The 5 Step Process To Working With An Interior Designer

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It can be very confusing to work with a designer, especially if this is your first time. So let me break down what we do into a 5 step process:

  1. Initial Client Contact: You hop online or ask a friend for a designer in town that they worked with or know of. You call or email that designer to ask about their services. Maybe you chat a little bit about what styles you like, what the scope of your project is, your budget, etc.

  2. Set up an in-person Meeting on Site: You meet the designer at your home so they can take measurements, you can chat more in depth about what kind of services are needed, maybe they even make some suggestions for you. Sometimes Designers will charge for this meeting, as it does take their time away from other projects, but often times Designers will credit back a client the initial design fee once the contract is signed (I do!). You will have to discuss these details with your designer, as everyone runs their business’ a little differently.

  3. The Designer will take all of their notes and measurements, turn these into a “project scope” which will be outlined in their contract agreement. If you agree to their prices and the scope of work they are suggesting, then you can move into the next step:

  4. The Designer gets to work on your project! They will usually start with a floorplan, drafting your space and figuring out what size furniture will fit best in the room. Then the designer will access their vendor lists and select furniture that is the right size and scale for your space. Often times designers have access to vendors that clients do not (I certainly have a great list of vendors!). Designers will use these furniture selections to create a few options for you and your space (I usually provide 3 options for clients in the “first run”). Of these three options, clients can pick what they love, don’t love, want to see more options of, etc. There are NO HARD FEELINGS if you don’t love what a designer came up with. Really! Don’t feel bad if the selections they picked for you aren’t perfect for you and your home. It is your home, you are going to live there, surrounded by these things- your Designer is not. Be PIcky! Designers are trained to “read between the lines” so they more specific you can get about what you love, don’t love, and why, the better! This is where I think most clients are concerned; “What if my designer takes control and I don’t have a say?” Well, unless you are on TV and the entire design is a surprise to you, the process should be a type of partnership. You should work TOGETHER with your designer. REMEMBER: You came to them because you liked their aesthetic (or you liked what your friend or family member’s house).

  5. After you and the designer have selected all the furniture, art, accessories, drapes, etc. in your home, the Designer will come up with a budget (or this may be discussed along the way during your “revisions” in Step 4. Once the total budget has been determined, the Designer will (or should) present you with what we call “cutsheets” which are sheets of paper with each item and all the details about that product written down. For example, if it is a custom sofa, it will have the fabric color, leg color, type of cushion, type of leg, length/width/depth, etc. to make sure what you and the designer discussed are the same, and that you both came to the agreement of all the details on their piece of furniture. Each vendor will require different “down-payments”, sometimes it is half the total cost, sometimes more or less. Your designer and you can discuss how payments will be made. Then your designer and their team will start purchasing and coordinating shipments and deliveries. You can either have the “grand reveal” like the TV shows, or you can have items shipped directly to your house as they are ready. I usually suggest the “grand reveal” because it allows for the Designer to correct any errors prior to delivery, and if items are delivered, they may not have the right space to be stored. For example, if you order a table lamp, but don’t have the table the lamp is supposed to sit on yet, where will you safely store this lamp?

  6. Installation: (This isn’t really a step in working with a designer, but it is good to know what happens on the day of installation). Designers will coordinate with all professionals needed for times and dates that work with everyone’s schedule. Once the installation is complete, the final reveal happens! You get to see your whole “new” space for the first time. You and the designer should walk around the room, making sure everything is working, there are no broken or damaged pieces (if there are, the designer will work directly with the vendor to handle this usually), then you can sign the final bill, and write that final check. Now, you get to enjoy your space! Have a party, invite friends, family, and neighbors over! Show off your professionally designed space!


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Is my designer charging me too much?

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I get this question a lot. And the short answer is it depends. It depends on the scope of your project, the size of your house, the location, the market, if you want project management included in the designers fee, the contractors needed, etc. all of these factors will affect your designers fee. There’s no set standard fee for a designers services because there is no one project that is identical to another.

That may not be the answer you are looking for, so to be a little more specific, consider that most designers charge anywhere from $75-$1500 an hour. That will depend on your location, the designers experience and the scope of their work. If you are working on a commercial project (restaurant, office, etc), often times designers will charge a flat rate that can vary from $3/sf-$20/sf. 

