What It’s Like To Work With An Interior Designer

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comI received an interesting question from a reader a couple weeks ago and thought it would make a fun blog post, “What is it actually like to work with or hire an interior designer?” I haven’t taken on client projects for a few years now and it has been even longer since I’ve worked for an actual design firm, but I wanted to share what the process is typically like, why it’s beneficial to hire a designer for certain projects, and shed some light on how projects unfold when working with a professional. Click through to read about what it’s like to work with an interior designer… if you’ve ever been curious, this post is for you! I think you might be surprised to learn how much interior designers manage during a client project. 

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comFirst, I want to say this… Emmett and I are known for our DIY projects and design, but we definitely understand the benefits and totally support hiring a professional. As a designer myself (that’s my background & I went to school for design), I often find myself recommending interior designers to readers who message with questions about big remodeling or renovating projects. While I think everyone should learn about and dabble in their preferred aesthetic, design is not enjoyable for everyone. It can be stressful, intimidating, and overwhelming. If you’re one of those people who just aren’t into it, don’t have time, or would love a beautiful home without the work, hiring a designer is an incredible, worry-free option. There is no shame in that whatsoever!

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comLet’s start with the main benefits of hiring a designer… I’ll itemize and elaborate below!

Benefits of Hiring an Interior Designer
  • Project Management From Start to Finish // Did you know designers oversee your ENTIRE project? From design plans and managing contractors to styling at the end of a project, designers are there for their clients every step of the way.
  • Access to Skilled and Insured Tradespeople // Designers or design firms have their own team of skilled, vetted, and insured tradespeople (wallpaper hangers, tile installers, general contractors, plumbers, electricians, seamstress, etc). They work with the same people for every project, have a wonderful working relationship, and can often get their contractors on the schedule more quickly than you would be able to on your own.
  • Designer Resources With Better Pricing // Designers are able to offer trade-only brands to their clients, which means you can access a full range of designer resources at better prices than you could find online (if you can even find the same product online). This also means you’ll have access to unique furniture, textiles, and finishes.
  • The Option for Customization // Given designers have a team of skilled tradespeople, they’re able to offer clients complete customization. From kitchen cabinetry to custom upholstery or drapery, they’re able to offer one-of-a-kind products that fit your home and style exactly.
  • Worry-Free Home Builds, Renovations, Decorating, & Styling // No matter the stage in the process, designers manage every aspect… which means less stress for clients! It is their job to ensure things go smoothly and as expected.
  • More Accurate Timelines and Budget // While all renovations and construction projects bring the unexpected (more money & more time), designers have a better gage for the budget and timeline. Since they do this on a daily basis and are hands-on for the duration of a project, they’re able to keep the timeline and budget on track more easily.
  • Working with One Person From Building to Styling // There is one person (and one person only) the client communicates with during a project, and that is the designer. They never have to speak with contractors or tradespeople, the designer is responsible for managing and communicating everything. This makes the process much easier and it’s nice knowing the client only has to talk to one person throughout their entire project.
  • Getting The Home You Envision in a Creative Way // Working with a designer is FUN. You’re presented beautiful samples, mood boards, renderings, and can really envision the space (even if you’re not creative or visual). In a world where so many DIY designed rooms are copied directly from Pinterest, it’s nice to know your designer will provide you with an original plan that fits your family and home.

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comI also wanted to share the general process (in a nutshell). Designers put in MANY hours sourcing, sketching, rendering, ordering, planning, and managing. This is kind of the condensed version of what the client experiences…

Working With An Interior Designer: The Process:
  • Initial Meeting // You begin by telling your designer about your project (the scale of it, your budget, what you’re looking for, etc), then if it’s a good fit, you agree to work together (sometimes the client signs a contract), you’ll discuss the timeline, and get the ball rolling.
  • Design Plans & Pitch // Your designer will present you with design plans, samples, mood boards, renderings, and pitch their idea for your home or space. This is the fun part of the process for clients!
  • Revisions // After receiving client feedback, the designer will adjust the plan if needed and present revisions.
  • Client Sign Off // The client then signs off on final plan, the designer orders everything, inspects items as they arrive, and schedules contractors.
  • Project Management & Building Process // As tradespeople begin working on the client’s home, the designer manages all contractors, checks in regularly, and keeps tabs on progress being made… making sure to stick to the schedule, while communicating with the contractors and client.
  • Furniture Install // Once the building process is finished, the designer will schedule a “furniture installation” day. This includes larger items like furniture and rugs.
  • Styling // Once the furniture is on site and installed, the designer can schedule styling. This involves hanging art and drapery, styling accessories, and putting the finishing touches on a space.

