You're ready to personalize your home and you want to hire the right professional to work with you. You worked hard to earn the luxury and privilege of personalized service and you want to hire a trusted advisor who really cares about creating your signature and not theirs.
Interior design services are as unique as the individual who provides them. Most interior designers provide full – service turn- key design including purchasing on your behalf and even project management of your renovation project.
Perhaps you have an interest in design, but you don’t have specialized training about scale, proportion, balance, proper application of materials and finishes, construction scheduling, custom furnishings, and window treatment design, ect. Designers spend years honing their knowledge and stable of reliable resources.
Before you interview an interior designer, decide what kind of services you need and want:
Or, maybe you know what you like when you see it, but you don’t know how to accomplish it.
Are you too busy and focused on your work and your family activities to research and decide on the thousands of details it takes to create the scrapbook of your life?
If you want a beautiful home that reflects your generous, warm, and gracious personality and you don’t feel confident that you can do it without expert guidance, it’s time to call a seasoned interior design professional.
You want someone who understands that you have limits, and that you want a great result. A great designer makes recommendations based on function, beauty, and results that fit your personal investment limit. And, a great designer is skilled at problem – solving which is a necessity with the complexity of construction and custom design.
You will be working with your interior designer for several months, and, depending on the project size and complexity, several years. It is important to have a connection with your interior designer.
Personality and rapport are as important as design skills because it takes extensive experience and intuitive understanding and collaboration to interpret your vision.
A great interior designer knows the secrets of creating your masterpiece by bringing together creative ideas with masterful control over the details, budget, schedule, and personalities of your team.
It is an exciting design journey, and having the right orchestrator makes a complex job seem easy.
The ultimate goal is to have your home reflect your special taste with the unique flair and personalized signature that is all yours. The best way to achieve your goal and to avoid interior design disasters is to first know the basics. Here are the top 10 questions you should know the answers to before hiring an interior designer.
What is the difference between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator?
An interior designer has completed education through an accredited college or university, and in some states, must pass the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualifications), comprehensive exam to be considered a professional interior designer. Certification means that your designer has achieved a minimum level of competency and experience as determined by NCIDQ.
A professional designer has training in building and construction materials and specifications. Their knowledge of electrical, plumbing, framing, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air, & Cooling), construction scheduling, and millwork (custom cabinetry)can help you re-engineer poorly functioning or dated spaces.
An interior decorator may take classes in decorating and design and may provide many of the same services as an interior designer. A decorator generally does not provide construction design services, although some have learned how to do renovation through years of experience.
Both interior designers and decorators may be a member of a professional organization. These organizations require minimum standards of professionalism and experience, and require ongoing continuing education. These groups include American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Interior Designer Society (IDS), and many more nationally and internationally.
Interior designers do not have to be a member to be reputable and good, but for some home enthusiasts, this is a mark of professionalism.
Do I need an Interior Designer or an Architect?
If an interior designer consults on a construction project, they can redesign spaces that require moving or removing walls unless they are load bearing. If they are load bearing, an architect, general contractor, or engineer must be consulted.
It is not always necessary to employ an architect, so you may want to discuss this with your interior designer prior to engaging an additional service.
How do I find the best Interior Designer or Decorator for my project?
Referrals from your friends, neighbors, and trusted advisors like your real estate agent are the best sources for information. Once you receive a few names, go to the designer’s website to review their portfolio.
Many designers do a variety of work, even if their portfolios show a predominant style. Look for something that appeals or “speaks to you”, and then check online to get reviews about the designers you are interested in interviewing.
Decide what level of service you want from an interior designer before you call, and then ask if they do that type of work when you talk to him or her. The more experienced designers are more expensive because they are more efficient and knowledgeable in most cases. Higher fees can end up costing you less in the end.
Make sure you have rapport with the designer since this is a long term relationship.
How do interior designers work?
Each designer works differently. The typical method of billing is a design fee plus mark up with a discount from suggested retail on purchases. A few designers offer an hourly rate with no purchasing services or mark-up.
