By: MICHELE GRAHAM
Photography by: CHICHI UBIÑA
The relationship between interior designer and client is one of the most intimate and most creative. For the client, it’s seeing a space transformed, a vision realized, a home come to life. For the interior designer, it’s probing deep inside a client’s thoughts and lifestyle and walking the tightrope of introducing new ideas. For Denise Balassi, founder and president of Interior Consultants, the ideas can be far field, but it’s this ultra-imaginative approach that has won her so many fans.
Take a recent project. Denise was faced a 1902 house that was, at one time, the home of design icon Lily Pulitzer. “It was a disaster, but we turned it into a jewel box,” says Denise. The secret to her magic? “People need to be ready to receive ideas. Nine out of 10 times clients are willing to listen. I give them time to think and explore.”
For Denise, a successful relationship isn’t just about the creative juices, it’s about effective communication. What she clearly envisions, clients often can’t imagine or even deem possible. “I present ideas—verbally, with sketches, I come fully prepared. Some people have trouble visualizing. The power of a drawing is vast, but things need to be explained. I encourage an open dialogue.”
Denise isn’t alone in the process. She is supported by a well-oiled machine: Chris, her senior assistant designer; Jenna her assistant designer and CAD specialist; and Judy, her office manager, head of customer service and lead troubleshooter with vendors. “Issues arise now and then. We always [emphasis on always], immediately follow-up with a phone call for a clear understanding of the issue.”
Cultivating professionalism-to-the-max didn’t happen overnight. Denise has been in the design industry for decades. Her career started with two commercial design firms befor she had her “a-ha” moment: she found it much more exciting to work one-on-one with residential clients. Today, her clients are in Greenwich, Florida, Westchester, and Manhattan—up and down the East Coast. Whether a primary residence, a vacation home, or a rental property, Denise looks to surprise and delight. That Palm Beach disaster turned jewel box is now producing significant rental income for its owner.
Denise’s clients enjoy being with her so much, as she’s invited on international sourcing trips. There was the excursion to Bombay with the diamond merchant from India for luscious silk fabrics and rugs; the trip to northeast Italy for furniture, lighting fixtures, and fabrics. In addition, Denise is constantly looking for new sources. Catering to a high-end clientele, she is always on her toes…figuratively and literally.
And on her phone. Even in this age of omnipresent digital communications, Denise’s priority is calls and face-to-face meetings. It avoids the potential misunderstanding that can come with a text or email. It’s this personal touch that extends beyond the design that has helped morph many client relationships into long-term friendships. Contrary to the image of the difficult-to-work-with designer, Denise says she “keeps it real. We make people feel comfortable and open to sharing.”