Trust is a crucial element in the design world. Claire McKenzie, owner of Burlington-based Room Utopia Interiors, knows that when she enters a client’s home to change their world, it’s a personal experience. The client must have faith in McKenzie. And in the same vein, she must believe in her suppliers to create a seamless experience.
McKenzie likes to rely on one of her favourite design partners – Fine Oak Things owner Jon Nameth.
“Once I’ve met with a client and get a sense of the scope of the work, if there are furnishings involved, I create a furniture plan,” says McKenzie, who takes on projects from Collingwood to St. Catharines. “I source based on the client’s sense of style and give them suggestions for furniture.
“I often suggest Jon first. He’s my go-to in terms of beautiful wooden furniture.”
There are many reasons Fine Oak Things is first on her list. To start, the pieces are stunning and incredibly well-made. Nameth is also adaptable to clients’ needs, giving them several options on how to make a piece of furniture their own.
But the main reason that McKenzie introduces her clients to Fine Oak Things is Nameth himself. As an established designer, she has been burned by suppliers before. They have broken promises or tried to pass off inferior products.
That’s never a worry when she partners with Nameth.
“I don’t work with people who let me down,” says McKenzie. “My reputation is on the line so I cannot afford to work with or recommend people who aren’t like Jon. I rave about him. Jon is just a lovely person, especially in terms of communication. When we get to the point where my client has signed off on the furniture, they pay and then want to know when the items can be expected. He is amazing at reaching out to both me and the clients to let us know what’s happening.
“Jon is happy to have me direct my clients to him if they have any questions. Everyone has always been thrilled with the pieces from Fine Oak Things.”
McKenzie knows that communication is an integral part of the design process, through every stage. She often has her Room Utopia Interiors clients begin by doing Pinterest searches to get an idea of what they’re looking for in a project. Saving images can kickstart it, though McKenzie has a definite knack for picking up on their tendencies and finding the perfect direction.
“There are a lot of great resources to find inspiration from,” she says. “I love to sit and talk with them to get an idea of what they want to achieve with a project, and what their budget is, which is very important. That helps direct me.
“Once I know what they want, I have my list of trusted suppliers, like Jon. I develop a design presentation so they can see the imagery of say a dining table and chairs from Fine Oak Things and what it would look like in their home. That really helps sell it.
“I find when the clients get to Jon’s showroom and they see the quality of the products, that’s what really firms it up in their minds.”
McKenzie appreciates that Nameth is so adaptable when it comes to customizing pieces to the specific needs of her clients. She had one elderly lady purchase a table, which ended up being a little too high for her existing set of chairs. It wasn’t a problem. Nameth removed a portion of the table so the fit was perfect – and the client was happy.
McKenzie has also noted that despite the incredible quality of Fine Oak Things furniture, the prices are competitive.
“I’ve had clients tell me that they’ve seen a dining table at a supplier in the Greater Toronto Area, and Jon’s price for the exact same piece was as low as half.”
Budget is a key part of any design project. And more specifically, the allocation of the budget. McKenzie encourages her clients to spend the majority on the important pieces that will last for decades, while bargains can always be found on smaller accessories. Investing in Fine Oak Things furniture is an example of money well spent.
When a job is done and a client is happy, McKenzie beams with joy.
“It’s the biggest high,” she says. “There’s no better thrill than envisioning something in your head and getting that reaction. It becomes a very close bond.
“Like Jon, we care about our clients. I have a couple that just bought a lakeside property, and we got the dining table from Fine Oak Things. It arrived before anything else, and their response was, ‘It’s so beautiful, the craftmanship – we just love it.’
“To hear that is uplifting. I know that Jon’s done it again.”