How do Interior Designers Charge?

So, you’ve moved into a new home and want to put your stamp on it but don’t know where to start. Maybe you are keen to sell your home but it looks a bit dated and you want to attract a buyer quickly.  Or perhaps you’ve seen a beautiful home in a magazine and want to recreate the look but don’t know how to go about it. These are just a few of the scenarios where an interior designer can help.  But there is still the belief that interior design is exclusive, expensive and only for certain sorts.

When I first started my business, I spent a lot of time digging around trying to figure out what interior designers charge and how they charge. It’s amazing what a closed and secretive subject it is – little wonder it’s been the preserve of those with bottomless pockets until now, as technology starts to disrupt the market.

First I feel it’s important to explain the difference between an interior designer, interior decorator and home stylist, before I explain how interior designers charge for their services.

What does an Interior Designer do?

In very basic terms, an interior designer surveys (measures and takes lots of detailed notes) your home, business or workplace and recommends ways to make the most efficient use of the space, then translates your design preferences into a coherent design scheme with decoration, furniture, storage, lighting, fixtures and fittings. Many interior designers will appoint tradespeople either on your behalf or from their own team and most will offer a project management services to make sure the implementation takes place on time and within budget.  Interior designers use their networks to source everything you may need to bring your space to life and complete the aesthetic, many offering a final styling service.  Interior designers usually have a formal qualification. You can see how the British Institute of Interior Design defines the role of an interior designer here.

What does an Interior Decorator do?

An interior decorator tends to be concerned with the decoration of a space, helping clients to create the look and feel they want with colour, pattern and texture.  They tend not to be concerned with the use or function of a space.  Many interior decorators are self-taught, having successfully worked on their own projects first.  On the whole, interior decorators do not design spaces.

What does an Interior Stylist do?

An interior stylist’s role is quite different to that of an interior designer.  Interior stylists often work alongside photographers and many have an editorial background, working on photo shoots to make spaces look perfect, showcasing products or staging a home ready for sale.  They know a lot about placement, scale and proportion, they understand texture, lighting and colour.  Whilst the way a space looks is a stylist’s primary focus, an interior designer would usually offer a styling service at the end of a project as an added extra. Many interior stylists also work as interior decorators.

If you have a good eye and are active on sites like Pinterest you may have the creativity, time and knowledge to manage your own interior design project. If you feel that you are lacking in any of these areas, then a good interior designer will collaborate with you to help you reach your goal. So …

How much does an interior designer charge?

Because each project is so different, I understand that it is difficult for interior designers to publish set fees.  For example, you may be launching an independent coffee shop and already have the branding for your business but need help putting a decorative scheme together and advice on how to plan the space to get maximum ‘bums on seats’; you may have bought a holiday home and would like to hand over the complete refurbishment as you don’t have time to get it ready for next season’s rental market; or you may be a growing business just moving into your first premises and need help to create an engaging workspace for your employees that at the same time reflects your company values so that clients ‘get it’ when they come for meetings.

So while I appreciate that it is difficult to publish fees, there is no reason why companies cannot outline their ‘starting from’ costs.  Perhaps those designers feel that if a client needs to ask then they are not worth working with? Not my sentiment!

Is it for me?

Some interior designers are well known for executing a particular style, have a portfolio of high net worth clients and consequently feel justified in charging huge design fees. That’s great if you want to pay the price tag for a particular trademark look, but many people don’t have that sort of budget and are lacking in time or creativity and would like to engage a professional.  To help you decide whether working with an interior designer is for you, I thought it might be useful to share with you some common ways in which interior designers charge their design services.

What exactly will I be paying for?

In short, an interior designer’s time, knowledge and passion.  An interior designer will bring some or all of the following skills to a project:

It’s important to point out that an interior designer’s costs will only be a part of your overall budget, which is likely to include the services of other specialist trades such as plumbers, electricians and decorators as well as the wallpaper, paint, lighting and furniture.  A good interior designer will be able to help you estimate your entire project before getting started. This is why it is a good idea to consult an interior designer at the earliest possible opportunity, even if just to understand what is feasible.

Clients, be clear about your budget!