A healthy budget for product is usually around 10% of the cost of your home. For instance if you bought a $100,000 home, you should expect to pay $10,000 in home goods. So if your designer is budgeting for right around 10% of the market value of your home, they are probably right on target. This 10% budget is a good example for any middle class family who is looking for quality pieces mixed with affordable pieces. I would suggest not going any lower than this, or you will be replacing your furniture far too often since cheap furniture will break down at much faster rate than any quality piece. You could also increase this budget signifanctlly if you are looking to purchase only heirloom quality furniture and accessories. But 10% should give you a good starting point for product price ranges. 

Not to mention a designer also has to consider their profit margins. In order for a designer to stay in business, they must have a profit margin. Asking someone to adjust their profit margins for you and your project simply because you believe they should make less on your project than they would be is not only rude but could be considered insulting. Would you ask your doctor to lower their profit margins on the prescription drug they are going to give you simply because you have already paid a fee to see them? Most of us don’t even think twice about this, so why would a designer be willing to negotiate with you on this? 

So so if you are concerned that your designee is charging you too much, take a look at;

1. The designer. How many years experience do they have? What qualifications do they have? Do they have any designations (ASID, CID, etc)? How many clients have they had? Are the fees they are charging reflective of this information?

2. Your budget. How much are you willing to spend? I’ve given you an outline of what to expect on furnishings and the hourly rate you can expect from a designer listed above, so what are you ready to spend your budget on? 

Other options you have:

I’ve had clients who are willing to pay for my services by the hour, but want to purchase the furniture at a later date due to budget constraints. Some designers can be flexible like this and work with your budget over a period of time. 

Another option is to ask your designer to only shop retail locations and you can purchase their furniture on your own. Keep in mind, with retail stores, their furnishings are fashionable, and can often be discontinued, so don’t wait too long to get that perfect sofa or table lamp, because it could be gone next week.  

I now only offer clients retail shopping lists through my online design service package, this way my clients can purchase at their leisure, whenever the budget allows. I feel that this takes a lot of the pressure off of the client-designer relationship and puts the client in charge of their finances, which most clients seem to enjoy.  


Every designer has their own way of running their business, and unless you ask for a breakdown of services versus product, you may think their overall fee is very high, but in actuality, when you break everything down, their services and product fees are probably pretty accurate- that is if you have a good designer who understands what they are doing.  

Even if I am not the designer for you, I want you to be armed with all the knowledge I can share with you, so you can make the best decision for you and your home.  


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Do You Need an Interior Designer?

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So you have a home project, and you are considering hiring an Interior Designer, but do you really need one? It will all depend on what your goals are for your home. Interior Designers Usually Offer the following services:

  • Site assessments & design programming
  • Space planning
  • Product & material research
  • Product & material selections
  • Appliance & equipment selections
  • Plumbing fixture selections
  • Project administration
  • Order management
  • Delivery & scheduling
  • White-glove installation
  • Coordination with Allied Professionals & Consultants
  • Exterior residential designs
  • Site plans (based off existing survey)
  • Permit plans (Existing & Proposed)
  • Partition & furniture plans
  • Detailed kitchen & bath plans
  • Construction & demolition plans
  • Power & communication plans
  • Reflected ceiling plan
  • Interior elevations
  • Detail & section plans
  • 3D perspectives in colour renditions
  • In-house shop drawings (a specialty)
  • Specifications

And often times designer will even offer smaller services like paint selection, etc. for a small fee. Each person has a different goal for their home, some people don't like making decisions like these, so they hire a designer to cover all aspects of their project.

Other people would like to be involved through the entire process and would even like some DIY projects. You will want to know at least how much you would like to be involved in the process prior to hiring a designer. Based on your desire to be involved will affect how much you need a designer. 


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How To Tell Your Interior Decorator or Designer NO

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The one question that I heard from so many people looking for an interior designer or decorator, is that they are afraid to hire a designer because they are afraid that a designer will take over their home and they won't know how to tell them no. I have one very simple answer, simply tell them how you feel.

If you feel a designer or decorator is taking over your home, and it no longer says "you", simply tell them that you feel they are not considering your needs and desires, and that your home no longer has your personality in it. A good designer will take this into account and adjust their approach. A not-so-good designer may not take this into account, in which case, feel free to fire them. Seriously- it may seem harsh, but there are plenty of other designers and decorators in the world, and your area that you can connect with. 

Working with a designer is like being in a relationship, when it's working, its great, but when it's not working, it's time to just cut the ties and let them go. So be sure to check in with yourself, and ask if the relationship you have with your designer or decorator is good for you. Becuase at the end of the day, YOU are the one who will have to live in your home, the designer simply gets to walk away from the project and move onto the next.     


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