Questions for anyone who has used an Interior Designer

mdriveSeptember 21, 2012

Hi everyone...

I know this forum is FULL of extremely artistic and talented people who have the 'knack' of putting a room together...

I am not one of those people....

If I see a picture of a room, I can usually either eliminate it or lust after it quickly...which tells me I have rather defined tastes, but have no clue in how to begin to execute on design...

Which brings me to using an interior designer....I am really perplexed at HOW one finds a designer....I spent some time on Houzz looking at the work of designers in my area, and frankly I was not impressed at the portfolios...there is ONE designer whose work I admired, but these were obviously extremely high end homes...(talking million plus, obviously I have champagne taste on a beer budget)

I'm at this stage where I really do not want to purchase the furnishings I need without some help....yet going about finding professional help seems extremely random and difficult....

I went to the ASID website looking for even a 'list' of designers in my area, and it was a joke (just a miserable website)

So my question to those who have used professional services (and even those who chose not to) is HOW does one go about deciding if and how one goes about finding design help...

thank you to all....this is a fantastic forum

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I interviewed 2 from Houzz. My main criteria was that they answered readers questions and provided information about the project they had "advertized" on Houzz. I really liked one of them, but I ended up using a more local ID that I met at a community event. I also had a construction project, so having an ID that was close by was very helpfull when something needed to be fixed or I needed to make a quick decision.

Do you have charity/fundraising house tours in your area? They are usually supported by local IDs and some have their business cards at the showcased homes.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 4:09PM
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thank you chispas....the designers whose work was posted on houzz wasn't exactly inspiring to me....(except for the extremely high end design company)....

in the old days we could go to see the work of designers in 'display homes' but with the building industry so much in disarray, it's rare these days to find those...

i guess i could check into the house tours...i'm new in the area so i'm not really into to this....(sources like yelp, etc are not bringing up much to see)

i spend a LOT of time on houzz and pinterest but i've yet to find a designer who is local with images there...extremely 'hit or miss'

i just perused the houzz 'portfolios' and quite frankly a lot of what i saw depicted looked like work done in the early 90's....i know this economy has been particularly hard
on designers, so i wouldn't surprise me that the work appears dated...

i'm tempted to contact the high end design firm (since they say on their website they welcome small jobs)...judging from the extravagant designs, i'm dubious, but it may be worth a call

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 5:22PM
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The best way is to ask around, and then ask to see their portfolio. While in theory of course, an ID should be able to take the cues for any style you like, I find that in practice a lot of them of them repeat the same rooms again and again. It is just easier if their own aesthetic matches yours.

Once you find someone you like, be very clear about how she is paid and when and for what the meter will be running.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 5:24PM
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thnx, mtndredux...

my husband is going to ask a couple of clients with fantastic homes, and hopefully i can get a referral...other than that 'asking around' is pretty difficult since i have only recently moved to the area...

i spend endless hours on houzz and pinterest looking for a 'room to replicate' and thus far have been coming up empty...

seriously that would be a fantastic option if i can hone in on one

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 5:46PM
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Hi desert - I found our designer through a builder - I loved how one of their model homes was decorated and they gave me the name of the design firm, they do a lot of model homes and high-end homes in our area. Our budget was very limited, I wanted help with paint colors, window treatments, rugs, accessories, I didn't think they would be interested in such a small job but took a chance and contacted them. Turns out they did consultations for $600 with a $400 credit towards any service or merchandise purchased. That included a designer coming over for a consultation and coming back with a proposal with swatches, fabric, pictures, etc. We then picked ala carte what we wanted to do and could afford. She was so talented and it made a huge difference in steering me in the right direction and pulling our home together, and she was not at all snobby that we weren't spending a ton of money. You might check out some model homes in your area. Good luck!!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 9:46PM
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Desert, for the fundraising house tours check the local schools/PTA and women's social groups. Members of that particular group will volunteer their homes to be part of the tours. They usually pick new builds/remodels, unusual architecture and/or nice interior decor. Usually around 5-8 homes with the tours taking place during one day only.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 11:12PM
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Offtopic - But, how do you search on houzz for a designer in your area?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 9:47AM
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honeymoomoo....that sounds excellent....i think a search for model homes locally is a good idea....i would love to find a designer to work on that would be SO worth the consultation fee assuming i can find one whose work i feel compatibe with....i just don't think we have too many of those model home around here these days, all it takes is one though!

chispas, thanks.....i'll do web search for house tours, and see what i can come up with...i'm familiar with an historical house tour here, but that's about it

jeannie...if you click on the 'professionals' tab, you can enter into the search boxes 'interior designers'and your area...

i came up with a list of about 90...many had websites where you could get a look at their projects..

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 1:28PM
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I'm in the process of buying a new sofa and want to redesign my room around it. I've gone to a mid-range design store. In order to get my business with the sofa, they are helping me pick other elements and decide on wall colour, slipcover fabric for my old chairs, etc. This is a family owned small business whose owner and employee love design. I can tell they really like helping me achieve my vision. Maybe you have something similar in your area?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 2:57PM
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Desert, don't expect an ID to know what *your* expectations are. If you don't offer some sort of direction, preference, he or she won't know where to start and possibly do whatever suits *their* fancy. There's a fine line between hiring someone to do the job, and loving what they've done. *YOU* still have to be the one in charge, otherwise your home will not reflect your personality.

