Bringing together a room (or an entire house) takes energy and skill. After all, there are many decisions to be made regarding color, finishes, size, scale, focal points, room layout and more. Not everyone is made to make such decisions. Frankly, it can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, interior designers are trained to transform spaces – taking the guesswork out of home design. Colleen Primm of Colleen Primm Design, a Cleveland-based firm, explains, “Interior designers can create the feeling in a space that the client is looking for but doesn’t know how to create on their own.
Let’s look at what interior designers do, what they cost, and how they can work with you.
What is an interior designer?
An interior designer is a professional trained in creating a harmonious and functional space inside a building. Interior designers often specialize in a certain area, such as residential (homes), commercial (businesses), or hospitality (hotels). In the residential field, some specialize even more, in kitchens/bathrooms or (increasingly popular as the population ages) home modifications for the elderly.
The typical process begins with a meeting. Most designers will showcase their portfolios so you can see photos of past projects. The portfolio should give you a good idea of their style and attention to detail. If you like what you see, you can move on to discussing your goals, budget, and needs.
After visiting your home or the site where your new home will be, the designer can then use your preferences to sketch out what the final product might look like. Or, they can create tables (literal physical or 3D computer renderings) showing many of the most important elements of the room or rooms, such as colors and themes; fabric materials and samples; lighting; floor, ceiling and wall coverings; and light fixtures. They will usually come up with a budget and a contract detailing their services.
Once you approve the design of the space, the interior designer will source the necessary elements for the room, such as furniture and accessories. In some cases, an interior designer may shop with you to help choose items and/or serve as a project manager, overseeing the work of contractors.
Education and formation
Interior designers must earn at least an associate’s degree from an accredited school, but many earn a bachelor’s degree (BFA or BS) in interior design or even architecture. Some of the required courses may include drafting, lighting design, architecture, environmental science, professional practice, and computer writing. Some of the most prestigious institutions, such as the New York School of Interior Design, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Rhode Island School of Design, are specialized, but also offer liberal arts education.
As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, interior designers must be able to draw, read, and modify blueprints. They should also be familiar with national and local building codes, inspection regulations and accessibility standards.
Because they deal with construction, electrical wiring, and plumbing, interior designers must be state-sanctioned, and each state has its own licensing or certification requirements. Most states that require credentials will require designers to pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.
Besides the NCIDQ certification, reputable interior designers often have other credentials. Look for these initials after their names:
- American Lighting Specialist (ALA)
- Interior Design Accreditation Council (ACDI)
- Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC)
How do interior designers charge?
Interior designers generally charge for their services in one of three ways:
- Hourly or monthly. Rates generally range from $50 to $200 per hour, but can go up to $500.
- Flat rate per project, depending on the part or the scope of the work. Typical range: $200 to $2,000, but can go up to $12,000.
- A percentage based on the total cost of construction, items and services purchased, between 10% and 40%.
What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator?
Obviously, there is overlap between the two professions. Interior designers offer decorating services, and many interior designers define themselves, rather confusingly, as designers.
The main difference: an interior designer usually has more education than a decorator. Decoration is only one aspect of a design project: interior designers are able to furnish a room but also to imagine and create (in theory at least) its internal structure and bones. A decorator, on the other hand, is not certified to design a space. They take care of furnishing it, but no fundamental changes. They might suggest structural modifications, but are not qualified to make them.
For example, a decorator might help you remodel your bathroom – replace fixtures, refresh walls or floors, add new fixtures. A designer would be called in if you wanted to significantly enlarge the bathroom, add a separate shower, or rearrange the location of the tub, toilet, or sink.
If all you need is help choosing a few accents or furniture, or finding a color theme, an interior designer can do the trick. But if the project is larger and involves a major renovation (or new construction), space planning, coordination with an architect and contractors, a certified interior designer is the best option.
Work with an interior designer
When choosing an interior designer, ask for references from past clients. Check the designer’s training and certification, as well as photos of pieces and projects they’ve done in the past.
Interior designer Courtney Wollersheim of Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, FLOOR360 firm, recommends: “Find out how the designer charges – is it a monthly installment or an hourly rate? Also ask if they charge for products or materials purchased for your project. If you’re on a budget, perhaps the designer offers a package with a flat rate that meets your needs. »
Wollersheim adds, “Ask for a detailed description of what their services entail.” And put everything in writing, to avoid misunderstandings.
Communication is key when working with an interior designer, especially as you get down to project planning. Choose a designer who takes into account your preferences and understands what you are looking for. Remember that you have to live with the end product at the end of the day. If you feel uncomfortable voicing your opinion or are forced into a design that doesn’t fit your budget or style, you’re probably better off with another designer.
When do you need an interior designer?
If you need help putting a room together, coordinating different rooms, or choosing the right finishes for your home, an interior designer is ideal. If you’re working with an uncomfortable space and struggling to imagine the best layout or flow for your home, an interior designer may have some new space layout ideas that work. Plus, they can help you avoid the costly mistake of making the wrong choice of flooring, paint color, or furniture.
“Interior designers are hired to spend a client’s money wisely by telling them where to spend their money and where to save,” notes Primm. Plus, they understand design styles well enough to ensure your space stands the test of time.
Working with an interior designer comes at a cost, but it can be worth it. The designer is there to guide you in the choices necessary to create the most functional and aesthetic room or house possible. Always remember, though: it’s your dream. They just make it real.