10 things to know before calling an Interior Designer

Calling an Interior Designer is an important decision, as it is a creative-technical-professional figure around which there are still (unfortunately) several prejudices and a bit of confusion.

“They’ll make me spend a lot of money”, “I’ll do it faster myself”, “If I don’t have to build a house, I don’t need an Interior Designer”, “I’ve already renovated a house and my husband did it all”, “The Interior Designer of my house can only be me!”.

That’s right. Interior Designer and interior architect in UK and, generally speaking all over the globe, enjoy these “cultural legacies” which, to be honest, are very difficult to unhinge. For better or for worse, the profession of the Interior Designer is so vast and articulated that it is not possible to pigeonhole it in two lines.

An Interior Designer can decide to deal with different design themes, even in a transversal way. Through the professional career, after graduation, they can become a designer of large-scale (urban), small-scale (interior), can deal with product design, can design parks and museums, specializing in sustainable housing, yachts, lighting design, or construction management. In short, you have a vast world to explore.

Unfortunately, my profession is not talked about enough. Many potential clients don’t know how, practically, a professional with a degree in Interior Designer can be useful to them.

Let’s assume that an Interior Designer, an interior architect, an interior decorator, an interior stylist, a lighting designer, or a home stager are not the same profession, do not develop the same expectations, and therefore do not lead to the same results.

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10 things to know before calling an Interior Designer

Interior Designers can draw up plans and technical drawings that are essential to making construction or renovation ideas a reality. They are enrolled in a Professional Association and can help developed bureaucratic documents for institutions and carry out activities of Project Management. But this is not all.

The Interior Designer must be chosen based on empathy

Before hiring your professional, take a few days to choose the right one. Generally, the first point that is important to make is about aesthetic taste. If an Interior Designer specializes in designing ultra-modern minimalist glass-and-steel homes, he probably won’t be the perfect fit for your rustic over-decorated mountain cabin.

This is not to say that he or she won’t be able to do it brilliantly, but that it will probably be more complicated to “communicate” the intent or the design process may be more forced.

If an Interior Designer has his style, his personality that you like, so much the better. It will be smoother and easier to arrive at a dream design.

For some types of construction work, you will need to hire an Architect or Engineer. Renovations, new construction, restorations: in this case, it is unthinkable to do everything yourself it is even counterproductive

The Interior Designer is a creative person: they loves (organized) freedom

If you want to give an Interior Designer gray hair, tell him what he needs to do, how, and why. Some clients show up at professional offices with sketches and do-it-yourself project drawings. In this case, don’t let the professional see them! This is like going to the doctor with a self-diagnosis and a prognosis. What would be the point!

Having an idea does not mean having a solution.

An Interior Designer works well when he has data and requirements on the table when he has been given a budget and a timetable (albeit an indicative one in this historical moment). The Interior Designer works badly when the client is nagging, when he often changes his mind, when he doesn’t have enough budget or when he hinders the design process with a thousand useless anxieties. And above all, when he does not see the light in a logical process, that is, when the client never realizes.

The Interior Designer is not a magician or a seer

Communication between client and professional must be clear and simple. The client must make his needs as clear as possible, just as the Interior Designer must ask him questions and explain the pros and cons of the layouts he presents, the choices he makes, and the expected results. It may cost them extra work but presenting an extra layout or an unconventional solution sometimes saves both their lives.

If the communication between the parties doesn’t work, the idyll jams and you risk sending a good design overboard. If you live by false expectations, you will surely be disappointed. Ask questions and get answers. Make appointments, but make sure they are not endless. Even the contract between the parties to be signed before starting must be as clear and comprehensive as possible.

The “you didn’t tell me this six months ago” is no excuse for anyone.

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The Online Interior Designer Pros & Cons

Since the lockdown, there has been a proliferation of professionals offering design or consulting services online only. It may seem like a quick and easy solution, but that’s not always the case.

It depends on what you need to accomplish (whether you need to build a house, remodel, or just redecorate a room) and your way of being. In general, a renovation can’t happen completely online. There is a need for an additional professional to fill out the paperwork and submit it to the municipality, as well as an on-site Construction Management. An online Interior Designer can help you in several ways, all of which are valid, but you have to take into account that he will not be there physically with you when you have to buy the kitchen or choose the matching walls.

For some clients, managing the project remotely can be a great compromise, but for others, it can be a nightmare. It’s up to you to decide which solution best suits your needs, and it’s up to the Interior Designer to specify what his or her skills and activities are for each project to limit frustrations.

Not all Interior Designers are the same

You might consider calling any Interior Designer to help you with the design of your remodel. What you shouldn’t underestimate, particularly when you think it’s “just minor changes,” is how difficult it can be:

Organizing the space
Matching colors
Choosing all the coverings (Tiles / Floors)
Deciding on furniture
Choose the lights and design the ceilings
Define the furnishings
Arrange the garden or balcony
Design custom furniture in detail
Plan wallpapers and paints
Adapt existing furnishings and mix them with new ones

Don’t assume that just any Interior Designer can handle interior furniture choices and the entire list above. Many don’t, limiting themselves to the study of space and fixtures.

It is good to clarify this before hiring a professional.

