Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hiring An Interior Designer? Why?

What Are Your Expectations?  There are probably a plethora of articles about hiring an interior designer, what to look for, what to expect from them, and what to ask of them.


(Where to start?  Your designer will know. – Master Bedroom design beginnings – Wanda S. Horton.)

Ask Yourself Some Questions Before Picking Up The Phone.  Other than the obvious desire of wanting to live in a better designed home, having a need to freshen or fix-up a space, or the many different reasons you might need help with your interior spaces, there are also some important underlying questions to ask of yourself, in order to know if you’re going to make the right connection.  (Hint, designing minds want to know these answers, too!) 

Why do you think you want to hire an interior designer? 

  • Do you think they will free up your time to do other things?
  • Do you think they will teach you how to design?
  • Do you want to prevent errors and make wise investments?
  • Do you believe they will bring a sense of status to your project?
  • Do you think they will bring a better function, aesthetic, and quality of life to your home?

What value do you see a designer bringing to your project?

What do you think your investment will be in terms of design services and what your design service needs might be?

Other great questions: 

  • What will your involvement be in the design process?  A lot?  A little?  Somewhere in between?
  • Do you like watching design television, read a lot of magazines, or read design blogs?  What are your favorites and why? 
  • Do you enjoy collaborating as part of a team? 
  • Do you understand what the creative process is and do you have the patience to allow for it to unfold? 
  • Are you ready to commit to completing a project or do you expect for it to be done in stages?
  • How long do you think it might take to complete your project and how did you determine that timeline?  (Read about it?  Have an important event coming up?)
  • What’s most important and in what order? - Function?  Look?  Quality?  Sustainability?  Price?
  • What service do you most value and in what order? - Creativity?  Function?  Knowledge?  Time Management?  Project Management?  Money management?  Communication?

HomeArama 2005 004

(Each element and layer brings forth the satisfaction of completion.  Taking away one part is like taking away brush strokes in a piece of art.  You’ll never see the total picture. – Master Bedroom design completion, Wanda S. Horton.)

After practicing interior design, for almost 30 years, I’ve seen a shift in the perception and appreciation for the skill sets and experience needed to do what I do best.  (This could be a totally separate blogpost.)  Let’s suffice it to say, I spend extra hours educating and reassuring a more apprehensive public about the benefits of bringing a designer on board.  A lot of questions are asked and I usually don’t mind answering them, as long as we’re making a forward motion.  I honor that it’s a mutual investment of time and it should be made wisely.

In my experience, I see how projects can become “stuck” when the creative flow becomes interrupted with too much afterthought.  I’ll admit, I’m more comfortable with a goal-oriented client, who is ready to get things done and in a logical manner of succession. I believe the best time to ask the important questions is in the beginning of the process. The outcome is much happier for all! 

. . . And usually, a happy designer is at their personal best!

Have a question?  Please do share it! ~ Wanda


Maureen @ Modecor said...

Love this going to use your questions with clients. Am wondering if you have seen change in 30 years due to media influence on customer/client...overwhelmed now with good/bad advice on design shows and mags.

Nelson Rogers Design said...

Oh yeah! Great post Wanda - I think I'll print it out for a couple of my clients to see.

HeidiTownMayor said...

An interior designer often has access to some of the best artisans out there as well. Our company, for instance sells to the trade and it would be difficult for someone who isn't a designer to have access to our furniture.
(I co-own in CO)

Wanda S. Horton - Interior Designer said...

Thanks to all of you for sharing your comments. I've had a few inquiries,as of late, about my services and it's easy to see there is a huge opportunity for dialogue on this topic. Maureen, in the attempt to educate consumers and to try to remove some of the mystery behind the design process, I do agree that there is a lot of information out there, which gives pause to what was once an admired profession. I hope the days of great design are not diluted or discounted by incorrect perceptions. I bring a value to the project, which if appreciated, will be enjoyed ten-fold by the client and for years to come. :)

Elaine said...

Great subject and post, Wanda. I really believe a conference on this subject is in order. Designers truly need to drive the perception of our industry and our value. We ARE the industry afterall.

Mr. Goodwill Hunting said...

Hmmm. I thought I submitted my question earlier. Apparently I have ADD. I wanted to ask you Wanda, why is it that some designer will not take on a project that is less than say $10K per room? Is this because they have a commitment to use certain products?

Thanks Wanda!

Mr. Goodwill Hunting

Wanda S. Horton - Interior Designer said...

