Let's assume that you've just scheduled a three-hour design consultation with me. In your case, you aren't looking to hire a designer for a long-term engagement. Instead, you're looking for some “quick” professional assistance to help you develop a plan that you can implement yourself. So, you're approaching this as a “one-time” consultation and hoping to get the most you can out of the experience.

A one-time consult can be a great way to jumpstart your design project, but there is usually a lot to accomplish in this three-hour session. Here's the basic process: I'll come to your place, I'll take a look at your space and the existing furnishings and décor, we'll discuss your goals, and I'll do my best to give you concrete advice on how you can achieve the look that you want within the parameters that you establish. While that may sound like a straightforward process, a lot of things need to happen for it to work well. As in any new relationship, it takes a little time to get to know each other and get “in sync.” Obviously, I have to understand your taste—the style of décor that you like, the “feel” you want to achieve in your home, the colors you prefer, etc. We also need to define your specific design goals and establish the parameters for your project: the scope, the budget, the timeline, and the practical concerns of implementation. Of course, all of those steps are just part of the equation: my ultimate goal is to provide you with useful and specific advice that helps you achieve your design goals once I leave.

The process is exciting, but it can also be challenging. You may not know exactly what you want or it may be hard to articulate what you want. Even if you are great at communicating your needs, there isn't necessarily one “correct” design solution for you—there could be many. Unlike hiring a plumber to fix a leak, solving a design problem is far more subjective. Regardless, there are some strategies that can help make your “one time” consult a success.

So how do you get the most from a one-time design consult?

Remember that the consult is a collaborative process.
One of the best services I can provide you is to help you work through ideas. Your collaboration enhances the process, and helps make it a fun and worthwhile experience. There is going to be some back and forth. I'm going to suggest some things that you like, as well as some things that you may not like. It is important that you both voice your opinion and open yourself up to new ideas. In the end, my goal is to help you achieve what you want, not to impose my own vision on you. I'm not there to provide “the answer,” but rather to work with you to develop solutions that work for you.
Be ready to define your “style” and your style goals.
You can do this by finding a few pictures of rooms you like (in magazines or online), by creating a list of furniture stores that you like, by thinking in advance about colors you might want in your home, by identifying things in your home or apartment that you really love, or by describing a “mood” or specific design style that you want to achieve. If you show a picture, be ready to describe what you like about the picture. Having a clear, concise description of the style you want and a few concrete examples can really speed up the consultation process.d
Be realistic about what we can do in three hours.
While we may not be able to redesign your entire apartment in three hours, what we can do is come up with a good general plan. Depending on your needs, this plan might include prioritizing key purchases and changes, discussing furniture arrangement, selecting possible wall colors, discussing window treatment options, and identifying possible sources for the various purchases you might want to make.
Be as specific as possible with your goals for the consult.
The more focused you are going into a consultation, the more specific the solutions will be that we can develop. For example, you might approach the consult with a specific question such as “what is the best way to arrange my existing living room furniture?” Or, “what are the major purchases I should prioritize for my living room?” It is fine to have more than a single goal for the consult. Just try to identify your key goals in advance. If your goals are broad, such as wanting to make your place to look “finished” or “elegant,” then our conversation is likely to be broad and we'll discuss general ideas. Expect broader advice to come with broader goals.
Set goals that you can implement after the consult is done.
If you are looking to a designer for general advice rather than to carry out and manage your project, then you'll want to come away with a concrete “to do” list that is doable for you. Be realistic about the time that you have and what you can accomplish. For example, if you don't have a lot of time or energy to shop for a piece of furniture you need, then you may want to use the consult as an opportunity to get advice on two or three best sources for finding the particular item.
Define a general budget for your project.
You can do some quick online research of the costs of possible key purchases in advance. This really helps to focus the consult. For example, if you think you may want a new sofa and your budget is approximately $1,000 for this purchase, defining that budget in advance helps to focus our discussion and narrow down the possible sources for the purchase. My goal is to help give you the best solutions for your budget, so it makes sense for our discussion to be specifically targeted to your budget.
Consults with multiple people have some special challenges.
A consultation with one decision maker is usually simpler, but the reality is that there are often two of you sharing the design decisions for your home. If I am meeting with two of you (husband and wife, a couple, etc.), then the more you have defined your goals together in advance of the consult, the more successful we are likely to be. If you have different tastes and different goals, then we may spend some time trying to find a workable common ground. Adjust your expectations accordingly! For couples with different tastes who are trying to define a style together, the consult may serve as an opportunity to define an approach that works for both of you, but this kind of process does takes more time and can limit the scope of what we achieve together.

In the end, remember that a consultation is just one step in a design process—whether you implement the plan yourself or decide to continue working with me. If you decide that you want or need additional design assistance after the consult, we can figure out a design arrangement that fits your needs and budget. Some clients want to arrange for a few more hours of my time to get feedback on some of their ideas as they work on the project themselves, while others decide that they may want my assistance in a larger way throughout the process.