How to Hire An Interior Designer

At this point, you’ve determined that you need an interior designer (at least, we hope you have. If you haven’t, please first check out our article on why to hire an interior designer). Maybe you have tried to do it yourself and you realize it’s too much to deal with right now. Maybe you realize you just don’t want to do it. Maybe you have seen what an interior designer has done for your friend’s home and you want that same experience. Regardless of the reason, you’re ready to hire a designer but you have no idea where to start. Have no worries, here’s how it works:

First, answer some questions for yourself (or with your partner if you both own the space).

You may be thinking, “Come on, I already know I need a designer. Let’s get to the good stuff.” I promise…this will make the “good stuff” easier. Doing a little legwork up front will ONLY make the process with your interior designer better, and the end result more amazing. So ask yourself these 5 things:

1. What do I want/need the designer to do?

Do you need them to just help pick out paint colors? Flooring? Or does the thought of picking everything out, buying it and managing the deliveries make your skin crawl? In that case, you’ll probably want full-service design. Just bullet point out what you want the designer to do, and what you want to do yourself. If you’re not exactly sure what all an interior designer does, check out our article on that, also.

2. How much do I want to spend, total?

Many people who have not worked with an interior designer before have no idea what their budget should be, but this is one of the first things you need to determine. So to do that, let’s take a step back for a second. Talk realistically with your spouse or partner about what you have set aside to spend on this. Don’t worry about if you know for sure if that’s a realistic number…the interior designers you interview should be able to tell you that much. You at least have to have a range in your head, otherwise, you’re setting both yourself and your future interior designer up for failure. How is a designer supposed to pick out items in the correct price point if they do not know how much you have to spend? Are they designing a $10,000.00 or a $100,000.00 living room? You cannot move forward with hiring an interior designer until you know the answer to this question (or I’ll put it this way…if you’re talking to an interior designer, and you don’t tell them your budget, and they give you a solid proposal for their services, run. That means they don’t have a good handle on the scope of the project and things are not going to go well down the line). So write an estimated range down, as a starting point, a professional can help you from there.

3. What does my personal style look like?

When you are hiring an interior designer, you want them to kind of get inside your head, and produce an environment that reflects your personal style and preferences. If you know what your personal style is, you’re already one step ahead and the end product is only going to be more awesome. However, if you know you like modern design, for example, you still need example images to illustrate what “modern” design means to you. Style is not objective, and what modern means to one person can be totally different than what modern means to someone else. The easiest way to find and communicate your personal style to an interior designer is through pictures (they’re worth a thousand words, right?) So go to Pinterest, create an account if you haven’t already, and start pinning things you like. It doesn’t have to be exactly how you want the space to look – let’s just start with saving images that resonate with you. Pin rooms, spaces and places that inspire you. Pin rooms that you would love to be in, regardless of whether the shape or architecture of the room mimics yours. That’s not what we’re doing right now. We’re just trying to find your personal style for now, so we can make a very personal space for you later.

4. How comfortable am I with making decisions?

The answer to this question will dictate how you choose an interior designer, so please don’t skip this one. It also ties in with question number one, so check it out: When you hire an interior designer for full-service design, you still have to make a lot of decisions (hopefully they will guide you, but you still need to be able to grant your approval on things to keep the project moving forward). If you have a difficult time making decisions, you might want to consider DIY design, where you hire a designer for the conceptualizing, but you do all the sourcing and project management. If you are generally good at making decisions under certain conditions (such as when your options are clearly mapped out, when you aren’t given too many options, etc.), then tell your potential designer those conditions. This is a team effort…a partnership. Your designer wants this to be an enjoyable and productive process, and how you make decisions is instrumental.

5. When do I want this done by?

Speaking of enjoyable and productive…what’s your timeline? If it’s flexible, cool, but you still need some idea. When you hire an interior designer, there is a definitive start and end date. The end date could shift, of course, but both parties need to know approximately when we’re shooting to have this done by. You may tell the designer, I need this done by Christmas, and they need to tell you whether that’s realistic or not.

Ok, great job! You’ve done your due diligence and now you have a roadmap for your interviews (see, I told you there was a purpose to these questions!). Use these questions (and answers) to guide your conversation with the designers you are interviewing. Do some research on designers who look promising to you, contact them and ask them these questions:

1. I am looking for an interior designer to do (tell them about your project in detail). Do you offer those services and what does your process for that look like?

The answer to this will give you a ton of information. You can get a sense of how organized the designer is, how comfortable with their process they are, and what to expect if you were to become a client. This should also lead to many more questions from the interior designer about your project, your past experience with designers, and what you’re looking for in an interior designer.

2. We are hoping to spend between ____ and ____. For our type of project, do you think that is realistic?

This will lead to more discussion about their designer fees, payment schedule, when purchasing happens, how rigid the budget needs to be, etc. If you’re unsure about sharing your budget, know that most likely, the designer you tell this to is only going to use this to establish realistic expectations for the project and provide you with valuable information about how their services are priced out. People get scared about sharing their budget for fear of the designer trying to get them to spend more, but a good designer will tell you at this point, “yes that’s realistic”, “no that’s not”, or “maybe, but I need more information” and at this point in the conversation, if your budget and their recommended spend is nowhere near matching up, you both can (should) decide that it isn’t a good fit. If your project is a large full-service project, sometimes the designer will not be able to definitively answer this until they gather more information, and that’s okay. Each designer has their own process of gathering all of the information needed to produce an accurate quote.

3. My personal style can be described as ____. What elements would you say define your style as a designer?

This is where you can get a feel for what styles the designer is most comfortable designing in and what they value. Choosing the right designer is, in large part, about deciding whether the designer’s values and aesthetic aligns with yours. They are going to be creating something that represents you, so you want to make sure you’re on the same wavelength…that they get you. I should also say that by this point, hopefully you’re getting a feel for their personality also, to see if you mesh.

4. I am most comfortable making decisions when ___ (describe under what conditions can you easily decide on things). What level of involvement do your clients typically have, and how do you communicate with them?

This gives the designer the opportunity to share their communication methods, and possibly experiences with past clients. If you’re wanting to be very involved in the design process, you might choose the designer who takes more of a consulting/collaborative approach. If you want to be pretty hands-off, you will want a designer who prefers clients who trust them and give them creative freedom. On top of that, in either case you want a designer who values honesty and straightforward communication.

5. I am aiming for having this project done by ___. Could that be realistic for you considering your pipeline and how long does a project like this typically take?

You want to make sure the designer has the bandwidth to take you on. If they are taking projects six months out, you might want to consider other options, or if you love everything you’ve heard from them so far, maybe you determine that they are worth the wait.

Each designer will have their own process on how they price things, what their proposals cover,  what their agreements look like, etc. so whatever designer you choose, make sure you are comfortable with the process and you ask all of the questions you have. At the end of the day, you want to end up hiring a designer who you trust to express who you are through their designs, and they want the same. Inviting an interior designer into your life is a very personal investment, but it can be life-changing.