Finding Your Interior Designer

If you're reading this article then you may already have found your interior designer - we would hope! However, our policy with our clients is always clarity so whenever we recommend a client to hire a professional (including a designer), we want to make sure our clients know what to look for.

Of all the people you need to appoint for your project, a designer may seem like the something you only need later on when choosing the 'pretty' things, like bathroom tiles and furniture. Many clients assume they will need an architect, a structural engineer or a surveyor as a first appointment. However, many projects don't even require an architect and a surveyor may not give you all the information you need to submit your plans to Building Regulations approval, or to pass on the project to your builders.

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the industry about the role of an interior designer. DIY-based television programs may be contributing in part to this confusion, as well as a surplus of interior decorators labelling themselves as designers. Without sounding like a snob, there is as big a difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer as there is between an interior designer and an architect.

A good interior designer should not only design but also be able to manage and consult on your project. Therefore, the first person to appoint on your project should be the designer. It's not always easy to know where to start to look for a professional designer with a good reputation.
1. Ask friends and family. A personal recommendation is always a great start.
2. Look on industry websites such as the BIID (British Institute of Interior Designers) or SBID (Society of British Interior Design)
3. Try to find local designers on Google or other search engines. You should look at the work of various designers and find designers with a style that you like. If you can find feedback or reviews from customers (and it's positive), then that's a good sign.

Once you have selected some designers (we would recommend narrowing it down to less than five) - either through recommendation, locally, or through an institution - it's important to meet the designers for a face-to-face meeting to discuss your project requirements. Some designers offer fixed rates but a lot of professionals prefer to meet and understand the project in more detail before talking about fees. A tailor-made package is usually better value for money.

It's very important to remember that your designer should not only be a part of the design process, but should stay with the project until completion. Some clients say they prefer to manage the project themselves but from our years of experience, we strongly advise against this - there are so many factors to keep in mind during a refurbishment that need to be coordinated by an experienced professional - or you may find yourself paying more later to fix costly mistakes. 'Project management' or site coordination is not always included in a designer's standard fees so make sure that you mention this is something you require. Embarking on a refurbishment project without a project coordinator is like a ship leaving out to sea without a captain!

When you have met with your prospective designers and received back some quotes, try to get a like-for-like understanding of what they are offering. Many designers will tell you what they charge per hour so that is a good starting point. However, finding the right designer is not about finding the best price - your designer will be guiding you through the whole process of your refurbishment so there are other factors to consider. Although price is of course a factor in the selection process, you should choose a professional that you feel understands your requirements and style, has a good understanding of the building industry and who you feel you can trust with your project. You should see your designer as an ally and a mentor and it's important that you can be upfront about how much you want to spend - it's the designer's job to work towards whatever budget you have for the project and to advise on the best solutions based on your budget.

Then it's time to appoint your designer.

Once you have appointed your designer of choice, unless you have already done so, you should meet on site at your property. Once the designer gets a feel of what is required for the project from a building and design perspective, they can advise you on any additional specialists you might need to appoint, such as a surveyor or structural engineer. They can run you through the process of submitting a Planning or Building Regulations application, what other approvals are needed (are you a freeholder or a leaseholder, for instance). They can also get an idea of the types of Contractors to tender out to as most designers will have worked with a fair few building companies and should be able to recommend a few.

It will probably only be when the essential pre-works details are organised before your designer does any real 'designing' for you.


Ardesia Design is a design practice member of the BIID