It’s a huge compliment being invited to design someone’s house. A home is a nest, a sanctuary, an expression of self and being commissioned to create and reflect that requires more than a good understanding of the colour wheel. You need to work out how your client ticks and respond as best you can to that in your design.

It helps if you know your clients before you start a project. My business is predominantly friends and family so I am lucky to have head-start when it comes to writing a proposal. Even so, I can’t disregard the initial probing questions when drafting the brief, because as much as I might know that their favourite colour is yellow, I still need to know quite explicitly how they intend to use the space and how – importantly – they want to feel when in it.

Some data can be collected on a questionnaire (“do you like open plan kitchens or would you prefer a separate dining room?” Tick this or that box stuff. However, answering “feeling” questions isn’t always easy. After all, if clients knew what they wanted, they wouldn’t be employing an interior designer. But answers will often reveal themselves at unexpected moments – small talk about seemingly unrelated ‘interior things’ might reveal a happy childhood memory, and that element can be introduced into a room; or there could be an offhand comment about how a cosy dark coffee shop makes them feel safe, or conversely, makes them feel trapped; Zoom chats can reveal how the family behind the talking head is using a communal space. Each moment is a jigsaw piece and collect enough of those pieces and you hope you have the full picture on which to anchor your proposed design. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open, to keep your brain engaged, and to note little things down to help you remember what they like or don’t like.

If this is all starting to sound a bit MI5, let me reassure you that this “investigation” has a more commonplace name – friendship: it’s simply about caring enough how someone enjoys their life – what floats their boat, and what ruffles their feathers. You want to do your best for your client, to give them the space that serves their needs in a way that makes them happy.

You can buy books about the psychology of interior design and how decor affects emotions, and you can go on courses about the benefits of low lighting, or learn from the internet how red rooms make people feel powerful. There are rules that can be followed and theories that can be adopted. But for me, nothing beats a good chat. That’s when you really get to know your client and understand how their mind works. Forget the rules and regulations and instead crack open the wine or pour the tea, and have a good old natter. We need to be relaxed to tap into our subconscious, the part of the mind, as the dictionary puts it “of which one is not fully aware, but which influences one’s actions or feelings”.

Get to the brain of the matter and the space you design for your client will be a success.