to use in a future project or in your own space. This can help recoup some of the cost and potentially please another client down the line.

Network with Other Designers

Reach out to your designer network to see if anyone else might be interested in the piece for their projects.

Learning from Experience: Refining Your Process

Use each challenging situation as an opportunity to refine your processes. As @galapogroupdesign wisely suggested: “I always find (even with myself), change is hard and sometimes you need to live with a new item 1-2 weeks to adjust. So I would always ask the client to live with it, then if they still hate it I would do my best to find a solution on what changes may need to be made. It would have to be their expense but I would find a way to help even if I don’t charge for my hours of time to make it better for them.” This approach demonstrates flexibility and a commitment to client satisfaction while still maintaining professional boundaries.

Consider the following steps to improve your process:

  • Review and update your contract language
  • Enhance your visualization tools
  • Improve your client communication strategies

Remember, even the most experienced designers face these challenges occasionally. While it can be stressful, it’s important to maintain professionalism and see these situations as learning experiences.


Handling client disappointment with custom orders is a delicate balance of prevention, problem-solving, and professionalism. By implementing thorough approval processes, setting clear expectations, and having strategies in place for when issues arise, you can navigate these challenges successfully. Remember, your expertise and ability to handle difficult situations with grace are what set you apart as a professional interior designer.

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