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comOne of my last interior (technically exterior) client projects I tackled was the outdoor patio pictured above. Since then, I’ve really only tackled in-person projects for friends, as projects to share on the blog.

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comA few tips for choosing a designer that is right for you…

Tips for Selecting An Interior Designer
  • Consider Location // While e-design is becoming more prevalent, I’m still a firm believer that hiring a local designer or a designer who can travel to see your space and eventually style it in person will result in the best outcome.
  • Check Out Their Portfolio // Comb through a designer’s portfolio- it’s an awesome tool to gage the quality of their work! While it’s wonderful to see your preferred aesthetic repeated in their portfolio, I’m often more impressed if they have a wide range of styles highlighted. A designer that can produce many aesthetics is more impressive, in my opinion.
  • Referrals & Reviews // Always check their client reviews. Word-of-mouth referrals are always a safe bet!
  • Press // Awesome press is an added bonus when choosing a designer. Perhaps their work was just featured in one of your favorite design publications?
  • Communication // Have you tried contacting the designer? Were they easy to get in touch with? Did they respond in a timely, professional manner? Were they easy to talk to? Did they answer all of your initial questions? Does it feel like a good fit? Follow your intuition and trust your gut! This will be a working relationship that could last for months or years to come (depending on if you work in phases) and you want to make sure it feels right.

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comI also want to say this: it’s ok to not love the design process. It’s also perfectly fine if you’re not super creative and styling a home doesn’t feel FUN to you, but you’d still love to live in a curated, well-designed house. Although, I’m pretty sure 99% of you reading my blog are here because you enjoy all things home, interiors, and the design process (so maybe this isn’t applicable to most). If you are someone who doesn’t have time or do not enjoy the process, this is where interior designers, decorators, and architects come in… which are all different occupations. One last note and another awesome reason to hire a designer…. they’re incredible at what they do! Please don’t ask your designer friends for a “small favor” when it’s something they are normally paid to do (because it seems like a fun job for them). While most designers enjoy their job, it is still work that requires time. I think many assume creative people are willing to spend their hours being creative or giving advice for free because it’s enjoyable, when in reality this is their livelihood- that is indeed work. I know many creatives experience this often, so I just wanted to note that before signing off- especially given our current economy. Not that any of you, in my community do this! It’s also a bit different for design bloggers because our outlets are often educational.

What It's Like To Work With An Interior Designer - roomfortuesday.comAnother question I’m often asked is when I’ll accept client projects again- local and remote e-design projects. While I’ll never say never, at this stage in my career… it’s honestly not my passion anymore, so I don’t envision taking on client projects. I love styling, photographing, renovating our own home, connecting with friends & readers, working with brands, and sharing our house in a more personal way here on the blog. Client projects used to be really fun and exciting to me, but as my time management, interests, and career path has shifted, it’s just not something I truly love anymore… designing spaces for other people. Finding ways to be creative in our own home and cultivating relationships has felt really amazing these past few years, and while that’s just my personal preference these days… I can say without a doubt- if you’re on the fence about hiring a designer, try it! If you’re looking for a stress-free way to build, renovate, or decorate your home, and have it within your budget- hiring a professional always leads to a wonderful outcome. Hopefully this post helped to shed some light on the process if you’ve ever been curious what it’s actually like to work with an interior designer. Happy Tuesday, friends! Have you ever worked with a designer, decorator, stylist, or architect? I’d love to hear about your experience! Did I miss a question you had? I’m happy to answer in the comment section below!

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  1. No doubt there are some compelling reasons to hire a designer! For me, project management and access to skilled trades and unique goods would seal the deal. In our relatively rural area, I have found working with trades a real struggle. My difficulty working with a designer would probably be control. I actually don’t want someone else to design my home; I want a design confidante! A skilled sounding board? A technical problem-solver? Even though I’m uber bossy, I know that another viewpoint and skillset always benefits a project. Since my decision-making process is…thorough (um, glacial), I’m pretty sure I would be a nightmare client. Honestly though, even for someone who loves interiors and has a personal aesthetic, I can think of dozens (hundreds?) of times that a professional in my corner would have been valuable and appreciated. Maybe in my next home, I’ll get to work with a skilled kitchen designer?! (cough Sarah Gibson cough)💜

    1. Right Peggi??!! That would be amazing if Sarah still took on clients…ahem ahem…come design ALL the kitchens Sarah!😆😆 I’m with you Peggi, I would have a hard time giving up control. Unless it was someone I knew I could trust. *cough* Sarah Gibson *cough*🤣

      1. Haha!! Maybe I’ll have to open up some special friend projects someday, lol! :)

      2. There must be something in the air, because I’m coughing, too! Ahem. ;-D We were lucky enough to have Sarah e-design our narrow, problematic dining room in our last house a few years ago. SO thrilled we made it in, probably under the wire. She not only helped make our space livable, but made a difficult spot in our place, actually love-able. Thank you, Sarah! I could already use you again, I’m sure as some of the challenges here are kinda kicking my butt. 😄

