After working for prestigious design firms in Manhattan, Caitlin Rutkay decided to launch her own firm, C. R. Interior Designs, in 2007. Her goal was to give clients the attention to detail and design that they deserve on a timeline that works for them. Whether she’s staging a home or building one from scratch, her honest, client-centered approach makes her shine every time.
“There are a lot of professionals—and I'm using that word loosely—who give interior designers a bad name,” Caitlin says. “I've been in so many situations of doing cleanup for people who got into a situation with a designer who had their own agenda or grossly overcharged them, and they didn't really get what they wanted.”
In her 20 years in the interior design industry, Caitlin has also become very adept at project management, managing renovations, coordinating different trades, and working side by side with builders and architects.
We sat down with Caitlin to learn more about how she keeps her process client-centered, what inspires her work, and which tools she uses to differentiate C. R. Interior Designs from other interior design firms.
Taking a Client-Centered Approach
When Caitlin began working for herself, she wasn't servicing the wealthy Manhattan elites anymore. She suddenly had a much more diverse clientele with clients coming from different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. At C. R. Interior Designs, Caitlin’s number one goal is to keep her clients central to her processes and deliver the design they want. To do this, she gets to know each of her client’s unique situations, taking into account their lifestyle, budget, and timeline so she can give them the comfort and functionality they want at a price point that works for them.
For example, a client may not be able to afford everything right away, so in a year, when the client has received a bonus at work or has saved up to continue on with the design process, Caitlin circles back. “In many ways, I prefer to work that way,” she says, “because it gives the project the time to evolve and it can also help clients approach things in a better way financially when they don't feel pressured to complete the entire job at one time.”
While Caitlin always has her eye on larger projects, she doesn’t shy away from smaller ones, she says, and she never pushes a certain style on anyone. Instead, she assesses her clients’ needs and listens intently, seeking to truly understand what they’re envisioning. “You really do need to listen to people—not just hear them but listen,” Caitlin says. “It's like any other relationship where you need to listen to the subtext.”
Many of Caitlin’s clients enter the design process having never worked with a professional interior designer before, and they soon realize they need guidance. Caitlin acts as their interior design sherpa, finding creative ways to help them communicate what they’re envisioning. Often, she has her clients share images via Google Docs or collaborate with her on a private Pinterest board to get a feel for what they like and don’t like as well as a clear jumping-off point.
“I feel like I’m able to really approach every job with a lot of confidence because of Design Manager being my foundation,” she says.
Caitlin’s Design Inspiration
Caitlin draws inspiration from her surroundings, especially the beauty and serenity of her home in rural Tewksbury Township, which she considers to be the most beautiful part of New Jersey. She is also inspired by her travels to London and her deep love of history. “I am a traditionalist at heart. Ever since I first visited London many years ago, I could pretty much say that I am an Anglophile. I just love the wonderful use of antiques, art, and textured fabrics and taking a layered approach. It's how I decorate my own home,” she says.
Caitlin also draws inspiration from following other designers on Instagram and reading books by other designers, like Charlotte Moss Entertains: Celebrations and Everyday Occasions by Charlotte Moss and Timeless Elegance: The Houses of David Easton by David Easton, both authors of whom are Design Manager clients in their own right. “I find that there is a sense of really drinking in a physical picture in a book that you can hold in your hands versus online. I love referring to books,” she says. Caitlin also loves studying other designers’ work, discovering what makes their projects so successful, and translating the techniques into her own style.
Design Manager: Caitlin’s Accounting Software of Choice
Caitlin has been a dedicated Design Manager client for 12 years, and she says that the historical data that the software allows designers to sift through is “second to none.” Not only does it keep her organized, but it’s also a great comfort for her clients to know that they can rely on her.
“I feel like I’m able to really approach every job with a lot of confidence because of Design Manager being my foundation,” she says. “I can always rest assured that my invoices—if I've done the back office piece properly—are correct. The reports are organized, and I can always speak with confidence about my client's billing situation. That's huge.”
For example, after Hurricane Sandy, one of Caitlin’s client's pool houses had been destroyed, so she helped him get it back up and running. However, by the end of the year, she received a worried phone call from the client. He was preparing for tax season, and he asked if Caitlin knew how much he had spent on the pool house. Within ten minutes, Caitlin was able to pull his client status report for the pool house and email him a PDF.
“He was so incredibly impressed that he wasn't throwing a bunch of crumpled receipts at his accountant,” Caitlin says. “He actually had a very concise and professional report to email the person. This is an anecdote I use over and over again when I tell other designers that they should be using Design Manager because that’s what is going to set you apart.”
Caitlin also had a client who had to keep track of a lot of paperwork. By the end of the year, he was getting nervous. He knew he would have to pay his bills soon, so he was trying to get a handle on what he had spent and what he had left to pay.
“I was able to—yet again—print him an amazing report that detailed everything in the whole house to date, and it set his mind at ease immediately,” she said. “He was like, ‘Wow, this is fantastic. This is exactly what I would like to work from.’”
When it comes to time management, Design Manager is Caitlin’s “biggest asset,” and she loves how easy it is to navigate. “Once you have worked in Design Manager for many years and have compared it to other platforms, you realize how highly intuitive and better organized it is.”