How Do I Find a Great Interior Designer?

textures If you have ever bought a beautiful sofa and found that it did not fit into the room, ordered drapes that were about 3 inch too short, or created a dull room by using too many neutrals, you may have reached the point where you see the value of hiring an Interior Designer. You soon learn that a good designer can save you money and give you the polished look that you ogle in the magazines plus deal with your mate and their wacky design ideas! Okay, so you have made the decision, now what? Where do you find the good ones?

The obvious answer is to talk to your friends, ask people who have used a designer, or go through the design and home magazines for local talent.

Other sources are interior designer organizations such as ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), IIDA (International Interior Design Association), IDS (Interior Design Society) and many more. The members are independent designers with their own businesses. They need to meet some professional requirements of experience or education to become members of these associations. These associations compile lists of their members, their website, and what type of design they do.

Some furniture stores and accessory places have interior designers on staff. Traditionally, they sell only what is in the store. Make sure to ask, it may limit your choices. Having an “artsy” friend with a flair can be a “wild ride”. It may be thrilling at the start but it may not be so much fun at the end, so please beware. Nothing replaces education and experience!

PlanningAn independent interior designer has a wide range of vendors at her fingertips, not only locally but nationally. Good designers create teams of qualified professionals that they use time and again. When they have an on-going relationship with same tile places, faux finishers, furniture manufactures, and drapery workroom it establishes a professional rapport. This is important to you because if anything goes wrong the designer can bring pressure to bear to correct any problem with a minimum of fuss. Many vendors do business only with designers, or commonly called “To the Trade” only. The designer can purchase at wholesale or below retail pricing on item not generally available to the public. This gives the designer a distinct advantage over retail stores and affords you many options not available to everyone. This is one of the best reasons to hire a designer in the first place.

The most important part of finding a good designer, when you have found a name, is for you to ask questions. Make a list, because you will need to talk to at least 3 interior designers before you narrow down your choice. Please let the designer know that you are interviewing others. It is important to remember that a good interior designer can work in any style. If you like contemporary, traditional, old world, or transitional, the design principals stay the same just the furniture, shapes, and color palette change. Some designers prefer to work in a certain style. That’s fine if that is the style you like, not so good if you don’t! Make sure and ask.

You need to have a comfort level with your designer. You can start with a phone conversation but at some point you need a face to face meeting.

  1. How comfortable are you talking about money? This is huge! You need to be able to talk honestly about your budget and your expectations to get the best from your designer. They want to get you the best value for your dollar. If you want a quality couch, is it in the $5000, $10,000 or $100,000 range? Everyone will feel differently and not everyone has the same pocketbook!
  2. In what style does he/she like to work?
  3. Do they give a through explanation of their fees and how they charge for each part of the project? Every designer charge in a different manner. Some do flat fees, some do their cost plus a percentage (their costs which is below retail and an additional percentage on top), and some do hourly. Some charge different rates for different services, like shopping or renderings.
  4. Do they meet on weekends or after office hours?
  5. Did they explain their billing methods? Is it weekly or monthly or as you order each piece? How quickly do they expect to be paid? What about deposits?
  6. How do they talk about past clients? If they bad mouth a past client, beware, it is a red flag. Maybe the client was nuts or maybe the designer wasn’t doing his/her job in a professional manner.
  7. What references do they have? Call the references! You will be stunned at what people will reveal over the phone.
  8. Do they have a portfolio of their work? Have you seen some of their work in person?
  9. Do you want the designers vision of your home or a collaborative vision?
  10. How involved do you want to be in the process? If you are a closet designer at heart and you feel that you should be involved in every aspect, speak up. If on the other hand you want to be shown an option or two to choose from and that’s about all you can handle, please let the designer know.
  11. Ask how do they resolve problems? This can be a real eye-opener.
  12. Does he/she communicate well? If after a conversation you don’t quite know what was the answer or even the question, think again about hiring the person.
  13. Do you get a good feeling about them? Don’t dismiss your intuition!

Questions give you an opportunity to find out if this is a good fit at the start not months into a project! Here is the good news. If you do your homework and find a good fit, don’t be surprised if you find a new friend as well.

Janie's Signature

Janie Ellis, RID, ASID-IP, CF,
Master Artisan