There's an interior design firm that has developed a near-infallibleresearch technique for finding out what people really like.
Admittedly, the procedure is an ancient one, a low-tech way of doing business generally overlooked by most people in this computer-driven information age of ours, but it can be surprisingly effective.
The technique, known as talking to people, is one that the proprietors of the Annapolis-based Bishopsgate R & R, Richard Garis and RicAltemus, an interior design and antique retail firm, say works very well for them.
"In our basic design work," Garis explained, "we really strive to meet the budget requirements of our clients, and we like to listen to them. We usually spend a lot of time with them, discussing their entertainment needs, their general lifestyles, and when they're at home by themselves, whether a particular room needs to be multi-purpose, or how they perceive their house being used."
He added that "a lot of time is spent on that before we make decisions, so people generally find, after talking about this at length, that all of a sudden they start realizing what they really want. We don't just present something to them because we think it looks good."
Garis said the company is organized into two divisions.
"Bishopsgate is actually the name of our retail location (Maryland Avenue in Annapolis), which features decorative accessories for the home, a lot things that are unusual and one-of-a-kind, antiques, new pieces, reproductions. Some of our prints are kind of unique to us, so we do a lot of ourown custom framing."
The other branch of the firm, the "R & R," is taken from the first initials of both partners.
"It's the main interior design service," Garis said. "We basically deal in traditional interiors. We also do contemporary, although we find that most of our clients gravitate toward a more eclectic, traditional look, whether it would be a traditional English country manor house look, or American Victorian -- but a little bit more sophisticated than the true country look."
Garis, a former professional painter, said that the firm is known among its clients for their use of vivid and clear colors. He added that his previous experience has been of great use to his present profession, especially in developing the right concept for each client.
"We very rarely work in pale pastel and white, but wefind that a lot of our clients coming to us generally have lived with white and off-white walls for many years, because they don't understand color and how to approach it."
So the partners have developedan approach that is tailored to the specific needs, interests or even the feelings of their clients.
"We help them through their shyness of the use of color," Garis said, "basically by sitting down and talking. We guide them to come up with a scheme that they basically can live with. And a lot of clients have come back and said, 'Now that I've gone that step, I don't think I could ever live with a white-walled room again.' We pride ourselves on that."
A good example of their use of color is their headquarters, located at the top of Maryland Avenue, just off State Circle. A small store, it is full of harmoniously blended objects, paintings and wall hangings that fill the limited space beautifully, but without overwhelming the eye.
"We try to create an air in here that is sophisticated, but not to the point where it is intimidating to people, in terms of price or personal taste level," said Garis.
"Even when you get into what a lot of peoplecall 'organized clutter,' if it's done properly, with balance and scale, the overall appearance can be extremely pleasing. One of the things that people say when coming into the shop is 'God, there's so much to look at!' "
But, says Garis, "they spend time in here. And ifyou look around the corner, there's always a little something tuckedaway here and there. People like that. It's our mix of the antique, the unusual, the one-of-the-kind, even hand-made pieces by local artisans."
No job is too small for Bishopsgate, Garis emphasized, "whether it be just redoing a bathroom, to maybe just custom draperies, or someone wants us to do some re-upholstering."
However, this is not to say the partners are a pair of "hired guns." They will decline a commission within one or two meetings if they can't find a common ground with the potential client.
"We would do an injustice to the client if we tried to go ahead when we knew we were not connecting. When a client comes to us," Garis explained, "and they say they want acertain particular direction, we have a lot of designers that are acquaintances of ours that are more suited for that particular type thing."
"There has to be a good relationship with the client," Garis explained. "They really have to be able to not be afraid to say, 'I hate this,' or, 'I love this,' because that's when mistakes can happen. It's got to be a real good, up-front relationship between the client and the designer. We look upon it as their home, not our home. It has to reflect their personal tastes and their lifestyles, not ours. To us, that's very, very critical." b