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Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Posted by sun2007 (My Page) on
Wed, Feb 13, 13 at 18:08

Hi everyone,

I have met an interior designer I like to furnish our living room. He has impeccable taste and is very high end, and I really believe he can help take our house to that "next level".

However, we are a young family with 2 toddler boys. I've told him that all furnishings have to be kid-friendly, comfortable and easy, but still look stylish and nice.

He has now come back with his design fee (in the 5 figures) and markup proposal (of 25% on every item purchased). He said he will be buying mostly from retail stores (restoration hardware, etc) b/c it isn't smart to go to designer showcases and order custom right now in our life phase (which i agree with). but he will still charge a 25% markup on all items purchased retail. He says he cannot get a designer discount at places like RH, crate & barrel, etc.

This seems excessive to me. I wanted to get thoughts from everyone here. I am already paying retail, and then paying commission for his "eye". Undoubtedly, he will pick better stuff than me at a retail store, but I also don't want to waste money.

Thoughts? Advice on what to go back to him with? Just find someone new entirely?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

He has now come back with his design fee (in the 5 figures)

Stupid? Well, all I can tell you is that in my world, "stupid" wouldn't be the word I'd use to describe such a transaction. Impossible is the word I'm looking for here. Wow.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

If all you're wanting is to furnish a room, I'd start at a high-end furniture store and talk to some of their in-house designers. They're usually very qualified to help you get the look you're wanting.
Don't think you're only limited to what's in the showrooms. Most of our furniture came from a furniture store's catalog.....beautiful pieces that we still use today......and as eclectic as what you see at RH. Plus, we were given a discount off retail since we ordered/bought several items.

IMO, what you've been quoted sounds too high.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Restoration Hardware isn't worth what they charge at retail, let alone with a 25% mark up.

I don't know what look you are going for, but I went through Ethan Allen and was able to get my sofa and occasional chairs upholstered in "outdoor" fabric. Just because I have a child (who has friends), dogs, and a husband I did not want to have "dirt colored" furniture. The new higher end outdoor fabrics are wonderful for interior applications.

I know you didn't ask about fabric advice, but there's no way I'd pay retail+ on stuff that is already overpriced. For his design, yes. But I think you can do better for your family by using a designer and not going straight retail. Just because you have young children doesn't mean you shouldn't consider going custom for your space.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I don't think this is the best use of your money at this time. If you really (and I mean REALLY) think his eye is that good, ask for a consult for his eye where he will see your space(s), listen to your needs/wants and give you an outline of what to get. This should be done on an hourly basis and you should come away from the meeting with ideas on type of furniture (ie sectional vs sofa), colors for main pieces, wall color ideas from a major paint company, types of small pieces to get (ie get leggy end tables or a solid piece with drawers), height of lamps for tables based on your use or other lighting ideas.... Depending on how many and types of rooms you want help with, this could be an hour or several over more than one meeting. Then you do the shopping at your pace, watching for sales, but you have an outline to work from. Retail + 25% - not in MY world!!!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I would explore other options.

It's not the 5-figures aspect that I disagree with...without knowing the exact scope of the project and how much work the LR entails, that might be on target for a high-end designer. However, the markup on *Retail*, particularly from places like Restoration Hardware is what I disagree with.

An interior designer should be able to do a room that you would not be able to do all by yourself. I am not sure you will be getting much of that from off the rack retail.

I have done projects where mostly everything was from retail but I charged an hourly fee, but no markup.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Thanks everyone! These ideas are great.
Just to clarify, his fee includes additional work that needs to be done (picking interior paint color, exterior house paint color, some new hardware finishes)

I like the idea of using a high end furniture store's inhouse designer, but then who could I use to help with the paint colors / non furniture related things?

Also, the hourly sounds good but how do I avoid the hourly bills that may come, with no outcome? Meaning, when he goes shopping, he'll bill me by the hour, but then he could say he didn't find anything. And I don't like paying for that.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

...and stores like RH, Horchow, etc. do have designer programs. Just look at the websites if you dont believe me.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

...and stores like RH, Horchow, etc. do have designer programs. Just look at the websites if you dont believe me.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

First of all, my interior designer does get a discout at RH.

Second, I would not pay 5 figures (for one room) to get stuff from RH and crate and barrel. The fee seems out of proportion to the cost of the material.