Elaine, I so agree! I’ve thought of the upcoming High Point Market as a great location for a round table or panel discussion. (And seriously considering making that happen, if other designers are interested.)

Wanda S. Horton - Interior Designer said...

Rashon, there can be many reasons for the budget figure you’ve discussed, and since there are different levels of services offered by different designers, I’ll try to share some feedback to help the consumer understand, from my perspective, as well as my experience. Building realistic expectations is the very key to a successful project, including the investment in that project. Without it, the trust and communication can go south, quickly.

The $10,000 minimum per room question is open-ended. Do you mean the design fee would be in that amount - or the product - or is it to be for a combination of both? There are different levels of fees, out there, and I find they are based on the education, experience, and skill set being brought forth by the designer. I think, as there are so many wearing the design hat these days, there is a bit of a blur between the concept of interior design and decoration. Here is a link, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a good description of what professional interior designers may provide for clients. Product, as we know, can run from a lower level to couture and custom, so the numbers are relative to that degree of quality and uniqueness. A framed, mass produced Picasso print can sell for $75.00 and one of his originals sold for over $106.5 million in 2010. (Seemingly ironic in a challenged economy.)

As I sometimes offer analogies, (and please bear with me as I go down this garden path), I’ll share some thoughts I had, yesterday, as I was sitting in the chair of my hair colorist. She is someone I’ve been going to for at least six years, so that probably gives you an idea of the level of satisfaction. I can tell you that I’m paying her more than I did when I first began going to her. Of course, part of the reason is that the cost of operating a business: overhead, product costs, etc., have gone up. In parallel, some interior designers may have a staff to support, as well as have to budget for marketing fees, workmen’s comp., business insurance, legal and accounting fees, continuing education classes, and other costs relating to operating business. (The dollar minimum you questioned may be in direct relationship to the scale and scope of the design firm.)

A second reason my colorist has created a better level of compensation is that she has advanced her skills, attended multiple educational events, (many of which she has had to cover the costs), and her business has grown to the point that she always stays booked, even with the higher level of investment she now requires. For some, that sounds counterintuitive . . . she has higher fees but the largest clientele in the salon? Perhaps it’s because, for some, they are willing to reward her for the distinctive value she brings to them in being the best at what she does. In turn, they feel rewarded by having really great hair. They may feel they are presented to the world in a much better way.

We all have different reasons we are willing to make certain investments. That’s why I shared all of the questions a consumer might want to ask themselves prior to making the call to a designer as it helps to clarify what they really want. There is less confusion or less opportunity for muddied expectations, be it price or service or both.

(Due to limited characters - continued on the next post)

Wanda S. Horton - Interior Designer said...

Continued from above:

In going back to the hair analogy . . . I could certainly decide that I want to pull back on my investment and attempt to do the layers of colors it takes to cover my gray and to make it look as if the good Lord blessed me with the color I have now. I would have to carefully study what I think my colorist has done, and in essence, try to copy her without the hours of training and hours of technique she’s developed. Per Gail Doby, a successful interior designer and trainer, “Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers and many other great business books, says it takes at least 10,000 hours to become an expert on one topic. That is 5 years of full-time work...and that's if you're just perfecting one skill.” Wow! Maybe, eventually, I might be able to get close. By that point, I may have also damaged my hair and need to go through extensive, costly treatments to repair it. For me, my time is better spent elsewhere and she is worth my investment. I also don’t have to begin the whole process over with another colorist, in hopes that they get “me” and what I like.

I know the question included the cost being linked to using certain products. I can’t answer for all designers, on that one. Some may base their income solely on product profit. In today’s marketplace, I do feel that’s a dicey way to structure one’s business as there is less product loyalty, in my observation. That discussion would be another lengthy post and I do agree, with my fellow designers, that it warrants a roundtable discussion with our vendors. The consumer would appreciate being educated in regards to quality, sustainability, and long term investments versus throw-a-way. My fellow designers might agree, part of the throw away mentality results from indecision, so the idea is, if something doesn’t work, then if it’s cheap enough, it can be discarded and the process can begin anew. It’s not something that I encourage or favor for my own clients.

In my humble opinion, in the end, great design starts with the beginning. Not only should the interior designer offer open and transparent conversations about their process, the consumer will need to be as open and sharing about their expectations of investment for their homes, in order for everyone to be on the same page and to experience the best about design. One really should receive what they’ve paid for and there are definite guidelines of what is considered to be well-produced interior design.

And on that lengthy note, the cup of coffee is on me!

All my best! - Wanda