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Five Tips for Hiring an Interior Designer or Decorator

Learn how to ensure you’re hiring the right person to create an absolutely fabulous home.

Interior Designer consultation in designer's office.
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Are you moving to a new home or just itching for an upgrade to your existing one? To create a more luxurious living environment, professional help can bring your vision to life, potentially increasing your home’s value in the process. These tips ensure you hire the right person for the job you have in mind.

1. Know your goals: Do you need an interior decorator or designer?

Does your vision include major remodeling to all or part of your home? Things like designing a new kitchen layout, tearing down walls, or moving existing plumbing? That’s a job for an interior designer because as their title suggests, they design interior spaces to make them more functionally and aesthetically appealing.typically do some interior decorating, too, i.e., choosing furniture, accessories, window treatments and lighting to complement and complete the structural design.

An interior designer works closely with a general , which can be someone you choose or someone the designer recommends. Between the designer and the contractor, they coordinate subcontractors like plumbers, electricians and painters for you. Sometimes they also work with architects, typically when a blueprint is required for a building permit or you’re adding more square footage that involves exterior design work (something interior designers don’t cover).

If your vision is purely aesthetic in nature, meaning you’re looking for a new color scheme, a distinctive style and complementary furnishings for all or part of your home, an interior decorator can help you as long as no structural changes are involved.

The education and qualifications needed to be an interior designer differ from those of an interior decorator. Designers typically earn a college degree in their field. After that, many states require that they take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam to be certified. This ensures they understand the building codes and regulatory requirements that must be followed.

No such formal education or state certification requirements exist for interior decorators. However, some decorators choose to take courses from and get certified by Certified Interior Decorators International (C.I.D.) to prove their abilities.

Whether your goals call for an interior decorator or designer, the rest of our tips apply to both.

2. Know yourself.

Depending on the extent of your interior design or decorating project, you’ll likely spend a significant amount of time with the professional you hire. Therefore, consider the types of personalities you find easiest to work with for the best results. Which do you respond to more positively?

  • Professionals with overtly take-charge approaches or more subtle ones
  • Talkative people or quieter sorts
  • Someone to lead you or someone to follow your lead

Reflect on the relationships and outcomes of past home projects with contractors or other professionals to pinpoint your preferences.

3. Speak with your circle and check with other pros.

Next, ask family members, friends, neighbors and even work colleagues whose opinions you trust and whose style you appreciate to provide names of professionals they’d recommend. In addition to getting contact information, gather details about the project they completed for the one recommending them, such as the following:

  • What type of project was it?
  • How long did it take?
  • Was the project completed on time and on budget?
  • Were there any unexpected issues and how were they resolved?
  • Has the result stood the test of time?
  • Was there anything to dislike about the project or working with the person?

Before and after photos also tell you a lot about a decorator or designer’s work.

Both the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the Interior Design Society (IDS) can direct you to designers near you who belong to their associations. Plus, general contractors, architects and realtors that you’ve previously or are currently working with are another great source of referrals for interior decorators and designers. Just make sure to find out how extensively the referring person has worked with the one they’re recommending and ask to speak to mutual clients to get their opinions.

Additionally, visit highly regarded local antique stores, furniture boutiques, upholsterers and window treatment shops. They collaborate with interior designers and decorators all the time and sometimes even have their own on staff.

4. Assess referrals and narrow the list.

You should now have a pretty good list of potential candidates for your project. Check each one’s website, looking for additional project photos, client testimonials, details on their qualifications and how long they’ve been in business. Confirm what their websites say by looking at online reviews and seeing if they’re rated by or have any complaints with your local Better Business Bureau.

5. Interview the candidates and make your selection.

Starting with your top three or four candidates, request an initial consultation in which you can ask for more details about their background and clientele along with these questions:

  • Are they certified and by whom?
  • Can you view their portfolio and get a list of client references?
  • How do they determine a client’s style preferences?
  • How do they ensure a client’s satisfaction?
  • What is their fee, what does it include, and is it hourly, commission-based or a flat rate?
  • What is the payment schedule for their fee?
  • Are there any non-fee costs that you need to pay upfront, such as for furnishings the pro sources for you?
  • When are they available to start?
  • How will the project progress and what will be the key milestones?
  • How and when will they communicate with you?
  • Do they use subcontractors?
  • Do they have partnerships with others in the industry that provide special pricing, preferential treatment or privileged access to high-end products or services?

In addition to the designer or decorator’s fees, you’ll also want to discuss the overall budget for your project during these consultations. If you haven’t already estimated a remodeling budget, the National Association of Realtors as well as Remodeling by Zonda Media identifies averages for various projects along with the expected return on your investment. Ask each candidate how realistic they think your budget is given your local market for supplies and services and discuss how they will handle budget limitations and overages.

Based on each candidate’s responses, trust your instincts and go with the one who made the best impression on all counts. Then, whether you pay the professional in cash or with a home equity line of credit (HELOC), sit back and watch your home transform into something absolutely fabulous.

Looking for a savings option that lets you lock in a high APY? Check out our top-of-market term savings accounts (similar to CDs).

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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