Inside the Margarita Bravo Mindset
I was recently interviewed by Devon Tilly, host of The Art of Construction podcast, about my interior design studio’s approach, operations, and process. For those of you who aren’t podcast listeners, I thought it would be helpful to share much of the conversation with you here.
Tell us your story. How did you become an interior designer?
It started when I moved to Denver with my husband and began designing our home. My engineering background came in handy as I sketched out our floor plans on a napkin! As I observed the day-to-day construction activities, contractors, and team interaction, I was inspired to switch careers. Earlier in my career I worked as a third party for Wall Street companies that monitor mortgage-backed securities, so I observed many houses and developed a keen eye for design. I finally launched my interior design business in 2015.
Margarita, can you give our listeners a general overview of your design process?
Our studio’s motto is to keep the end user – the homeowner – in mind. Every decision we take must consider their desires and needs. The first step is to assemble the right team that aligns with the vision – the contractor, architect, structural engineer, landscape artist, and anyone else who may be needed on the site. The quicker a team is assembled and ready to start, the better the outcome will be. We figure out budgets and timelines, and we discuss critical aspects of functionality with the client. We note all the plans and proposed changes on paper. Once we start the work, we see it through to the end, keeping our focus on the design vision.
How do the dual experiences of engineering and interior design complement each other in your services through Margarita Bravo?
I can’t separate one from the other. I’ve been lucky to have trained in engineering, so my brain considers that perspective when I’m designing homes. I am constantly thinking about how to build, how much it would cost, and whether it is practical. I try to imagine how the design can be both beautiful and functional and how to engineer it effectively. It’s a balance between the tactical and the creative, which helps me consider all the variables from the get-go and stay within budget.
On your website, you mention you offer “full-service design and build.” It seems like a lot to unpack. Can you explain?
What makes our studio unique is that we take the lead in assembling the entire team. This way, our clients only have to deal with one entity – us. We are always looking out for our client’s best interests, and we want everyone we bring to the team to have the same vision.
The design and renovation process happens in two phases:
1. Design phase: This is where we assemble the team and ensure we are a good fit for each other and the client.
2. Execution phase: This involves project management, sourcing, setting timelines, engineering, fabrication, preparing construction documents, drawing elevations, material selection, and ordering. Then we do the installation, window treatments, and finally, the core of the project – furnishings and art curation.
Once you start a project with us, we are with you from the beginning until the end.
How do you choose contractors and architects? What’s your mindset about that?
Since 2015, we have worked with so many different tradespeople and vendors. Some still work with us, some we’ve outgrown, and others we’ve let go because we were unsatisfied with their services. We constantly strive to find reliable contractors who align exactly with our process, pay attention to detail, and provide high-quality service. We also maintain a portfolio of vendors who offer services at various price points. This way, we can quickly assemble the perfect teams to suit all budgets.
What strategies do you employ to determine and stick to a budget?
Some clients are forthright about their budget, and some are unable to come up with one. This is where education comes in. First, we request a wish list and determine the budget accordingly. We also show some alternate designs and gauge if the client is comfortable with spending. Once we have a ballpark number the client agrees with, we establish the floor plan and provide another rough estimate based on their choices. Usually, we start with a generous number, and if it’s above their budget, we try to cut the scope and manage needs. We don’t go into material selection until the budget is approved.
How has COVID-19 affected the way you design or manage projects?
Lead times have become a big part of the decisions we make. When selecting materials, we ask vendors not to show us anything that will take more than 10-12 weeks to receive, as it will affect our project timeline. As a rule, we don’t give our clients a start date until we are sure of getting all the materials on time. We start the project only when we are confident we have everything lined up. At that point, we encourage clients to start the project immediately because items might be out of stock or become more expensive if we delay. We want to be in and out as quickly as possible. The more we can anticipate, the better the outcome of the project.
What is your mindset about contractors working with designers?
Contractors should work with designers who are a good fit for themselves and the client. We see more and more contractors realizing the benefits of having an interior designer on the team. When a contractor approaches my design studio, I always ask, “How do you want me to work with you so that we can complete the project on time?” I make sure our processes are aligned so we work together as a team in the client’s best interests.
What advice do you have for contractors who want to grow their business?
If you love your job and are passionate about what you do, it won’t seem like work. You’ll have lots of fun and that, in turn, will help you grow your company. As a designer, I don’t think just about the numbers. I think about serving my clients and making them happy, which is such a rewarding experience. Everything else falls into place!