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Designer Dilemma

How to Hire an Interior Designer

Has the decorating bug bitten you? Are you ready to take the home-decorating plunge? Perhaps you have a few ideas floating around but are not sure how to pull it all together. An interior designer can give you a personal consultation so you can complete the job yourself or offer a full design service. But before you start combing the yellow pages for a designer, there is one important thing you should know: Are you hiring an interior decorator or an interior designer?

According to the American Society of Interior Designers, interior designers are professionally trained in space planning, and in 18 states, they must pass a strict exam and be licensed. Comprehensive training in ergonomics; lighting quality and quantity; national, state and local codes; flame spread ratings; smoke; toxicity; and fire rating classifications and materials are just some of the extensive knowledge interior designers possess.

On the other hand, an interior decorator, by definition, works only with surface decoration, such as paint, fabric, furnishings, lighting and other materials. No license is required, so virtually any trades person, such as house painters or upholsterers, can claim the term "decorator."

Finding the Right Interior Designer
Lynda Saraceni, ASID, of LGS Interior Design in Ridgefield, Conn., says the most important things to look for in a designer is education, experience, registration by the state in which the designer works and a membership in a professional organization, such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) or International Interior Design Association (IIDA). "Because design is so personal, the client should be comfortable with the designer and confident in their abilities," Saraceni says. According to Saraceni, a good working relationship also includes honesty, attention to detail and a sense of humor.

Linda Dupie, of Fredericksburg, Va., is looking for a designer who is willing to listen to what she wants in a finished room. "I would definitely want someone who paid attention to the little details and my personal taste and input," Dupie says. "If the designer won't listen to what I want or make suggestions based on my input, then I would move on."

Plan on interviewing a few prospects before making your decision, especially if you intend to pay for full design services. During the interview, enlighten the designer with what your tastes and preferences are for the room. The more information you provide, the more successful your chosen designer will be in meeting your expectations.

Take into consideration that you will be working closely with this designer, and it is important that you feel comfortable asking questions or speaking up about a design element you may not necessarily agree with. You should also use this interview time to view the designer's portfolio. If possible, see if you can contact his/her prior clients to inquire about their working relationship and overall satisfaction of the work. To choose the best candidate, compare the estimates, levels of service, merchandise recommended and the designer's ability to communicate effectively with you during the project.

Costs and Contracts
If you're planning to use a designer to complete your project, then you will definitely be concerned with contracts and costs. Designers can use a variety of fee structures including square footage of the project, an hourly rate or a flat fee. In addition, some designers may require a retainer before beginning the project, which is applied to the balance due at the project's completion.

"A contract should be written for any design services agreed upon," says Caroline Liken, ASID, of CJ Designs, Ltd. in Petoskey, Mich. "There are several different ways to work based on the scope of services needed and the services provided by the decorator. The client can expect a review of the designer's fee schedule and what services they offer with an overall view of what would be expected."

Marcia Layton Turner, of Penfield, N.Y., learned the hard way about contracts during her design project. The designers she hired didn't require a contract, so they didn't sign any kind of agreement. When one of the firm's partners started working with the Turners, some problems occurred. Furnishings were made incorrectly, and the Turners had to pay for the correction. "I think putting directions/agreements down on paper would have really helped us," Turner says.

"If we had, there would have been no room to argue about the improperly-made items, nor about who was responsible for correcting it." Eventually the relationship with the designer was mutually terminated; however, they were able to complete the project on their own by using the advice and recommendations the original designer gave them at the beginning of the project.

Your Taste vs. the Designer's
While most designers are obviously talented and creative people, you must feel comfortable embracing your own style and ideas. Textbook design principles are always a good foundation, but listen to what your heart tells you. Saraceni's practice is to give the client a minimum of two schemes to select from. She then explains how she arrived at those concepts. "The design should always reflect the tastes of the client, not of the designer," Saraceni says.

The Turners paid their designer to hang their treasured artwork, but the placement wasn't conducive to their taste. Artwork hung in a dining room that is used only twice a year diminished the importance of the pieces, so the Turners followed their own plan and placed them where they could enjoy them.

"Buying accessories you don't like or fabric you don't like just because a designer recommends them defeats the purpose of hiring a designer to create an indoor space that you'll want to spend time in," Saraceni says. "It is our job to ensure that the finished interior is beautiful and functional, no matter what we have to work with."

Home Style Today's expert Interior Designer, Nancy Phillips LeRoy, answers: What is Feng Shui and how can I incorporate it into my home?

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art of placement. The Chinese believe that placement of their buildings on the land and every article in those buildings has an effect on the well-being of the occupants. Personal relationships and business success are thought to be directly influenced by these placements. As applied to interior design, Feng Shui's aim is to increase the flow of positive energy throughout one's space.

The following is a list of practical ideas to increase the positive energy in your interior space.

  • Beds and desks need to be placed to allow the occupant full view of the door for more restful sleep and relaxed desk work – no surprises from behind!
  • Entrances need to be well lighted and not blocked by furniture to allow the energy (and people) to move without obstruction through the entrance to adjoining rooms.
  • Fountains and aquariums bring the sound of water into space and assist in creating peace and serenity.
  • Plants bring the energy of life and growth into a space, which is beneficial to the life and growth of humans.
  • In especially small spaces, use mirrors to create the illusion of light and space to provide an expanding feeling. If the stove is placed so that one's back must be to the entrance to the kitchen, mirror the wall above the stove to be able to see when someone enters the room.

Try some of these ideas and see if they make a difference!

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