Do I Need an Interior Designer and How Much Will it Cost?

It might sound frivolous to hire an interior designer because “Hey, it’s my house and I know what I like, right?” Even more, working with an interior designer sounds terribly expensive. While it is an additional expense, in the long run, using a professional interior designer can save a great deal of time, money and frustration. A designer can facilitate the entire process and quite literally bring your dreams to life. Before you go out to hire one, however, it’s best to take a little time and understand what they can and cannot do, as well as the different ways they charge fees.

Designers can make your interior dreams come true.View in gallery
Designers can make your interior dreams come true.

Do Your Homework

Properly preparing yourself to work with an interior designer goes far beyond just looking into various designers, their working philosophies and design styles. To make the most of the collaboration — and that’s what it truly is — you need to lay the groundwork for efficient, effective cooperation.

Doing your homework before meeting with designers is key.View in gallery
Doing your homework before meeting with designers is key.

Scope of the Project

Before you get started, know what you want or need from an interior designer.

In many states and countries, a true interior designer (not an interior decorator) has completed specific educational requirements and is often licensed. Having done so, they are qualified to provide a full range of services from analyzing your needs to devising concepts and preparing working drawings and specifications and more, according to Interior Designers of Canada.

The scope of the project will affect the budget.View in gallery
The scope of the project will affect the budget.

This does not mean that the world is your oyster when it comes to design because you’ll have a designer at your side. Take a look at what you want to do and how much help you really need and want. If you’re undertaking a complicated renovation and don’t know where to begin, you’ll want more assistance than if you are simply starting a room renovation that includes a minimal amount of construction.

An extensive design refresh may cost more than you think.View in gallery
An extensive design refresh may cost more than you think.

What’s the size of your space?

The amount of space you have available for a project will be one of the important criteria determining what you can do in a space. Creative interior designers can achieve some amazing things in a limited amount of space, but expectations should be realistic. For example, if you can’t knock out or bump out a wall, it’s unlikely that a huge walk-in closet can be added to your bedroom without sacrificing space for other uses.

Designers have access to a wide range of resources.View in gallery
Designers have access to a wide range of resources.

What’s your budget?

Your budget is the most important piece of information to have prepared before you start looking for an interior designer. Professionals can work with budgets of all sizes and will be able to successfully guide your choices. “If you’re on a tight budget, a designer is going to know how to get the best value out of what you can spend. An experienced designer is used to working on a line item budget and will help you understand where every penny is going,” writes designer Kathy Kuo of New York City.

A designer will also be able to tell you how far your money will go on your particular renovation project. A budget of $40,000 for a gut renovation of a space is very different from $40,000 for a design facelift. Most designers will also work with you to get the job done within your budget as long as it is realistic. You’ll also want to prioritize the elements of your project.  It’s easy to get caught up in choosing different pieces, hardware and finishes, all of which have associated costs. Knowing what’s most important to you will help allocate money in a way that leads to the final result you want.

Each part of a redesign will have options for finishes and details.View in gallery
Each part of a redesign will have options for finishes and details.

Your style and any other specifics

While any trained designer will have his or her method for learning about you and your style, it helps to compile as much information as possible about what you want and like. It can also help to have a small list of things you absolutely hate. “One time a client had done this for us and had animal print as a “dislike” and thank goodness because otherwise, I would have certainly tossed in some leopard!” writes Erin Gates of Erin Gates Design. So before you hire a designer, create a variety of Pinterest boards and save images of the spaces you like.

Kitchen and bathroom redesigns are generally more involved.View in gallery
Kitchen and bathroom redesigns are generally more involved.

What a Designer Can Do for You

When hiring an interior designer, it’s important to understand what they can do for you. No matter how big or small your project, it’s a good idea to approach a designer well before you want to get started for two reasons:  The first is that you might end up wanting them to be engaged in the work earlier than you thought, especially if it involves renovation. There will likely be aspects of the finished design that tie into the earlier steps of renovation. You don’t want to find out part-way through a project that you can’t do something because you didn’t plan for it in the early stages. The second reason is that popular designers are often booked well in advance and may even have a waitlist.

Having a good idea of what you want is important.View in gallery
Having a good idea of what you want is important.

Creating a design concept is step one  — Pulling together all your likes and desires, creating a mood and workable concept is the first thing a designer will do. This is a necessary step no matter whether you are doing one room or ten.