I'm note sure why you must be limited to RH and CB just because you have a young family. There are plenty of choices for mid-priced furniture (mitchell gold, lee industries, jonathen adler,oly). You can choose a polyester blend or sunbrella and they should wear very well. It seems to get to that next level, you would need to have some custom items- fabrics, drapes.

My designer budgets 15K for a mid priced family room
SOmething along these lines:

Rug 3000
sofa 3500
chair x 2 1500 x 2 =3000
cofee/accent tables 2000
ottoman/stools 1500
WT 1000
lighting 500
accents (pillows, throws, mirrors) 500

This post was edited by pps7 on Wed, Feb 13, 13 at 19:32


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Oh, dear.

The "are they angels or are they the devil" conversation again.

This designer has constructed a business around certain practices that work for him. If they don't work for you, then he is not your designer.

Good interior designers have invested years of their lives in becoming experts in an extremely complex, unpredictable, and difficult industry. And like any other profession, its practitioners lie on a continuum of great to ghastly.

On this very civilized and gentle forum, we routinely pick the practices of the profession apart. Some of us have experience on the design side, and some do not.

So I'm going to tell you a not-very-well-kept secret.

After years in the business being yanked about by our hair, and our pockets, by clients who are hesitant, nervous, and over their heads, most of us learned to put a premium on jobs that we suspect might be more time-consuming and headachy than others. The purpose of this is to protect ourselves from spending 80% of our time on clients who represent 20% of our business.

So in your case, as a young family on a budget, the key issue is trust. Do you trust him? Does he trust you? If you have even a shadow of suspicion about his practices, and if you are worried that you are not going to get your money's worth, then move on to someone with whom you can relax, knowing you are in good hands.

And only you can make that judgment.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Huh. I thought designers were supposed to charge a flat fee OR a markup on items bought, but not both. If he wanted to do both and the flat fee was minimal, then I would be OK with it. But the flat fee is 5 figures - no - plus he wants 25% on RH's crazy prices?! I'd let him go, no regrets except for time wasted.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

We redid our living room and TV space off the kitchen a few years ago. New paint colors were needed, as well as new window treatments. Our salesperson, who was also an in-house designer, from the Stickley showroom, came to our house, and helped us pick paint colors throughout, even in rooms he wasn't furnishing. He also helped pick the window treatment fabrics, which his store didn't sell. You don't necessarily need an interior designer to do all of this, if it is not a difficult or unusual space to design.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Bronwynsmom - well said!!!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I would think he would charge an hourly fee for what he helps you purchase from retail store. I would certainly not be willing to pay his 25% mark up on retail items.

I had an interior designer that charged me both an hourly fee and a mark up. I would not have been so angry if we had gotten a drop dead gorgeous look that warranted the amount spent (this was in the mid 6 figures.) In my case it seemed like once she realized that we would and could pay she started gouging. It did not seem like she spent a lot of time on our project.

I hope I will know better what to do next time because I do like the look of professionally designed/decorated rooms.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I would run.

To charge a five figure design fee, then a 25% markup on common items that anyone can walk in and buy or order is asking too much.

There are very nice furniture stores (not chains) that employ educated and experienced interior designers with degrees and knowledge of architecture, codes, and know how to work with clients at different stages of life and with different budgets.

Some of these designers will even tell you what to buy at chain stores or boutiques yourself because they are aware of an item that may work for you, and they also have access to unique items, antiques, and quality fabrics.

If you buy enough furniture or use their services, some never charge anything for their design service--and these are professional interior designers.

I would do some more checking, because it sounds to me like this person is charging too much--especially markup for stock items you can buy yourself.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I think there is a disconnect between what you are looking to do ("it doesn't make sense to go custom in this phase of your life") and who you are hiring to do it.

If he is so exalted, he can command these prices, but they do not make sense if your intentions are modest, IMHO.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Why not just consult the store designers, buy some nice furniture and get paint color advice from them (ad this forum?). Put the 5 figure amount into an investment account for the kids' future college fund. Later when the kids are teens, go for the designer and custom furniture.

