Working in the design world for over 6+ years, I've heard a lot of misconceptions....only the 1% can afford an interior designer....an interior designer just picks out paint and pillows....interior design is expensive.
Now before you come after me with your pitchforks, that last statement isn't entirely true and it isn't entirely false. Interior designers do charge typically anywhere from $75/hr upwards of $250/hr (which is more than your average corporate worker), but mechanics, lawyers, and even massage therapists charge similar amounts for their services.
The reason interior designers get a bad rap for being expensive is that you are not only paying for a service, your paying for a product as well (ie the furniture, materials, fixtures, and decor). But there is a reason to why interior designers charge what they do.
In this blog post, I'm doing a deep dive into the cost breakdowns of Interior Design so you can get a clearer picture to the big question: why are interior designers expensive? Some of these facts will surprise you...
Fee Structure - Fixed or Hourly
The first thing you will notice when working with an interior designer is how the costs are broken down into either a fixed or hourly structure. An hourly rate is calculated with the number of hours it takes to complete a design project. A fixed fee is calculated before a project starts and is based on the number of hours a designer thinks the project will take. This is number is locked in before a project starts.
One type of fee structure isn't better than the other, and an interior designer can often use both depending on the types of services they offer and the project scope. For example, I use fixed rates for most of my design projects and an hourly rate for more consultation work. For me, this ensures that a design project will be seen to completion more often since costs are locked in from the start. Often times when working on an hourly rate, a client will start to nickel and dime the hours, trying to reduce the amount of time given to work on the project (to reduce costs) while still wanting the full scope of work. This is honestly a disservice to you since the design process takes A LOT of time.
The Design Process
So let's talk about the Design Process, because HGTV has fooled a lot of people to think that it takes only a day or a week to complete a project. Unlike other service based work, interior design isn't so cut and dry. It's not like a massage, where you pay for X amount of time and get that service delivered on the spot. Design is a creative type of work, and with that comes a series of steps.
Think about your iphone. Or your favorite pair of shoes. These are items that have taken months to design. The phone in your pocket went through multiple design iterations and phases to get to where it is today. It had kinks to work out. Trial and error of fine tuning. If you got the first concept of the iphone think about how many issues and errors it would have! It wouldn't have all the features you love it for. The same goes for interior design.
It takes time and multiple rounds of design to create a space that you love and that checks a variety of boxes (like budget, design style, size, function, etc). In each phase of design, you're unlocking a new level of the design process. So let's break down those phases for a better understanding of what actually happens.
Phase 1 - The Concept
This is the birth of an idea. In this phase, an interior designer and you will work together to find out what your style actually is. Now you might be thinking, I know what my style is. It's modern. Or I like the bohemian look. But choosing a style isn't so cut and dry like you think. What type of modern do you like? Scandinavian, Mid Century, Minimalist....and what exact boho look? Do you prefer dark and moody? High contrast? Light and monochrome? What color scheme??? These are the questions we answer in this phase of design in order to move forward.
To uncover your design style, a designer turns detective. Pinterest boards, questionnaires, and documents are used to determine the look and feel that you love, as well as other practicalities for the space. Do you need extra storage? Does your guest bedroom also function as a home office? It's in this phase where we narrow down the specifics of your space and also get a grasp on the aesthetic that will be the foundation for your design.
From this information and data, concept boards are often created to show the different directions one can take from an idea like mid century modern or a light and airy kitchen. With these different directions of design also comes different choices for layout. For example, if someone wants a living room that is designed for entertainment, one layout option might show a sectional that seats 10, while another layout shows a variety of seating spaces, such as a sofa area, smaller private seating spaces, or poufs that can function for added seats when needed.
Often times when going through this phase, clients will uncover new aspects of what they like vs what they don't. They might also get inspired by a new design option or layout that they never thought of before. As much as it is for the designer to be creative in this stage, it's for you as well to open your mind to the possibilities your house holds.
Phase 2 - The Design
This is the phase that most people assume happens instantly when designing a room. It's where furniture, fixtures, and finishes are shown to represent the choices and selections for the design of your room. This step however wouldn't be as beneficial without Phase 1's process of narrowing in on an aesthetic/style and getting those practicalities squared away first.
This phase essentially expands upon your design style from Phase 1 to explore different selections and options of furniture pieces. Want a moody boho bedroom with dark colored walls? This is where we show a deep charcoal grey vs a deep navy blue. A patterned bedding vs a solid color. Nightstands with drawers vs a floating nightstand option. There is a lot of choices within this design phase, but all are geared towards getting you a room you love.
