Starting an interior design project is such a fun and exciting time! But the process of finding the right designer can be overwhelming. Where do you begin?
The first step, is the initial consultation. This hour-long conversation sets you and your designer on a path that will have a huge impact on your home and the way you live within it. More than likely, you will get to know your designer pretty well. For some perspective, we focus on large-scale projects, meaning we’re working with our clients for months, even years at a time. I’ve been lucky to work with amazing people, many of whom are now my friends.
Knowing what to ask in that very first meeting is crucial. If you want to know what to ask when hiring an interior designer (from an interior designer who’s been there), then read on!
What to Do Before Hiring an Interior Designer
Before meeting with anyone, decide what you like and don’t like. Having an idea of your major do’s and don’ts is an important starting point for both parties. When you can articulate what styles you gravitate toward, your interior designer is more capable of eliminating concepts that won’t work for you. Narrowing possibilities down to the ones you’re sure to love is a great way to start the conversation.
- Browsing interior design mags – Some of my favorites are Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Galerie Magazine, and Veranda. Online publications like Dwell, Lonny, and Rue are great resources as well.
- Searching for interior design ideas on social media – Instagram and Pinterest are basically online portfolios for designers all over the globe.
- Googling “interior designer in…” – You’re sure to find local designers’ websites and local media covering the best design in your area.
- Visiting an art gallery, antique shop, or fashion boutique – A great designer can translate your inspiration and passions into a design that suits you.
Before your meeting, take a good look at the designer’s website and social media profiles. Designers will post and publish their best work. You’ll be able to get a good sense of their style prior to meeting with them in person.
The Interview Process Begins…
There are many designers who have mastered a singular style and others who take inspiration from their clients. If you know what you want, go with the former. But I also recommend stretching outside of your comfort zone with a designer who practices in a variety aesthetics. No matter what, connect with firms who have portfolios you feel good about.
Most firms will offer a consultation over the phone, via email, or in-person. At Laura U, we have a client questionnaire that we prefer to complete prior to an in-person meeting. We can tell if our services align with your needs in just a few questions. And if we aren’t a right fit, we are more than happy to refer you to a colleague who is.
Now, onto our 8 essential questions to ask when hiring an interior designer:
1. How would you describe your design style?
What you’re looking for here is how well does the designer describe their vision. Does it match yours? For example, at Laura U we don’t specialize in one particular design style. Whether it’s contemporary, traditional, eclectic, romantic, or serene, we find inspiration in our clients and what they enjoy.
There are many designers like this, as well as designers that stay within one style profile. If you find you gravitate towards a French Provincial look, it makes sense to work with a designer that specializes in that style. But if you aren’t sure where you sit on the style spectrum, interview a variety of designers with some adaptability.
2. What design services do you offer?
This is an important question for a couple of reasons. First, you want to make sure you’re working with a firm that specializes and excels in the services you need for your project. Second, you want to understand how the design firm thinks about themselves.
For example, you may only need furnishings in your new home, but have no idea where to start. If you’re interviewing an interior designer, they might mention great brand relationships, having a good eye, and a portfolio of stunning interiors. A designer with more experience in space planning and interior architecture, may talk about custom millwork and introduce you to an in-house architect. That may be overkill for what you’re trying to achieve.
Laura U is a full service interior design firm. Our favorite projects require our involvement from build-out to final installation, and we manage everything in between. This could include working with your architect, keeping your builders on pace, assisting with color selections, designing custom furnishings, and space planning. If you want to take a trip to the markets, feel free to invite us! We love shopping with clients, helping them make timeless design choices that will last for years to come.
It’s best to consider all the services you would like to have in order to make your home feel complete. But it’s also important to listen to the design professional. They may have a fantastic service suggestion that you haven’t though of yet!
3. How much do you charge and can you work with my budget?
When hiring an interior designer, budget questions should come into the conversation at the very beginning. It doesn’t benefit anyone to start working on a home, only to find out the budget is too small or too large. But I know budgets can be tough to talk about. I also feel like reality TV has blurred the lines between affordability, timeliness, and realistic expectations. I recommend interviewing a few different designers to get a baseline for what your project should cost.
Before the design even begins, my firm answers this question in our client questionnaire. If the budget is a fit, then we move into site visits and deeper dives into specific styles. If the client needs to stay within a smaller budget, we recommend other services and local designers that would be a better fit. We’ve found that Houston is an incredibly collaborative market. We’ve worked alongside other designers to make sure the homeowner gets the outstanding service they’re looking for.
Understanding an Interior Designer’s Costs
At Laura U, we focus on large-scale, luxury home projects. For furnishings, we estimate $100,000 per 1000 square feet. Some clients budget a bit less and some budget substantially more. We can help guide you based on your preferences.
No matter your budget, there is a designer out there who has worked on a project similar to yours with fabulous results. Designers charge, in general, about $75-$200 per hour, which brings us to a crucial point: designer fees.
On top of your furnishings budget will be a cost for the design team to manage your project. This cost varies, as we have senior designers and assistants at different rates. We’ll review these costs in our initial meeting. Be aware that there will be retainer charges, shipping/moving charges, and even updates for materials costs. Tariffs and taxes will certainly change the initial price too.