This post was edited by tinan on Thu, Feb 14, 13 at 12:11


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Under the circumstances, yes. You are hiring Thomas Keller to cater a picnic.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Yep.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I have paid $225 an hour for someone to accompany me on a retail shopping trip. I would not have paid a designer's markup on goods bought at retail in addition to the hourly fee, nor would he ever have suggested it. When one does that with potato chips it's called double dipping :-)


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

why can't he get a designer discount at RH, C&B etc?
if he's telling you that, he's lying. a friend of mine is employed by our architect. i found a mirror in RH that i liked and she got it with no problem with her discount, just so i could get my mirror.

she has discounts at PB, williams sonoma as well as designer showrooms, to the trade only.

anyway, RH is ridiculously overpriced and i can't be sure the quality is worth it -especially on furniture. i wouldn't pay it, but then again i like to do these things myself. and then there's the fact that i couldn't afford it either, but even if i could -and for a markup on retail? ..no thanks.

why don't you just pay him for a design board, walk in and buy what you want and save yourself the 25%?


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

@kswl :-D


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I say use a store's in-house designer and that is what I will do the next time I want to re-do an entire space. A local , well-known designer advertised a 2-hour consultation for $500. I just wanted a game plan for the LR, DR and FR based on the recent kitchen remodel--mainly paint colors, furniture placement, maybe some new ideas. Well, almost the entire consult was spent on her computer showing me products--chandeliers and the like. She could have just given me a list of websites. We didn't even get to the FR until the 2 hours were almost up and then she poked her head in there and suggested re-doing the fireplace surround (which we were going to do anyway). When I asked for recommendations for a painter I was told I could not afford her painter and to just get someone from the little local paper. She did send me paint samples, none of which I used and I ended up getting a color consultation from the local BM paint dealer. Other than finding about a few new websites, it was a waste of time and money. I live in an average neighborhood and I think once she saw that I wasn't in the ritzy part of town and probably wasn't going to spend $10,000 on a custom sofa, she just wanted to get her $500 and get out of there. And this was not my first experience with a designer who was like this. It's funny, but every week our paper has an article where people write in about a problem room and a different designer each week is tapped to "re-do" the room. All the products they all recommend are from places like CB, Target, Ballards, etc...but I doubt if you hired them for a job they would recommend any of these places. I will never try to hook up with an independent designer again....pick a store where you like their products and use the designers there. They should help with paint colors, etc..as well, and I don't think they are limited to just what their store sells either. Good luck!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I second the idea of using a store designer. We used one from Stickley, and he was excellent. We didn't buy everything from him, and he recommended some things that the store didn't carry. He gave us advice as to lamps, paint colors, window treatments, etc. and some suggestions where to source them for reasonable prices. With the money you'd be saving by not paying this guy a ridiculous markup, you can get better furniture if you want.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

^^ I second/third using a store designer.

I used a designer from a "high end" local store for my living room/sunroom. The design fee was rebated after I spent a certain amount of money (maybe $2k?). I got a lot of Stickley (because it fits with the house) but other manufacturers, too.

In fact, I showed her a Room and Board chaise that I liked, and she sourced a custom Vanguard chaise that cost less. She also picked out a paint color and fabric for the window treatments (and gave me a referral for their construction) and helped me choose lamps. IMO she has a great eye for mixing fabrics, which I wanted (I play it waaay too safe on my own).

It was a pretty good experience. I will say, too, that a designer from R&B helped me with a floorplan (I really was thinking about using R&B) that was pretty good. His work wasn't as detailed as the other woman's, but I think it's a different type of service.

I did get some ideas for accessorizing but I am still intimidated by it (mantel! bookcases!), so you may not get the "full" experience you would want. But close, I think, and I believe you can hire someone to help with just the finishing touches.

Obviously I don't have a room designed by someone who charges in the 5 digits plus, but I'm happy with it and I have some great quality pieces.

Best of luck!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I would visit many different furniture stores with in-house designers. Before you ask advice from any of them make sure you like the furniture sold there and you can afford their prices. They will get commission once they have sold their items.
For paint, art, rugs, etc., ask us. Take lots of photos of your rooms, of furniture you like (or see online) and make postings like many of us have done here. We can help you without costing 5 figures or 25% commission on top of each retail purchase.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Keep looking!

I think there is value in building a relationship with an ID you trust and who understands your personal style. Sometimes it takes meeting a few professionals until you find the right fit.

