The Everyday Decorator Feature Article
I am pleased to announce the asscociation of The Everyday Decorator with Nancy Phillips Leroy, ASID. Although this site has been focused primarily on "do-it-yourself", this question seems to be of interest to many. Hopefully, it will be a useful guideline if or when you ever decide to follow this route. Thank you, Nancy, for donating this article to this site.

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"HOW TO CHOOSE AN INTERIOR DESIGNER"

Time was when only the wealthy hired the services of an Interior Designer to design their mansions. Fortunately, today that has changed. However, some people are still hesitant to use a designer because they think the designer will be very expensive. Reality is that a designer can prevent clients from making costly mistakes. Most designers today work on "real" homes, where "real" people live, managing on "real" budgets. Another old stereotype is of the designer who came into your home and told you everything had to go and you had to follow every word that he/she said. This approach created beautiful homes that may only have reflected the designers taste and not the clients. This too has changed and today designers are trained to listen to their clients wishes and needs. The terms "Interior Designer" and "Decorator" are used interchangeably by the public. However, there is a difference. Both create beautiful rooms and there are very good and successful individuals in each category. However, the Interior Designer usually has a wider range of knowledge and expertise. Determine what are your needs, and consider the following when making your choice.

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; and hire and supervise a variety of sub-contractors.

Interior Decorator - A person who has a "flair" for decorating, sometimes trained, sometimes untrained.

The identification process is important 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 each other and clear and direct communication.


IDENTIFYING A DESIGNER
Word of Mouth: Ask your neighbors, friends, family and work associates if they have any recommendations. Word of Mouth is the very best recommendation.
Internet: Obviously, we would like to be of service to you. However, if you need the services of a designer in your area you can search the ASID designer referral site www.interiors.org and/or www.designerNET.com>

SHOWHOUSES AND MODEL HOMES: Attend designer showhouses and model homes and note designs you are attracted to. Identify the designer and make contact.
Yellow Pages: Both on-line and your local phone directory - look under "Interior Designers and Decorators." You might also want to call your local Chamber of Commerce for suggestions.

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 are 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:
Determine if the person is a designer or a decorator.
After describing your project, ask if this is a project the designer would be interested in and if the designer has experience in this type of project.
If you have a deadline, ask if the designer can meet your deadline.
Ask how the designer charges for products and services, (see below How Designers Charge).
Is the designer willing and able to work within your budget? Don't be afraid to inform the designer about your budget.
Does the designer have a staff? If so, who will handle your project? Can you be assured of having the same person throughout the term of the project?
If the designer uses sub-contractors (painters, paperhangers etc.) are they all insured?
Does the designer belong to any professional organizations such as ASID, American Society of Interior Designers?
Will references be furnished and does the designer have a portfolio you can see?

PERSONAL VISITS
Is the designer on time - this will be an important indication of the respect the designer has for you and your time and how your projects schedule will be kept.
Does the designer listen to your needs and concerns?
Do you trust the answers you are getting?
Does there seem to be a good "chemistry" between you?
Is there a letter of agreement or some other written explanation of the relationship which includes design fees?
Before leaving do you both have a clear understanding about the next step?

HOW INTERIOR DESIGNERS CHARGE

Designers determine their own formulas for how they will charge for their services and products. It is important that you understand your designers method of charging and terms of payment. The following are presented to give you a general overview.

DESIGN FEES
Fees will vary locally, regionally and from designer to designer. It is important to understand what the fees will cover and that design fees are for services and do not include products.

HOURLY RATE - These fees are normally charged for time the designer spends working with you and doing the research necessary to design your project. You are paying for the designers training; experience; expertise; creativity; network of professional contacts and resources; scheduling and supervision of sub contractors; deliveries and installations of products; and a guarantee of the quality of the work.

FIXED RATE - In this case the designer estimates the amount of time necessary to design and implement your project and quotes a fixed rate for the entire project. A retainer will normally be charged and then a schedule of additional payments be determined, ending with final payment at completion of the project. This method is generally not used in residential projects because it is difficult to estimate the length of design time each project will take.

PERCENTAGE ABOVE COST - In effect, the designer is receiving a commission for products sold to you. For example, you may go to a showroom with a designer to purchase furniture. The designer probably has an agreement with the showroom that allows the designer to purchase at a " designer discount". The designer sells to you at a percentage above the designers cost. That percentage will vary from designer to designer, region to region and often by product.

RETAIL - In this case the designer may buy at wholesale and sell to you at the wholesalers suggested retail or some variation of suggested retail. Each designer is free to determine their own retail price.

COMBINATION OF ANY OR ALL OF ABOVE - Depending upon your project, you and the designer may work out a custom agreement. This agreement may combine the above ingredients and any other items that are unique to your situation. For example, if you are hiring an out of town designer who must incur travel costs to meet with you, there may need to be a travel allowance and/or per diem cost determined.

***Not only is it important to your relationship with your designer that you have a clear understanding of how you will be charged for services and products, it is also important that you discuss and resolve any misunderstanding as they occur.

Nancy Phillips LeRoy, ASID Allied Member, is the President/Senior Designer of SPECIAL SPACES, Ltd.

Her experience includes a wide variety of residential and commercial interior design and decorating projects; design/build remodeling projects (SPECIAL SPACES, Ltd. is an approved designer/contractor by ImproveNet, a leading Internet referral service); serving as a field editor and stylist for Country Accents, a national home decorating magazine; and as a "lifestyle expert" for the website of Pregnancy Today Magazine.

Additionally, she is a Certified Window Treatment Designer at the Masters level.

Visit Nancy's site at www.specialspaces.com.

Questions or comments can be directed to:design@specialspaces.com.