Many of us have dreamed of hiring an interior decorator, but weren’t sure where to start or if it would even be affordable. This simple guide can help you learn how to hire the best decorator for you, your style, your home and your budget.
First, what’s your style?The best interior decorator in the world can’t help you until you have some idea of what you like. This can be challenging if you’ve never really thought about it, let alone how to explain it. Some of us have a clear sense of what defines our style, while others may have eclectic tastes that borrow from various styles.
A good way to begin to identify your style is to create a “vision board” or “style file” that contains images of things you like that you’ve collected from design magazines, websites or even catalogues. The images should include things that show colors you prefer, furniture styles that speak to you, textures, patterns, fabrics, and accent pieces that catch your eye — even space planning options or organizational ideas. You should also think about any “design deal breakers”—things you would never want in your space such as animal prints, wicker or the color orange. Also, keep in mind items you’re not willing to part with, like your dearly departed Aunt Ida’s sofa. Once you have an idea of what you like (and don’t) you’ll be better equipped to communicate that to your designer. And this is important, if the interior designer will be working on a shared space that a spouse or other family members should have their say-so on. Also, be sure to get their input starting at this stage and throughout the process.
What’s your designer’s style?If you’ve gone through the exercise of determining that your style is casual and beachy, it would be foolish to choose a designer who is known for a distinctly edgy contemporary style, even if everyone you know raves about him or her. Of course, a really great designer shouldn’t be a “one-trick pony” either. Choose a designer who has a range of work that fits within your overall aesthetic.
That said, you shouldn’t expect an interior designer to treat your style cues as prescriptive design rules, but rather as inspiration. It’s just a starting point, a way to get their creative juices flowing. Remember, you are hiring a professional for a reason. And it’s not just to re-create a picture out of a magazine. After all, you can probably do that yourself. A good interior designer will use his or her expertise to translate the feeling of your vision into your living space, taking scale, function and budget into account. Your designer can also suggest pairing different elements you would never think to use together to create a unified, harmonious effect.
Next, what are your needs?Your needs may go well beyond aesthetics and be about how a space functions for your lifestyle. Figuring out exactly what you need will help you find an interior decorator who has the skill set you’re looking for. You may need someone who has the vision and know-how to make walls come down and move or remove doors and windows, not just someone who has a great eye for pattern. Once you determine your needs, you can develop a list of questions to ask prospective interior decorators about their relevant experience. It’s also a good idea to get references from satisfied clients who had needs similar to yours.
What are your expectations?This is a little different than determining your needs. Your expectations focus more on your personal communication style and comfort in having someone make decisions or selections with or without your direct input. When you interview prospective designers, ask for details about the process of working together. Be sure to ask about timing of your project, how often you’ll meet to discuss things, who else will be in your home completing the work, and how billing will be handled … more on that in a bit.
Where should you look?You may have friends who have wonderful style and their homes reflect that. If they’ve gotten help from a design professional, ask for a referral and be sure to ask pointed questions about working with that interior decorator.
Another great place to start is your local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). You should be able to look at a designer’s portfolio and see his or her qualifications.
Many local furniture stores, window design stores or specialty paint stores may have referrals, too. Online is another great place to look. For example, you can browse the directory of interior designers on Houzz.com. You do have to register to gain access to the site, but once you do, it can provide great inspiration for your Vision Board/Style File and help you find professional designers in your area and beyond.
What will it cost?Naturally, that depends on a few things. Some designers charge an hourly rate (ranging from $50 to $500); others charge a flat fee, which could be as little as several thousand dollars or be as much as five figures. Still others charge a percentage of the total project cost. Regardless of the fee structure, be sure to clarify what you will be billed for and when. For example, some designers may charge for travel time, site visits, shopping, phone conversations and more. Also, it’s best to ask up front whether you'll receive furnishings, accents, materials or other items at a discounted rate. You may also be asked to pay a retainer before work begins.
Is it worth it?That’s a question only you can answer. Working with a designer can be a wonderful investment in your home, especially if it brings you joy, comfort and greater functionality. It can also help your home live up to its full potential. And, if you should ever decide to put your home on the market, it may even help persuade potential buyers that your house is the one or help you sell at a higher asking price.
The good news is, if you ever tire of the new look, you can always change it again. Regardless, it makes sense to think about making updates periodically to keep up with the times.
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