    2. That is definitely the best part of working with a designer! Finding a good, reliable, insured team of contractors is SO valuable. When I used to work for a firm, we were very close with our tradespeople (knew their families, sent them holiday gifts, shared meals, etc). It’s amazing having a contractor text to ask specific details, send daily photo updates, and take the time to really nail the design plan with excellent craftsmanship. Having a trustworthy team in your home working on a project is the best! I love your concept of a design confidante! Having two creative brains is always better than one. Even as a designer, I’ll occasionally text my designer friends for their thoughts or feedback… and they do the same to me. You really enjoy designing your own home, but I think many people assume a designer will implement a design that doesn’t feel “like them”. Many of my previous clients made statements like: I didn’t even know this was my style or what I wanted- but it totally feels like me, fits our family, and you gave me what I didn’t know I wanted. Designers are also happy to offer a la carte services (styling, floor planning, finish selections, paint consultations, etc). It’s a cool, customized process! As a friend, you can always text me for feedback :) Haha! xo

  2. Happy Tuesday!! Wow, this was incredible to see exactly how much a designer is involved in the process. I had assumed that when you hired a designer it was only for the pretty things, but the main work needed to be completed and ready for finishing. That’s awesome to know that a designer can literally take all of the headache off of your plate! One thing that you didn’t touch on: how much should you expect to pay (on average) for designer services? And should that be figured into your budget for the project? Or does the designer already factor their fees into your project budget? Also, is there any instances when a designer would decline to work with someone based on the style the client is looking to achieve? This is all so very interesting!! I love the process so much, and actually doing the work, learning new skills; it would be difficult for me to hand over complete control hahaha. Such a cool post; thanks for sharing this Sarah!

    1. Happy Tuesday, Lauren! Sadly, the pretty things are only a small percentage of a designer’s job. Haha! That was always the fun part. Great question about the budget or pricing structure! This totally depends on the designer, their firm, and the scope of the project. Some designers invoice hourly for their time (which can usually range from $75 – $150 / per hour), and they provide a detailed estimate prior to beginning, that shows where their time will be allocated. Others prefer to give estimate for the entire project. In my experience, I used to invoice my design time and products separately… and everything was broken by line items. That way you know exactly how much each piece of furniture / material costs, as well as where my time was spent. There are definitely instances where designers decide a project isn’t a good fit, for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s the scale of the project, the aesthetic, the timeline, or the location. You want a designer that is excited to work together (or at least I would), so I can actually appreciate when someone declines a project and refers another designer that is a better fit! Hope this helps to answer anything. Designers are an awesome resource for those who don’t know what they like, don’t have time, or aren’t excited about doing it themselves. There is a reason they’re professionals, but I totally get how much fun the DIY process is :) Hope you have a great day!!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – I have a difficult master bath that I’m just not confident I can figure out the best solution for. It’s a small room that can’t get bigger, but there’s a lot of wasted space in there and I think a floorplan change could work wonders. I’d love some help figuring out a layout and handling some of the project management things, but I’d really just like help getting it to a “white box” so I can do all of the finishing myself. That’s the fun part! Hiring a designer for this seems like a waste of their talents, but hiring an architect seems like overkill? Are designers ok with this kind of thing? I don’t want to offend someone by saying “fix my layout, handle the trades and then get out so I can choose my own tile.” That just seems so mean. And I am definitely NOT mean :)

    1. So happy this post is relevant for you right now, Stacy! I should’ve also mentioned in the post… many designers have packages based on your needs or are happy to customize plans for clients (if you’re not interested in a full-scale renovation with their complete range of services). I’ve been hired to just create floor plans and layouts, or even just come in at the end of a project for styling. Designers are definitely ok with this sort of thing as long as you explain your situation and needs up front! No offense taken… and you are definitely not mean for asking! Haha! I would just reach out and ask your preferred designer if they offer customized project plans, as you’re only interested in floor planning, layouts, and possibly project management. I will say this- if you’re choosing your own materials, they might not be as inclined to schedule their trade partners or lend their contractors. Most designers and their contractors make their money on products (tile, building supplies, furniture, finishes, etc). I’ll also add the client always gets to “choose” their tile or finishes. If you give your designer a specific direction of what you’re looking for- usually they’ll give you 2-3 options to choose from. Oftentimes the tile is less expensive when purchased through a designer or tradesperson, too! Because they get a wholesale discount, that is often passed to clients. Hope this helps!

