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Choosing an Interior Designer

Tips to help you choose and hire an interior designer

By The Editors at HomePortfolio

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Joann Kandrac & Kelly Kole

If you are thinking of working with an interior designer, be aware that the relationship is, by its very nature, intimate. Given this, you reap immeasurable benefits when you take some time upfront to consider just what it is you want from this person you're about to invite into your life. As with any relationship, clear communication can go a long way to alleviating any misunderstandings. Here are a few questions to ask yourself, questions to ask prospective designers, and some hard-won tips we've picked up along the way.

Check out HomePortfolio's designer professional search!

Assess Your Work Style

Before you pick up the phone and start calling prospects, spend a few moments thinking carefully about your preferred method of working. This little bit of soul searching will go a long way to ensuring you hire the right person, and will help to lay a solid foundation for a successful working relationship. For starters, think carefully about your answer to these questions:

  • At what level do you want to be involved in the creative process? Do you want to be consulted on the nitty-gritty, day-to-day details, or are you more interested in big picture issues?
  • Similarly, at what level do you want to be involved in the product research?
  • Are you looking for comprehensive, "soup to nuts" guidance, or do you consider yourself design-savvy and only in need of assistance with color, space planning and resources?
  • Are you a visual person or a tactile person? Will you be satisfied with a designer showing you photos of products, or do you prefer to see and feel everything before deciding whether it is right for you?
  • Do you prefer to be shown many options or fewer?
  • Are you open to the input of others?
  • Are you able to make choices with confidence, or do you tend to vacillate?
  • What are your expectations in terms of a timeline?

Determine the Scope of Your Project

The scope of a project to some extent dictates the qualifications and experience required of the interior designer you are hiring. If you are building a new home or addition, or undertaking a major renovation to existing space, you are likely already working with an architect. This is good. Architects and designers often work in concert, balancing the aesthetics of the home's structure, or "bones," with the interior furnishings and finishes. You may want to get your architect involved in the selection of the interior designer—whether it's recommending someone he or she has already worked with, or using one of the interior designers the firm may have on staff. If you're redecorating a single room or have a limited budget for a space that does not require structural change, you may not need an interior designer at all. You may be happy hiring a specialist, such as a color consultant, who can work with your existing furnishings and help you revamp the space with new paint color and fabric selections.

Here is some advice on How To Choose an Architect.

TIP: Don't be afraid to tell your prospective designer that you need to keep the project under a predetermined budget. A good designer will help you determine a realistic budget based on what you want to accomplish.

Clarify Credentials

Here is where things can get tricky. Unlike architecture, which requires years of schooling and rigorous licensing requirements, the world of interior design has been much less governed. This is changing. Several states now require interior designers to pass a strict exam, given by the National Council on Interior Design Qualification, before they can legally refer to themselves as designers.

Here is the Council's definition of interior design:

Interior design includes a scope of services performed by a professional design practitioner, qualified by means of education, experience and examination, to protect and enhance the life, health, safety and welfare of the public.  
While all interior professionals are concerned with aesthetics and style, licensed and experienced interior designers have comprehensive training and skills that cover such issues as:

  • Flame-spread ratings, smoke, toxicity and fire-rating classifications and materials
  • Space planning
  • Familiarity with AutoCAD and 3-D modeling
  • State and local building codes
  • Lighting
  • Americans with Disabilities Act 

You can learn more about accreditation, education and licensing in your state by visiting the website of the American Society of Interior Designers, the leading organization for interior design professionals.

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