The Interior Designer helps you manage the (endless) details

“But what does an Interior Designer do to ask me for a fee like that?”

As I mentioned, some clients may have a slightly distorted view of reality. For example, they underestimate the fact that there are a thousand and one choices to be made on a building site in a short space of time, which often confuses them because they don’t have a clear idea or are overwhelmed by the doubt of doing things well without wasting money.

Among other things, customers:

Don’t know that facilities exist and can be modified or decided by them
They are not prepared to go over budget, so they choose very expensive materials without knowing their real value
They fail to enforce deadlines
They are surprised if alternative decisions must be made on a construction site for a thousand reasons, especially cost or availability of materials.
They get nervous because nowadays raw materials arrive with a crazy delay, so construction sites are at a standstill for a long time.
They don’t know that some companies don’t carry out the work to the millimeter and must be controlled in steps
They have no idea of the general timetable and supply, so it is difficult for them to fit things in, and the construction site takes forever.
They often don’t have a great imagination and want to “see” how a project will be done before it’s done
They don’t know that many furnishings can be custom made, that some companies sell the same things at a different price, that different materials give a different value to the house.

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If you go over budget, it’s not always the Interior Designer’s fault

You may hire an Interior Designer only to find that your dream home costs twice your budget, even after investing many months in design and planning. Before you start designing, put 3 priorities on the table from the beginning: style, budget and timeline.

An Interior Designer works in phases. Be prepared to approve things in the design process and don’t imagine going into the house after two months like in the (unreal) TV shows.

The more complex the project, the more operational phases there will be. It is not very smart to jump from one pole to another, also because in construction there is a precise order of intervention. The budget is one of the pillars of design and it is impossible to think of building Hollywood houses with a few thousand euros.

“It’s not wise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you waste some money, that’s all. When you pay too little, sometimes you waste everything, because the thing you bought is incapable of meeting the needs for which it was bought. The law of business balance says that you can’t pay little and get a lot – it’s not practically real. If you’re dealing with the lowest bidder, think twice about adding a slice for the risk you’re taking and, if you do, make sure you have enough money to back up the work done twice.” John Ruskin, author/economist 1819 – 1900

More professionals are possible for a single project

It’s no wonder there are multiple professionals on a single job site, quite the contrary. The Interior Designer is not the only actor on a project. To give an example, the other day, on site for a renovation of a single-family house for a briefing we were: the client, the surveyor who takes care of the practices and directs the work, me (the Interior Designer), the thermal engineer / plant engineer, the general contractor (company), the plumber, the lighting designer, the garden designer and the furniture maker. Each with a specific task and each with different professionalism.

Sometimes the Interior Designer is called upon to range between the professions, adapting to design small gardens, interior lighting, drywall and other spaces, but if you want to go big, it’s best to call on multiple specialists.

In that situation, my presence was as a “director” because I had to balance the design and all the requirements into one figure.

The Interior Designer’s process is important to not go crazy

A home designed by an Interior Designer will be more valuable [in sales] than one that isn’t, and an Interior Designer also allows you to open more options to get what you want. Whether it’s zoning permits or hiring contractors, everything can be a minefield if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The Interior Designer with an established process works much better than one who doesn’t. Generally, the phases of work are as follows:

Phase 1: Planning/Concept
The homeowner and the Interior Designer discuss the requirements of the project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.), checking to see if they match the homeowner’s needs, wants, and budget.

Step 2: Schematic Design
The Interior Designer prepares a series of drawings, known as a schematic design, showing the general layout of the rooms or building site. Some Interior Designers also prepare 3D models to help visualize the design (not all, however!). The client approves one or more of these layouts before proceeding to the next step.

Phase 3: Design Development
The Interior Designer prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed project. Floor plans show all rooms in the correct size and shape. Specifications are prepared that list major materials and room finishes.

Step 4: Prepare construction documents
Once the homeowner has approved the design, the Interior Designer prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction costs and carry out the project. The drawings and specifications become part of the construction/renovation contract.

Step 5: Hiring the Contractor/Company
The homeowner selects and hires the contractor. The Interior Designer may be willing to make some recommendations or make site visits to unite the intent and explain the work. In many cases, clients choose from several contractors (maximum of 3 typically) to whom they have asked to submit the estimate. The Interior Designer can help you prepare bid documents, as well as invite firms he knows to prepare bids and estimates.

Step 6: Construction Management/Creative Direction
While the contractor will physically construct the home or renovation, the Interior Designer can assist the owner in making sure the project is built according to plans and specifications. The Interior Designer can make periodic site visits or even actual Construction Management to oversee construction and generally keep the homeowner informed of the progress of the project. The Contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules and procedures.

The most important quality of an Interior Designer is …

… accuracy? … creativity? … technical skill? … empathy? … problem-solving? … their portfolio? … cost?

It’s up to you to decide your Interior Designer’s most important requirement. There is no instructional bubble behind a design job and there is no single possible outcome. Those who complain that “the Interior Designer has provided me with nothing but disasters” often evaluate the situation only from their perspective.
Sometimes, a client can become unmanageable, overly pretentious, obstructive or even demeaning. From heaven to hell is a snap, I assure you!

From my perspective, I can tell you that good communication between the parties saves lives…and wallets!

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