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The Art of Relationship Building in Interior Design | Barclay Butera

Photography courtesy of Nathan Schroder

Barclay Butera shares his insights on the importance of personal connections in the evolving world of technology and interior design.

Barclay Butera, a distinguished name in the world of interior design, has been transforming homes and showrooms into luxurious coastal living spaces for nearly three decades. With his reputation growing, Butera expanded his design firm and showrooms to multiple locations, including Park City and Corona del Mar. Known for his sophisticated yet approachable style and glamorous, chic interiors, Butera has received numerous awards for his work, with his designs appearing in major shelter publications and on TV.

Butera joins Renee Dee on ICONIC Hour to discuss his journey from top designer to lifestyle brand, how the industry has evolved through the years, and his vision for luxury vacation rentals.

Because Butera is getting ready to celebrate 30 years in business, a walk down memory lane is in order. It all began in his teenage years when Butera worked in his mom’s design firm in Palo Alto, California where he got to learn the business from the ground up. With that experience, he continued gaining experience by working with major building companies like KB Homes and Centex but eventually, he came to the realization that he needed to showcase his design skills and start his own firm. And so in 1994, he did just that!

And, it can’t get more nineties than his first big client being the CEO of AOL! Luckily, his relationship with that client was a positive one and it was all uphill from there. “I was able to obtain that client and end up doing seven homes for her, and so really that was quite an experience and brought me into that kind of mega-mansion home design,” Butera says. “And not every home was huge but there were a lot of large homes that they had and so that was a really fun experience. That’s how I got started really with that high end design.”

 Since those experiences a few decades ago, Butera has worked with countless clients and has perfected relationship building from the designer’s perspective. It all starts with setting clear expectations in the beginning.

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“To tell you the truth, I really love to interview the client as much as the client likes to interview me,” Barclay says. “If I’m gonna work–the majority of my jobs are construction jobs, they’re gonna be ground up or large remodels–so I’m going to be working with this client for a year or two years. I’m going to make sure that we both like each other.”

As with any relationship and work project, there are bound to be ups and downs so like with any home project establishing a good foundation is key and since he handpicks only about six projects per year that he works on, making it that much more important that he builds a strong connection with his clients.

And although he is only taking on about six projects per year, Butera still has a jam packed schedule on a regular basis. From running showrooms to licensing partnerships and authoring books to maintaining a retail presence, it’s a wonder how he finds time to still give his clients that one-on-one dedication that they deserve which is one thing that will never change for Butera. Even with the rise of technology and new ways to automate processes everyday, there is one thing technology can’t take away.

“I think software obviously has changed our lives in the interior design world and everything has become automated, but the basis of interior design is your taste, and that can’t be created by a computer.” Barclay continues, “Our industry will always remain personal even though we have gotten very sophisticated in our software programs, there is that personal aspect of being an interior designer.” 

Plus, with a majority of Butera’s clients coming in as referrals from previous clients, that personal, emotional connection is just as important as interior design expertise.

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The other side of the coin is business sense, and Butera’s years of experience speak for themselves, but he is showing no sign of stopping! His next venture? Luxury vacation rentals. He has two properties, in Palm Springs and Cabo, that he turned into high-end VRBO rentals that are paid for by the rental revenue that he earns from them. 

“I love the fact that I have this opportunity to go and design these homes and other people get to enjoy them.”

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