By Christina Bruce, originally published in the May-June Issue of Portfolio Magazine.
I’m finding it more and more difficult for clients to understand the value of hiring an interior designer. I’d like to give you some insight into some of the benefits of hiring, as well as what to look for when selecting a designer. In order to not have this be the world’s most self-promoting article, I’m also going to provide insight into our pricing strategies.
Let’s break down the mystery behind the pricing strategy of designers. Each designer has their own way of pricing their services and goods. When it comes to their design services, which typically covers the selection of all design items such as furnishings, lighting, interior finishes, space planning, and cabinetry design, designers will either charge an hourly fee or an overall design fee.
An hourly fee will cover their time to select and present the selections they’ve made for your project. A design fee will be a lump sum, typically based on a dollar amount per square foot, that will cover all of their time to make their selections.
I know it can be confusing for a consumer to decide which type of pricing is more advantageous. Here’s a little secret: it typically doesn’t matter. When I first started my company back in 2009, I’d painstakingly analyze which type of pricing strategy to use. I’d keep track of all my design hours when charging a design fee and at the end of the project analyze which was more profitable. It almost always came out nearly even. The choice of hourly vs. design fee typically comes down to one of two things for the designer; the scope of the project and the designer’s own overhead costs.
For example, when working on a smaller residential project, a designer would likely select an hourly rate. This gives them the ability to cover the expense of their time on a less profitable project. Designers that have a larger overhead with more employees or a furniture showroom will often prefer a design fee because it’s an easier way for them to forecast the income for their company, as the amount is set during the beginning phase of the project. In the end, the most import thing is that the cost of design services is a fair amount given the designer’s level of expertise.
When it comes to the dollar amount a designer charges, this should be solely based on their credentials. In this world of HGTV, Pinterest and Houzz, it seems everyone with good taste believes they’re a designer. While there are lots of different roads one can take to become a designer, it ultimately comes down to education.
Many designers obtain a degree from a school with an accredited interior design program. I have a bachelor’s of fine arts from Savannah College of Art and Design. The other option is to be schooled in the general ways of the design world. This means acquiring expertise from years of experience in working as a designer. People with one, or preferably both, of these credentials, will rightfully charge more for their designs than someone who just woke up one day with a paint deck and a dream. The most important thing is to do your research prior to hiring.
While hiring a designer can be expensive, and we’re often looked at as a luxury service, what people frequently don’t realize is that we can often save you money. When it comes to selling goods, whether it’s spelled out in terms of disclosing a type of “procurement fee” or not, designers typically charge a 20-40 percent markup on the products they select. While that might sound like a large amount, remember that designers typically get a 20-50 percent discount on these goods. In the end, you are actually receiving a discount and access to products you can’t get as a regular consumer. In addition, the designer is handling all of the hassles of purchasing these items, which involves a lot of really unglamorous things like quotes, purchase orders, acknowledgments, and inspections.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember when hiring an interior designer is your personal comfort. In order to have a successful and enjoyable experience, one must not only be comfortable with their pricing and expertise but their general personality. The design process, especially in residential projects, can be a very intimate one. The designer is helping you select the items you will look at every day and often things as personal as toilets. Make sure the person is someone who’s aesthetic you admire and someone you wouldn’t mind having a glass of wine with.