The Design Process – What Works for the Funeral Industry

We have the opportunity to speak with funeral home owners all across the country. Some have had design assistance in the past – some have not. Some have family members who have contributed to the space – many haven’t touched their facility in several years and the last time they did, they went to the local furniture store.  After 15 years of serving the funeral industry, we know the insurance of designing with the right process – and we’re aware of the pitfalls when owners have not.  Here’s what we’ve found that works…

We’ll walk through 5 stages during a remodel, new addition or new construction project.  Content of these stages may change but the overriding 5 stages remain the same no matter the Scope of Work.  They are…

  • Planning
  • Schematics
  • Specification
  • Purchase Management & Construction Oversight
  • Installation

In Planning – FFH design works with clients to solidify overall budget, time perimeters, color palette and design objectives for the project.  Schematics are drawings.  We’ll either take your paper plans or complete a on-site field measure, then transfer dimensions to our CAD system to create electronic drawings.  We do this because it is much less expensive to maneuver a space on paper than it is to guess in the field.  Good for the client also as they “see” what the space will look like – a preview of the finished product.  Specification gets into the “fun” items like the selection of finishes, furniture, window treatments, chapel chairs, light fixtures, carpet, etc… Everything you see on the inside of the space – and – more times than not, what you see attached to the building on the exterior.

I’m going to give Purchase Management / Construction Oversight it’s own space.  This is a critical stage in the process and one that could make or break the project.  To furnish a funeral home lobby, FFH design may submit 20-30 purchase orders for product.  Each of these purchase orders are drafted, reviewed and once the orders are placed – reviewed two additional times for accuracy.  Then we track each order to ensure it is completed as it should be. We also have our eyes on the site construction (as needed) through this time.  Making sure lighting has its correct location, plumbing fixtures are the ones that were specified, and details are completed in the field as they were called out on the design plan.  We also look at miter joints in millwork, whether the painting was properly completed (no drips, no runs, no errors) along with cabinetry, counter and other permanent modifications to the space.

Then we have HGTV week for the funeral home.  It’s Installation time.  Per an agreed upon schedule between contractors, owner and FFH, we and our delivery agent and installers, come with window treatments, furniture, artwork and accessories to complete the space.

Working with a design firm that knows the funeral industry is key.  Knowing which product (furnishings) to place in a funeral home is key.  Allowing the funeral home to stay open during a remodel or addition is key.  Being thorough during the process with the above 5 stages ensures a completed space that delights owners, says thank you to families and protects your investment for years to come.

Happy planning!

Tam Schreiner, owner and president of FFH design


Let’s Talk

Conversations within a funeral home during visitations…

It shouldn’t be surprising to me after these years, to see how furniture space planning has a dramatic effect on the behavior of people at a visitation.

Where you place your furniture will direct the behavior of your families.  

Many of you are able to  direct the line for a visitation, paying close attention to traffic flow – getting to the registry area, proceeding to the casket and paying respects to the family.  Many funeral home owners go to great lengths to facilitate smooth traffic flow, even in the most populated visitation.   But what about after greeting the family?

Did you know that 72″ is the maximum distance between 2 people who wish to have a weather conversation?  It’s the “We’re having some pretty nice weather…” talk.  Easy, non-invasive, non-threatening conversation.  The everyday, “I don’t know you very well (or at all) but want to be polite” conversation.  So now think about which furniture groupings in your funeral home, allow for this type of conversation. Because this type of conversation usually takes place while people are standing, it might be sufficient if there’s only a few groupings, but there should be at least be a few.  Furniture grouped for this conversation might be 2 loveseats or sofas facing each other.  Maybe two chairs separated by an end table.

Now let’s think about the next level of conversation… “Hi, how are you, how’s the family” casual conversation.  People know of each other or may be neighborly when they see each other.  Again, this is not invasive conversation – not intimate.  Fairly easy conversation.  For this type of conversation, people like to be about 48″ apart while seated.  That’s the corner of a loveseat next to a chair.  It’s two chairs next to each other.  It’s casual conversation at a round table, with a coffee cup in hand (for those states that permit food service within the funeral home.)  This type of furniture grouping should be the most prominent within your funeral home.

And as a sidebar… while I realize that having an open seat available for your families is important… it’s OK to see baseboard.  So many funeral homes will line up the furniture around the room because that’s the easiest way to provide seats and still maintain a walk-way.  And that might work for services and some visitations, but it shouldn’t be the norm.  Lining up furniture doesn’t allow for conversation – and comfortable conversation goes a long way to creating pleasant memories for your families.

The last (and sometimes most overlooked) type of conversation is deeper, more invasive.  It’s the intimate conversation.  Sometimes welcomed – and sometimes not.  It’s the type of conversation that can be healing at a funeral.  It provides a clearer understanding between two people.  A furniture grouping that facilitates this type of conversation should allow people to sit together, close together.  Two people on a loveseat… one person on an ottoman sitting in front of the other on a chair.  Close enough to hold hands.  These furniture groupings may be a little more tucked away from the traffic, in a more quiet setting.  These are the most critical areas to create good memories.