This post was edited by sparklebread on Mon, Feb 25, 13 at 8:53


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

If this guy can't get a designer discount at stores where other designers can, I wonder if he even really has any design credentials? Too many red flags for me.

I'd echo the suggestions to spend time at local furniture stores talking to their in-house designers - some can be quite good. Look at several different stores to get a feel for their furniture as well as their designers and services in order to find a good fit. I think you can end up with a really lovely home at a much more reasonable price than this guy is proposing.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I agree with a lot of what has already been said, and also figured I'd chime in and say that Crate and Barrel does have a 10% designer discount. As far as I know, PB has one but only if you spend at least $10k per year, if I'm remembering correctly -- I haven't checked recently, but that was their policy a few years ago.

I think this guy's fees are nuts. If I were you, I'd speak to at least a couple others.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I have been using a wonderful decorator from a local mid to high end furniture store. Initially, I had to give a $1000 fee for her services. However, after purchasing $5000 of furniture from the store (which is very easy to do), the store applies the $1000 as credit to your bill. I love the decorator's taste and, in addition to helping with furniture, she has helped with paint color, window treatment and even critiques my Home Good purchases (by the way-she has liked most of them)!!! Most important, find someone that understands your life style, your taste and your budget.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Hi all! This is my first post on garden web. I love Houzz so I thought I'd come see what is going on over here.

sun2007 - I agree w/the other commenters - the fee sounds fine but his markup method of 25% over retail is weird. However, I think the most significant factor is you already have doubts. You should listen to them now instead of kicking yourself later. Choosing the right designer takes time but you'll know the right one when you find him or her.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Restoration Hardware does give designer discounts and it's 20% off full retail prices. It cannot be combined with sales or any other discounts. (I'm an Interior designer.)


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Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

It seems to me he does not want your business but will take it if he can make enough money on it.

Having this designer put together a room for you, from big pieces to accessories, could yield a fabulous decor you might not had had the confidence to do on your own, and that's what you are paying for. The ease of it all, and it comes at a price but it does seem steep if he gets an hourly fee on top of the extra % markup.

You mentioned you would not want to pay him for shopping if he finds nothing and bills you the time, already there's a disconnect between what you think his time is worth and what you should pay.

If he would be more straightforward in his approach, it would be easier for you to decide if you are willing to pay this high price for his services. Trying to make a consumer accept a 25% up charge on retail is harsh.
If you buy $15,000 of goods at RH for example, his up charge is 3,750 $ - does this represent 30 hours
of work at 125$ an hour ? or 15 hours at 250$ : he's inviting this type of scrutiny .
If he is going to deliver to you an amazing furnished and accessorized and installed room, from soup to nuts, he should be able to explain the cost to you , in a way that you decide if it's worth it to you and make the choice.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

First, let me say that I'm not defending this fellow's business model. But it is what it is, and he's told you what it is, so rather than try to change it, I think you need to find someone whose model makes more sense to you.

Design is regulated state by state, and is not very well regulated in most of them, except by the standards of ASID, which limits what you can call yourself under their banner based on your education and demonstrable experience.

But in defense of designers, I always sigh when I hear someone say "all I wanted was a plan for my whole house."

A well-executed game plan is the result of many, many hours of thought and discussion with a client, and the acceptance or rejection of many options. Otherwise, you cannot give them a happy-making plan base on their possessions, their color preferences and tolerances, their style quirks, their family way of living, and their priorities about where their money should go.

As I have had to say on more than one occasion, "I'd love to give my time and experience away, but it's the only thing I have to sell."


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I haven't read all the above posts, but yes, I think its ridiculous. I suggest you hire an interior designer on an hourly basis and discuss the layout of the room and what items you should shop for (i.e sofa and love seat vs. sectional, small chair vs. chair and a half, coffee table size, etc.). Once you have a layout planned, go shopping and select the items you like that fit the layout plan. Next, post the items here and get feedback. Next, meet with the interior designer again to discuss your choices before making purchases. After you buy the main pieces, invite the designer back again to discuss accessories.

I think by telling the designer up front that you want an hourly price and you plan to meet at least three times, you will be able to find a good person who will provide the service you want. While interior designers are more prevalent for high end, I think there is a real niche for designers to get involved in average / mid range as well.

