Interior design

How to Work with an Interior Designer

By February 2, 2021 No Comments
Working with an interior designer

Having made the decision to bring in an interior designer for your next renovation, the more thought you can give to exactly how to work with an interior designer will ensure that you reap the best rewards. A good client, who gets the absolute most out of their designer, ends up with interiors they adore and enjoys a relationship that may well blossom into lasting friendship.

Interior designers do far more than make a home pretty, they ensure that it is designed uniquely for you. Paint colours, fabric choices and window treatments are only a tiny fraction of what a good interior designer will do. They will also consider the design relationship to your architecture, ensure that the space is planned effectively and that your design is both beautiful and functional. A good interior designer also cultivates relationships with the contractors, artisans and vendors who will execute your design, can liaise with your architect and has the patience to make the multitude of decisions about exact proportions or plug socket placements that such projects frequently demand.

Choosing the Right Designer

Be sure to choose a designer who is right for you and your specific project. Some designers focus entirely on ‘set dressing’ and will simply help you pick out colours and fabrics. Others will also provide the technical skills you need such as space planning and detailed drawings showing floor plans and elevations, thus helping you to understand scale and how everything will fit together.

Small practices are likely to give their heart and soul to your project, but may be less able to handle a very large, complex refurbishment. Bigger practices may seek to focus on larger, more long-term projects.

No two clients are alike but some designers have a very specific signature style. Research your designer to see if this is the case and that you are aligned with their style preference. If you are unsure as to the optimal design style for your project try to pick a designer with a greater range. A good interior designer will be nimble enough to adapt their approach between a range of design styles.

It is usual practice to have an initial chat with your proposed designer by telephone to outline your project details. It is then imperative to meet your designer face-to-face if at all possible. Preferably this should be in the space you are seeking to design and with no distractions.

Under current pandemic restrictions it is not always possible to hold these consultations face-to-face. Increasingly designers are offering Zoom calls to discuss design projects. In this case the designer will provide you with a list of photos, videos and measurements they require to start the project. For a relatively straight forward project it may be possible to complete the entire design remotely. More complex projects will require site visits.

Communication is Key

For an interior designer to understand your needs, wants and design desires, and to deliver them, it’s important that you provide a detailed brief and keep communication open throughout the project.

Your designer will need to clearly understand why you are embarking on the project and what you want to achieve from it. They will want to hear everything from your design dreams to your storage challenges, your must-haves and pet hates. Your designer will want to hear everything and the more you can convey the better. A good designer will spend plenty of time with you on this initial discovery phase. Be sure that everything you want is clear and communicated in writing even down to the finer details.

It is important to decide in advance which pieces must stay. Unable to part with grandma’s dresser? The process will go much more smoothly if you share that information during the initial site visit and consultation.

If you are new to working with an interior designer you may lack the experience or knowledge to easily communicate what you want. This is where Pinterest can be a very valuable tool and many designers will share Pinterest ideas boards as a means to explore your preferences. Time spent on this valuable research phase ensures that the designer is more likely to produce a suitable design concept first time. But remember, communication works both ways. If it is important that you complete your project in a timely manner, ensure that, not only do you receive timely responses from your designer, but that you provide information in a timely manner yourself!

Keep an Open Mind

It’s a rare client who loves 100 per cent of their designer’s ideas off the bat. However, remember that you have hired a designer for their design expertise, so give their suggestions some time to sink in. A good designer will not only describe their design concept but will also explain why they have made the decisions they have. If you aren’t clear on the reasons behind a choice, be sure to ask. Chances are, when you hear the thinking behind a design, you will appreciate the reason it works.

A good designer will also take into consideration how a design will age or transition through seasons. Most clients don’t have an infinite budget to change their interiors on a frequent basis and sustainability in design is increasingly important. It is worth discussing with your designer the feasibility of changing accessories, re-upholstering or making paint colour changes in future design tune-ups.

Be Honest about your Budget

Not being honest up front with your designer about your budget is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes clients hold back on the ‘real figure’ fearing that the designer may just spend all of it, but the reality is that the designer is forced to adopt a reduced, ‘budget-friendly’, approach which often doesn’t meet the client’s expectations.

Include your Designer from the Start

If you’re remodelling or building from scratch, it is really important to include your designer in the planning stages with your architect, building engineer and contractor. This way, all professional services involved will be on the same page and can iron out any potential discrepancies — particularly those that involve the structural bones such as doorways, beams or interior columns.

Have Input from Key Household Members

Having all interested parties involved from the get go is also important in respect to spouses, partners and any members of the household whose opinions need to be taken into consideration. Once all the design research is done, and a concept presented, a design vetoed or need unmet means wasted time potentially leading to greater expense or project delay.

Understand Fee Structures

Finally, be sure to understand how your designer will charge for their service. There is no interior design industry standard for fee structure. Some designers have clear, fixed charges for the design concept, technical drawings and sample board and then charge by the hour for implementation of the project. Other designers may charge by the hour from the start of the project. If you have worked with professional interior designers on previous projects you may be comfortable with charging for time. For those less experienced, fixed costs in the early stages may be more reassuring.

If the project is relatively straightforward some designers will provide the design and a shopping list enabling you to implement the design yourself. In such cases it is worth remembering that you hired the designer for their expertise and their eye, so the more you diverge from this shopping list, the less coherent your implementation may look. Arranging for the designer to source your design elements ensures that the original intent of the design is retained but also designers are likely to have trade discounts which they can pass on to you in exchange for a handling fee.

You may have tradespeople you have used previously and request that your designer works together with them. Alternately, you may need a designer to make recommendations. The degree to which you need your designer to interact with the trades on your behalf can also vary according to your experience.

Essentially, the very wide range of requirements for an interior design project mean that any designers fee structure, and degree of involvement, needs to flex to accommodate.

Use a Contract

Whatever the fee structure of your project it is important that a contract is in place in order to protect both parties. Interior designers who are members of the industry trade body, The British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), typically work to a standardised contract based on the RIBA contract of works.

If you are considering working with an interior design for your next project, and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at