A good while back the editor of a now defunct timber frame magazine for which I had written several articles suggested that I do and article on the “ideal client” — the type who makes the whole process an easy and totally enjoyable experience. At first I thought he wanted a humorous, tongue in cheek article, but as soon as I started joking about it, I realized he was serious. His position was that there is any number of articles out there about finding or selecting good, if not, ideal builders. His readers would love to know how to act; they needed to know how to be better clients.

I never did write that article because I saw no need for it. I’ve worked with many hundreds of clients and can name only four in the twenty-three years that I have been a timber framer whom I wish I had never met. Correction – three of those would probably have tormented even the most angelic of timber framers, and we’ve since learned how to spot them and gently suggest that we aren’t the best fit for their project. The fourth was, and still is, a dear friend, but that didn’t stop him from tormenting me.

I’m not sure I could dissect and label the parts or aspects of the ideal client, but I do know that if I had to work with ideal clients over and over again boredom would set in and I would stop learning and growing. Clients come to us with differing hopes, expectations, needs, communication skills, and budgets. It is our responsibility to sort all that out and to design a space which will not only shelter them but also enhance their lives. And we need to do this within their budgets.

My wife once told me, after suffering through several hours of listening to me moan about an injury, that I had no idea of what real pain is since I never gave birth. She was right. The creative process is often difficult and it is often also painful. But if focus and attitude are maintained the fruits of such a process are so rewarding that the memory of the difficulties fades. Designing one’s own environment is an experience in both joy and frustration and it’s our job to make sure that the frustration is outweighed by the joy. All this said, however, what I need to feel from a client is some form of passion. It may be subdued or exuberant; if it’s there then I know it will be a rewarding experience. And since each client is different I am never bored.

All of this takes me back to an episode from my early years in teaching. I had just finished a particularly good class with my best students. It was the sort experience where one feels pumped up and convinced that they had made a correct career choice. While walking to the cafeteria with a friend and fellow teacher, I continued to effervesce. “If all my students were like that last group, teaching would be a complete pleasure. “Really”, he responded looking at me with a scowl, “then you’d never progress as a teacher.” I knew immediately that he was right; there was no need for him to elaborate, to explain. The more ideal a situation is, the less we grow. So here’s to all those clients who over the last twenty-three years have helped me, and the rest of us here, to grow. Thank you!

– Tony Zaya

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