Schenectady interior design consultant focuses on eliminating stress, respecting budget

‘I really care about the people I work with’
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford, shown, at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford, shown, at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

Categories: Business

Marianne Clifford of Schenectady grew up loving to play with Legos. She would build houses and make house layouts with the toys. When she was just 10, she helped her grandfather build and remodel houses. “I would be up in a framed house helping to put nails in the studs and stuff like that,” she said.

Now, she works on homes for living as an interior design consultant with her own business, Marianne Ashley Designs.

Clifford studied interior design at Russell Sage College in Troy. After her schooling, she worked at a series of jobs that resulted in the acquisition of a well-rounded skill set in the remodeling industry: she worked in a lighting showroom and learned about electrical work; she was an employee at a flooring wholesaler for four years, where she learned the ins and outs of all the materials and how they perform; she had a job in a kitchen showroom, where she helped to make a design room and brought in flooring products. Her last job was as a project coordinator with a custom homebuilder.

Marianne Ashley Designs

Established: 2018
Phone: 518-495-0362
Online: Find Marianne Ashley Designs on Facebook, Houzz and Instagram

Clifford had been dabbling in interior design consultation, but didn’t think she would launch her own business. That changed when she gave birth to her daughter. She found that working for others didn’t provide the flexibility she wanted, nor the control over her work schedule. So two years ago, she launched Marianne Ashley Designs.

“Now I have the flexibility to take care of her and do all the things that I’ve wanted to do and am passionate about, and I can work with people where we both have each other’s best interest at heart for client and contractor,” she said.

Clifford works on a steady stream of anywhere from two to seven projects at a time. She focuses largely on kitchen and bath design and remodeling, but doesn’t limit her work to those areas.

Work with a client begins with an initial consultation. “I come in, and we talk about all of the things they love and don’t like about their space,” she said. Then she shows them Pinterest boards with all kinds of styles, and she helps people figure out what they might like. “Sometimes people surprise themselves. I help to bring all that to the surface. I’m bringing all these scattered ideas into this cohesive plan.”

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER  
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

“I think something that she does very well is she was able to take a few examples of things that I liked and did a good job of converting that into something that would work in my space,” said Erin Deverdis-Crosby of Loudonville, who hired Clifford to design her remodeled kitchen, family room/dining room and basement.

During the design process, Clifford might push clients out of their comfort zones.

“She made my space very much what I wanted it to be with some flairs that I absolutely love now, but was reluctant to go along with,” Deverdis-Crosby said. For example, Clifford suggested an edgy backsplash that Deverdis-Crosby wasn’t sure was her style, but now she likes a great deal. Another example is a silvery-blue metallic paint Clifford chose for the ceiling in one of the rooms. At first, Deverdis-Crosby wasn’t sure she liked it. “Now, I think it’s the funnest part of that room,” she said.

Producing 3-D renderings on a CAD program is a part of the work Clifford really enjoys. “It takes the guesswork out of it for the client,” she said. “They can actually see what their kitchen or bath is ideally going to look like,” she said. 

Clifford places an emphasis on relationships. “I really care about the people that I work with,” she said. “When they’re stressed, I feel their stress. When they’re happy, I’m happy. I can kind of take them through the process and eliminate the stress that they might not even know they have.” 

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER  
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

The interior design industry has its share of challenges. “There are parts and pieces that are outside of your control that are your responsibility to control,” said Clifford, citing the examples of backordered products, products shipped in the wrong color or with defects, and items lost in transit. “You kind of have to think on your feet really quickly. Having a lot of relationships in the area and working in the industry has tremendously helped with that.”

Another challenge is finding quality tradesmen she can trust to do the work correctly. 

She wants clients to be up front with their budgets and what fits into their lives so that she can determine what to invest in during the project. “If they’re flipping a house, it doesn’t make sense to put mosaic herringbone on the backsplash,” she said. Having worked in various aspects of the remodeling industry, she knows the price points for the different products. 

Respecting a client’s budget is important to her. “That’s the biggest thing where trust is really important for both the client and the professional,” she said, noting she wants clients to be honest with her about their finances. “I didn’t grow up with a lot, so I design with a frugal mindset unless you tell me otherwise,” she said. 

One of Clifford’s strong points is her organization and coordination. Deverdis-Crosby said Clifford coordinated things well with the various contractors working on her remodeling project.

Local real estate investor Phillip Manitta hired Clifford on the first house he flipped, and he admired how proactive she was on the project.

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER  
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Recently renovated kitchen by Marianne Clifford at 3 Hearthstone Drive in Gansevoort on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

“There were a lot of things that I expected I was going to have to figure out on my own, but before I was even at that point, she came with ready solutions,” he said. “She was always ahead of the game and knew what needed to be done, and almost served as a secondary project manager.”

Clifford recently moved into a new home in which she established a home office where she can house samples, give presentations and hold meetings.

As far as design trends that people can expect in 2020, Clifford sees several.

“Modern, clean lines aren’t going anywhere soon, but I do see them being married with some glamorous elements from Art Deco and Morocco, which lends itself to the clean lines found in modern décor,” she said. Dark, sophisticated colors are adding themselves to the whites, greige and blues that have been popular. Natural elements are still in vogue, including reclaimed wood, which Clifford said “adds an element of history to tell a story.” 

Individuality in spaces is something people seek in their homes. “People are really mixing metals and textures to create a natural, and more creative look that reflects them individually,” she said. 

More from Outlook 2020

To add to the mix, there are people who are avoiding popular trends altogether and creating spaces that reflect themselves and their unique lives, Clifford said. 

As in other areas of life, people are considering the environment. In interior design, this takes the form of a lot of house plants for cleaner air and a touch of the natural, as well as utilizing products that are made from recycled materials or ones that are sustainable and renewable.

“People are definitely more aware of what they are putting in their home and how it affects their health and the environment,” she said. “Almost everyone I talk to has an interest in consciously making at least a few sustainable choices in their home, and it is most definitely a continually growing trend. People are definitely looking to help make their contribution toward our future.”

The most rewarding part of Clifford’s work is seeing happy clients at the end of a project. “Remodeling is stressful, but then afterward, when they realize that it’s changed the dynamic in their house for the better, it’s adding to their quality of life,” she said. 

She is enjoying the switch she made to being a business owner.

“This is my first time spreading my own wings and seeing if I can fly,” she said. “It has been really liberating.”

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