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In Style: Working with an Interior Designer

Are you considering working with an interior designer, but don’t know where to start? How can you tell your designer what you want, when YOU don’t even know what you want? In this blog, I’ll share with you some tips on how to begin, how to work with an interior designer, and what you should know.

Your designer will want to know some things about your project, but there are also some expectations your designer will have of you.

1. If you’ve never worked with an interior designer, and don’t know how to find the right one, start with either looking in a professional directory (such as ASID) or do some internet research. Go to the designer’s website and check out their credentials and their portfolio.

2. Always inquire about the designer’s fee structure and method of operation. Some designers have “project minimums”. It’s important to find out this information in the beginning and that you are clear so there are no misunderstandings.

Many designers work via a “mixed fee” structure. I’m in the business of selling goods and providing professional services. I charge a fee for the design process and consultation and I also procure goods at wholesale or designer pricing and apply a markup. Even though the merchandise is marked up, it’s usually less than retail.

3. When you make an appointment with your designer, please try to eliminate distractions. I always turn my cellphone off for appointments so I can give my undivided attention to my client. Please extend the same courtesy. Of course, there will be an occasion when you might be expecting an important call, things do come up. Just let your designer know...our time is just as valuable as yours.

4. If you have worked with a designer in the past, what was your experience? Please share with your designer what your needs are in order to serve you better. I had a client that needed to see all the components assembled into a “mood board” because she was not able to visualize. Please communicate with your designer what helps you best understand the design concepts.

5. No project is going to go absolutely perfect. Problems always arise, but most problems can be solved. It’s important to allow your designers and contractors to come up with solutions before you start having a panic attack. Design is a process of problem solving and your patience and teamwork is critical to the success of the project.

6. We simply don’t have the answers all the time without doing a little research. We cannot create a product that doesn’t exist out of thin air. It’s possible that what you desire can be custom fabricated, but expect to wait...and you must be willing to pay for it.

7. Be aware that in some states, it is illegal for interior designers to hire sub-contractors on your behalf. If your project requires contractors (plumbers, electricians, carpenters), you will have to contract with them directly. Your designer may have a list of contractors to recommend. For large projects, you may want to consider hiring a general contractor to manage all the trades.

8. Interior designers have education and experience that makes them experts in the trade. You are hiring for their creative skills, knowledge of the built environment, and intellectual property. This is a profession, not a hobby.

There is a difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator. Interior designers are licensed professionals who manage projects involving architecture, construction, and building codes. Interior decorators work solely in aesthetic improvements.

9. Your designer places a great deal of thought into developing your design. When your designer presents you with ideas, don’t shop your designer. This is very inconsiderate.

10. Be as specific on what it is that you want as you can. If you cannot present more than a vague description, please do a little homework and give us some direction. Pulling out pages from design magazines, Pinterest, Houzz, etc., is extremely helpful to interpret your wishes.

Photo credit: Taylor King

11. Sorry, I’m not sharing my sources. That is precisely why you are hiring me. I have worked years scouring the industry for the best and this needs to stay in my tool kit.

Photo credit: Four Hands

12. Sometimes it’s not always a good fit. It’s important to interview a few designers to ensure that your personalities align. It’s critical to the success of the project.

13. Please don’t expect me to copy another designer’s work. Express what you love about it, but let’s create something uniquely you.

14. Have a budget. Don’t tell me you don’t have an idea of what you want to spend. If you don’t give me a budget, more than likely the design will be higher than what you wanted to spend. It’s critical that you communicate this from the very beginning so I’m not wasting both of our time.

15. Please make it clear how you wish to be involved in the process. It can exhaust us if we’re not making progress because you want to be involved in every aspect of the design. This stifles creativity.

16. You need to be prepared to wait. Most items for custom interiors have long lead times. Particularly custom millwork, case goods, and upholstery.

17. Please respect normal business hours. My company’s business hours are Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Special appointments may be made for outside of business hours, but there could be an additional fee. I may also be closed on holidays; secular and non-secular. I once had a client email me with “an urgent matter” regarding cabinet shelves on Christmas Day!! Please understand that it is unreasonable to expect me to reply on such a day. I will respond to emails and text messages received after business hours the following business day. Most designers have this same policy.

18. Please, after we’ve completed our services, pay us in a timely manner. We’re running a business and there are many associated costs. It really helps our cash flow when you pay at the time services are rendered.

Not only can hiring a professional interior designer glean you fabulous results for your project, but your designer can help rein in costs (even with their fees) by avoiding costly mistakes, help you budget and plan, and make the overall project run more smoothly. They will also be your best advocate with contractors, acting as an owner’s rep. These tips can give you the guidance that you need to find the right designer match and give you some valuable insight to help form a solid, professional working relationship. Good luck with your project!

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