You might also want to go to the library or a book store and look at some newer books on interior designs. For example, while Candice Olsen is not my style, her new book "Family Spaces" has alot of good layouts and she also shows you a chart for each room that shows how the materials coordinate for paint, upholstered furniture, rugs, window treatments, pillows, etc. Even if you don't like the designers style, you can still study the layout improvements from the before and after pictures and see what makes the room go from horrible to gorgeous.

Good luck!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

I haven't read all the above posts, but yes, I think its ridiculous. I suggest you hire an interior designer on an hourly basis and discuss the layout of the room and what items you should shop for (i.e sofa and love seat vs. sectional, small chair vs. chair and a half, coffee table size, etc.). Once you have a layout planned, go shopping and select the items you like that fit the layout plan. Next, post the items here and get feedback. Next, meet with the interior designer again to discuss your choices before making purchases. After you buy the main pieces, invite the designer back again to discuss accessories.

I think by telling the designer up front that you want an hourly price and you plan to meet at least three times, you will be able to find a good person who will provide the service you want. While interior designers are more prevalent for high end, I think there is a real niche for designers to get involved in average / mid range as well.

You might also want to go to the library or a book store and look at some newer books on interior designs. For example, while Candice Olsen is not my style, her new book "Family Spaces" has alot of good layouts and she also shows you a chart for each room that shows how the materials coordinate for paint, upholstered furniture, rugs, window treatments, pillows, etc. Even if you don't like the designers style, you can still study the layout improvements from the before and after pictures and see what makes the room go from horrible to gorgeous.

Good luck!


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

It sounds like you really like this person's work and feel "safe" in that way, that he will be able to deliver something you'll really love. If that's the case, I hope you've seen a few examples of his work and have actually talked to the homeowners to see if they themselves have been pleased with the outcome meeting their expectations and needs, ie, not just something that looks beautiful and to you. Also ask how he was to work with, through difficulties, in particular.

I think what's in question is his hourly charge to get this done. I would want to know what the 5-figure design fee covers, specifically, and how much he is charging per hour.

Some designers do combination billing, so I don't think that's necessarily unusual, but vendors usually give them a 20% discount that they can pass along all or a portion of to the client, just like other contractors. With such a high design fee, 25% over retail, maybe in addition to the 20% discount, is a lot to pay for your furnishings and I certainly wouldn't want to pay anyone half the cost of a product under any circumstances, if that's the case. You have to draw the line of self-respect somewhere!

I would think he is already well-versed in the lines he's recommending from RH, CB (more moderately priced, as you requested, than his designer sources even at 25% over retail?). I would want to know how much time he foresees spending on this portion of the project and if it also includes inspection, installation and handling of any problems. Or is that rolled up in the blanket fee?

These rates might also reflect your zip code or if he thinks you are able to afford paying him a lot for some other reason. Contractors charge different amounts in different neighborhoods or areas. What the market will bear. Or could be that he is only willing to work for that much anywhere. It doesn't necessarily mean he thinks you, personally, will be difficult or time-consuming. I think it's pretty common for contractors to get tired of working residential, rather than for businesses that aren't as particular or personally invested. Sure wish the rest of us could charge like that because we had hard, tedious jobs or difficult, time-consuming customers!

It sounds excessive, more than you have to reasonably spend, and I think there are other people out there who could do a good job for less. But only you know how much you're willing to pay for this type of service, this guy, and how much you feel it is worth overall and are willing to pay.

It's a lot of your money and your house. You are entitled to a detailed breakdown of time and charges and also to know if it's possible to go over that amount somehow. Make him be accountable. If he can't be bothered, then another red flag has been raised.

I would also get other detailed bids for comparison.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Fri, Feb 15, 13 at 12:38


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

My first thought was that perhaps he does not want this job. Not to imply an insult to you but some high-end designers only want to work with people who have 'very deep pockets' and you have let him know you do not.

I recommend you move on and find a designer who is more in tune with what you want. There are probably many who would love to work with you.


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

Something is not right. First of all an interior designer has to have college and has to be licensed by the state. In other words you have to pass an exam in order to get a license, An Interior Decorator a whole other story. It involves soft furnishings no educational background nercessary. The person found an interesting way to make money. The easy fast way.
Anybody can apply for a resale number. (tin)


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RE: Is it stupid to pay this interior designer??

The person doesn't know crap about business or the profession he claims to be in.


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