How to hire an interior designer
Working with an interior designer on a home improvement project can save you time and money, if you plan the collaboration carefully. Admittedly, this can seem overwhelming, like a project in its own right. Here are some tips for hiring an interior designer.
1. Find the right interior designer
The first step is to ask for references, says Denver interior designer Gail Doby, co-founder of Design Success University LLC, a business mentoring service that offers a free report to consumers with tips for working with designers.
“Real estate agents are great, [along with] your neighbors and friends…whose homes you’ve seen you love. Also, if you see something in a magazine or an article online, those are great places to start,” says Doby.
Once you have a list of interior designers you’d like to check out, head to the computer. Doby reckons that most interior designers today have websites, although the extent of information they contain varies. Pay close attention to the visual samples at each site.
“With the photographs on the website, you can get a good sense of the style and whether you like what the designer is doing,” says New York interior designer Judy Sheridan, author of “How to Work With an interior decorator.
Consider hiring designers whose services meet your needs. Some specialize in renovations and renovations, while others prefer to work with new construction projects. Some designers focus on the kitchen and bathroom, others specialize in window treatments.
2. Research the costs of your interior design project
If you’ve never done an interior design project before, you’ll need to do some research to get an idea of how much it will cost. Contractor search service sites, such as Angi, HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack, and Fixr.com, often feature articles outlining national average prices and ranges for particular projects.
Another helpful resource is the annual “Cost vs. Value” from Remodeling magazine on some of the most popular home improvement projects, outlining their typical cost and the value these projects hold for resale. The most recent report covers updated costs and values from 2021. It gives figures both nationally and for specific regions in 150 US markets.
If you want to get a real idea of local costs, there is no choice but to ask around. Friends and neighbors who’ve done makeovers similar to what you have in mind — and who are willing to discuss how much they spent — can provide a good basis for a ballpark figure.
It’s good to know these numbers, as the interior designer’s fees will be on top of or tied to the price of the project.
3. Be clear on your home decor budget
Doby and Sheridan stress the importance of being upfront about how much money you’re willing to spend on your design project. Difficulty getting clients to discuss their budget is a common source of frustration for interior designers.
“It’s a real game of cat and mouse,” Sheridan says. “They leave it to the designer to somehow, with a crystal ball, figure that out.”
Sometimes your vision for a design project won’t fit your budget. If you’re dreaming of a major kitchen remodel, with everything completely custom, but you have a budget of only $30,000, it’s probably not going to happen. An interior designer can help you prioritize your wish list, showing you what your budget will allow you to do now and how you can work towards your goal little by little.
Sheridan says designers can give you rough numbers on how much it would cost to complete a particular type of project, such as an entire living room or a bathroom remodel. But with such a range of material quality and costs, how much you end up spending is mostly up to you.
4. Let the interior designer find contractors
One of the best ways for an interior designer to save you time and money is to help you find good building and remodeling contractors.
“That’s what we do all day,” says Doby. “Usually we have a group of contractors and subcontractors that we work with every day. We know they will arrive on time and that they will respect people’s homes and personal property. They are going to show integrity and do what they say they are going to do at reasonable prices.
5. Understand how the interior designer bills
Interior designers often charge an hourly rate, plus a markup for managing the purchase of furnishings and materials. Some give access to a discount on retail purchases. A few designers simply charge by the hour with no shopping service offered. Some interior designers base their fees on a percentage of the project price or charge a flat rate per type of project.
Be aware that if the interior designer makes the purchases on your behalf, you will often have to pay 100% of the costs upfront. Many designers also require payment of a deposit. Typically, this will represent approximately 10% of the total estimated cost of the project.
Make sure the designer you hire sells the services you want to buy. For example, if you’re thinking of a do-it-yourself room remodel, some designers will offer a consultation for an hourly fee to provide some ideas or help with planning. But many do not accept this type of work.
“They’re going to do a complete project…from conception to execution,” says Doby.
6. Consider an online interior designer
If the cost of an interior designer seems high, consider an online interior design service as an alternative. These sites work with clients virtually, via uploaded room photos, software renderings, and video conferencing consultations. While some charge an hourly rate, most bundle their services into flat-rate packages.
While very convenient, these services primarily offer decorating ideas and furnishing suggestions (plus options to purchase recommended items). Their actual “design” services are limited or cost more, especially for new construction or total gut renovations.
The Final Word on Hiring an Interior Designer
Despite all the expertise and creative ideas an experienced interior designer can offer, there are two questions that only you can answer: what do you want in your home improvement project and how much do you want to spend? Once you understand these things, you’ll be ready to begin the process of hiring an interior designer.