I didn’t grow up with my mom’s friends all using interior designers, and I sometimes wonder if people really understand the process and the value associated with the use of a designer to help you with your interiors, whether it be an update, or the design and construction of a new home. The following will give you a little more information about what an interior designer actually is, and does.
Qualifications to be an Interior Designer
Unfortunately, due to the lack of licensing in most states, anyone who wants to call themselves an interior designer can get a resale license and print business cards. Many people seem to pick up an interior design “career” opportunity just because they have good taste and like to decorate their friends houses. While there is a place for friends and family who are good at decorating, I am here to tell you that this is not what a professional interior designer does!
First of all, to qualify to be called an interior designer, if the state you are operating in does not have requirements and testing to obtain a license (which Arizona does not), then a person who is serious about the profession should still approach the career with a goal in mind of knowing as much about the design and building industry as possible, and have a ongoing desire to learn as much as possible, both by exposure to the working world of designing and building, and also in keeping abreast of design skills and techniques by reading and researching. Furthermore, they should be willing to submit to industry standards and testing, by applying for and taking the NCIDQ exam (National Council for Interior Design Qualification). It is to would-be interior designers what the bar exam is to law students. If you take this 16-hour exam and pass it, your clients can at least rest assured that you have a working knowledge of codes, construction methods, spacial planning, listening to your client’s needs and working efficiently in a reasonable time frame. In my world of residential interior design, you will only know that a designer has passed the NCIDQ exam by seeing the letters “ASID” behind his or her name…. as opposed to “Allied ASID”, which merely indicates that he or she has joined the organization and is paying dues.
Why does my decorator need to be qualified; she’s just helping me pick fabrics and things? Here we are talking semantics. There should be (and is, in some of our minds), a big difference between being an “interior designer” and an “interior decorator”. If all you are looking for is someone to give you tasteful opinions, take you to design showrooms and help you make purchases, and have your drapes made, then you are looking for an interior decorator who does not need to know much at all about construction, building codes, proper use of materials for specific applications, scaling a design or laying out a complicated floor pattern.
However, if you are attempting a remodel that involves actually redesigning walls and repurposing spaces, as well as selecting new finishes and materials, OR you are going to be building a new home, that’s a different scenario. In that case, you are looking for a professional interior designer, who will be your advocate and your guide through the sometimes complicated process. There are so many decisions to be made. The more knowledgeable and talented your designer is, the better the decisions will be, and the better your design will be at executing your personal design style, within your budget.
When should I hire a professional interior designer if I’m looking at a good sized remodel or new-build? The interior designer should be a part of your Design Team (Architect, Contractor, Designer, Landscape Designer, Lighting Consultant) and all should be hired at the outset of the project, long before it’s “in the ground”. Ideally, if the team is together while your architect is still working on the design, their expertise will give invaluable added benefit to the end result. Have you ever heard, “Two heads are better than one”? In the case of your Design Team, 3 or 4 are better yet! Each of us has our own areas of particular interest and knowledge, but we are all able to contribute to a better end result for the client by putting our heads together and coming up with solutions that are truly in our clients’ best interest. It’s a sort of “Checks and Balances” thing…for example, as a designer, I might be interested in creating a certain look for a client’s fireplace wall that involves floating a concrete hearth. But when the builder is brought into that discussion, he might suggest that he has just learned of a new material that looks like concrete but doesn’t have the weight, and would therefore expedite construction and save the client money. That’s a win-win for the team! Similarly, an architect may have laid out a kitchen island that doesn’t work with the client’s desire for a huge prep and clean-up area. The designer is inside the head of the client and knows the details of things that are important to them in the house; he or she will make sure the architecture allows for the myriad of everyday things that are important to the client.
Is an interior designer a “luxury” that I may not be able to afford? If, as we have been discussing, you are embarking on a significant remodel (more than just new finishes for a bathroom) or a new-build, then hiring an interior designer is a must-do that will not only end up saving you time, but will also help keep you within budget. It is not a simple thing to understand how to make selections for a new construction project that will end up being “in budget”. You (the homeowner) see that the cost of the tile you like is $7.50/square foot….but how is that related to the overall Cost of Construction budget you have been given of $400/livable foot to build the entire home? Or, you want a fabulous custom front door that prices out at $16,000; how do you know if you can afford it? Your designer will help you understand overall costs and how you can (a) either use less of that awesome tile and still have a great design, or (b) find a substitute for that awesome tile that still maintains the look and integrity of the design….translate: keeps you happy! If the fabulous front door is of great importance to you and you find out that it’s busting the budget, your designer may (a) consult with the architect and/or builder to find a way to build it more economically, or (b) find other things in the finish package of the home that can be scaled back, in order to allow for cost of the incredible door. In any case, the role of the interior designer in the project is to (1) get inside the heads of our clients so we really understand how to best guide and represent them, (2) design and communicate our designs with our clients to make sure they understand what they will be getting, and (3) work with the Design Team to insure the interior finishes and designs are complimentary to the overall architectural theme of the project, as well as the overall budget for construction.
What does the designer actually do? The interior designer is your partner throughout the entire project, from start to finish. From working with your architect at the beginning of the process, to supervising the installation of furnishings and art at the time you move in. Much of the decision making and designs that you are aware of as a client are made early in the process. We will be taking you to stone and tile showrooms, showing you wood flooring and lighting options, running our CAD drawings for fireplace walls and cabinets by you and much, more more….getting your input all along the way.
At a certain point in the process, usually before the home is even framed, 90% of the design and material selections are complete, and we are busy documenting all of those decisions and sketching the designs in a 3-ring binder. This binder becomes the go-to document for interior finishes and designs, just as the architectural “blueprints” are the go-to document for the construction of the home. Both are revised as changes are made to the initial design and selections, and both are integral to the success of the project, by insuring that all of the trades are on the same page, and have a full understanding of the design intent.
But in the months between the initial design processes and the gratifying end result of a home that is truly YOUR home, there is so much the interior designer is doing on a daily basis that you probably won’t even be aware of. We are the liaison with all of the team members on your behalf. We are constantly fielding questions about materials and details from various trades, visiting the job site to make sure our communication has been clear about framing, electrical, wall finishes, flooring installation, etc., and that our designs are being executed per our specifications. We are regularly in touch with the contractor and architect as situations may arise during construction (maybe a material has been discontinued, or…?) that require a little design redirection or tweaking. (No matter how wonderful your design team is, there will always be adjustments that need to be made during the construction of the home!) We live, breathe and dream about your home for the duration of the process. If you tried to do it on your own, you would (a) undoubtedly make unwise mistakes, and (b) would HAVE NO LIFE for that 18-24 month period!
We love what we do! Sometimes my husband finds me working in the middle of the night on some little detail, or sending emails to subcontractors…..and asks, “What on earth are you doing?!” My answer is simply, I’m a designer; my brain never shuts off. I am living (in my head) inside my clients’ unbuilt structures while they are under construction…. analyzing, wondering what could be better, finding more beautiful ways to do little things, challenging myself to come up with better solutions. It’s always a work in process.
And the reason we are so dedicated to our clients’ projects is because we have the honor of experiencing the unparalleled joy of seeing our clients thrilled with the finished product. That’s the plain and simple truth.