10 Questions to Ask When You Are Looking to Hire an Interior Designer

Monocled Miss by Slim Aarons

Hiring an interior designer can be a somewhat intimidating, if not completely foreign, task.  To help prepare you for this process, I have put together a list of ten questions that you should definitely ask a designer during your first meeting.  This list is by no means exhaustive, just a good jumping off point!

1.  Do I like this person?  Can I spend a lot of time with him/her?

Good communication is key!  You could be working with this person for a couple of weeks or several years, depending on the scope of the project.  The designer will really need to get inside your head and understand how you and your family live and how you would like to use your home to deliver a final design that will make you happy.  If you do not like your designer, this “get to know you time” could be unpleasant and in the worst case, you skip this step entirely and you do not get the end result that you want.

2.  Inquire about the designer's education, training, experience, professional affiliations and other credentials.

You are going to trust this individual with your home so definitely  look for educated and accredited interior designers who can demonstrate their creativity and talent and display an eagerness to listen and work with you.

3.  Ask to see a portfolio of past projects and references.

If the look you are going for in your project is not represented in the designer’s portfolio, ask the designer if they will be able to design in the style you want.  Sometimes designers will put together a mini-conceptual presentation to show they can design in your desired style, but be warned -- most designers will charge a small fee for this additional step.  Your prospective designer should readily provide references once you request them.  If there is reluctance to provide this information that is definitely a red flag!

4.  Does the scale of my project really warrant an interior designer?

People often do not realize the time it takes to redesign a home, or even a single room.  Do you have the time and inclination to deal with all the phone calls, logistics, vendor meetings, and all the other unanticipated tasks/problems that crop up during any project, no matter the size?

5.  How do you charge for your time?

There are several different ways for an interior designer to charge for his/her services.  There really is no “typical”or “customary" fee for an interior designer.  Your designer may use one of the fee structures below, or any combination of the four:

  • Fixed fee (or flat fee) -- The designer identifies a specific sum to cover costs {which does not include reimbursement for expenses.} One total fee applies to the complete range of services, from conceptual development through layouts, specifications and final installation.

  • Hourly fee -- Compensation is based on actual time spent by the designer on a project or specific service.  The hourly fee can range anywhere from $100 p/hour to $300 p/hour or more.

  • Cost plus -- A designer purchases materials, furnishings and services (e.g., carpentry, furniture, drapery workrooms, picture framing, etc.) at cost and sells to the client at the designer's cost plus a specified percentage that is agreed to with the client to compensate for the designer’s time and effort.

  • Per square foot --The designer charges fees based on the square footage of the project.

(Source: ASID)

More and more designers are now charging a combination of either a fixed fee (also called a design fee) that covers the time to come up with the design and cost plus for products and services the designer is asked to purchase on behalf of the client.

6.  Can we stay within my budget?

It is critical that both you and your designer realistically evaluate your budget based on the scope of your project.  If you have concerns about price, discuss them with the designer.  Don’t be shy about asking the designer to help you optimize your budget {it is very important to do this from the get-go.}  But be realistic, too.  You may need to scale back your project or consider having the work done in stages.  When it comes to fixed finishes and furnishings, the designer can provide you with several different options to help you stay within the decided budget.

7.  What if I don’t like the design?  Do I still have to pay for it?

YES!  When you choose to hire an interior designer, you decide to trust his/her design recommendations.  As a client, your responsibility is to provide as much information as possible to achieve your desired look.

8.  Is it possible to make changes once the design process has begun?

The key thing to remember when thinking about making a change in the design is that everything is inter-related and any change you make can set off a domino-like chain reaction of required adjustments, which ultimately add time and expense to your project.  A good designer will present you with several options in terms of the design; a good designer will also listen to your concerns regarding the design and will be willing to making your requested changes AND will let you know, to the best of their ability, how these changes will affect the cost and timing of your project.

9.  What if a piece of furniture comes damaged?

Typically, the designer will retain the services of a receiver/warehouser that will inspect and inventory furnishings as they are delivered.  A good designer will inspect the furnishings as well {this should include periodic visits to the workroom to oversee any custom pieces.}  If any damage is detected, the designer and vendor will work together to come to a resolution.

10.  How long does it take for custom furnishings, etc to be completed once they are ordered?

There is no set timeframe, especially when it comes to custom orders, items coming from outside of the US, or items that are not in stock.  This list should give you a basic idea of what kind of “lead time” to expect:

  • Upholstered Furniture: 10-16 weeks, depending on vendor

  • Casegoods: 14-16 weeks, depending on vendor

  • Window Treatments: 6-8 weeks, depending on size of job

  • Accessories: 4-6 weeks or less

  • Rugs: 2-4 weeks for machine made rugs.  3-4 months for hand-knotted rugs

  • Wallpaper/fabric: 3-5 days