The Most Common Questions People Ask Interior Designers
Three designers weigh in on what everyone wants to know—and how they answer.
Published May 26, 2017 6:00 AM
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If you’ve ever been interested in hiring an interior designer to help you with your space but have been too overwhelmed by the prospect of it all, you’re not alone. We asked three interior designers to weigh in on the most common questions (and fears!) clients have before hiring a designer.
Question: How do I figure out my own instagram-worthy design style?
Amy Lau of Amy Lau Design in New York City says her first step is to visit a client’s current home to get clues to their style. “Asking many, many questions, like how they want their home to feel, their thoughts on patterns, and finding out their favorite piece in their home is a good start,” she says. She tells clients to flip through interior magazines and websites to find images of spaces, furniture pieces, and art that appeals to them in order to better define their style.
Question: What does hiring an interior designer entail?
The first phase will be to discuss what your needs are, what design direction the project will take, and to solidify a timeline. “We begin with a site measure, and we take photographs, then discuss potentially retaining any existing furniture pieces,” says Lau. If contractors or architects are involved, your interior designer will stay in touch with them throughout the process.
Next comes the fun stuff with furniture plans, elevations, and color palettes, then selecting finishes such as paint, wallcoverings, flooring, window treatments, moldings, cabinetry and countertops. “This is also the phase when any custom-designed pieces or treatments would be drawn for the client’s review,” says Lau.
A great designer will meet with you regularly to keep you in the loop on completion of construction. “We coordinate the delivery and installation of all the new furniture and furnishings, window treatments, accessories and artwork!” says Lau. After installation comes a final walk-through and any last minute details that need to get hashed out.
Question: How do I acquire pieces of furniture and furnishings for my house?
It’s important that each piece in the space, and even the space itself, is not only functional, but also feels meaningful, according to Lau. “I always appreciate an opportunity to incorporate the work of artists and artisans into a home, as these details enhance individuality and warmth,” she says. Lau likes to mix vintage and contemporary pieces to strike a more dynamic balance so that a distinct color palette, fabrics, metals and other finishes all harmonize.
Question: I really like that [insert wallpaper, color, texture here], but I worry that it’s too trendy and will look dated soon.
“Everything is trendy at some point or another. Just give it some time, and it’ll come back!” says Nashville based Interior Designer Marcelle Guilbeau. “Being able to work with the trends is all about knowing your own aesthetic—so that no matter what you do, you won’t tire of it.” You also need to be honest with yourself and ask the hard question: Would I still love it if it wasn’t trendy?
Another thing she tells her clients: “You don’t have to do it all at once. You can start with the trendy element you want to play with first, and then see how it works. Build it one element at a time so that you’re the trend setter in your neck of the woods.”
Question: I’m not sure if I can even afford design help. What should my budget be?
Guilbeau suggests landing on a budget for the cost of the entire project first, so if you’re redesigning an entire kitchen, you need a budget to handle all the contractors, materials, labor, etc. Once you get the overall budget figured out, your interior designer should cost between 10% to 20% of the project, or higher if it’s a super custom job. “I find it is easier to lean closer to 10% when it’s a clean new construction project, but closer to 15-20% if it’s a tweaky furniture or renovation project, or involves lots of travel,” she says. “A good designer can help you realistically pencil out the overall budget of your project.”
Whether you work with an interior designer or not, putting a budget outline together—itemizing each thing to be done and its cost—is the best way to start your project. It will make you think hard about what you’re doing and how much you really want to spend.
Question: Sofa or sectional? I can’t decide!
“Sectionals are the ultimate in lounging luxury and can maximize seating in small spaces, but they often can’t go with you to the next house,” says Marcelle. “A sofa, by contrast, still affords lounging luxury, but is more flexible in a room. Two sofas in an L-shape with a table in between, or two sofas opposite one another with a couple of chairs in between, are the better choice for entertaining. And they’re more moveable from house to house.” The bottom line: pick a lounging option you love, and don’t get caught up in the shape.
Question: Why are there one million paint colors, and how do I pick just one?
“I suppose there are so many colors because variety is the spice of life”, says Debbie Talianko of Talianko Design Group LLC in California. Debbie suggests using paint color to express your personality and how you want a room to make you feel. “For me, the colors in nature, particularly water, are what draw me. I am calm around soft blues and greens. Mix them with one color or another, and the result can be very different,” she says.
Homeowners often make the mistake of wanting to start with paint, but Debbie suggests saving it for last. “Any paint can be custom mixed in any color so it’s really best to plan out the entire room and scheme before going there,” she says.
Question: There are way too many options for faucets and lighting finishes. How do I pick a room or even a house full of these?
When choosing plumbing and lighting, it is best to consider the finishes within the entire home if possible. “But I would say that you can have a little fun with mixing metals from room to room,” says Talianko. Consider what is seen from one room to the next. Mixing can be fun if you don’t overdo it. If you really love the new light satin golds, for instance, use them in a room that is off the path from the others. The one thing that should be consistent? Style. “If its contemporary that you like, choose faucets that are simple and possibly geometric or angular,” she says. “And if your faucets are in a polished chrome finish, choose light fixtures that are also polished chrome that follow suit.”