In my 16+ years of experience in the interior design industry, I continue to hear some of the same reasons why people shy away from hiring an interior design professional to help them. The main reason is they are afraid. Afraid of high costs, afraid of losing control, afraid they won’t get the results they are seeking. The other reason, which perhaps is worse, is because they have had a bad experience in the past.
It pains me to hear some of these stories because I know how positive the experience can be if proper steps are taken in the beginning. While some interior designers have certainly contributed to some of the stereotypes associated with my field, more often than not by following a few simple steps and establishing good, clear communication and mutual expectations up front, many of these pitfalls can be avoided.
Here are my top 6 recommendations when you are considering working with an interior designer. If you are working with a reputable designer and follow these steps, you will end up with the home of your dreams instead of a series of costly mistakes.
- Do Your Homework– Just because you have a friend, neighbor, cousin or nephew who is talented at decorating his or her own home, this does not mean this person is qualified to handle a project for someone else. Do they have the experience, training, resources and product knowledge to do this professionally? There are at least three criteria I suggest you ask for from any professional or member of their team that will be doing work in your home: (1) A current business license; (2) A written contract or Letter of Agreement outlining work to be done along with time frame and expected costs; (3) Liability Insurance. Whether you are hiring a painter, a landscaper, an interior designer, or other professional, these are three things you cannot afford to overlook. These are a few of the things that separate a professional business from someone who enjoys sharing a hobby with others.
- Ask For References– One of the best ways to find out how successful a designer is in providing their clients with a positive experience and result is to ask some of the people they have served. I encourage my prospective new clients to do this so they can talk to people who have been in their shoes. It is reassuring to hear from unbiased third parties about what they enjoyed about working with me. A successful interior designer should be able to furnish you with a list of current projects and clients. Of course, permission should be given by those whose names are being shared with others.
Another way to find client testimonials is to use some of the many internet business directory sites such as Google, Yahoo and Houzz (especially for the interior design industry). These are places where the clients of a business can post their reviews.
- Look for a Professional Website and Other Social Media Pages- Anyone you are considering working with should have an up to date website with professional photography of their work. This shows a high level of commitment to their business and separates the true professional from the part-time hobbyist. You can view a sample of their work to determine if the overall style is something that is appealing to you. You should also be able to find some background information about the company as well as the principal designer. Are there client testimonials? Are they active in their community? Active business pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Houzz are also good places to look to see if the person you are considering for hire is current and engaged in their field. What are they talking about? What are they sharing? What types of photos are they posting? An interior designer who is truly dedicated to their profession should be keeping up to date with what is going on in their field and dedicating the time or personnel to keep their website and other social media platforms current.
- Establish Good Communication– This is perhaps the single most important point I want to make. It is critical to take the time in the beginning to establish clear expectations, goals, estimated costs and a timeline for your project. This is where I hear about so many things going awry. Most disappointments can be traced back to a lack of clear communication at the start. I spend quite a bit of time with a prospective new client on the phone before we even schedule an initial consultation. This is a great time to get an understanding of what they are looking to accomplish and get a feel for whether it is going to be a good fit for both of us. I believe that a good designer should be an exceptional listener. Your designer should be asking a lot of questions. Every client and project is different! Beware if your designer is doing more talking than listening!
I also feel very strongly about providing every client with a letter of agreement for each project, even if they have worked with us before. A written letter of agreement should clearly outline the scope of the project, the work to be done, an estimated furnishings budget, established design fees and a projected timeline that is realistic. This is a great way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and identify roles and responsibilities for both parties. Since we do this every day and are familiar with the process and associated costs, I believe it is the designer’s role to guide their client, let them know what to expect, be their trusted advisor, and act as a good steward of the funds to be used.
- Be Realistic About the Budget– Despite what you may see on many of the popular home decorating television shows, it is not realistic to expect to plan and furnish an entire room for $5000 or less in a weekend! If it has been quite some time since you last purchased furniture for your home, you will need to expect things will cost more than you might think. While there are a lot of “made for the masses and sold to the masses” companies that advertise absurdly low prices, you need to understand what you are getting. Do some legwork on your own. Visit a few upscale furniture showrooms and websites to familiarize yourself with what is out there. Based upon some conversation with you about your tastes and priorities, your designer should be able to help you develop a realistic budget for your project at the beginning so you know what to expect and plan for. My clients never receive unexpected invoices or bills at the end of a project. All costs and fees are discussed up front. The only reason the budget is exceeded is if the client has opted to do more than originally discussed (and we let them know that in advance). Your designer is far more familiar with different product lines and quality than you could expect to be…. This is what we do. I only work with vendors whose products and quality I am very familiar with and feel good about. Beware of the many internet “discount” sites unless you really know that company and the type of product and services they offer. While a lesser expensive piece may seem attractive up front, it’s what you don’t know about it that will end up costing more in the long run. Everything does not have to be top of the line by any means, but you want to be careful with a lot of the mass marketed “junk” that is available. Look to your designer to help guide you through this process and recommend pieces you can be happy with for a long time.
- Let Go– Once you and your designer have decided that it is a mutual fit and your are moving forward together, it’s time to let go! This does not mean giving up all control, but just as you would not tell your accountant how to do your taxes, you shouldn’t try to micro-manage your design project. Your designer should have asked a lot of questions and gained a lot of information about your lifestyle, tastes, preferences, particular needs, etc. Keep your mind open to new ideas that you probably would not think of or do on your own- this is why you hired a professional! Your designer is there to help you create an environment that is a reflection of your own style and is carefully planned so that the end result is a home that is balance and harmonious. With this premise in mind, you will need to let go and place your trust and confidence in the professional you have hired. When I am working with my clients, I like to listen to their input and then expose them to things they may not have chosen or thought of on their own. As designers, we have access to many lines of furnishings that our clients may not even know about. I love introducing my clients to companies that produce quality furnishings at a fair price.
Relax, enjoy the ride! This should be a rewarding and fulfilling experience that not only gets you the results you want but also exceeds your expectations. You can now spend your valuable time pursuing other interests and let your designer handle the rest.
On a personal note, while we cannot accept every client and every project, we operate off referrals and appreciate your business as well as your referrals. Always keep in mind that your interior designer should be able to work with you through all of life’s changes. We never promise to be the cheapest, but we do promise preparation, communication, timeliness and a trusted partnership that we trust will exceed your expectations. If you have an interior decorating project and are looking for exceptional results and fun experience give us a call!