October 24, 2018

How To Get the Most Out of Working With an Interior Designer

photography by Sarah Winchester

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while and just have not had the time to sit down and think about it properly until yesterday!  I think that working with a designer can be intimidating and a bit daunting for some people.  And the process can get expensive if you don’t know the best way to get the most bang for your buck.  So I talked with my team about what we thought are the most important things for people to know BEFORE they engage a designer to work on their home so we could share it with you.  I hope this is helpful and gives you a little insight into the process and how things work and how to make this relationship as productive and positive as can be!

Be Realistic About Your Budget

Doing whole rooms, and multiple rooms, adds up quickly.  So while the budget number you gave us may feel like a HUGE amount for you, it may not be a realistic number in which to get everything you want done, done.  You have to include our fees, shipping costs, installation costs, etc. and since we do this day in and day out, we do know what’s possible and what’s not.  So even if you’re picking all reasonably priced items from say, Pottery Barn, the number at the end may shock you a bit. I’d much rather see someone do one room at a time and spend well than do multiple rooms at once on the cheap.  You will appreciate this in the long run, trust me.

Buy Better Once Instead of Cheaply Twice

When it comes to the big important pieces- sofas, dining tables, beds- items you want to last a LONG time- spend more on better quality and save on accent items like side tables and accessories. This also goes for items you absolutely LOVE– if it makes your heart really sing, buy it and try to find a compromise with something else in the house you can save on.  You won’t regret it, but you may regret not buying that PERFECT vintage rug on Etsy that will be gone forever if someone else buys it first!


We do this for a living, so we DO know what we’re doing most of the time!  Trust us if we strongly suggest something.  If you absolutely HATE something, that is absolutely fair, but if something feels a little outside your comfort zone, give it some time and consider it thoroughly. I can’t tell you how many times the one thing the client was scared to do turned out to be their absolute favorite thing in their home!

Do Your Homework

The more inspiration and direction you can give us, the better the outcome!  It seems like a client with no opinion would be a dream, but it’s actually much harder (for me at least!) When pinning images, be sure to note what about the image you like– especially if it’s a specific piece.  You may have loved the wall color, but we thought you liked the rug and then we’ve spent time picking out items based on something you may not even love.  Also be sure to have a board of things you HATE. It’s so helpful! One time a client had done this for us and had animal print as a “dislike” and THANK GOODNESS, because otherwise I would have certainly tossed in some leopard! Just because I like it doesn’t mean you need to!

HGTV Is NOT Real Life!

The budgets and timelines they show on HGTV are for TV and NOT real life! In most cases, the numbers I see are off by way more than double what it actually costs to renovate in my area of the country.  Also, the furniture and accessories are staged and not part of the “budget” discussed and probably marketing placement.  It’s SO frustrating to have people think that is actually costs $3,500 to re-wire an entire house and only 6 weeks to do a gut renovation.  It sets everyone up for disappointment.  So watch these shows for entertainment only, not education!

Indecisiveness Will Cost You

The more options you want to see and more revisions we do, the more it costs. Hence my point about doing your research and coming into this prepared!  It’s simply a numbers game.  Sometimes people ask us for ten different versions of a space because they really have no idea what they want and then are surprised when they get our bill– but like anyone who bills hourly, time is money!  The more clarity you can provide about your desires, the lower your time billing will be! So give some really good thought to what you want before you ask your designer to work on your space.  And if you aren’t sure, ask your designer to look through your Pinterest with you and help you decipher the images you’ve identified as liking!

Plan WAY Ahead

People get excited to work with us and then immediately sad when they find out we have a waitlist of 6+ months and they’ll have to put their plans on hold or find someone else if they have a strict time line.   For example, people will call in September and say they want their house done before the holidays.  Not only is that timeline incredibly tight if we WERE available immediately, but most designers do have a bit of a wait, especially if your project is small.  Bigger projects will tend to get priority because they will keep staff busy longer and create more income for the business. And this is, after all, a business. Which leads me into my next point…

This is Not Hobby, it’s a Job

Being a designer seems super fun and like a slightly frivolous endeavor, and while we recognize that we’re not curing cancer here, this is our livelihood. Whether a business of one or ten, designing a home is like 20% creativity and 80% paperwork and regular ol’ business stuff.  It’s a lot of work, which is why you are hiring us, right? So please keep that in mind.  Also, it’s upsetting to us when clients say “well, I want you to design this, but only spend X number of hours on it”.  It’s equivalent of going to your dentist and saying, “I’d like you to fill my cavity but I only want you to spend 20 minutes on it.”

Involve Us Early if Your Renovating or Building

If you are doing a big project and plan to use a designer, involve them early. It ALWAYS helps to have another set of trained eyes on a set of plans or at a walk through. I can’t tell you the number of things we’ve caught over the years even with the best architects!  They just see spaces differently than we do.  It also can be cost effective, not only in catching possible furniture, material or lighting layout issues, but also in replacing items you may have just picked on your own that don’t then work the design.

Things Take Time

Even retail items can have long lead times, especially upholstered goods.  Trade only items will typically have a lead time of 8-10 weeks PLUS transport so you have to factor that into your timeline.  So just be prepared to wait for what you really want.  Also, you have to allow the designer proper time to flesh out their concept, so ask how long they expect it to take to formulate a design and do revisions before ordering can begin.  And things WILL get delayed. They just will. Know that many times this is out of the designer’s hands and causes them stress too.

Speak Up

It can be intimidating to work with a designer, and you may feel badly if something they proposed just isn’t you.  But we are a service industry and we really want you to be happy- so tell us! We won’t be (too) offended :) The outcome of this relationship should leave both parties happy, so make sure you are clear about direction and dislikes.

If you have any other questions about working with a designer, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

Also, tune into my Stories this afternoon for a delayed, but fun, Weekly Wants Thanksgiving tabletop design that won’t break the bank but looks expensive! Sneak peek below!

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