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DESIGN LINE: How To Hire (and Work With) An Interior Designer

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Hiring (and working with) an interior designer can be daunting. Here are 9 steps to make it work.

Two weeks ago, I shared some insights into what to expect from the renovation process.  If your project will entail hiring an architect, interior designer or both, I hope you’ll read on to find out just what to expect from that process as well.  The key word here is process.  Design of any kind entails a process and process takes time, so if there’s one thing to remember, it is get going well before you think you need to.

Start early

Professional designers have multiple clients simultaneously.  It’s highly unlikely that the designer you like the most will be available to start your project the second you sign your contract, so make sure you allow time to interview potential designers, sign one up and wait several weeks before the process commences. 

Searching for a designer

While I’m happy for clients to find me in any fashion, I can’t stress enough that the phone book is not a good way to find your designer.  Ask your friends, look in magazines and search the web for designers in your area.  Good websites to begin your search include www.interiordesignpro.org or www.houzz.com.  Look at regional magazine sites as well.  In New England, check out www.nehomemag.com or designnewengland.com.  

Making a decision

Architects are required to have licensing, but interior designers generally aren’t (this varies by state).  Many “interior designers” simply print a business card and get to work, so ask about design education and experience.  Whether a designer is associated with a trade organization is also a way to differentiate professional credentials.  The two most respected are www.asid.org and www.iida.org.  Some designers are also certified by www.ncidq.org which will mean you are truly getting a professional.  These organizations require continuing education, so an affiliation or certification means you have a professional who is dedicated to the growing knowledge of design.

Be prepared

Unless you are hiring a designer and letting them do whatever they want, you’ll need to gather images that express what you love and hate.  Houzz.com and www.pinterest.com are perfect places to do this.  There, you can create idea folders, follow other designers and create idea books that will help your designer understand what you are drawn to and your inherent style. 

Tell your story

Once your designer is on board, there will be an interview process. In order to be most effective and efficient, knowledge is everything, so be open about your needs and how you live or work.  The more a designer knows about you, the more you will be presented with ideas that are in line with your taste. 

Establish a budget

Everyone has a budget of some kind, so don’t say that you don’t have one!  Materials vary widely in quality and price.  Tile can be $2.00 per square foot or $200.00, and your designer won’t know where to look until a solid budget has been established. 

Carve out time for decisions

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of decisions to be made during renovating, so make sure you allow some time to make them.  How involved you wish to be will determine how much time you realistically need to make decisions.  A bathroom renovation seems simple to most, but when you drill down, there are a load of choices to make along the way.


Ask your designer what the process will be like.  I work very systematically, and believe taking the design process step by step is the best recipe for success.  Here’s a simplified step by step:

1. Interview my clients.

2. Review their houzz and/or pinterest sites, magazines clippings, etc. so that I understand their natural styles.

3. Measure and draft the space within which I’ll be working.  That could be as small as a kitchen, or as large as an entire office or house.

4. Work on schematic drawings that will show options of how the space could be arranged.

5. Pull together architectural materials, finishes, and furnishings to begin conversing about how all of the hard and soft materials will integrate together in the space.  Depending on the client and needs, there could be one to three options to choose from.

6. Begin to refine the details of the design.  If it’s a bathroom, for instance, we will need to detail things like the tile patterns so that your builder knows what to do.

7. Get pricing and begin ordering.

Be patient

The more detailed the process, the more successful your project will be. In today’s instantly-gratifying world of facebook and twitter, it’s hard for clients to understand that architectural finishes and furnishings take time to arrive.  An order placed in January may not arrive for 4-20 weeks.  Custom rugs can take six months to a year.  Unless you want your house to look like the Pottery Barn catalog, you will need to wait for the things you love.  And when you look back ten years from now, you’ll be so happy you did!  Good things come to those who wait.

Kelly Taylor is the 2012 recipient of New England Home magazine’s “5 Under 40” award for excellence in design as well as Rhode Island Monthly magazine’s 2012 Gold Award for residential interior design.  She practices residential and commercial interior design in Providence, Rhode Island.  Please find her on twitter at @ktidnet or visit her website at www.ktid.net.


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