The Inside Scoop: How to Choose the Right Interior Designer For You

Young man and woman laying on couch in new home, looking at iPad

Your new house is likely your largest investment and chances are good that between sleeping and waking hours, you spend more time there than anywhere else.

If you are starting fresh with furnishings or decor, or even bringing all the pieces you own into a new space, an interior designer can be incredibly helpful. He or she will learn about your lifestyle, assess the spaces in the house, consider the many design options available and develop a plan that yields the most beautiful, functional results.

Why Do You Need a Designer?

As Lynn Bay Dayton, an interior designer and owner of Dayton Home in Wellesley, Mass., says, “Someone in the business of interiors will bring a skilled eye and experience to your project that might be a huge time and money saver.”

While some clients shy away from hiring a professional designer because they are concerned about the price, a designer can help you avoid expensive mistakes. Money isn’t the only thing your designer can help you save — he or she will also save you time. You won’t have to invest endless hours in researching products and ideas. Because of the designer’s deep knowledge base, he or she can educate you about product options that fit your budget — 
options you wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of.

“We have access to furniture and lighting companies that normally the general public can’t order from or don’t even know exist,” explains “HGTV Design Star” winner Meg Caswell. “We also know which companies have quality pieces and, because custom orders are non-refundable final sales, your designer can save you money by not making a mistake.”

In addition to their knowledge of product lines, designers have relationships with vendors that they trust and can count on to deliver in a timely manner with predictable quality. They’ve spent years cultivating their resource providers so they can access just the right thing for their clients. That’s the practical part. Then there’s the creative part.

“A good designer will 
design your home based on your lifestyle and ideas and take it to the next level that you wouldn’t able to achieve on your own,” says Caswell. “If you think you are a good designer and want your home to be your project, consider hiring a designer that is willing to collaborate with you so you can be fully involved in the process.”

How to Choose a Designer

If you decide that hiring a designer is right for you, consider that not all interior designers are created equal and finding a good fit is integral to success. To help homeowners find an interior designers that are right for them, Philip Bulone, who oversees the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design at Sanford-Brown College, developed a process to help: chemistry, referrals, artistic ability, trust and expectations, or CREATE. Here’s what he means:

Chemistry: Building a relationship and the ability to work well together is key, so you must be both comfortable and compatible with each other’s personality and communication style.

Referrals: Remember to ask to review a portfolio of work because understanding the designer’s access to a wide range of resources is critical to managing time and budget.

Experience: Become educated about academic and professional organization credentials to help you assess whether the designer is a good fit.

Artistic Ability: In our DIY society, just about anyone can be trained to arrange interiors or manage projects like a pro, but what can separate a good interior design project from a great one is the designer’s artistic qualities that evoke emotion and create the “wow” factor.

Trust: Trust the design process. It involves much information gathering and evaluation, especially to determine needs and wants, so allow enough time and flexibility for the design process to evolve. Enjoy the “a-ha” moments when design challenges emerge and transform into astonishing solutions.

Expectations: Set mutual expectations from the start by using contracts to outline clear expectations, especially terms of responsibilities, communication, deliverables, budget and compensation. 

Build a Good Relationship with Your Designer

“Remember, if you haven’t used a designer before, it’s a very personal process. You spend a good deal of time with this person,” says Dayton. “You will share personal information that makes your … result one (that) you are both proud of. Not only will you need to have a good relationship that allows you to be sure you are getting what you want, but you need to keep an open mind to new ideas.”

Because interior design choices are so personal, there is a tendency for homeowners to get emotional or have difficulty settling on choices that will have a long-term impact. “There should never be any drama involved,” explains Dayton. “You should treat this as a professional relationship and a business relationship. All work, opinions and ideas should be respected.”

As you begin the interior design process, your designer will likely ask you for clips of interiors you like. Browse websites for inspiration and leaf through magazines too — share links and tab or tear out the pages that show rooms you can see yourself living in. The more information you give your designer that accurately reflects your taste, the less likely you are to be disappointment. Keep in mind that your designer wants you to be completely satisfied, so the less guesswork there is, the better he or she can please you.

“At the end of the project, the client should feel that they had help in creating a space that reflects them and their style — one that tells a personal story and that they can kick back in a space that exceeds their expectations,” says Dayton. “The designer should feel proud they met new challenges professionally, learned something new and helped a family create a space that will make them glad to come home.”

Sarah Kinbar is a freelance writer and editor for leading print and online publications. Formerly editor in chief of Garden Design, she has also written and edited for Cottage Living, Modern magazine and Orlando Arts. You can find her on Google+.

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