How to Hire a Great Residential Interior Designer

Seeking a reputable and licensed trade professional can be daunting. It is imperative to take your time, do your homework and conduct interviews. It is also a good idea to get a second opinion on their portfolio and credentials to make sure they possess the set of skills to carry out your vision. Most importantly, you need to get a good reading on their energy and trust your gut. All of this is especially true when hiring a great interior designer. After all, you’re hiring them to be part of making your most sacred space – your home – what you’ve always wanted it to be.

It’s All About Relationships

Inviting a design team into your intimate space requires a special and harmonious relationship. After all, remodeling, building or decorating comes with its own challenges so employing the right professional is key. Regardless of the scope or duration of your project, the client to designer relationship must be a good fit for both of you.

Make sure the designer you hire has the ability to communicate effectively. Ongoing dialogue is essential to the success of your project. It is the designers job to set and manage realistic expectations from the onset and paint a portrait of their process to minimize obstacles.

The design professional you choose is also an insurance policy that your project will be carried from conception to completion. If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you have amazing ideas for your home, but lack the skill set to carry them out, that is exactly what a designer is there to help you with! They have the ability to visualize your space before the first swing of a hammer.

Trust the Process

A great designer begins with deconstructing your space and creating new ideas that support your lifestyle, not forcing their aesthetic onto you. Be aware of their listening skills since they need to take into consideration your wish list, family or business history, and the individual and group identities necessary to elucidate a design vision.

It is crucial to realize your responsibility in this process as well. Start with as clear idea as possible of what you want. Give the designer examples of what you like and, most importantly, let them into your life. The better they get to know you, the better they will be able to understand your wants, anticipate your needs and execute the project.

The design process is about finding the best solutions. Think about your designer as a scientist. There is a method to their madness. Successful designers generally follow a pattern, first developing a scope of work, design scheme and budget.

Let’s go over a few of the key steps to the design process. A basic understanding of this will help to set your expectations and mitigate any surprises.

  1. Scoping

One of the most crucial documents is the scope of work. It details out process, responsibilities and conveys the timeline of each phase. It is in some ways a “living document” meaning that you may need to come back to this scope and make changes as the project goes on depending on unforeseen circumstances – you can count on things shifting depending upon the complexity of the project! However, the pricing strategy is set in stone from the start so make sure you pay careful attention to that.

  1. Timeline

The timeline is crucial for the entire team.  While construction makes the timeline a bit more difficult to gauge successfully, your team includes the architect, a contractor and their various subcontractors, city officials and your designer. The more professional your team, the greater chances of staying within a realistic timeline and budget. If you are simply decorating, then it all comes down to choices. Custom made goods can take as long as twelve to sixteen weeks. If you are hoping to get things done by a specific date, your designer will need to be hired four to six months in advance to make sure there is plenty of time for deliveries.

  1. Purchasing

The scope of work outlines the responsibilities of what your designer will manage, what your architect and/or contractor will manage.  It is important to be clear about details which in the beginning may seem insignificant. A good example might be who buys plumbing fixtures and on what terms? If the contractor buys plumbing fixtures, they may be marking them up substantially, so it is good to be clear what items are in the terms such as flooring, tile, etc.

How Great Designers Work

Your designer will need to wear many hats. The two most important are team player and peacemaker. As a team player your designer is often called upon to represent you and your interests in relationships throughout the design process with many people such as the architectural firm, general contractor, subcontractors, artisans, manufacturers and various stakeholders such as family or business partners.

Good communication and respectful relationships between the designer and those who are working closely together can make or break a project. Every project has its minor mishaps and misunderstandings so your designer should have the experience to know how to manage the many personalities and resolve issues seamlessly.

As the client, this process should feel smooth. You shouldn’t be put in the middle of any issues along the way. The designer can represent you and speak to contractors and architects regarding issues that may arise. It is your designer’s job to keep the project moving.

