I frequently get asked about how hiring an Interior Designer/Decorator works.   Since there isn't an industry standard, it must be very difficult for potential clients to understand.  So I will try and outline some basics for you. 

1. How does the ID charge?

Some ID's charge by the hour plus a mark up on goods purchased through them.  This can be indicated by wholesale cost (the amount the ID pays for it)  plus a percentage (25-40%) mark up or a discount off the retail price.

Another way is a fixed design fee per room plus the mark up on goods.  The mark up is usually called cost plus ___%.  (or again Retail minus the __% discount)

Some decorators just charge by the hour because they don't buy directly from the vendor. They would obtain goods by shopping in stores, catalogs, and on line.


2.  Do you have to sign a contract?

All ID's should have an agreement that outlines the service they will be providing in detail (ie space plan, flooring, lighting, furnishings, accessory, and architectural specifications) and how compensation will be paid.  This protects everyone and outlines expectations.  Most ID firms expect you to pay a retainer when you sign an agreement.  This is like a deposit.  It can be then used towards the design fee or purchases and sometimes this is just an additional nonrefundable fee. 

3.  Does it cost more to use an ID versus a retail store?

It may or may not.  It depends on what kind of retail store you are shopping in.  If the ID is purchasing directly from the vendor, the mark up on the product is probably lower than a retail store.  The ID also has more resources that you may not see in a retail store.  I use very few lines available in furniture stores.  I want my clients to have an exclusive custom look that their neighbors and friends won't have. 

4.  What is the biggest advantage in using an ID?

Hiring someone to decorate your home will save you time, eliminate mistakes, and provide you with a custom space.  We have a plethora of unique items at our disposal.  We can have custom rugs fabricated where you can plug in the colors on an existing pattern or have an exclusive one created for you.  We have Artists that create unique paintings for your space.  ID's have the resources to have furnishings fabricated to specifically fit your space.  We have accessory, lighting, and furnishing lines you won't find in stores or on-line. 

5.  In my city I have a Design Center.  I can just go get a Tax ID number and shop there–so why would I use a designer?

Most IDs have relationships with the showrooms they shop in.  If you are just making a one time purchase, the level of service will be different and in some cases, so will the price.  Some showrooms will reward a designer with additional discounts once a certain volume is achieved.  Design Centers have a mark up on goods and in some cases, the price you get from them is the same as what a designer would charge you.  Showrooms won't provide you with space plans either.  If you're doing it on your own, hopefully you have a grasp of scale.    When a designer does a "to scale" space plan, we know exactly what size the furnishing should be. 

6.  I don't know how much it should cost to decorate my room?

The more important question is…  How much money can you release right now for the decor of that room?  It is imperative to be really honest about your budget.  A good ID will tell you if they can work with it or not.  IDs work at different levels.  Some can accommodate a vast range of budgets and others deal only in the high end.  It needs to be a match.  There are some IDs that have a minimum budget requirement (usually 20-25K). That may or may not be per room.  

7.  The furniture store by my house has free design services and will even come to my house and do space plans.  Why wouldn't I take advantage of that?

I actually think this is a good alternative for some.  I would ask lots of questions about the training the staff has received.  I'd also probably contact the Owner or Manager and ask them to refer you to a decorator in the store that would best match your personal style.  I'd then take a look at their portfolio to see their past projects.  If they can't provide you with that info, I'd pass on the "free" service.  You also want to make sure they don't use one line of furniture for the whole project.  You could end up with a store vignette feel when it is done.  Good IDs will use a variety of lines and a mixture of old and new so you don't get a "decorated" matchy matchy look.  You also lose out on the individuality and personal customization that an ID provides.  Your house could end up looking just like your neighbors. 

8.  What should I ask an ID before I hire them?

I'd ask to see their website and portfolio.  I'd ask for referrals.  I'd look at their training.  What credentials do they hold?  What organizations are they members of?  Ask to see their contract and read through it?  I'd ask if they can work with your budget (the one you haven't over or understated)?  Lastly, make sure it is a personality fit.  Do you like them?  They could be in your life a long time if not forever. 

I hope you find this helpful.  If you can think of anything I've missed don't hesitate to ask.  I'll be joining the Hooked on Houses party today.  Jump on over to get some great ideas and info. 

Thanks also to Paula Grace from Paula Grace Designs for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger Award.  Paula has a fantastic, informative, interior design blog.  Check it out.


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