Surprising Ways an Interior Designer Could Help You
From project management and designing storage to easing decision-making, an interior designer could ace your renovation
If any of this rings true, read on to learn the things an interior designer can do for you and your home – you might be surprised, and inspired.
Professional advice from: Emilie Fournet of Emilie Fournet Interiors; Karen Knox of Making Spaces; Elena Creswell of Elena Creswell Design
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“With interior design, there’s so much variety of pricing, and it varies around the country, too,” Karen Knox says. “Some do flat fees; some charge by the hour; others charge a percentage of project budget; some work to a day rate.
“I charge a day rate and have my prices on my website,” she says. “Some people just want me for a day, which they can use for consultation, styling a room, or sourcing something.”
“Every project and every client’s request is different,” Elena Creswell says. “I don’t have prices on my website, as there are so many variables. It’s good to discuss options first.”
Emilie Fournet agrees. “For example, sourcing vintage pieces can take longer, so I may need to charge by the hour,” she says. “But if I’m sourcing and designing, I might charge by the day and estimate how long it’ll take me to design those rooms, perhaps three days per room, including the sourcing, the colours and everything else I will have outlined as included in the job.
“With big projects,” she continues, “it makes sense to charge a percentage of the overall budget [which usually refers to the combined costs of labour, materials and the budget allocated for furniture, fixings and equipment, or FF&E].”
What all three agree on is that the best thing for both sides is to have really good communication from the start.
So which tasks can an interior designer take off your hands?
“I refer to my clients as ‘normal people’,” Karen says. “I’ve done projects that come in at less than a couple of grand, right up to ones that cost £15,000 to £20,000.”
Of course, interior design can also cost more than that, but the point is that if you’re swerving this kind of support for your project for monetary reasons, or because you think your project is too small, you could be missing a trick that might save you hours of research, provide help making all those decisions, give you ideas you’d never considered, and, of course, help you to dodge expensive mistakes.
Different designers will have different ideas about what makes a smaller project, and ‘small’ isn’t necessarily defined by budget. The following are some examples of smaller jobs for which you might get a designer’s help.
Find the perfect interior designer for your project.
Emilie uses the example of the bedroom above, which she took on as a standalone project. The owners said, “We have £6,000. It’s a guest room. We need a lot of storage and it’ll probably become a nursery.” So Emilie designed a gender-neutral room with discreet bespoke storage.
Elena also takes on one-room projects. Following the initial consultation (see next section), she charges a design fee per room. With a bathroom, for example, this includes: the design work; the plans; the concept; finding and sourcing the tiles, and ordering the sanitaryware from her supplier.
“Clients sometimes don’t know where to start,” she says. “They find it helpful when someone can go to a supplier and say: ‘We’re fitting out a bathroom – we need this and this, and this area is a problem, what solutions would you suggest?’
“Clients tell me they’ve found the planning research and knowledge very helpful; that it’s saved them time and prevented mistakes that can come from lack of expertise,” she adds.
The cost of these varies around the country, from free to the low hundreds for two hours.
“Two-hour consultations are popular,” Emilie says. “A session can be a simple colour consultation or help with choosing tiles and so on. Or people might be doing an extension and have two options of plans from the architects. I can go through the plans and will often tweak them, adding elements to enhance daily life, such as squeezing in a small utility room or a little office, or perhaps freeing up space by swapping the type of dining table they’d had in mind.”
Elena gives an example of a recent consultation. “The client had just bought a house and was heavily pregnant,” she says. “She asked me to assess whether her ideas were realistic. With my visit, she saved time on trying to do all the research, measuring up, and getting plumbers and other specialists to come individually to tell her what was possible. I was able to say: ‘This is what you can do now and this is what you can do long-term.’ She then knew what she could change about that space before the baby came.”
“Interior designed” might conjure up images of homes that look as if the owners had nothing to do with the decoration. For some people, that’s the dream, but for those who just want a bit of assistance corralling their own taste into a semblance of order, the good news is that designers generally really want to get to know what your taste is.
“A good interior designer,” Elena says, “will try to understand all the details about their client’s life, how they live in their home, how they use that space, what they love and what they hate – and then introduce elements to enhance the space, often in a way the client would never have thought of.
“Interior designers aren’t about going ahead with their own taste,” she says, “but about helping people to transform their homes so they can love them more and live more comfortably in them.”
She gives the example of a client whose young daughter never spent much time in her bedroom. Elena was asked to design the room and the child now loves being in it. “When you make a place comfortable for yourself, you want to be there. When something is missing, you feel uncomfortable there. That’s what interior design is for, because people don’t always see what it is that’s missing.”
People can have great ideas – then partners, friends or family might talk them out of it. “But if they have me – although it’s always their decision – the choice is backed up by someone who does it professionally, who can explain why the idea will work,” Karen says.
