Hiring an Interior Designer (Part 1)
What are the advantages?
How do you find a designer?
by Diane Capuano Franklin
Let’s say you’ve made the decision to hire an interior designer to help you with your home décor. Or, at the very least, you’re contemplating it. Perhaps you need someone to help you decorate one room or a couple of rooms or perhaps even your whole house. How do you go about finding an interior designer who will be a good fit for you? We will explore that question in this two-part series.
The Advantages of an Interior Designer
First of all, you should have an understanding of the advantages that an interior designer can provide you. Interior designers themselves can describe the advantages very well, pointing out that they offer creativity, expertise and efficiency to their clients as well as serving as an advocate and partner throughout the entire design process.
“Let’s debunk the notion that interior design is frivolous,” said Paul Bloom, Bloom Design LLC in New Haven, Conn. “Well-conceived interior design creates beautiful, functional and appropriate interiors. The designer provides a practiced creativity that responds to client needs, and develops projects that include all that is necessary and nothing extra. Working together with the client in this way, designer and client can reclaim home and office as sacred space.”
Lisa Walsh, Allied Member, ASID, pointed out that a professional interior designer not only provides design expertise but also provides the client with planning, editing, purchasing and project coordination. ”As an interior designer guides clients through the design process, (the designer) also helps them to manage their budget, optimize their purchases and coordinate their project,” explained Walsh, whose company, innerspace interiorDESIGN llc, is located in Oakland, Calif.
“Working with a professional interior designer is knowing you have someone who is specifically trained to work on interiors for residential or commercial work,” stated Alene Workman, FASID, of Alene Workman Interior Design in Hollywood, Fla. “This is someone who has the skill, training and experience to understand your needs and work with you as a partner to achieve your goals. A designer is also your advocate in working with trades or other professionals. The designer adds great value to the project and in turn, the client.”
Finding A Designer
Now that you understand the reasons for hiring an interior designer. How do you go about finding one who will work well with you? Do you consult online resources, such as the website of the American Society of Interior Designers? Do you seek out referrals from family and friends? Is the best strategy to contact several interior designers before making a decision regarding whom you would like to work with?
“Yes to all the above,” said Workman. “Clients should meet with any prospective designer before making any decision to see if they like the individual and feel they can establish trust. There should be no charges from the designer for an initial meeting.”
When seeking out a qualified interior designer, Bloom contended that family and friends are the best way to start. “The national ASID website and most regional chapters have designer resources that are quite thorough and worth accessing,” he said.
Walsh suggested personal recommendations as one of the best ways to find an interior designer. “Designfinder, the ASID designer referral website, is another good way to find a local interior designer with professional accreditations,” she said. “Many shelter publications, such as ELLE DECOR or Decorati.com, also offer designer referral services.”
What about finding a designer through a retailer, such as a furniture store or decorating center? “Working with store designers can be OK,” Bloom said, “but this approach is product-centered within a very narrow range of retail preferences. There can be a cost and effort advantage to working through a retailer, but it is limited and far outweighed by an honest and well-structured relationship with an independent interior designer—most especially when going beyond the purchase of a single piece of furniture or when getting involved with space planning.”
Walsh also contended that working with a store designer can be limiting. ”At furniture stores, the interior designers are limited to selling the products in their stores, instead of suggesting the most appropriate furnishings for the project,” she said. “Just like hiring any professional, it can be beneficial to contact several interior designers before signing a design contract.”
However, Bloom said there is one notable exception: kitchen and bath retailers. “Bathrooms and kitchens are areas in which retailers often retain very qualified design staff to assist their clients,” he said. Selecting the Interior Designer There are many factors that will go into your selection of an interior designer. Looking at the designer’s portfolio and talking to past clients are two ways of learning about the designer’s professional credentials and working style. However, the deciding factor will most likely be how you feel about the designer and whether you have that intangible connection called “chemistry.”
“Talk to the designer, both in the (designer's) studio and your place,” Bloom advised. “Clients should trust themselves about chemistry and about their own intuitions on competence and honesty. And a designer’s studio says a lot about who they are and how they work.”
While it's important that you like the designer's style, Workman also stressed the importance of feeling that the designer is really listening to you—that he or she hears your questions and is answering all of them to your satisfaction. “The consumer should get information up front as to how the designer works,” Workman added. “Looking at a portfolio is helpful, but the specific photos may not fit the consumer exactly. The consumer should get the feeling that the designer can do the kind of work they like. Getting a list of satisfied clients can be helpful to know if the designer completes tasks as outlined in the scope of work and is pleasant to work with.”
Walsh likewise observed that an impressive portfolio shouldn’t necessarily be the deciding factor in selection of a designer. “If your goal is to create a more personal, more functional, more comfortable home, a designer's ideas about how to approach your project may be more important than reviewing a portfolio of previous projects. But it can be beneficial to request references to learn more about a designer's working relationships with previous clients and trade resources,” she said.
Ultimately, the deciding factor comes down to the personal relationship that you feel you and the designer might have together. “Many of the best interior designers work with their clients, instead of for their clients,” Walsh said. “So, hiring an interior designer who you will enjoy working with and who will listen to your needs and preferences is most important.”