If the sky’s the limit, you’ll have a wonderful time getting to know a luxury designer. They’ll be there to support your design dreams every step of the way. And if your budget is limited, don’t worry. There are many designers out there and I assure you your home will look amazing!
4. How will you present your design concept and ideas?
The answer to this question could be a variety of different things: drawings, mood boards, or interactive digital presentations. I recommend that you follow up this question with others that give you a better understanding of the design firm’s process as a whole.
For example, our signature process works like this:
- Discovery – Each project begins with a comprehensive discussion to identify the client’s needs and style. We review inspiration images and talk through the home’s overall space plan.
- Inspiration – Our design team creates a room-by-room concept statement that guides the overall design direction of the project.
- Design – We present fully developed design ideas and if any revisions are necessary, they’re shown in a follow-presentation where the final design is selected.
- Procurement – Once the design is final, our in-house procurement team orders your new furnishings, fixtures, and accessories.
- Installation – Depending on the project scale, our design team will spend 1-5 days installing all the art, furnishings, and accessories in your home.
- Big Reveal – It’s time to celebrate! We welcome you to your new home and unveil your new interior!
We also work with clients on Instagram and Pinterest. These visual platforms make sharing inspiration photos easy. At the studio, our design teams will create project boards where we collect anything from full bedroom designs to small lacquered boxes. This is a great way to keep the lines of communication open between designer and client.
5. Who will be working on my project and how are they selected?
The designer you interview may be the only one working on your project, or they may be part of a design team. If you’ll be working with a team, ask to know more about the backgrounds of everyone involved. Again, it’s imperative that everyone understands your style and communication style.
At Laura U, we utilize design teams, which consist of a Senior or Lead Designer and a Design Assistant, throughout the project. Our designers work closely together to ensure that old adage of “measure twice, cut once.” It’s essential to have more than one designer on every project because there are so many moving parts. We also have a purchasing assistant, who manages the logistics of ordering and install. Letecia, our Principal Designer, oversees all of the design teams and ensures that our projects move forward on schedule.
As founder and creative director of Laura U, I touch every project. I meet with every client. As the project moves forward, I review all design concepts and attend walk throughs. While I won’t be your main point of contact, I’ll be there to oversee all aspects of your design.
6. What happens if I don’t like the design?
This happens from time to time. Articulating the intangible beauty of design can lead to misunderstandings, and ultimately, a design that doesn’t quite fit. But this shouldn’t discourage you.
Concerns in the conceptual phase can be a challenge for a firm that doesn’t prescribe to a specific style or aesthetic. However, we have always been able to overcome those issues in subsequent design presentations. Keep in mind, design is always changing. Your personal style is evolving. And it takes time to curate an interior that is perfect for you.
Keep using social media inspiration boards. If you’re out and about and see something you like, send us a text message or email. We will always go back to the drawing board and present a fresh design. Stay open-minded, prepare yourself for some design risks, and be honest with how you’re feeling. At the end of the day, this home is yours. It should speak to you.
7. Have you ever worked on a project like mine before? Do you have success stories?
Here, you’re looking for positive testimonials and a glimpse into the designer’s portfolio. You may be able to find these on the designer’s website, but it’s important that you ask in the design meeting. Often times, our clients request internet privacy, so we cannot publish their homes online or on social media. For the most part, however, they do permit us to share their interiors with potential clients in our design meetings. The consultation is a great way for you to see the designer’s immense body of work. You may even see some of the projects the designer has deemed too old to share online any longer!
As you peruse the portfolio, think about tying the design back to the budget question. You’ll begin to create a better idea of what your budget can produce in terms of a real design. As for the testimonials, it’s pretty straight forward. You want to make sure the designer has had a positive impact in terms of design. Keep an eye out for feedback that mentions things like:
- “easy to work with”
- “handled everything”
- “caught the mistake and corrected it”
- “saved us so much time”
- “understood what I was looking for”
- “better than I could have ever imagined!”
8. What kinds of clients do you like to work with?
I encourage all homeowners to ask their prospective designers this question. Everyone has their ideal client and you have an ideal vision of the designer you want to work with. Being honest and decisive here will put you on the path to design bliss. I would answer the question this way:
Our ideal client appreciates good design and is simply too busy to tackle a full-home project (renovation or new construction) on their own. So, they bring us on board to manage all aspects of the process. They are open to new ideas, trust our judgement, and appreciate that we handle everything for them.
We love to work on entire homes, historic restorations, large-scale renovations, and new construction. We especially love when we can start working as soon as they break ground! From this, you can gather that we don’t do well with DIY. You can also see we have experience working on projects from start to finish and love to do so.
What Else to Ask an Interior Designer
If the designer isn’t providing an answer that feels right to you, it’s okay to move on. Communication is the most important part of the designer/client relationship. Don’t worry if it begins to feel like a job interview. It is a job interview! You want to make sure that you’re on the same page. Here are some follow up questions that you might want to add to your agenda:
- What has been your favorite project so far? Why?
- Can I see your favorite project?
- What designers do you like personally?
- Where do you find your inspiration?
- What if I have to put my project on hold?
- What builders/architects/contractors do you work with?
Hiring an interior designer is a commitment, but it’s also a really fun process. Rest assured, the creative innovator who possesses a keen sense of your individual style is out there somewhere. I welcome you to contact me and the Laura U design team if you have any questions about your next project. We love to talk about new homes!