As an interior designer, I spend a lot of time marketing my services and looking for the next great client. When I was new in business, people would ask me who my "ideal client" was. And, I would flippantly answer "one with a house and money." Well, I learned very quickly that that was only step one. Yes, a house (or condo or apartment) is an obvious requirement and yes, money fuels the engine. But there was something I didn't realize at first and that was the importance of having a client who knew what they wanted and knew what to expect of me. The worst clients are those who are not sure how best to use design services and didn't know how to hire the right person for their project, budget and personality. Interior design services are a personal business. We're not just in the client's home, we're in their bedrooms and bathrooms. We discuss personal issues such as sleeping problems and why a couple doesn't share a bathroom. We see underwear hanging on the towel rod and are witnesses to spousal disputes. For an intense period in time, designers and clients are involved in an intimate relationship. And then it's done. Sometimes you do more work together and at other times you never cross paths again.
Know Why You Need a Designer
When one is considering hiring interior design services, it's vitally important to consider why you want to hire someone and what you feel you need from them. Anytime you are spending a considerable amount of money on a space (over $5,000) it is wise to bring in an experienced professional who can help you through the decision process and make the most of the money you have. A professional designer can help you avoid costly mistakes such as furniture or rugs that are the wrong size for the space, bad lighting or running out of money before the job is done. A professional will work with you to establish an appropriate budget for the job at hand and will help you stretch your dollars.
How to Choose the Right Designer for Your Home
And so, you've decided to hire a professional. Now, how to go about it? Personal referrals are always the best, so start with friends or family who may have worked with a professional. If you like the results and the clients are happy with the designer, put them on your interview list. Check out the designer's Web site portfolios and review the kind of work they do. One thing to remember is that the designer's work usually reflects their client's desires, so don't just look for the "I love it" factor. Look at the size of the projects they've handled to be sure you are hiring someone who can handle your own project and look at the quality of the finished work. The actual design style is of less importance than those two items.
Narrowing the Choices
Depending on the size of your project, you will want to cull your choices to two or three designers to meet with. This meeting may be at your house, or at the designer's office. This is a "meet and greet" and usually not a design consultation. You should not expect, nor ask for, "on the spot" design ideas. You want a designer who is thoughtful in their approach, not someone who throws out over-used ideas that may not be unique or personal enough. Personality is very important. As stated above, this is a close intimate relationship and you should truly enjoy working together. A distant or uncomfortable relationship will result in poor communications and a less than satisfactory result. Once you and the designer have agreed to work together, you should sign a contract that clearly outlines the scope of the project (also known as the program), the budget, the responsibilities of the designer and client and the time frame that the work is expected to be completed in.
Communication is Key
As with any relationship, clear communication is the foundation of a fruitful partnership. The client and designer are partners in the makeover of the client's home and once you decide to move forward with having professional interior design services, a steady and cautious approach to hiring the right designer for your project is the most important decision you will make.
Linda Merrill is the principal of Decorative Surroundings, a Massachusetts interior design firm.