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Team approach

Photos by Dan Bishop

April 2014

At a new construction project in Oconomowoc, interior designer William Koehnlein (right) goes over millwork details with Benjamin Neumann of Neumann Co. Inc.

There was never any question William Koehnlein would join the family design business.

While other kids were no doubt idling away their after-school hours, the young Koehnlein was learning woodcarving (from his grandfather, Henry, who designed and crafted intricate church furniture) or architectural drafting at the elbow of the firmís draftsman, Koehnleinís father, Walter, who started Collaborative Design in 1968, as a home furnishing and remodeling business.

Koehnlein describes the unique flooring that will be installed in the homeís entry.

Today interior designer Koehnlein is company president, and the Waukesha studio employs 14 (Walter and his wife, Judy, are still active in the business as is son Rick and Billís wife, Andrea), and includes a retail showroom as well as a full-service design studio.

The firm has 40-plus projects going at any one time, with Koehnlein and the other staff designers often working collaboratively. During a day of crisscrossing the metro area meeting with clients and craftsmen on projects in various stages, one is struck by Koehnleinís encyclopedic knowledge for all things design, his easy rapport with clients and the creative give-and-take between designer and clients.

Five Design Truths From Bill Koehnlein

On Putting Clients at Ease: "More often than not people are intimated to call an interior designer, especially if they have never worked with a designer before. (During that first meeting) Iím not coming across with a real strong opinion, and by the end of the meeting they (have a sense of) relief."

Koehnlein and Collaborativeís M.J. Weber consult on lighting options for a client in Nashotah.

On Decorating vs. Designing: "A lot of people can copy good ideas that are shown to them," he points out. "When I walk into a space I can see the room as complete." Creating a design that takes into account scale, lighting and other critical elements results in a cohesive layout, he says. "Itís fresher because the vision is more true."

On Realizing a Clientís Vision: "I often do sketches (on site) just to establish a direction. I find people respond well to the loose sketches. Itís a nonthreatening approach ó nothing is too final. They feel they are part of the process."

When Itís Best To Call a Designer: Collaborative often teams with Ascent Builders and its clients, starting in the framing stage of the building process. Early involvement, Koehnlein says, facilitates trouble-shooting and results in better function when the home is finished.

On Personality Traits That Work For And Against Him: Koehnlein highly prizes his relationships with customers, which often lead to repeat business and referrals. "Any of my clients will know that I will be really honest with them," he says. Everyone has a different personality, and being able to read people helps him communicate effectively. Also, he says, "Iím really into detail." He admits heís a people-pleaser, which he works to turn into a winning trait. "I donít want to disappoint anyone."



This story ran in the April 2014 issue of: