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How Much Does a Designer Cost?

Understanding Designers' Charges

Designers are artists; they work on creativity and inspiration. But when you're hiring one to work for you, there's at least one thing you shouldn't leave to a whim: the bill! Understand your designer's method of charging and the terms of payment, so you don't end up with a bill twice the size you were expecting!

Not all designers are the same; they determine their own formulas for how they charge for the work they do. These guidelines will give you an idea of what to expect.

Design Fees
Fees vary locally, regionally and from designer to designer. Find out up front what the fees will cover and what they won't cover. Usually, the fee is what you pay for labor – it doesn't include any of the goodies in the project. There are a couple of ways the fees work:

  • Hourly Rate - These fees are normally charged for time the designer spends working with you and doing research on your project. You're paying for the designer's training, experience, expertise, creativity, network of professional contacts and resources, scheduling and supervision of sub-contractors, deliveries and installations of products and, most important, that quality guarantee!
  • Fixed Rate - In this case, the designer will give you an estimate for the amount of time the project will take and quote a fixed rate for the whole thing. You also might be charged a retainer. Next, you'll work out a schedule of payments. You don't see this method used very much in residential projects because it's hard to estimate how long each project will take.

Percentage Above Cost
When you go to a showroom with the designer to buy furniture, you can pretty well guess that there's an agreement between the designer and the store. Often, a designer will get a special discount for the furniture she buys. Then she'll sell it to you for a little above what she paid. In a way, it's like a sales commission.

Retail
In this case the designer might buy furniture at wholesale price and sell it to you at the wholesaler's suggested retail. Actually, designers often determine their own retail prices.

All of the Above
Depending on your project, you and the designer might work out a custom agreement about how you'll be charged. You might combine the above ingredients or factor in anything else that's unique to your situation. For example, if you're hiring an out-of-town designer who has to travel to meet with you, you might need to figure in a travel allowance.

Get all this information up front, and you won't have any surprises when the bill comes in the mail!

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