Phase 3 - Selections + Sourcing
Now based off the direction from Phase 2, in this design phase, some more fine tuning of selections might be needed. Maybe you didn't like that coffee table's legs and want to find an alternative. This is the phase where we get down to the nitty gritty of what exact pieces are going in your home. From this, a list of furniture, finish, and fixture schedules are created for ease of purchasing and contain all the specifications needed for a client (you) to shop for these pieces on your own.
An alternative option that many interior designers offer in this phase is a service of purchasing the products themselves and handling the ordering, processing, tracking, shipping, and delivery. This is done at a 20% markup for the interior designer's time. Often a designer has a discount for many of these stores, some savings which can be over 50%. So in reality, you could be saving 30% off on your sofa while letting an interior designer handle the hassle of managing all of these tiny details.
Phase 4 - Decor + Staging
There are many famous sayings in design that state the design is in the details. Often times the decor and accessories are the specialties to a space. These are the personal and sentimental items that bring you joy and often have a story or meaning behind them. The decor can also make and complete the look, giving it that cherry on top finish.
In Phase 4, decor is chosen to finish the overall design look. This includes art, table top accessories, baskets, plants, and other odds n' ends that fill in those missing gaps of the room. Staging is also offered at this time. It's not only important what decor you get, but where it goes and how it's styled in your space. Coffee table centerpieces, mantle displays, gallery wall art, and other arrangements are woven into the design to create a complete and unified look.
Even if you enjoy the curation and sourcing of the decor for your home, you can still opt to create a guide for your shopping selections. Understanding what wood tone, colors, shapes, and patterns to be looking for when shopping can help you achieve that overall look and feel you desire for your space without sacrificing the connection you have with your decor pieces.
What Makes Design so Expensive?
Even though you have more knowledge now on the creative process of interior design, what else makes interior design cost so much? This opinion might be controversial and perhaps a bit bias since I am an Interior Designer, but design really isn't expensive when you take in all the factors.
It takes Time
Sure, it sounds fun to shop till you drop, but browsing countless pages of furniture websites, touring numerous stores, and sifting through an infinite number of products on the market takes some serious time and can be downright overwhelming for most. And it's not just the time it takes to make sure the furniture meet budget, design style, size, function, etc....it's also the time that the creative process takes. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will your living room.
Having an interior designer help you with your home saves you your precious time as well. You only get 24 hours in a day, most of which you're working, taking care of the kids, making dinner, and taking care of yourself, leaving only the weekend to work on your project. But then when the weekend comes, you want to relax, see friends, and have fun, NOT work on selecting tile for your kitchen backsplash. It can take a simple six week project years to complete on one's own due to lack of motivation and major life distraction. No shame, but that's what an interior designer is for.
You're Paying for Expertise and Knowledge
You probably wouldn't rewire the electrical to your bathroom on your own. Or file your own taxes. True, while some of us probably do end up DIYing a lot, this takes serious time (see above point) for not only doing the work, but learning how to do the work.
Working with a professional interior designer, they've been around the block a few times. They know which materials are best for what rooms. They have the ins to furniture brands you've never even heard of. They can find that velvet green couch that you found for $6,000 at a fraction of the cost. When you work with an interior designer, you are paying for their knowledge and experience, so you don't have to make mistakes in your home remodel and end up breaking your budget and being bummed over your space.
Design is an Investment
Remodeling or refurnishing your home isn't like a massage. It's not a service that you seek out every month like clockwork. In fact, most people redecorate their homes every five years. Interior design and redecorating your home is a service that is an investment. Sure, it costs $4,000 for a sofa, but how often are you buying a new sofa? Broken down over 5 years, that sofa is costing you $66 a month. And let's be real, your phone bill is probably more than that.
Shifting your mentality to an investment based service not only make the cost of interior design seem less daunting, but it also get you to think about your home in a long term way. So instead of skimping on a sofa that's a cheap $500 but is uncomfortable and will break in 6 months, you know that the $4000 sofa will last longer, is better quality, and an overall better investment for you and your home.
There you have it. In reality, Interior Design isn't that expensive when you fact all there is into the process and the overall time and work. Having this new found knowledge, hopefully you look at the lens of Interior Design differently.
Your Holistic Home Helper,