While this does depend on the level of service you are looking for, when first meeting with a designer (and most offer a free, no obligation consultation), be very clear about your budget.  Tell them that you cannot pay more than £X amount.  Not only does this give the designer a steer on whether they are the right person for the job, it also helps them when researching and preparing the design presentation – should they be looking at Gucci or a garage sale for your dining room sideboard? Most importantly, being clear about your budget at the start, and sticking to it, leaves you assured that there will be no nasty surprises.

How do Interior Designers Charge?

After the initial meeting, if you agree to work together, a designer will take a detailed brief and draw up a Fee Proposal. This will be based on their hourly or daily rate and the number of hours they estimate it will take them to undertake what you want them to do.  The details of your requirements will be written in the Scope of Works.  You should read, agree and sign this before any work is undertaken.

Below is a list of the most common services which an interior design will charge for.  In short all make money through charging their time and some make money by marking-up goods or services they supply.  You should ask at the outset if anything is unclear or you feel confused about what you will paying for.

1/Measured Survey

Most will charge an initial fee for carrying out a detailed measured survey of your space.  This is an essential part of a large project as it will enable them to go away and plan your spaces, prepare furniture and lighting plans, estimate wallpaper volumes, flooring costs, and speak with contractors for estimating purposes.  This may or may not be part of their overall Design Fee.

2/Interior Design Fee

The initial Design Fee will cover creative time, sourcing, acquiring samples, technical drawings, estimating and everything that will be required to present initial designs to you. A lot of hours can go into this, not only to establish a ‘look and feel’ but to find products and suppliers that can carry out the work within your specified budget, as there is no point in a designer presenting you with creative ideas that are unfeasible. This is usually charged as a flat fee depending on the hours it will take.

3/Design Development

Once the initial designs are ‘signed off’, there may be areas that need more detail, such as designs for bespoke joinery, drawing up lighting plans for an electrician, researching a specific type of material or finish that you want to include or writing a brief for an upholsterer or curtain maker.    If this is not covered in the original ‘Scope of Works’ you may receive an additional estimate or ‘variation’.  It is usually estimated on the number of hours that it will take to undertake this part of the process. Design development may/may not be included in the initial design fee depending on what you agreed at the first briefing meeting.

4/Purchasing

If an interior designer has a shop or provides a retail service they may be creatively restricted to the products which they sell, or to those of their suppliers. Do bear this in mind when you approach an interior designer.

Regardless of this, interior designers may mark-up or charge a fee for purchasing things for your project.  Ask at the initial consultation whether this is the case.  You may be happy to pay this percentage mark up, or agree another way of working, where the designer supplies you with (and charges you for) a shopping list and you purchase the items yourself.

5/Appointing Trades People

The same goes for 3rd party services.  If an interior designer is appointing a decorator on your behalf there is likely to be a charge for this, often as a percentage mark up.  Alternatively, you may agree up front with your interior designer that you pay a placement fee, where the designer introduces you to a suitable tradesperson from their address book and you appoint them direct in return for a set fee.  This should be something that you ask about and agree up front.

6/Project Management

The project management fee is usually an hourly/daily rate for overseeing the implementation of the project, to make sure it happens on time and within budget.  If you are keen to engage an interior designer that offers this service, ask for their daily rate, or give them a budget to stick to, making it clear how much of their time you want to pay for.  Most will keep timesheets as part of the project management service, which they will be happy to share with you.

7/Design Consultations & One-Off Services

Most interior designers will offer consultations for any part of the process and may have set fees for this.  This may be for home styling, brief writing, compiling lighting plans, assessing and advising bespoke storage requirements or home/office curation (the new name for decluttering!).  It’s always worth dropping an e-mail to enquire about these additional services, as most independent interior designers will be keen and able to help you with a specific issue.

Is it worth it?

Many people find it difficult to decide which direction they want to take a room stylistically and/or are limited to what they can find on the High Street.  Others simply don’t have the time, inclination or contacts.

If living in a well-designed space, providing your employees with a positive working environment or giving your guests somewhere relaxing and memorable to stay is important to you, then it may a great investment to appoint an interior design professional.

Hopefully this has been useful in helping uncover the enigmatic way in which interior designer charge their services and the reason why many don’t publish their rates.  I believe in transparency, so you can find out  about our bespoke interior design service aimed at commercial and larger residential projects here.

And in response to requests for working with an interior designer without major financial commitment, we have launched a new online design service for homeowners.  For a set fee, you can get professional advice at a pocket-friendly price at a service level that suits you.

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