Should You Hire an Interior Designer for Your Home?

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Should You Hire an Interior Designer for Your Home?

If you’re purchasing or building a new home, the thought of making it both functional enough to meet your needs and also fashionable enough to meet your design aesthetic can be overwhelming. Even if you’ve lived in your home for years and now want to renovate it, knowing the house like the back of your hands doesn’t necessarily make this task any less of a monumental undertaking.

In these cases, an interior designer or decorator can provide some clarity and offer ideas to help bring your space together. But, is the extra expense really necessary? With all of the advice and inspiration on the internet, there are endless resources out there to help you DIY a wide range of home projects. However, depending on the scope of your project, you may benefit from getting hands-on, personalized advice to create your dream home.

So, how do you determine if or when you need an interior designer, and how do you find, hire, and work with one? We went straight to the source, and asked interior designers to help explain the process.

Interior designer vs. interior decorator

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there’s a pretty significant difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator. First of all, interior designers have usually gone to an accredited school to learn their craft, and typically have a bachelor’s degree (although they can also have an associate’s degree or a master’s degree). Common college courses include interior design, drawing, and CAD (computer-aided design). Also, some states actually restrict people from using the interior designer title unless they’ve passed a state-approved exam—and some designers also engage in voluntary certification in specialties.

On the other hand, no schooling is required for decorators, according to Amy Youngblood, principal at Amy Youngblood Interiors in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Not to mention, a degreed interior designer typically has many more years of experience in the field,” she explains. But those aren’t the only differences. “An interior designer will actually design the layout of interiors whereas interior decorators don’t work on anything structural, but will choose furnishings.” Youngblood says a designer can do everything a decorator can do—but a decorator can’t do everything a designer can.

However, Leigh Spicher, Orlando, Florida-based national director of design studios for Ashton Woods, adds that interior decorators may have some education background in design. “They have an understanding of design principles and often help clients select furniture and other accessories to decorate spaces with a desired look,” she says.

Do you need to hire an interior designer?

Now that we’ve explained the differences between an interior designer and interior decorator, we’re going to focus on the former. Whether or not you need to hire an interior designer will probably depend on the scope of the work you need done. If it’s a small project, like selecting paint colors, Youngblood says it would be a waste of money to pay for a designer’s opinion. “But, if you’re planning to remodel or take on a large home project, it’s smart to hire a designer,” she says.

Spicher agrees, and adds that small changes, like painting a room, selecting curtains, or trying out a new rug in the dining room could indeed benefit from the application of fundamental design principles—but says it’s not necessary to hire a design professional. (Note: she does advise contacting professionals for any type of electrical, plumbing, and structural work.)

But, for bigger design projects, Nadia Watts of namesake interior design firm in Denver, Colorado, recommends hiring help. “When structures are changing, room functions are swapping, or finishes and fixtures are being upgraded—think floors, cabinets, or lighting—it’s time to hire an interior designer,” she says.

And Spicher adds that you’d want an interior designer when building a home as well. “Any time you are making permanent changes or large investments to the spaces where you live your life, there is a lot on the line,” she says. A professional interior designer will sometimes partner with an architect, and Spicher says the designer can help manage the process and ensure the desired result. “They will apply their knowledge of design principles, color theory, and a client’s specific needs and preferences to manage entire projects, creating functional, aesthetically-pleasing spaces,” she says.

How do you find and choose an interior designer?

Word of mouth in the form of recommendations is always a good place to start when you’re looking for an interior designer. The internet is also a good place to jumpstart your hunt, and a quick Google search will reveal plenty of potential designers. “Any established designer should have several Google reviews online, which can provide insight from past clients,” Youngblood says. Most importantly, she recommends looking at the quality and style of work the designer has done in the past to see if they could be a good choice.

Also, note that you’re looking for more than just someone who has a portfolio of pretty photos. Both Youngblood and Watts say you need to determine if their previous work matches your style and aesthetic preferences as well.

Another source is the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) or your local Home Builders Association (HBA), as they should also have a list of local designers. And, if you’re building a new home, Spicher says the builder you’re working with probably employs designers—or can at least refer you to some of them.

“It’s a good idea to interview a few [designers] before choosing who could be a good fit for you and your design needs,” she advises. It may be tempting to choose a designer based on cost, but Spicher cautions against that as the sole criterion. “Base your decision on their design knowledge, service philosophy, and time they will dedicate to your project,” she says.

How much does an interior designer cost?

As with many services, the cost of an interior designer can vary greatly. “Each designer has their own price and methodology for charging an actual design fee or billing hourly,” Youngblood explains. She says the average is around $100-$200 an hour.

However, Watts cautions that since the cost can vary based on the structure of the project, as well as the experience and expertise of the designer, the hourly fee may be higher. “Some designers rely solely on product markup, while other designers charge on a project basis, so it’s important to ask questions and learn how the designer you are considering charges,” she advises.

And Spicher says other factors affecting the cost may include the size of your project, and even which part of the country you live in. “Like any good professional service, you often get what you pay for, so it’s important to do your research, talk to multiple designers, and select a partner that understands your needs, your objectives, and your budget,” she says.

What does the process of working with an interior designer entail?

Every designer may have a different process, but it usually starts with an initial meeting. When possible, Watts says she starts by meeting face-to-face. “I like to learn as much as possible about the client, what colors and textures they like, how they use the space, what elements are important to them, what they do or don’t like about the current design,” she says. Then, she works with the client to create a timeline and budget.

The next step is to start gathering selections, such as furniture, fixtures, paint colors and fabrics. “Once the initial selections are chosen, we have another client meeting to review those selections,” Watts says, adding that this meeting is important as it provides a good sense of what the client does or does not like. “From here it’s really a relationship building experience, bouncing ideas off of each other and finalizing selections—and eventually it all comes together with the install and the perfected finished product.”

At Youngblood’s initial meeting, she talks about the project and scope of work, and puts together an estimate. After the documents are signed, she takes measurements and puts them into a design software. “Depending on what is required, the designer will find selections and put them on image boards which can include furniture, lighting, finishes, etc,” she says. Youngblood also has another meeting to discuss what the client does or does not like. “For larger projects, the interior designer will work with the contractor and architect and can be responsible for a lot of the project management, making your life easier,” she explains.

What you need to know before hiring an interior designer?

Before the initial meeting, Spicher recommends creating a list of questions and coming prepared to discuss the scope of work you expect from them. “Good designers will listen to your needs first—they should never talk about their ‘services’ before listening to your needs,” she says.

While you’re deciding if the interior designer is a good fit, they may also be deciding if you’re a good fit as a client. “Top design firms like ours are very discerning about the projects they take on so be willing to see if it is a fit on both ends,” Youngblood says. And after you select a designer, she says it’s important to put your trust in them. “If you picked them, it’s because you liked their work and they know what they’re doing,” she says. “Voice your thoughts, of course, but remember that they are there for a reason.”

Watts agrees and notes that you’re paying a premium for the designer’s expertise, so try to appreciate their decisiveness. “Second guessing and changing decisions will cost you money and time, so be bold and brave, and put your trust in your designer to do what they do best,” she says. Don’t forget that you chose this individual or firm because you like what they do, and you’re impressed with their taste and aesthetic. “Allowing your designer creative freedom to make choices and push you to take risks will pay off tenfold,” Watts says.

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