As always, thanks for listening!

Tam Schreiner, owner & president of FFH design


What’s the difference between a decorator and an interior designer?

There’s so much good and bad information about working with an interior designer that I thought it might be helpful to start at the beginning.  An interior designer or interior design firm, is different than an interior decorator. 

The designer, having more education, has a broader knowledge base – with experience in building products, expanded knowledge of textiles, how light affects a space, space planning, etc.  A designer should also be able to assist a client with electronic drawings – both the plan view and possibly a rendering of the space. A decorator has less or no education and generally helps with paint color, furniture selections, maybe cabinetry and counters… mostly the “selection process.”  Some will be able to use off the shelf computer aided graphics software to provide a simple space plan or rendering.  Some painters call themselves decorators.  Because of the lack of education and oversight, it can be a little more difficult to know the capabilities of an “interior decorator.”

So if you’ve decided to work with an interior designer – what should you look for?

First know that interior designers generally specialize in one of five design disciplines:  residential, commercial (contract), hospitality, institution (education) and healthcare.  Even though someone is an accredited designer – it does not mean they are suited to working on your funeral home.  Just like you wouldn’t go to a cardiologist for a broken ankle, you probably wouldn’t hire a residential designer to design the local library.  Or a commercial designer to design your funeral home.

So what type of interior designer should design funeral homes?  One that has multi-discipline experience.  After 15+ years experience with the funeral industry, it’s pretty clear that many (not all but many) funeral homes need to “look” residential but have commercial grade product that’s durable – yet able to hold up to hotel-like / banquet-like conditions (hospitality.)  The funeral home also needs to be a place of warmth and healing and have a prep room that’s both functional and code compliant (healthcare.)  A designer’s work experience is critical here.

How do interior designer’s charge for their work?  Well, there are several methods designers use for compensation.  Here’s a few of the more commonly used cost models…

Hourly / Product at Cost – depending on your location, an interior designer can charge by the hour.  I’ve seen rates run between $60 or $75 on the low end, and as much as $250+ per hour in some areas.  Many times this arrangement will require a retainer of $1000 to $3000 depending on the designer.  Any merchandise then can be purchased at the designer’s cost so there may be some savings to the client – but not always.  Just depends on if the designer has set up trade accounts with retailers.  If they have, the discount may be 10-25% or so.

Hourly / Product Cost Plus – again depending on your location, the going hourly rate may vary drastically.  This type of cost model allows the designer to generate revenue for their time, but also includes profit on the merchandise they place.

Flat Fee – If a designer can accurately estimate their number of work hours for a project, they may decide to offer their services as a flat fee cost.  Because FFH design has worked with so many funeral homes in so many parts of the country, we’re fairly adept at knowing how many hours it will take us to complete a project.  We operate on a flat fee basis.

Hope this helps a little bit – to understand the difference between a decorator and an interior designer.  Also hope it helps with an overview of how designer’s charge for their services.

Tam Schreiner, owner & president of FFH design


Your Funeral Home Brand

It’s not just about the pretty sofa – that’s a given.

It’s the swoosh. It’s that familiar fragrance as you come closer to Abercrombie. IT’S THE BRAND. The business brand. Your business brand communicates tangible and intangible ideas. It tells your families who you are and what’s important to you. It communicates your identity. It can be a name, a logo, a tag-line, or a combination of elements that tell your community what you do – and how you do it. It isn’t just about features and benefits. It is about their emotional connection to your funeral home.

Having someone accurately recall your brand depends on how well developed it is. Yes, it’s your logo. Yes, it’s the look of your stationery or website. We tend to associate branding with marketing. Print ads, billboards, radio spots or television. I’ve known funeral home owners who spend countless hours with staff, perfecting the arrangement process, designing the appropriate attire (color or custom coordinated suits for instance) for their directors, and making sure families are greeted at the front door with the funeral home’s signature handshake and smile. These are all part of branding – and that’s good. But sometimes that’s where it stops. Unfortunately, many do not think of their number one tool for the development of their business brand, the facility. Your building both exterior and interior – every inch of public space within the facility.

There are concrete ways to enhance the facility so that it conforms to your brand. And while the following 5 items may seem less than analytical – these 5 items will change the way your families see your business brand. These items are key to facilitating a pleasant emotion for someone within your facility. And a pleasant emotion then becomes a pleasant memory. Funeral home interiors can be made to help make a pleasant memory – or at the very least, make an unpleasant event more tolerable.

Here’s what some of the professionals say. It’s a long title and sounds quite dry – but consider the following out take. Jacques Roques in his book, Psychoneurobiology Origins and Extension of EDMR: Psychological Anatomy Based on Neuroscience, writes “…there are only two kinds of emotion: pleasant and unpleasant.” He goes on to draw the following conclusions:


Emotion is the “connection” in branding. As business owners, we can choose to create pleasant emotions, turning them into pleasant memories, cementing a pleasant recollection of your business.