“Very often, it’s like giving them permission or a push to do what they thought they weren’t brave enough to do,” she continues. “Often, I’m called in to mediate between partners with very different tastes and find something that makes both people happy.”
To make sure you’re conveying your vision to your designer, consider pros who use our project management software, Houzz Pro, as they’ll have access to features such as moodboards, 3D floor plans and an augmented reality Walkthrough tool to bring the ideas to life.
Not all designers will take on a standalone storage design, but it’s always worth asking. It’s something Karen offers. “It’s a massive mistake when people don’t think about storage as part of a room design,” she says. This could include anything from a pantry or wardrobe to a media unit.
“I’ve worked on those big projects – open-plan kitchen, lovely windows to the garden – and that’s where all the budget goes,” she says. “Then people often think, ‘We need storage,’ and go off to Ikea. But to buy ready-made storage at the end – that’s not a cohesive scheme. Knowing you have storage that’s part of the architecture of the room and works with the way you live – that can make you smile.”
“I assume people can see what I can see,” Karen says, “but often they can’t. I walk into a room and I know what colour it needs to be.
“People often go from room to room picking colours, then feel overwhelmed and end up painting the whole house the same shade. It can be really helpful to have someone in the space to explain why certain colours might enhance it, or why ceilings and skirting boards and bathrooms don’t have to be white, or that a room that overlooks a garden can look wonderful in green, as it brings the outside in.”
You might also enjoy What Happens When you Hire a Bathroom Designer?
This, along with the next three points, probably comes under the remit of what most people picture when they think of interior design. However, each deserves a little unpicking.
“It’s the space planning a lot of people struggle with,” Karen says. “They often know what they like individually, but find it hard fitting it all together.
“If someone chooses a sofa after seeing it in a huge showroom with a high ceiling, and their house isn’t like that, they could end up with a sofa that takes up 50% of the floor space. I could tell them that before they bought it,” she says.
“In many cases,” she adds, “I’ve told people, ‘You don’t need to do that big extension, you just need to – for example – move that table 90 degrees that way. It’s about choosing pieces together and not in isolation.
“With textiles, it’s often about the wish list versus the practical,” Emilie says. “Do they have kids who can eat jam sandwiches tidily? Are there cats or dogs in the house? Someone might want a really luxurious sofa in velvet – but it needs to be practical.
“They might not have thought that, instead, they could layer up a different sofa with luxurious throws and cushions,” she says. “So I can help them to choose these, and then pick the right rug that will go with everything else.”
Not only could you save money and time, you could also gain confidence in what you’re doing to your home.
“There was one very rushed consultancy project,” Elena recalls. “The client came to me very late and there was no time to do proper plans, so she employed me on an hourly basis. I went through the house room by room and helped her to figure out which furniture to move on, what to buy and even how to hang the pictures.
“I advised her on storage, colours and how to enhance her home’s original features,” she says. “She already had plans from a kitchen company, which I looked over, and was able to help her choose the splashback and advise on furniture placement. The builders just had to follow the instructions she gave them after our meeting.”
“I can help them to set a budget and then decide where it will go, how much they have to spend per sq m on kitchen tiles, or where to compromise, based on their priorities,” Emilie says.
But first? “The budget has to be honest. I’m an interior designer, not a miracle worker! I can do you a kitchen for £6,000 or for £60,000,” she says, “but it can be so hard to get that figure out of people.”
However, once she has this vital information, Emilie is able to tell people if what they’re after is unrealistic. And if so? “I can then help them to scale down their ideas or postpone certain jobs,” she says.
“Every architect’s plan I’ve looked at I’ve changed slightly – maybe adding a window or altering storage,” Karen says. “It affects where light switches and sockets go, so although you can retro-design, getting a designer in to plan ahead means it won’t interfere with existing internal elements.
“If it’s a big project – lots of walls being moved, new staircases and so on, then I’d say ‘you need an architect’. I’d then come back in and work on the internal layout.”
Often, an interior designer will also be able to put you in touch with contractors they use regularly and have a good relationship with already. Or they’ll assist with putting a project out to tender, or they can work with contractors you’ve already found.
It’s important to understand the relationship between you, the contractor and the designer, and interior designers will have detailed contracts that lay out exactly what they are and aren’t responsible for.
Typically, full project management, often called a ‘turnkey’ service, is suitable for bigger projects, and can save homeowners a lot of stress, not to mention time spent researching. Just imagine the value of having an intermediary to field questions from the contractor when you’re busy at work or exhausted in the evenings – and someone to help make all those tiny but important decisions, advise where to hang the pendant lighting and know where to find those cabinet handles you’ve saved a photo of… Bliss!
To see more from any of the designers whose photos are featured in this article, click on the image, then on Learn More if you’re in the app, and follow the links to the professional’s profile.
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