When you are considering working with an interior designer or decorator (these are two different professions with very different skill sets), these questions should be asked at some point prior to or during your initial consultation.
During your initial consultation, typically held within your home but sometimes done over phone or video, you and your designer will discuss everything about your project – the scope, their services, pricing, and more. The initial home consultation is the starting point for any remodeling or furnishing project and helps get you on the same page as your designer. It can also be used as an interview to ensure your designer will be a good fit for your home project.
1. What is a realistic budget for my project?
If you aren’t discussing the cost of the overall project (not just the designer’s fees), then be wary. I know it can seem scary to talk $$$ with someone you just met, but your designer must know what your priorities are for your home. A $20,000 project has very different steps, deliverables, and considerations than a $2000 one. If you aren’t sure what your budget is or how much the average project costs, ask! It’s your designer’s job to help set realistic expectations for how much you will spend throughout the process and to help you stay within your budget.
2. What is a realistic timeline for my project?
If you were expecting the project to be completed within 2 weeks but your designer was planning on 2 months, big problems can arise. Make sure you’ve discussed the entire project timeline from design to installation. Some items such as cabinets or custom furniture can take several weeks to be built and shipped.
3. How much involvement will I have with the project?
This question will shed some insight onto the designer’s process. Some designers include services where you can shop together or provide your own ideas/suggestions during the design planning phase. Others prefer to do all the sourcing and only allow for approval (yes/no decisions) at the end. Make sure to let your designer know if you prefer a hands on or off method because some services (ie. e-design) are better suited for homeowners who like more control over their projects.
4. What is your process to learn about and incorporate my style?
This is a good question to determine how well your designer will listen and incorporate your unique wants and needs into the project rather than just design based on their favorite style. You are the one who has to live in your home. While it is important to hire an expert that can provide you with the latest and greatest trends and home technology, it’s equally important that together you will create something you love and will enjoy for years to come.
5. What is your background and experience in design (or decorating)?
Ask for references or credentials if you don’t know your designer very well. Checking out reviews on Google or Facebook can be helpful to see how successful others were while working with them. As I mentioned before, a decorator and a designer perform different functions. They can certainly be the same person but sometimes they only do one or the other. A designer typically holds an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in interior design and has performed a combination of internships and work experience. They’ve studied building code, space planning, and material application. A decorator does not require a degree. They focus on the furnishings of a space and may perform staging as part of their services.
6. How do you charge for your services?
Each designer is different in how they charge for their work. The two most common ways are hourly and a set fee. Another important follow-up question is how many design revisions are included. Some charge for each change to the design and others include 1-3 revisions at no charge. Also, it’s important to know if communication such as email or phone calls will be billed with an hourly pricing model.
7. What is your design process?
Knowing the steps early on in your project can avoid confusion down the road. Were you expecting to receive your first design within a few days but your designer provided it one month later? Did you want your designer to coordinate the remodel project instead of you having to trip your way through the relationship with the contractor(s)? These are important items to know ahead of time so expectations can be set accordingly. Discuss the process in detail with your designer so you are both on the same page.
8. How can I live better in my home?
I LOVE this question because it really hits the target about why you hired a designer in the first place. Your designer should be providing you with reasons behind their decisions. An “it’s pretty or beautiful” reason isn’t usually enough to justify spending thousands of dollars on your home. What is the ROI on your choices, how will it improve air quality, or relaxation, or traffic flow through your space? Those are the things to think about when transforming your home.
9. Can you recommend local contractors?
This question may not apply if we are talking about a furnishing project, but still it’s good to know who will be coordinating the work with outside third parties and what everyone’s role is.
10. What was your most recent project?
This is another question to get more information about your designer’s background and experience. You may be asking a decorator to help you remodel your kitchen, something they don’t typically do. It’s a good idea to work with someone who has experience working on the type of project you are undergoing. Checking out their portfolio or social media is a good way to ensure they can tackle your style too.