“Personally, I have found that if I listen with all of my senses to my clients, making sure that we are all working toward the same end goals and develop healthy and respectful relationships with everyone involved in the design process–the rest is easy.” – Kathleen McMullen

Details Matter

When most people think about hiring an interior designer, they first zero in on aesthetics. This is a good place to start. Reviewing a designer’s portfolio will give insight into the level of sophistication and complexity. However, that’s only scratching the surface. Designers design for their clients – so the style of their projects should be somewhat varied. If you see a cookie-cutter style, that might be a flag that the designer can only produce one kind of aesthetic. If that’s the aesthetic you’re looking for, it might be a good match. But perhaps finding a designer who can produce a more individualized aesthetic is better for your home.

Going beyond cosmetic concerns will help to insure that a space feels harmonious and organic with a functional floor plan and architectural integrity. Beauty is often found in the details. These fundamental fine points are a bit more difficult to discern from the photography you might see on the designer’s website. Designers style their photographs to look great on social media and magazines, but the truth is that those great shots do not convey the happiness and lifestyle of the occupants. If you ever have the opportunity to step foot inside the designer’s work, it’s well worth it.

Getting the details just right is a balancing act of aesthetic considerations with structural planning to reflect the clients’ style, goals and objectives. A great interior designer cultivates relationships with trusted artisans, manufacturers, showrooms and other trade professionals who contribute to executing the design.

“Focusing on happiness is at the heart of design.” – Kathleen McMullen

Who and When to Hire

Perhaps you already have a clear vision of what you want and might already be working with a contractor and architect. It is never too early to bring in the designer!  There are myriad details that often get overlooked by both of these trades, bringing a designer on staff earlier can result in saving time and money.

Interior Designer vs. Decorator: A crucial distinction in hiring a professional is understanding that an Interior Designer can manage ground up construction and remodels, kitchen and bath design and the design of outdoor spaces, produce drawings, work with contractors and also provide the décor such as furnishings, window coverings, flooring and all the project details.  A Decorator’s focus is only decorating which includes furnishings and soft goods such as window coverings, bedding and so on. Make sure you know what kind of professional you need.

It is all about the planning. An Interior Designer can create the design, but without the communication with the contractor, things like floor outlets for a lamp might not be on the list. Your designer can make sure these details are incorporated from the beginning so that the agreed design can come to reality.

These particulars are more easily handled before approved architectural plans and construction budgets. Many times, by looking at a potential client’s plans, we have been able to see a space from our perspective that the architect and contractor have missed. This includes small things such as light sockets, and larger items such as closet size, potential difficulties in furnishing a given area, inadequate lighting, inappropriate flooring choices, and in general, a deeper understanding and translating nitty-gritty space planning.

Unfortunately, all designers have experienced a contractor’s budget looking great on paper, but falling short in granting enough allowances for the desired quality of finish materials, such as flooring, plumbing fixtures, etc. This becomes a sticking point in production.

A trained eye understands the livability and functionality of a space, and is able to devise solutions that you may not have considered. However, really understanding contractor allowances is crucial to happiness for all concerned. Designers are trained to give attention to the tiniest details that ultimately will transform your space into a haven that looks polished and pulled together.

Cost Considerations

Professional interior designers have various fee structures. They generally charge an hourly rate from $100 to $500 along with a percentage of goods bought at wholesale. The goods are then resold to the client with a markup of anywhere between 10%-50%, depending upon the items. Smaller design firms may use a flat fee structure for an entire job and then charge hourly for work that is out of the scope. It is typical and expected to pay a retainer before work begins. Remember, all of this will be worked out in your scope of work at the beginning of the project. The type of fee structure your designer uses shouldn’t be a surprise to you – and you shouldn’t choose a designer with a fee structure you’re not comfortable with.

We hope this has helped you understand how to find a great interior designer for your home. Remember that it’s all about relationships, understanding the design method, knowing what the designer’s responsibilities are, the small details of the project, knowing when to hire and keeping costs in mind. We’re confident that you’re going to find the perfect partner – even if it’s not with Tower Design. Though, we hope to hear from you and work with you to turn your house into a home.

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