There are 5 key areas to consider when bringing your facility under the brand umbrella. They’re considered when developing an interior design ‘branding plan’ for your facility. It’s your five senses. All five senses. Remember, we’re facilitating a pleasant emotional connection between your families and your funeral home. Here we go…

SIGHT – A funeral home owner has 9 seconds to make a first impression. 9 seconds on the exterior and 9 on the interior. Most owners understand a well-maintained building, and that’s good, but not enough in today’s competitive climate. Color palette is key. If you want to convey luxury, privilege or opulence – then use pure colors such as strong blues, metallics and true whites. If your want your brand to say warm, friendly and inviting – then work with warm grays, browns and adobe or clay tones. You may want to convey celebration in your brand (celebrate the life of a loved one) – then most certainly use all shades of green. These can be coupled with almost any secondary color. Green is the color of nurture and health.

Sight sense includes many categories: it’s your flat screen, the furniture style, the appropriate pattern in the carpet, the efficiency (clean-ness) of your business office and not least of all, the casket display area presentation.

TASTE – Every funeral home owner has the ability to pay attention to this detail, even those in food restricted states. It may be as simple as the mints you provide or maybe flavored waters well-displayed and easily accessible. For those with less or no food restrictions, the public is used to specialty coffees and teas. They are used to a never-ending variety of food choices and expect those choices to be available no matter what the event. And yes, you will have spills on your lobby carpet so you’ll need a carpet that holds up to the wear. Yes it may be frustrating that today’s funeral doesn’t look like it did 20 or more years ago. But, it is now part of the culture and we can either choose to serve or allow the competition to serve.

HEARING – From my experience, this sense is present and done reasonably well by most funeral home owners. The right music at the right time. Good job! Remember though, current audio equipment capable of emitting great sound is almost as important as the music itself. The same is true for officiates and guest speakers during a service. Having a good lectern mic (no crackle) patched into the sound system or a suitable ‘in lectern’ system is vital.

SMELL – I suppose this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Unfortunately, many funeral home owners and staff have grown ‘nose blind’ to the scent of their facility. Scent is an incredible tool to imprint your business brand. And it’s not just the embalming fragrance that’s not good, it can be an old, musty smell of a funeral home with old, musty furniture.

Several years ago we came across a product that many of our clients now use. It’s ScentAir. We’re not connected to ScentAir but understand the value of the product. There’s even a tab on their home page for funeral homes. NOTE that if you elect to use a scent as a layer of your business brand, choose wisely. Too much aroma (sprays or diffusers) will alienate those with allergies. Generally recognized, lemon grass is the easiest, most widely accepted fragrance for a public space.

TOUCH – Maybe as critical as sight, this sense is addressed by well-planned interior design throughout all of the public space. Good space planning allows for conversation and that means that one piece of upholstery should be no more than 5 feet away from another. For intimate conversation, no more than 3 feel away from one another. Many times we’ll place an ottoman in front of a loveseat so two people can converse face to face. I think that’s a female thing. It’s being close enough to hold a hand while sitting next to someone.

Conversely, and as you undoubtedly know, some people just don’t want to sit near the casket. We typically make accommodations by adding a furniture grouping or two at the rear of the chapel. And for those that just don’t want to be anywhere near the chapel, lobby seating or coffee lounges are key.

In addition to proper space planning, touch involves the actual furniture pieces. The fabric you use on a chair. The fabric for a loveseat. Is it touchable? Is it scratchy? Is it pilled from years of use? Is the seat cushion too squishy? Or do you feel like you’re sitting on a board? All important considerations when thinking through your business brand and how the interiors of your facility reflect that brand.

Hope this is helpful in developing your brand —

Tam Schreiner, owner & president of FFH design


Have you wondered what you can do with an empty chapel?

If so, give some thought on a chapel to celebration room conversion.

Empty space doesn’t generally generate dollars. And an empty space generally doesn’t benefit the families you serve. Note that this idea isn’t for everyone but for some, it might mean the difference of several calls per year. Please check with your state and local municipality for approved zoning.

In some communities, families want a place to go after the cemetery.  A light luncheon, a full luncheon, formal or casual, catered or pot luck…

Here’s a pretty sweet solution… This is the sync system.

US made, the sync system is manufactured by Palmer Hamilton and available through FFH design, exclusively for the funeral industry.  It’s a portable table system that allows funeral home staff to flip a chapel from a service set-up to a luncheon / banquet setting in about 15 minutes. The tops are crafted with a tough, highly durable urethane edge and your choice of laminate for the top, to customize to your interiors. Two heights of posts are provided (cafe or standard and bistro height) with a stable disc base. The cart fits through a standard 36″ door and wheels to storage until you need it.  Take a look…

Want more info?  Give us a call and we’d be happy to answer your questions.  262.806.7143 or

Tam Schreiner, owner & president of FFH design

We’re here to help…

In the last 15 or so years, we’ve had the opportunity to serve many funeral homes nationwide — and we’ve gotten several questions along the way.  We’re dedicating the blog ( to posting answers to those questions.  We hope this will be helpful as you navigate the question… “Is it time for a cosmetic update or to remodel, add or build?” Hope you find the info helpful and thanks for reading!

Tam Schreiner, owner & president of FFH design