"i'm tempted to contact the high end design firm (since they say on their website they welcome small jobs)...judging from the extravagant designs, i'm dubious, but it may be worth a call" Costly doesn't necessarily equate you're being satisfied OR a talented ID.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 4:14PM
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i definitely have a direction....i really like sarah richardson's work...i 'm going for coastal/casual look, heavy on neutrals but am willing to be relatively open to accent colors...i tend toward an organic vibe....but i want the rooms to be polished at the same time....does that make sense?

i'm one of the types who can eliminate looks quickly yet do not seem able to assess properly which elements i need to achieve the decorating style i find the most visually pleasing.... i purchased the 'meghan method' after reading some good reviews here, and while i thought the book was quite informative, it was actually SO detailed that i had a tough time distilling down to a starting point!

i really think i could benefit from an ID's experience and a 'fresh' pair of eyes to help guide me

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 5:53PM
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daisy....thus far i've been to ethan allen, arhaus, and a local firm that offers in house design and sells mid to high end furnishings... i haven't really 'connected' yet with the sales persons respectively...

finding someone who seems compatible with the vision i have seems to be quite the challenge...i thought by looking at the portfolios online at least one would 'jump out at me' but still having the 'meh' reaction to what i've seen thus far....
sometimes i wonder if my expectations are too high due to my exposure to forums like gardenweb and houzz, pinterest, etc! i have a pretty high level of anxiety about purchasing the upholstered pieces especially...seeing the scads fabrics and textures is daunting to say the least! i would dearly love to be able to purchase 'off the floor' but i know that's not a very high probability


    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 6:12PM
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Dear Desert,

i was in the trade for years, and underneath your uncertainty, I hear a very understandable and natural fear of spending a pile of money and being given less than you wanted, or something you don't love, or getting stuck in a contractual relationship that feels more like a bad marriage!

Letting a stranger inside your tenderest dreams of home is a leap of faith - but it doesn't have to be blind faith.

I am rarely in favor of using in-store design services for general concept and/or whole house projects. Good in-store designers can help tremendously in matching what they offer to your well-defined scheme, but the fact is that their job, established by the people who sign their checks, is to keep you in the store for everything they offer. Nothing in the world wrong with that model, so long as you understand its benefits and its limitations.

So here are Mother Bronwynsmom's steps toward a happy life with your designer, which I believe to be equally important, no matter what the size of your project is:

1. Make your book. The first thing that does is to educate YOU in the nuances of what you love and want, and also what you don't like or want. (This should be easy for you, because you already know a lot about your own tastes and desires - you just need to refine your way of communicating it.) Pack it with samples and photos and drawings that can serve as visual clues to color, texture, style, sense of space and light, and specific objects.

Write all over it. Stick in some things you hate and write helpful things like "Yow!" and "Yuck!" and "NO NO NO."

2. Figure out your scope of work. What exactly do you want a designer to do for you, and what are the limitations of the scope? This is critical both to you and to him/her. Make notes as though you were going to write a Request for Proposal, which outlines what you are asking your prospective designers to do. This can be informal, but it should be as specific as you can make it, so that any designers who don't like to work that way will eliminate themselves.

3. Establish a budget. This can be a range, with an upside limit. Without a knowledge of your budget, a good designer can't help you work out how to spend it to get the most bang for the buck. Be brutally honest about what you can spend. So many people are afraid to do that, because their worry is, "If I tell him how much, he will spend it all, and how will I know if I'm getting my money's worth?" (We'll get to the references in a minute...)

4. Make a list of designers to interview, and make appointments. If the job is small, offer to come to their studio, which is a nice gesture toward someone whose essential living usually comes from the use of time. It also gives you a sense of how they function in their own space. If you go to them, take lots of photos of the places you want transformed. And make sure you understand whether or not there's a charge for an initial interview. If there isn't, don't ask a lot of specific questions about what he/she recommends - we've all been burned by clients who interview ten designers, get all their ideas, pay nothing, and then take all the ideas and do it all themselves, and it makes us wary...

5. Here's the key at this point...Pay Attention to Your Instincts. Look for warmth, respectfulness, gentleness with what you're unsure about, and first-class listening skills. If you don't have a strong positive feeling about this person, then don't choose him or her. Does she seem tired or bored? Does he sneak looks at his watch? Does he rush to tell you what you should do? Does she make you feel that you should know more than you do?

6. For everyone you are considering, get, and meticulously check, references. Three is best. And ask not only about the work, but about whether or not the designer stayed responsive through to installation, whether your questions were taken seriously and answered clearly, how well schedules were maintained, whether the trades subcontracted to do things were reliable and respectful of your house, and how well the designer spent your money.

It's like dating. Weed out the unpromising ones. You want your designer to want to work with you, and to do the things you want done. Don't go home with him if you don't want to see him over the breakfast table!

If you do all these things, you will know at some point in the process who is right for you, and then you are ready to start on a lovely, rewarding experience.

Once you have made a choice, and it's time to talk turkey, be confident. It always amazes me that competent, mature people are sometimes intimidated by design, as though it were somehow a mark of human value to be able to do it. It isn't... :>) Ask everything you want to ask, don't agree to things you really don't like. DO be prepared to accept things when your designer explains why her idea about something is right. And don't hesitate to be honest about things you don't know.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 12:53PM
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You might try looking in the phone book or do an online search for workrooms that do drapery, upholstery and slipcovers and such, and call them to ask for some names of area designers with whom they have worked in the past. Also, ask at paint stores and locally owned building supply stores, custom kitchen cabinet companies, and lighting stores. People who are in related industries have lots of opportunities to run in to each other, or do business.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2012 at 2:48PM
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