When most people think about hiring an interior designer, they zero in on aesthetics: wall colors, window treatments, pillow patterns. But that’s just scratching the surface of what a designer can add to a home. These pros go beyond cosmetic concerns to ensure that a space feels harmonious through and through, from its floor plan and architectural envelope to the last nail head, tassel and tuft. Many states have a certification process for interior designers.
What Does an Interior Designer Do?
A designer envisions, plans and outfits spaces in a way that makes them both beautiful and functional. He or she balances aesthetic considerations with structural planning to reflect each client’s lifestyle, set the desired mood, complement the home’s architectural features and ensure that less glamorous details (such as electrical outlets and air vents) fit into the scheme. An interior designer also cultivates relationships with trusted contractors, artisans, vendors and others who execute the design.
You may have a clear vision for your home, but an interior designer can help you bring it to life while making sure it satisfies nitty-gritty considerations such as space planning and functionality. A trained eye and a creative mindset allow for devising solutions that you might never have imagined, and attention to the tiniest details will transform your space into a haven that looks polished and pulled together.
What Will It Cost?
Interior designers have various fee structures. They might charge an hourly rate ($125 to $150 is common, but fees can range from $50 to $500). Or they could go with a flat fee of anywhere from a few thousand dollars to six figures. Some designers also take an approach called cost-plus, adding a markup on materials and furnishings they buy at a discount and keeping that as part of their fee. A few charge a percentage of the total project budget.
They also may combine fee structures on a single project, for instance, charging a flat fee for some work and an hourly rate for a different type of work. All these details should be made clear in your contract.
You might also be asked to pay a retainer before work begins. This retainer, which might be nonrefundable, could be applied to your total costs on the last invoice, or it could be used to purchase items such as furniture and accessories. Check with your designer (and review your contract) to be sure you understand how your retainer will be used.
Finally, if you’re on a tight budget, don’t assume that hiring a designer is beyond reach. Many will be happy to arrange a few hours of consulting or will help you find furnishings and decorative accents for an hourly rate or a set fee.
Where to Find an Interior Designer
You can find designers in your area and beyond in the directory of interior designers on Houzz, where you can also view their portfolios and save their photos into your own idea books. When you spot a room you love when browsing Houzz photos and articles, take note of the designer’s name. (You’ll see a link to professionals’ profiles in the upper-right corner of their photos.)
Friends with fabulous houses are another likely source. You can also visit show houses and home tours to see which spaces strike your fancy.
8 Tips for Working With an Interior Designer
1. Be sure the designer is a good match for your style. No two clients are alike, and good interior designers are nimble enough to hop from urban pied-à-terre to rustic farmhouse to beachside getaway without missing a beat.
Most do have a fundamental aesthetic that remains consistent throughout their work. When interviewing designers, ask them about their design approach, and look for parallels between their previous work and the design you want. Above all, look for someone you feel comfortable communicating with.
2. Collect samples. Even if you have trouble articulating your desired look, pictures of rooms you love can instantly give the designer a sense of what you crave. He or she will ask you about specific points of the design that resonate with you and use those as guidelines. Fabric swatches, paint chips, furniture catalogs and your own Houzz ideabooks are other good sources for showing items you like. On the flip side, pull examples of colors, motifs and furniture styles that turn you off, which can be equally helpful.
Browse inspiring home design photos and save your favorites
3. Decide in advance which pieces must stay. Not willing to get rid of your Biedermeier sideboard or your majolica collection? The process will go more smoothly if you share that information with your designer during the initial site visit and consultation. That way, he or she can plan around the items that you don’t want to give up.
4. Involve the designer as early as possible in the building process. If you’re remodeling or building from scratch, include the designer in the planning stages with your architect, building designer and contractor. This way, the pros involved will all be on the same page and can iron out any potential discrepancies — particularly those that involve the bones of a home, such as doorways, ceiling beams or interior columns. It’s one thing to reorient a window on paper; it’s another entirely to move it after installation.
5. Try to have key household members present at the outset. Having all the adults’ input from the get-go helps to avoid potential conflicts down the road. If a spouse or loved one objects to a certain color or reveals that he or she just can’t part with Grandmother’s antique dining table, it’s easiest to work out those issues right away.
6. Ask the designer to clarify billing procedures. Find out at the beginning when you’ll be charged and what for. In addition to the design itself, you may be billed for travel time, site visits, shopping, phone conversations and more. Also, ask how you’ll be billed for furnishings, accents, materials or other items. This way, you’ll be able to anticipate fairly closely what and when to pay.
7. Keep an open mind. It’s a rare client who loves 100 percent of a designer’s suggestions right off the bat. Your designer might recommend a piece of furniture or a wallpaper pattern that you’re iffy about, but don’t say no without giving the idea some time to sink in. Chances are that when you ask your designer why he or she chose it, and when you take a little time to live with it, you’ll appreciate the reason it works.
8. Look toward refreshing down the road. Even the best design doesn’t stay current forever. Ask your designer if tune-up visits in the future are an option, whether they involve simply swapping out a few accessories, reupholstering furniture or choosing new paint colors.