An interior designer will translate the concept for your space into concrete plans and drawings.View in gallery
An interior designer will translate the concept for your space into concrete plans and drawings.

Transforming the concept into design plans — Next, a qualified designer will turn that concept into a set of design plans. These will lay out the space and what has to be done. The complexity of the plan will be determined by the nature of your project: A bathroom or kitchen remodeling project will generally be much more involved than a bedroom overhaul.

Some designers may have a signature style.View in gallery
Some designers may have a signature style.

Sticking to the budget  — Once the designer and client have agreed on a budget, the designer will stick to the set figures and guide various choices along the way.

Interior designers will pick up on details that you might be overlooking.View in gallery
Interior designers will pick up on details that you might be overlooking.

Choose products, finishes and materials — Every step of a project has options for different quality finishes and components and the costs can add up quickly. “Even if you’re picking all reasonably priced items from say, Pottery Barn, the number at the end may shock you a bit,” writes Gates. A competent interior designer will choose things that fit your budget and priorities and may give you options along the way. If you fall in love with a particular element that costs 20 percent more than your budget, he or she may be able to make cost-cutting suggestions in categories that are less important to you.

Interior designers can help you invest your furniture funds wisely.View in gallery
Interior designers can help you invest your furniture funds wisely.

Manage the project — One of the things interior designers very often do is hande the management of the project. This is critical, especially if a homeowner doesn’t understand a lot about measurement, construction or the specifics of various parts of the job that may be subcontracted.

Buy and install furniture and accessories — Frankly, designers have better contacts and resources that you do when it comes to finding the right furniture, textiles and accessories for a project.  They can shop sources that sell only to the trade. You’ll have more options and better prices and quality if you let them do the purchasing.

Interior designer fees

Be sure you know what the total fee will be for the project.View in gallery
Be sure you know what the total fee will be for the project.

Different designers will charge in different ways, but there are a number of standard models for design fees. Before any work gets underway, clients must sign a contract. This is beneficial for both parties because it lays out the terms, costs and any timelines being agreed upon. It should also spell out costs associated with any changes along the way

Fee structures vary depending on the designer and your geographic location.View in gallery
Fee structures vary depending on the designer and your geographic location.

The Designer Society of America says that these are the most common ways that designers charge:

  • Hourly — This fee can vary from  Can vary from $35-$350 or more per hour. This rate can cover consultations, initial designs and decor plans, furniture rearrangement, staging of accessories, and so on.
  • Fixed  — Also known as “flat fee,” fixed fees often cap the number of hours spend hours and sometimes spell out a fixed amount so that you know up front what you going to pay for design services.
  • Percentage Above Cost –Sometimes called  “cost plus,” it is a fee schedule calculated at 15 to 35 percent above the cost of things, not including delivery and sales tax.
  • Retail List price or (cost) price presented — This means the designer is presenting selections to you and calculating their markup on an individual basis.
  • Retail Less Percentage — This means list price minus 10-20 percent.
  • Combination — Clients should realize that in addition to the design fee, some designers also ask to be compensated for time spent shopping and selecting items for the project.
  • On-Line Design Services — One of the new offerings that even top designers offer is an online consult and design service. These typically are priced with a flat fee that ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the popularity of the designer. You’ll end up with a plan and a shopping list, but the rest will be up to you. If you’re a hands-on kind of person, this could be a good option for simple room redesigns. If there’s renovation involved or if you’re less confident, the traditional design route might be best, according to Architectural Digest.

There are also new hybrid plans that fall somewhere between an online consult and a full-blown interior design project with various levels of service, so it’s worth shopping around if your budget doesn’t go as far as you thought it would.

Choose a designer who understands your personal style.View in gallery
Choose a designer who understands your personal style.

Choosing the Right Designer

An added element in choosing an interior designer is chemistry, so it’s a bit like dating. You have to connect and hit it off on some level for the design collaboration to go well, especially if it is a larger remodel or extensive renovation project.

Good communication is key in a client-designer relationship.View in gallery
Good communication is key in a client-designer relationship.

Working with a designer should be an exciting and satisfying process that ends in a space that you absolutely love. Do your homework, communicate clearly, be reasonable and you should have a great time creating your home in concert with a professional.