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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hiring An Interior Designer - Should We or Shouldn't We?

There's one thing lot of people overlook when they decide it's time to furnish their home. One of the most important decisions is whether to do it themselves or fess up on their lack of skills and hire a professional. A decision has to be made as to who is going to drive the bus. All humor aside, this is serious business and some serious money.

There's a good argument for both sides. Some people are able to do it themselves and have a good eye for putting together a nice home. My experience has taught me that most of these people usually end up taking much longer to complete it and usually spend more money than they had planned. Typically, at least some of the honest ones that I know, will admit to a few mistakes they are living with until they've gotten their money's worth before they can replace them. However, to most of these people, it's the process that they want to savor, the endless weekends of roaming around furniture stores and the endless nights of agonizing over details like tile selections, lighting fixtures, paint colors, etc. Yeah, right.

Some people enlist the help of friends or neighbors while others entrust the whole process to a salesman from a local store. There's nothing wrong with any of these assuming the friends, neighbors and salesman are knowledgeable...because they are doing it with your money. The big question is who is taking responsibility if things don't go as planned? I've known a few people who ended up in therapy and minus some good friends as a result. Still, there are plenty of talented people out there who are starting their careers in the design business that will someday rise to the top.

If the idea of spending every weekend for the next year shopping for furniture, or the idea that you might have to fire a close friend because you don't think painting every room in your house beige is a smart decision, you always have the option of hiring a professional interior designer to take the heat. Beyond saving your marriage, they may save your home from a design disaster.

Contrary to popular belief, most good designers will actually save you money in the long run, assuming you have your wits about you when you make your compensation arrangements with them. Make sure to figure in their commissions or design fees in the overall budget. Some of the biggest savings will be in your time. The designer will do the leg work and usually bring you in at the end for your approval.

Another huge savings is the money saved from not making mistakes. Designers are especially trained to work in scale to make sure pieces fit as planned. This can save a lot of heartache not to mention a lot of space in the garage from storing that over-sized sofa that didn't fit in the living room and couldn't be returned. Mistakes are one of the most costly components in the design business and when you're making those choices yourself, you have to own up to them. When it happens, and it will, you'll wish you had a good designer on speed dial. However, the single biggest advantage of a hiring a professional will be the final outcome. Most homes, in their natural state, do not inspire many homeowners to design beyond the expected.

Designers can also save you money by educating you on your purchases. The least expensive sofa can be the most expensive, especially if you don't learn the lesson the first time. It's cheaper to buy a better sofa than to buy two inexpensive sofas...and it will still outlast both of them in terms of quality and style.

One big concern about hiring a designer is how to select the right one. That's kind of like asking who would make the best President. It all depends on who you ask. There are a lot of people who call themselves designers since the design field has few regulations.

Until recently, Florida was a leader in the interior design field and required anyone calling themselves a designer or an interior designer to be licensed by the state to ensure their qualifications. Qualifying for that license meant accredited educational training and/or extensive experience in the field before taking a grueling exam that is not so easy to pass. This law was recently rescinded. It's now open season on potential design clients so do your due diligence before making your choice. I would recommend making a few background checks. Get some references and check their background. Are they licensed? Are they ASID members or affiliates? Have they been in business awhile? Make sure you're comfortable giving this person large sums of your money because it's going to happen. If they suggest paying vendors directly, be very, very careful!

Once you hire the designer, step back if you want the best possible outcome. Too many clients hire designers and then try to control every aspect of the job. They are usually the ones that are the least thrilled with the final outcome because it looks like it's missing something. And it usually's missing the designer's taste that's been replaced by the clients choices.

An experienced designer can read into your lifestyle and create something for your future rather than the present. They can avoid pitfalls and trends that will quickly date a look, helping save you money over the years to come. They can expose you to ideas and products that you probably don't even know exist in some cases. Think of it like hiring a lawyer. You wouldn't hire one and then cite case numbers to help him defend your case. Let them do what you've paid them to do.

In the end, anyone who plans on furnishing a room or a whole house can afford a designer. It might be a small budget or the budget of a small country. Designers don't dictate the prices of items. They just help you find the best ones that are in your price range. A designer can be your best ally but you have to be honest when you talk to them about expectations and limitations. Be honest and straight forward. If you do, you'll get more than you've bargained for. If your budget is unrealistic, they can help you figure out which items you should start with.

However, if you're thinking about tackling the project on your own, let's see if you're equipped for some of the basics. Here are a few simple questions you'll probably be asked during the process. (answers below)
If you're using polished stone in your shower, should you use sanded or un-sanded grout?If you have incandescent lighting in your kitchen ceiling, can you use LED lighting under the counter?How many ceiling lights can you put on a typical switch?If you're hanging wallpaper, should you use oil based or water based prep?If you are building a banquette in your kitchen, what is the best seat height?If you're buying a rug for under your dining room, how big should it be?How big should your chandelier be if your dining table is 60" round?If you have allergies, why type of cushion material should you use in the sofa?How much bigger is a king bed than a queen bed?Should you lay your wood floor parallel or perpendicular to the sliding glass doors?

Simple questions? Maybe. Maybe not. But the wrong answers could be costly or annoying to live with. Hiring a good designer also has a lot of other benefits also. They are trained to look at your lifestyle, how you plan to use the house, accessibility for handicapped clients, fire ratings, building codes, safety issues, manufacturer's reputations, space requirements, etc

Of course they also bring a huge knowledge of how to select the proper furniture styles and which ones work best together. Over time, you will build more than a beautiful home together, if they are a good designer you will probably build a relationship that will last for many, many years. They are one of the few people that you will meet that will get to know you like only a few ever will. And with that knowledge, they will always be there for you to make sure your best interests are looked after.

If nothing else, do yourself a favor and invite a designer over for a chat. Look at their portfolio and get to know them a little. Tell them what you have in your head and leave yourself open for new ideas. And if you decide to hire them, start planning your weekends because you're going to have a lot more free time on your hands.

Polished stone or not, use sanded grout. It's more porous and dries quicker.
Incandescent light gives off a warm white light, LED almost always has cold blue cast. If both lights are on at the same time, it can look a bit odd.
It depends on the wattage. Best rule of thumb is 600 watts to a switch. Larger capacity switches are available but they usually stick out of the wall to allow venting of heat.
Always oil. If you ever need to remove the paper, it won't pull the face off your drywall.
Dining height is 19-20" depending on the softness of the cushion. This is slightly higher than normal seating height for a living room.
A good rule of thumb in 36" beyond the sides of your table. Otherwise, when guests pull their chairs out to sit down to eat, the back chair legs will be off the rug and the chair will not sit evenly.
I always like to suggest chandeliers to be about 2/3 the width of the table. The most common mistake is buying fixtures that are too small. The distance from the table can vary from 30-36" depending on shape of fixture. Personally, I like to oversize the fixtures a bit for effect.
Poly filled cushions, preferably with spring cores. Never any down feathers or latex.
A king is 16" wider than a queen but not any longer. And whatever you do, don't buy a king bed and put a 24" wide nightstand next to it. It will look like a postage stamp in most cases.
You never want to look down the joints in the wood toward a major light source. The "snaking" of joints can be very distracting. Run the direction of the wood perpendicular to the light source.

William Philby, ASID is the co-founder of Retro Interiors and Island City Traders in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is a Florida licensed interior designer and professional member of ASID. A BFA graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Mr. Philby has been practicing interior design for 30 years in South Florida.

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