      1. Thanks so much for the explanation, Sarah, that makes perfect sense! I will definitely look into getting some help with layouts first and go from there. I really appreciate the work you put in to your posts, I find myself returning to your blog more than any other when I need a reference for information like this, it’s been so helpful :)

        1. So happy to help, Stacy! That is the ultimate compliment. I appreciate that and always want this to be a free, helpful resource :)

  4. This is so incredibly helpful! Thank you! One question I’ve always wondered – how do you know when to start with an architect and when to start with a designer? I.e If you’re needing help with a large addition, or you’re hoping to improve the exterior look of the house (involving roof line, windows), should you talk to an architect first, or a designer?

    1. So happy to hear that, Megan! If you’re looking to improve your home exterior or build a large addition, you’ll definitely need an architect. However, many design firms (or individual designers) have architects on staff, or work closely with their preferred architect as a freelancer. This rings true for architectural firms too… they often have a designer on staff. If you’ll be hiring a designer for the interior of the addition, I’d start there… that way you’re working with one person the entire time. I would ask your designer if they work closely with an architect for additions and exterior plans (basically anything structural). Hope this helps :)

      1. Thank you! That’s so helpful (and makes perfect sense)!

  5. Hello. Enjoyed this post. Will have to bookmark it for future reference when we decide to build. I would love to hire an interior designer for our next home. Even though I have written down things we want and pinned pictures there is so many decisions and choices to make that a designer can easily help and elevate the stress. Of course, my need to want to help make it pretty might irritate a designer on staging day! LOL!
    Hope you and Emmett are doing well. We are busy getting ready for our son’s high school graduation on Thursday. FINALLY! My husband will be handing him his diploma. I almost cry every time I think about it.
    I am also in full blown college apartment shopping crazy! LOL
    Have a good week. I have a lot to catch up on with your blog and hope to next week.

    1. Hi Danna! I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July and holiday weekend :) Designers can definitely alleviate stress and help projects to go more smoothly! As for the styling portion- if that’s something you love and enjoy doing, you can always do that part yourself. Designers are usually really easy to work with and customize plans and services for clients. So exciting you guys would like to build someday (we would too)!

      We have been really busy over here too… we had house guests for a few days and are getting back into the swing of things. Is the formal graduation finally happening?! I’m SO happy for your son and family. How special that your husband gets to hand him his diploma. What a memorable and sentimental moment that will be. I bet you’re both so proud of him! Enjoy those sweet memories this Thursday and I hope you all get to celebrate this weekend. Happy college apartment shopping- that is so exciting. I bet it’s bittersweet for everyone in your house. So happy to chat again, but totally get being busy- especially in the summertime! Xo

  6. Loved this post, Sarah and everyone’s f/u questions have been great! As you know, I love design, but I wouldn’t call myself a designer since I haven’t been trained for it, etc., so I default to Interior Decorator when friends & others want some help with their spaces. However, I’ve found over the years that Decorator seems to have negative connotations associated with it. (Like “decorators” aren’t good enough to be “designers.”) Have you seen that to be true? I feel like some of the large, national e-design firms aren’t necessarily helping when most of what their contract designers do for them is more in the decorating realm with mood boards, color and product selections, etc., not moving walls & plumbing fixtures, etc., too. I’ve found it difficult to find many Interior Decorators online, because it seems like they use the Interior Designer designation no matter what. Are they really ALL true designers (ie. trained, licensed, experienced with projects from beginning to end, completely change floor plans and footprints, etc.) Maybe this should be a Design Discussion? Perhaps I’m imagining all that, tho and feel free to tell me I am, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, as always, Sarah!

  7. Praveen Kumar says:

    Never read such a full-fledged post regarding working with an interior designer. Working with an interior designer when you have zero knowledge about interior design is a tuff job. Telling from personal experience. Thanks for writing this post and sharing it with us. Hope people reading this post will have some clarity while working with an interior designer.

  8. I have a much different experience. I wish it was what you mentioned. The trades people are already busy. The discounts that the designer has are non-existent. We have to hire people to assembly the furniture and mount the TV. We have to buy all the furniture. Perhaps I was spoiled by the Gaines experience. We got a post it note on the design of the room. We looked for our furniture selections and she chimes in. Next time- I will ask more questions on what we can expect and get from our designer.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Susan. Every designer works in their own way, so it’s definitely important to ask these types of questions up front before deciding it’s mutually beneficial to work together.

  9. I’m getting involved with an interior designer, she’s on a big job. Won’t answer my txt, just read your article about designers. Would she be wrapped up in the business where she won’t answer. Just asking

    1. Sarah Gibson says:

      Hi Ron! Perhaps she’s off for an extended time during the holidays. This is always a transitional time of year, following the busy season. I’d give it some time or follow up via email. Hope that helps!