How to Get the Most From Your Designer
Bunny William's own dining room in her conservatory
As I drink my morning coffee and admire the pumpkin vine growing just outside of my library window, I strategize my weekend. The festivities began yesterday with my daughter’s kindergarten stepping up ceremony and celebratory pool party, followed by dinner with friends. I can’t believe my baby is going to first grade! The rest of the weekend will be equally packed, including a birthday party, a going away party for dear friends, client appointments, and church. It will be topped off with family photos Sunday evening. Sometime before the family photos, I’ll have to squeeze in a blowout and paint my nails. So I thought what better way to start off my busy weekend than to write a quick blog post about a topic that every designer likes to avoid? Fees. Specifically, client fees.
Most designers truly love the creative side of their work. I happily design for hours a day, dream about my work, envision the perfect client projects, think about project ideas as I sing in the shower, and am gratified and humbled when clients are thrilled with the results of my efforts. What most designers don’t like talking about is money. Fees. How much to bill? When to bill? How to handle billing? It can be a real bummer. Listening to a recent episode of A Well-Designed Business podcast, I discovered (according to the guest being interviewed) that the average hourly rate of a new designer is $150 and the average rate for an established, lead designer is $225 and up. Rates vary depending upon what local markets can support but in consulting with other interior designers across the country, these quoted rates seem to hold up.
Those hourly rates may sound shocking to the average consumer, until they realize that many hours of my day are not billable. Often, designers work more hours for clients than billed. There is also overhead, such as taxes, insurance, legal fees, business registration costs, software, accounting services, promotional materials, and advertising. Sadly, when designers don’t charge for all their work or undercharge, we end up making an hourly rate the equivalent of our first afterschool job. It’s not sustainable.
Why is this important to the interior design client? Because like most other things in life, you get what you pay for. Unless you are working with a newer designer who is looking to establish herself and build a portfolio, a hobby decorator, or a friend, deeply discounted fees can’t sustain a business. The result is often a designer who has to take on more jobs than can be adequately attended to or a product that is less customized. There are numerous factors that go into designing a space, such as scale of the room, flow, color, the home’s architecture, and style of furnishings. If a designer is utilizing all the sources available, there are thousands upon thousands of choices from which to choose. Did you ever go online to look for a new piece of furniture? Hours later, you emerge, eyes bloodshot, head spinning, wondering why the birds are chirping and the morning paper has already been delivered? Even though designers can much more easily navigate those choices, choosing inspired pieces that meet budgetary demands takes time. Custom window treatments and furnishings add an extra layer of complexity. These things can’t be rushed. When I am designing a space, I want to create a room that is House Beautiful worthy. Clients hire me not only because of my creative ability and expertise but also because their time is valuable. They realize that spending weeks researching sources and products is not the best use of their time, especially when the finished product I deliver exceeds what they may have been able to accomplish on their own. I can also save them from the hassle and aggravation of common mistakes made in designing a home.
A little eye candy from House Beautiful's Instagram page
So how can you get the most from your interior designer?
1. Figure out a budget and be honest about it with your designer (I won’t judge). Do you have five grand or eighty grand for your dining room budget? And in case you’re wondering, yes, a fully executed, high-end design can easily run you tens of thousands of dollars for one room (think Bunny Williams). But you can also design a beautiful space for considerably less. However, your designer needs to know your budget so that she can source items that fit within that budget. If she comes up with a fabulous design but you don’t implement it because you can’t afford to purchase the items, then you haven’t gotten your money’s worth.
2. Have a clear sense of your likes, dislikes, wants and needs. A good designer can help tweeze out your design style but the more information you can give on the front end, the quicker the process will go. Pinterest and Houzz boards are great tools to use to convey the look you are hoping to achieve.
3. If what you really want is for someone to handle the entire process so that you don’t have to make any design decisions, find a designer whose work appeals to you and hand over the reigns. The process only works when you trust your designer. If you are second guessing every choice, it’s likely because you either picked someone whose esthetic is very different from your own or there was a breakdown in communication.
4. Try to get on the same page with your significant other, or let the person with better taste have the final say. :) When my husband and I built our custom home, it was a battle of wills. In the end, he (begrudgingly) let me make the majority of the design decisions and he now is VERY happy he did. In fact, he recently told me that I must relay this to all my clients. A good designer will help couples find compromises that appeal to both members. But there are times when even the most gifted designer will not be able to find a suitable compromise, and lots of time (and money) can be spent trying to find this mythical unicorn. Remember, not every piece chosen has to exactly match your design esthetic. It’s the overall look you are trying to achieve that will be most important.
5. Be honest with your designer. Is she contacting you too frequently? Not enough? Do you dislike some of the choices but are afraid to speak up? Is she not meeting your budget? Honest feedback (both positive and constructive) will help her to better serve you as a client. All the designers I know, myself included, really want to make their clients happy. We welcome feedback. We are human, so be kind, but certainly speak up.
6. Be willing to spend a large portion of your budget on quality furnishings. When my husband was a student at Duke, he didn’t have the money for a good business suit to wear to job interviews. His roommate, bless his heart, let my husband borrow a purple suit that looked like it was formerly owned by Arsenio Hall. Needless to say, the interviews didn’t go as well as planned. Did you ever see a man in a well tailored suit versus a purple, ill-fitting, Arsenio Hall suit? Me either. But now that my husband wears well tailored suits to work, I can appreciate the difference it makes. Vavavavoom! If you can afford well constructed pieces, they will make a huge difference in the appearance of your room (and last far longer). I do understand that people with young children may not want to invest in very expensive and precious items. Your designer can help you weigh the pros and cons.
If there is one place where it is totally worth it to hire a designer, it’s when choosing paint color and hard finishes for your home, such as brick, stone, tile, flooring, lighting, and cabinets.
In my work, I’ve seen a lot of unfortunate choices when it comes to color and hard finishes: granite paired with busy tile; undertones that don’t work well together; finishes that don’t complement the architecture of the home; inferior quality materials that don’t hold up to daily wear and tear...the list goes on and on. I can help you make classic, solid design decisions that will enable you to love your home for years to come. Because having to rip out a tile floor that looks terrible costs way more than hiring a designer to make sure it’s done right the first time.
I hope you've found this helpful!
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From Architectural Digest's Instagram page. I love the mix of contemporary and traditional. I find that a bit of simplicity in a traditional space allows your eyes to rest.