| Jul 18, 2023 |
Two designers launch a how-to retreat for design clients

The world of luxury design can be intimidating, especially from the outside, which is largely where most homeowners sit. Even for those who know that they want to work with a designer and have the means to create a magazine-worthy home, the process can be daunting. “Daunting” is exactly the word that designers Jillian O’Neill and Susan Ferrier kept hearing from their clients. “Our clients often feel overwhelmed by the prospect of designing their homes,” says O’Neill. “They’ll say, ‘It’s intimidating to talk to a designer because you have all this knowledge that I don’t have.’” Comments like that spurred O’Neill and her longtime friend Ferrier to create the Design Retreat, a three-day event to be held in Atlanta in October that will immerse homeowners in the world of luxury design.

Jillian O'Neill
Jillian O'NeillCourtesy of Jillian O'Neill

Featuring Nate Berkus, Clinton Smith, Tom Kligerman, Sophie Donelson, Melissa Reavis and David Cohen as speakers, Design Retreat aims to pull back the curtain and give attendees insight into the design process through presentations, small group sessions and immersive experiences like maker visits. It’s Ferrier’s hope that attendees will come away with a clearer understanding of what she does, as well as with the tools to articulate their own vision for their home. “I wish all of my clients could’ve gone to something like this before we started working together,” she says. Some of the topics on tap include learning the right questions to ask architects and contractors before embarking on a project, gaining insight into realistic budgets, how to define scope to industry professionals, and learning about project timelines, as well as more decorative-focused topics for homeowners hoping to design their homes themselves.

“There’s a real passion for luxury design out there, and we saw this as a chance to bring a level of information and access to these leaders in our field to a specific audience,” says O’Neill. “We saw that, but we had a moment of, ‘OK, but how in the world would we do that?’” Drawing on what they deem the “social nature” of the industry, O’Neill and Ferrier decided that an intimate retreat could be a winning formula. “I think people outside the design industry might not be aware of just how social we designers really are,” says Ferrier. “We love to chat and get together, and, when we do, it’s such fun—when you get people who love beauty, who are creative and well-traveled, it’s a great time. And we thought it would be great to invite homeowners into that environment that we in the industry get to experience so often.”

Susan Ferrier
Susan FerrierCourtesy of Susan Ferrier

As the social element is key to the founders’ vision, speakers will also stick around for meals and cocktails, giving attendees a chance to get some casual face time and, hopefully, talk about their design goals in a more amiable setting. “There’s a difference between raising your hand to ask a famous designer a question at a conference full of people and asking them across the dinner table,” says Ferrier. To maintain that intimate feeling, attendance will be capped at 30. Tickets to the event cost $15,000 and include a two-night stay at the Waldorf Astoria in Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead neighborhood, though the programming will take place at various locations across the city.

“As experts in design, we have all this knowledge, and if we all shared it at the same time with the people who value it, then it would make it easier for those homeowners to travel along this process of building their dream homes and get the best possible result,” says Ferrier. “It’s expensive to do this. And if you have this knowledge before you start, you could save hundreds of thousands of dollars, just by understanding how to articulate what you want.”

Homepage image: The Waldorf Astoria in Buckhead where attendees will stay | Courtesy of The Waldorf Astoria

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