What to Know Before Hiring an Interior Designer

What to Know Before Hiring an Interior Designer

Whether you’re thinking about structural changes, surface changes, or a combination of both, it’s important to find the right interior designer to meet your needs.

When searching for the perfect designer for your interior design project, remember that there are different types of designers with different skill sets and experiences. Understanding these differences will not only help you find and hire the best designer for your needs, but this will also dictate the scope of your project.

Here are pieces to consider, questions to ask, and what to know before hiring an interior designer:

Consider Project Scope: Designer vs. Architect + Designer

The first decision you’ll need to make, even before beginning the process of finding the best professional for your project, is to decide what your overall project scope encompasses: interior design only or architecture and design.

Here’s an explanation of both types of projects: Interior design only project This type of project involves both designing the interior and picking interior furnishings, fixtures, and finishes for the space you want to change. Your interior designer will not work on any structural changes, but they will work with you on all the surface aspects of your design to bring that dream design to reality.

Architecture and interior design project When you are changing the structure, adding or removing square footage, and/or building from the ground up, you will definitely need to work with an architect. You also need an architect for minimal structural and/or mechanical changes including removing walls, adding doors and windows, and so on. The tricky thing is that some architects are more focused on the layout and architecture of a project as opposed to the interior design, and they often don't have the skill set to design beautiful interiors along with any architecturally-based changes. With an interior project which also requires some architectural work, you want an interior designer who can also do the architectural elements, often known as a “design architect.”

It’s important to understand that not all designers offer the same services. This is why it’s important to ask about service offerings (think anything from design consultation to concepting to project management). At this point you’ll be able to understand what scope your project falls under and what type of professional you need to accomplish the job. Remember that you might need to hire an architect and an interior designer separately, keeping in mind that both will need to understand the overall scope of your project and be able to work together well (scroll down to vendor relationship for some tips on working relationships)

Talk About Pricing + Budgeting

Once you’ve narrowed in on the scope, pricing is another important aspect. Both interior designers and architects can charge in different ways, but the main factor in pricing for both interior designers and architects comes down to the scope of your project.

Interior designers: Interior designers charge in different ways or in a combination of different ways. Here are some methods the interior designers you interview might charge, so be sure to watch for this information in all bidding documents:

  • Fixed rate
  • Hourly rate
  • Hourly rate plus a percentage added to all purchased items
  • Percentage over cost
  • Cost per square foot
  • Concept fee

Architects: Architects most commonly price projects on a scale basis, which is a percentage of the project, often ranging from 15-30% of total project cost. This percentage can depend on the architect (experience, knowledge, skill sets, etc.), the scope, and other factors. In some cases, architects will charge hourly or per square foot, but again, this is much less common than the percentage of the project method of pricing.

Related: Click here to learn more about the different phases of the design project, including budgeting →

Before contracting with any type of architect or interior designer, make sure all pricing methods and structures are completely defined in any contracts you sign so you don’t get any unwelcome surprises stemming from unknown costs and fees. It’s also a good idea to be clear on how any change orders, unexpected material and supply cost increases, or other unanticipated expenses will be charged. Your chosen project professional should have enough experience under their belt to address any potential unknown costs that could happen during your project.

Learn About Design Aesthetic

Make sure you are drawn to a designer’s aesthetic. Designing is like painting a picture, and all designers have a style, even if that style is in different genres. Choose a gifted designer with a taste that speaks to you, and always ask for a good body of work for reference so you can see how their aesthetic might apply to your space. The first thing you may want to ask yourself is what is your design style? Put together some inspiration too so that you’re prepared to properly communicate (with images) what you like and what you don’t like.

  • Make sure your designer is staying true to the home they are designing—YOUR home.
  • Make sure a designer has an established design aesthetic/concept laid out. It’s important to have a consistent design throughout your home.

Possibilities are limitless, but they can be confusing and exhausting. This is where your designer comes in. Make sure your designer doesn’t just give you endless options of furniture, fixtures, finishes, and so on to pick from. You are hiring a designer for a reason, and they should be selecting what works for you, your space, and your style. Ask that they give you no more than 2 options. If your potential designer doesn’t include how many options you’ll be given during the bidding process, it’s a good idea to make sure how they’ll handle this part of your project.

Make sure a designer is able to clearly communicate the design to you. The best way to achieve this is through images and renderings, which can eliminate any grey areas and enable you to see exactly what you are getting.

Understand Communication is Key

Speaking of communication, you might love a designer’s aesthetic, but should also love his/her communication style? Yes! Communication is essential to the project. Be clear about this before you jump in. When hiring an interior design, you want to know what their scope of work is as well as their deliverables. Unknowns can lead to both extra costs as well as frustration for both you and the designer. On that note, make sure you have the principals involved throughout the project—from beginning to end, especially during the highly creative stages, which are usually at the beginning of the project. If there’s miscommunication between the principals on your project, this miscommunication can also lead to extra costs and frustration. In the world of design, a lack of communication is something that can eat away at your budget. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on beautiful finishes? I know, we would!

Always, always, always request transparency in all pricing. If you don’t know where your hard-earned money is going and why, you won’t have any way to control where your money is going and why. Remember: This is your project and your money, so make sure you understand everything that is going on and why—in both costs and tasks to be performed.

Ask About Recommended Vendors

Many designers have relationships with contractors and other vendors so ask about this before hiring an interior designer. Knowing this can be a great asset when it comes to the working relationships between your designer and the other members of the team as well as the impact on your budget. Since designers often get discounts from vendors, always ask if this discount will be transferred to you. If it will not, make sure the designer is considering how each choice in the design process is impacting your overall budget.

Set a Timeline

We’ve talked a lot about budget and design, but timeline is essential too. No matter how you flip it, design projects take time, and you want to make sure the project timeline falls within your own life timeline. Communication is key and it’s also important to be realistic.

As you’re discussing the project, ask for a schedule of work. This will allow you to better understand if the timeline is feasible now or if you need to do this project at a later date. It will also allow you to plan ahead. If you have any concerns in this area, it’s ok to ask potential designers about their rate of on time project completions.

Embarking on a design project can be both exciting and overwhelming, so make sure you take the time—allowing for a lot of patience as well—to choose the correct designer for you and your project. That time and patience spent will pay off in the long run in both cost and your satisfaction once the project is completed. Here at Stewart-Schäfer, we are proud to offer both interior design and architect services—all under one experienced designer roof. If you have any questions or need further assistance with making your dream design come to reality, we’re happy to put our expertise to work for you. Contact us today!

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