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How to Choose an Interior Designer

There was a time when only the wealthy hired the services of an interior designer to decorate their mansions. Fortunately, that's no longer the case today. However, some people are still hesitant to use a designer because they think it's an expensive route. But the reality is that a designer can actually prevent clients from making costly mistakes. Most designers today work on "real" homes, where "real" people live, managing "real" budgets.

Another old stereotype is of the designer who comes into your home and tells you everything has to go and you feel that you have to follow every word the designer says. This approach created beautiful homes that may only have reflected the designer's taste, not the client's. This, too, has changed. Today designers are trained to listen to their client's wishes and needs.

The terms "interior designer" and "decorator" are used interchangeably by the public. But there is a difference. While both create beautiful rooms, the interior designer usually has a wider range of knowledge and expertise. Consider the following when choosing one or the other.

  • Interior Designer: A person who has been trained to create beautiful spaces; assess the use, function and safety of interior spaces; develop designs and prepare drawings using extensive and specialized knowledge of design, furniture, materials, equipment, fixtures and construction; hire and supervise a variety of sub contractors.
  • Interior Decorator: A person who has a "flair" for decorating, sometimes trained, sometimes untrained.

Determining your needs is the key to finding the right designer for you. Depending on the size of your project, this person could be in your life and your home for a long period of time. The best experience will occur where there is mutual trust, appreciation of one another and clear, direct communication.

Ways to Find a Designer

  • Word of mouth: Ask your neighbors, friends, family and co-workers if they have any recommendations.
  • Go online: The American Society of Interior Designers has a designer referral site at http://www.interiors.org.
  • Showhouses and model homes: Visit designer showhouses and model homes and jot down some designs you're attracted to. Get the name of the designer and make the contact.
  • Yellow Pages: Browse them both online and in your local phone directory.

The Phone Interview

Now that the identification process is complete, prepare a brief description of your project and a list of questions you want answered. If you're going to interview several designers, ask each one the same questions so you can compare their answers and your feelings about each one.

Some suggested questions for the candidates:

  1. Are you a designer or a decorator?
  2. Is this a project you would be interested in?
  3. Do you have any experience with this sort of project?
  4. Can you meet my deadline?
  5. How do you charge for products and services?
  6. Are you able to work within my budget?
  7. Do you have a staff? If so, who will handle the project? Can I be assured of working with the same person throughout the term of the project?
  8. If you use sub-contractors (painters, paperhangers, etc.), are they all insured?
  9. Do you belong to any professional organizations, such as the American Society of Interior Designers?
  10. Can you give me some references or show me a portfolio?

A Personal Visit

This will tell you a lot about the person. Here are some things to watch for when your designer stops by for a visit.

  • Is the designer on time? If the person shows up late for a visit, how do you know he won't do the same for your project deadline?
  • Does the designer listen to your needs and concerns?
  • Do you trust the answers you're getting?
  • Does there seem to be a good "chemistry" between the two of you?
  • Is there a letter of agreement or some other written explanation of the relationship that includes design fees?
  • Before leaving, do you both have a clear understanding about the next step?

After taking these precautions, you should feel comfortable with your choice.

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