Typically, a designer’s mark up covers the ordering, expediting, problem solving (which is more complex each day with shipping and delivery damage, mills going out of business, products on back order or discontinued, manufacturer’s errors, specialized application of materials, custom furnishings made to order, working with craftspeople, ect.)
Purchasing is a complex part of the interior design process and involves thousands of details. If you don’t have time or interest in managing this process, it is well worth paying for the mark-up.
In fact, your designer’s expertise may even save enough money that you pay for most of the designer’s fees.
Some client’s prefer to do their own purchasing because they want to save the mark-up and yet they find that the process is completely overwhelming. In many cases, it costs more to fix the problems, and when you’re dealing with furniture that costs thousands of dollars, it’s an expensive price to pay when the armoire won’t fit through the door and the vendor won’t give a refund.
Some interior designers offer a Value Based Fee, which is determined after meeting with you and deciding on a scope of work, the level of service that is important to you, as well as other factors they discover during the interview process. When you hire a designer who works on this basis, you’ll find that they are extremely experienced and knowledgeable about budgets, scheduling, and project management.
How do designers take payments?
It’s important to understand how the designer charges prior to the starting of a project. Some designers charge for their initial consultations because they are providing design advice during the first meeting.
If you want to get to know the designer first, start with a telephone call and use the list of questions provided. Some will meet you at their studio or office so you can get acquainted, see their portfolio and ask questions. Some do not charge for the studio meeting.
However, when an interior designer comes to your home and you ask for their opinions, even if you aren't planning to hire them for a project, you should expect to compensate them for their advice at the time of the meeting.
When a designer assists you with the purchasing, they typically provide a separate proposal for each item including freight, delivery, sales tax, crating, storage, inspection, ect. You will be asked to pay up to 100% of the costs up front for purchasing since the vendors receive all payments prior to you receiving the products. Freight, delivery, crating, inspection, at the receiver and onsite after delivery, installation, ect. may be charged separately.
If a designer bills for a deposit and then a final balance with a final invoice, your final balance is due before delivery. Keep in mind that this doubles both your paperwork and the designer’s paperwork, and adds to the administrative cost of your project. Prepaying actually accelerates the process on orders by as much as two weeks so that your new sofa or chairs arrive earlier. Payments are made by check or credit card.
Do I need a general contractor, or can the interior designer manage the process for us?
Rarely do interior designers act as general contractors. Most designers recommend a few general contractors and several subcontractors that they prefer. It’s generally a good idea to use their recommended team because they've spent years vetting them and learning how to get the best results with them. This is tremendously helpful and can save countless hours of your time, not to mention help you avoid potential problems with unreliable or unethical resources.
What about insurance?
In all cases, you want to be sure that your general contractor and sub contractors carry liability and workers compensation insurance. If you are doing a large project, be sure to discuss it in advance with your insurance agent.
Your designer should also carry insurance, so be sure to ask about this if you have any concerns.
Where do the biggest problems arise in interior design working arrangements?
As with all relationships, it’s about communication. If you’re unhappy with something, tell the interior designer. If you’re exceptionally precision-oriented and the designer is not, then you can run into problems.
If you like things done in a particular way, discuss this with the designer before you go into contract. You want to make sure that the designer shows sensitivity to your needs and preferences.
Some clients hate dust, so if you want daily cleaning and booties on your job, be sure to let your designer know.
If you aren't clear about how the money transaction works, you could end up in a conflict. It is exceptionally important to be open about your budget. If you don’t tell a designer that your budget is $20,000 for furnishings, she or he could come back with a high end solution that is shocking, and results in an unhappy situation.
Designers know you don’t understand what custom furnishings cost unless you've worked with a designer before. Be sure to ask about this in your initial conversations so you aren't surprised with the proposals that don’t fit within your budget.
It’s like a marriage. The biggest problems are often centered on money. Many people are taught not to talk about money, but if you don’t, you will be surprised in an unpleasant way.
