Hiring an Interior Designer (Part 2)
Part 2: How much do designers charge?
How do we work together?
by Diane Capuano Franklin
In Part One of this two-part series, we discussed the advantages of working with an interior designer and how to find an interior designer that would work well for you. Now, in Part Two, we address the question of budget and fees as well as your working relationship with the designer.
Designer Fees and Your Budget
If you are hiring an interior designer, realize that you will be paying for expertise that is backed by professional training and talent. Of course, there is a price tag attached to this that is reflective of the value that this professional brings to the project. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules regarding fees. This is something that should be clarified with the individual designer.
“Hiring an interior designer can help a client to avoid costly errors by developing a plan for the entire project and then implementing the plan in phases as the budget allows,” said Lisa Walsh, Allied Member, ASID innerspace interiorDESIGN llc in Oakland, Calif. “It can seem confusing that the interior design industry doesn't have a standardized fee structure. At innerspace, I charge an hourly design fee, reimbursement for expenses and purchases at cost plus a procurement fee.”
Alene Workman, FASID of Alene Workman Interior Design in Hollywood, Fla., reported that designer fees are based on different things. “Some charge design fees along with a purchasing fee for merchandise and an hourly for other work,” she said “Sometimes these fees are combined. Depending on the size of the project, there will be a designer that fits (the client's) need. Sometimes consumers are not current on merchandise costs or what exactly the designer can do for them, so the designer can educate them to the point that the consumer can feel comfortable in their price range."
Paul Bloom, Bloom Design L in New Haven, Conn., stressed that costs issues are real. “The best approach to cost is a realistic approach on the client’s part, and the expectation and demand that the designer respond in kind with realism and honesty,” he said. “So, if you as client want a consult on color or a quick input on layout, figure you’ll work with the designer for two to four hours, and it will cost $150 to $800. If you just want a color consult or advice on how to rearrange furniture, do not pick a designer who charges $200 an hour. Do not expect to spend less than $75 an hour.”
Getting into an actual design project, Bloom pointed out that the advantages that the designer brings in terms of product discounts will offset the costs of his or her fees. “In a room that will be designed from the bottom up, or a suite of rooms, you can expect to pay a small percent more by using a designer, but only a very small percent,” he said. "Designers will achieve discounts on many products, so aside from an initial design fee, most costs can be covered by savings on the costs of product.”
However, Bloom noted that this can vary quite significantly from designer to designer. Therefore, the client and designer need to have a thorough discussion about this. Honesty is critical so that the client knows what to expect.
“A project can be structured hourly or through set costs,” Bloom stated. “Both are reasonable and possible. Product costs can be transparent or not in terms of markup; here, too, both avenues are reasonable. So make sure, as client, that you’re happy with the arrangement. And make sure to get a project estimate and feel assured that you are reasonable in requiring the designer to stay close to the mark.”
In terms of designing a whole room, Bloom reported that it’s not unreasonable for the project to cost $20,000 or more. However, he stressed to potential clients, “Be real about what you want. If you’ve got an Ikea budget, this is fine. A designer can support you on an hourly basis and help you make fabulous picks, and the room may cost $7,000.”
However, Bloom stressed that you cannot expect a $7,000 room to have the same longevity as a room that costs three times as much. “So the same room at $17,000 may seem outrageous, but the quality of goods will be truly three times as good, the sophistication in design and function three times as great, and it will be around for the next generation to enjoy,” he said.
The Working Relationship
Workman added that the initial meeting between client and designer should establish a good relationship going forward. “The first meeting should be an indicator to the consumer about how the designer thinks and how communicative the designer will be,” she said. “(Consumers) should be made to feel at ease in expressing their needs and concerns.”
Walsh concurred that the initial consultation sets the stage for the entire relationship. “
At innerspace, I spend more time on an initial consultation than most interior designers.
This provides an opportunity to learn more about the project, so that my suggestions reflect the client's style, needs and preferences,” she said. “That way, by the time a client decides to sign a design contract, we have already discovered that we would enjoy working together, and already have some ideas for their project.
The design contract defines the scope of the project, outlines the design services provided and details the fee structure, so that the client knows what to expect. As I guide a client through the design process, we meet regularly to make design and purchasing decisions together and to discuss the progress of their project.”
Over the course of the working relationship, one of the key considerations is developing trust. “As designers, we try to establish trust with consumers so that they feel we are working to help them achieve their goals,” Workman said. “There should be easy communication between both sides so that no one is intimidated. The project should be fun for the consumer and should not feel stressful. The consumer should know that the designer is ethical and is looking out for them business-wise.”
Sometimes a relationship with an interior designer can start and end with one room. However, that one room can be the beginning of a long-term relationship that spans years and encompasses the entire house.
“You may simply want to redo your bedroom, and why not?” said Bloom. “If, however, this is part of a master plan then you, the client, should engage it as such. It’s worth the up-front cost to develop a 'master plan' with your designer—and now we’re very intentionally talking about an interior design—not a decorator but a designer who can produce scale drawings and possibly renderings and look beyond color combinations and textures to long-term use and function.”
In this case, a master plan is critical, Bloom added. “So that if the work is stretched out over 10 years—a reasonable option—you don’t discover you’ve made a big planning mistake in Year 2 that nullifies everything you want to do in Year 4.”
Overall, the relationship should be a positive experience for the client and the designer. As Bloom concluded: “Interior design is fun—and not for the weak of heart!”