Ballpark Estimate: $50 to $250 an hour and up
Do you love flipping through the glossy pages in the latest decorating magazines, yet feel frustrated because your own living quarters just aren’t in the same league? If so, you may want to call on the expertise of a professional decorator or interior designer to help up the style quota in your home. Whether you prefer French country antiques or want a more a streamlined, modern effect, an expert can help you to recreate the look you admire and make it work for you and your lifestyle.
Defining Your Style
If you’ve ever watched any of the televised decorating shows that are so popular right now, you probably understand the jist of how professional decorators and interior designers work. Basically, the process begins with an introductory meeting where the professional sits down with you to get an in-depth understanding of your taste, your lifestyle, your budget and your overall needs. Perhaps your living room is just in need of a little tweaking, or maybe your kitchen cries out for a complete overhaul. You tell the interior designer what you want to achieve, then he or she will usually respond with a proposed decorating plan that incorporates all of the necessary details and changes to make your home look and function at its very best.
What’s in the Name
If the sound of getting some decorating advice appeals to you, it might be a good idea to define exactly what kind of expertise you truly need so you can find the best person for your job.
A Professional Decorator:
If you feel like your furnishing are out of date and in need of a major update, then a professional decorator may fit the bill. Professional decorators are like personal stylists for your home. You call on them when your rooms are in need of some new “clothes.” Most professional decorators usually have exquisite taste and an understanding of how different styles, shapes and textures work together in the most effective, and most aesthetically pleasing, way. They should also be able to suggest the best materials for your project, and will know where to buy them at a good price.
Some of the types of tasks professional decorators are especially appropriate for include choosing wall colors, textures and other coverings, selecting new or vintage furnishings or finding fabrics to recover your existing items. They can also help you find the right artwork and accessories for your room. Then they can help to integrate all of the various pieces so that they will compliment one another as part of the broader design scheme.
Finally, some furniture stores offer design services for a small charge, or in exchange for a minimum purchase. Will this can be a tempting option, it’s worth noting that in-store decorators are usually required to sell you pieces exclusively from their store’s inventory, so your choices will be limited and they will have a vested interest (namely earning commission) off of your purchases.
Just keep in mind that professional decorators are not required to have specific training, so the range of experience they bring to the job can vary a great deal. There are certifications available for interior decorators, but these are voluntary. Finally, it is important to understand that taste is a very subjective thing, so ask any professional decorators you are considering to show you samples of their work and to provide references.
An Interior Designer:
If you are looking for structural changes or updates to your home, an interior designer may be a better match for your needs. Like a professional decorator, an interior designer can also deal with the aesthetics of a room, or rooms, but in addition, the interior designer also brings more technical expertise to the project, so he or she can do general drafting and oversee the more technical aspects of a remodel, from helping you recreate your space, move walls, expand the footprint or add another floor to your home.
Interior designers are required to have formal education in the field, with a minimum of an associate’s degree, but many have bachelors or masters degrees. It is also important to note that some states today require that interior designers pass a stringent exam in order to be licensed, so you can expect these highly-qualified professionals to meet your high standards and be well-suited especially for larger, more extensive projects.
No matter whether you opt for a professional decorator or an interior designer, keep in mind that regardless of their formal training, many people in this field have their own areas of expertise. Some may specialize in capturing a sleeker, minimalist look, while others like to work with vintage styles and antiques. In addition, some perform mainly in residential settings, while others may offer services exclusively for commercial venues, such as corporations, restaurants and hotels.
Finding Your Style Guru
There are numerous ways to find a professional decorator or interior designer. One of the easiest, and most effective, strategies is to ask your family and friends for references. You can also look online or check your local or online phone directory for names of individuals and/or professional decorator or design firms in your area.
Another approach is to keep your eyes out in your daily travels for spaces that particularly appeal to your senses. If you see a restaurant, store or office whose look interests you, ask for the name of the professional decorator or interior designer on the project. In addition, call or visit the websites of national trade associations for a directory of local professionals. You can often search the listings by several different criteria to help narrow in on the best fit for your job.
What You Can Expect to Spend
The cost to hire a professional decorator or interior designer can run a wide gamut, depending in large part on the scope of what you want done, the level of experience and training the professional brings to the job, and in what area of the country you live. A lot also depends on whether you hire a well-known design firm that charges premium rates or opt for a new professional decorator that is just building up his or her portfolio and is willing to work for a lower fee.
Generally, you can expect to pay either a set rate for the entire project or an hourly rate. This hourly rate will usually be billed for any time the professional decorator or interior designer devotes to your job. In addition to actual time spent in your home, this also includes working with vendors and contractors, shopping for furniture and accessories and going over plans with you on the phone.
Hourly rates can range from $50 to $250 an hour or even higher for the services of a good professional decorator or interior designer.
Keep in mind if you agree to a set fee for the job, the expert is usually calculating the price based on how many hours the job is expected to take anyway. The advantage, though, is that there is a cap on the amount, so you may be better able to manage your budget with this arrangement.
Some professional decorators and interior designers are also willing to work for a percentage (usually between 15 and 30 percent) of the total cost of the job instead of the fee or hourly option. The danger with this, though, is that the more expensive the materials they select for you are, the more money they will make off of the project in the end.
In addition to whatever pricing terms you agree to for the actual decorating/design work, you can also expect to pay a commission or markup on items that the interior designer purchases for you. Well-connected interior designers are often able to buy things at a wholesale price or negotiate for discounts and then add in their finder’s fee, so the cost may in fact be fair market value.
It helps to determine a budget up front before you sign any contracts with a professional decorator or interior designer. Be realistic about what you can afford and make sure that you and the interior designer spell out up front any costs you can expect to incur so you don’t get in over your head by the completion of your project. You may also want to allow a little extra money in your budget, just in case things cost more than you anticipate once you get into the job. Many clients decide to upgrade their choices or find new things they want to accomplish as the process proceeds, so be prepared for this in advance.
Finally, if money is no object and you are looking for a interior designer to oversee a large-scale project, you might want to consider the growing trend of using a middleman to help you find just the right talent. There are actually services today that work like “matchmakers” to bring together people who have large projects they need done with well-respected interior designers that are an appropriate fit for the job. Introductory services like this comes at a high cost, however. In fact, they can charge as much as $20,000 just to refer you to a high caliber interior designer, so while this is an interesting concept, it is not a reasonable option for the average home owner.