Sometimes, it is worth it to have your designer create a master plan and then do the project in phases if you’re more interested in the best possible results.
Pay your designer promptly. Bills are paid on your behalf and the designer has staff to pay. If you’re upset about something, call or email immediately. If you have a question about a bill, ask.
Designers love to design custom furnishings and products so that your project is unique and doesn't look like a retail showroom. Custom furnishings are typically more expensive because they are special to your project. If you don’t want to purchase custom products, discuss this in advance.
What if I find the same product online and it is less expensive?
Is the designer being unfair with me? Not necessarily. Designers buy from resources that they trust, and although you may find a product that is less expensive, the construction may be inferior, so be sure to find out as much as possible prior to purchasing.
And, if you purchase online or even at retail for less money, if something goes wrong, will that vendor stand behind it? Just keep in mind that since some designers compensation comes from mark up’s, if you agreed to let them purchase on your behalf at the beginning of the project, they are losing their typical compensation.
Your designer does many things to resolve problems for you, and if you’re willing to take on that role and liability, discuss this before the project starts so you don’t have a conflict in the middle of the project.
How do I get the best results from my interior designer?
Have a good idea of what you want to accomplish and what your design taste is before you call a designer. Spend time looking at home furnishing magazines for ideas, or look online for inspiration. If you go to a show house, take pictures.
Select your interior designer carefully. This is a long term relationship, and your designer wants to please you. Tell them how you feel and what you like and don’t like. Communicate openly and honestly. Expect the same from your designer.
Be very clear about your expectations and desires. If the designer doesn't ask you lots of questions and doesn't listen well in the interview, then don’t hire them.
Be careful not to ask the designer to take sides if you or your partner or spouse can’t agree. And, if your spouse cares about the finances of your project, your spouse should be involved in all decisions.
Let the designer do their job for you. It’s a service that will save you many hours of your valuable time and even thousands of dollars because of costly mistakes they help you avoid.
What else should I know?
Each designer offers a different level of service, and this often determines their fees. If you make a decision to hire someone because their hourly fee is less, you may be surprised when their bills are larger because it takes longer to do a project.
Some designers have long-term relationships with their subcontractors and contractors based on trust and experience. Please respect the relationship and ask the designer if he or she minds if you contact their team directly to do additional work.
You’re hiring the designer for their resources, experience, and team, and to continue without them shows that there is a problem with the relationship. Ethically, it is more appropriate to seek other resources.
Referrals and positive feedback are the lifeblood of your interior designer’s business. Be generous with your praise and referrals because they are vital to your designer’s success.
You’ll be helping them grow their business and flourish, and if they’ve improved your life, it is the greatest compliment you can give.
Questions to ask you interior designer over the phone:
How long have you been in business?
Are you an interior designer or decorator?
Do you specialize in a particular style of design?
Do you work with clients who do type jobs? (construction, renovation, kitchen, ect.)
Could you describe your process of working?
How do you bill for your services?
What do you love most about working with your clients?
What sets you apart from other interior designers?
Why should I hire you over another designer?
Assuming you want to go to the next step, ask to meet with them at their studio or at an agreeable location.
If you like them ask for references and check them.
What was it like working with Name?
Was he/she professional?
What didn't you like about the working relationship?
What did you like about the working relationship?
How well did he/she listen to you?
How was his/her execution and experience with the project?
What problems did you experience?
How about budget? Was he/she respectful of your budget?
If you could do anything differently, what would it be?
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Would you work with Name again?
Would you recommend Name? If not, why?
What do you feel was the value of your designer?
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?
The right interior designer has the perfect blend of creativity, skills, personality and professionalism. The best relationship is built on trust and comfort.
Ron Nathan, founder and President of Ron Nathan Interior Design Group, is an innovative and accomplished interior designer. Based in New Jersey, Ron has overseen projects across the country as well as abroad. When he is not in the design studio, Ron enjoys travel, golf and music.