How do interior designers work?

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Each interior designer works differently. The typical method of billing is an hourly fee plus mark-up or an hourly fee with a discount from suggested retail on purchases. A few designers offer an hourly rate with no purchasing services or mark-up.

Your fees will always be highest at the beginning of the project and can be thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the project. If you don’t like the open-ended billing method, please keep reading.

Typically, a designer’s mark-up covers the ordering, expediting, problem solving (which is more complex each day with shipping and delivery damage, mills going out of business, products on back-order or discontinued, manufacturer’s errors, specialized applications of materials, custom furnishings made to order, working with craftspeople, etc.). Some designers charge for their time to manage this process and the mark-up covers their profit on the project.

Purchasing is a complex part of the interior design process and involves thousands of details. If you don’t have time or interest in managing this process, it is well worth paying for the mark-up. In fact, your designer’s expertise may even save enough money that you pay for most of the designer’s fees.

Some clients prefer to do their own purchasing because they want to save the mark-up and yet they find that the process is completely overwhelming. In many cases, it costs more to fix the problems, and when you’re dealing with furniture that costs thousands of dollars, it’s an expensive price to pay when the armoire won’t fit through the door and the vendor won’t give a refund.

Seldom do you as a consumer have the long-term relationships that designers have with their suppliers that ensure you get the end result that you want. If you’re a one-time customer, there is little incentive to make you happy.

Some interior designers offer a Value Based Fee determined after meeting with you and deciding on a scope of work, level of service is important to you as well as other factors they discover during the interview process. When you hire a designer who works on this basis, you’ll find that they are extremely experienced and knowledgeable about budgets, scheduling and project management.

Other fee methods:
By the square foot – this is usually offered for commercial projects or for new construction design. This is not a typical method for most interior designers.
Percentage of the project budget – this could be the method for either new or renovation construction or even interior decorating. This is the least common method used.
By the room – some larger metro area designers offer this method. This is not commonly offered by many interior designers
By the project – this could be either a Value Based Fee, a “not to exceed fee”, a fee for parts of the process like the design concept, space plan, etc. Some designers now offer services online and tend to do this with limited scope packages. If you want to test someone’s services, this is an alternative.
By the foot – some window treatment specialists offer this billing method.

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