How to Choose the Right Interior Designer

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I know that DIY is all the rage right now — and I’ve been handing out tips left and right since I started this website — but sometimes you need an expert to get the job done right. If you’ve grown comfortable with small jobs, or even the occasional mistake, then you’re well on your way to developing your own personal style, and a professional can help you turn your designer’s eye into a great execution of your vision.

Don’t be intimidated by the task of hiring an interior designer, whether it’s for a second home, a renovation, or just redoing a space. You’re looking for a partner, someone who will lower your stress level throughout the process and give you a second opinion on your decisions. And don’t forget that having a professional on your team means you’ll get access to the best places (and best prices) for fabric, furniture, and lighting — and a strong relationship with the best installers.

But still, you’re going to get the designer that’s right for you. Any reputable professional should be able to work to your vision and goals, but it still helps to find one with a style similar to your own.

Here are a few things to think about when looking for the right designer for you.

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Any reputable professional should be able to work to your vision and goals, but it still helps to find one with a style similar to your own.

1. Look for Pictures of Interiors that Speak to You

With Instagram and Pinterest (and magazines, if you have those lying around), there is an endless supply of interior design inspiration. Find the pictures that you like, and then find the designer who is responsible.

2. Define Your Budget

Before you talk to your dream designer, know what you’re willing to spend on the project. Your designer will need to know the amount they have to work with and a list of the things you want to accomplish. From there, you can ask if your dream designer works on an hourly fee or a flat fee for the project, and if they work on a cost plus a percentage markup on each item, or at retail. There’s no strict standard, but you’ll want to know all this going in.

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Having a professional on your team means you’ll get access to the best places (and best prices) for fabric, furniture, and lighting.

3. Communicate Your Style

It's important that your style line up with your designer, but you’ll also want to make sure you can share your vision effectively. When you meet with your designer, bring magazine clippings or share a Pinterest board you’ve made so that they can clearly see your style. Be sure to ask if there are any particular styles that the designer does (or does not!) like, and figure out if you will make a good team.

4. Set Guidelines

Before starting any design project, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Ask what the designer’s availability is and make sure it works with your own schedule. Ask how many projects they’re currently working on and if they have the time and staff to dedicate to your project. Ask what they will expect of you throughout the process as far as time and availability; if you’re someone who wants to be intimately involved in the process, or if you’re someone who only wants necessary check-ins, the first meeting is the time to iron out the working relationship.

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A professional can help you turn your designer’s eye into a great execution of your vision.

5. Ask Questions

You won’t want to forget all the questions in Step 4 (or 3 or 2), so be sure to keep a running list of questions leading up to the meeting. Asking questions isn’t just about getting answers, it’s also about learning how your designer communicates, and about each of you learning to trust the other.

And then… repeat the process two more times. No, seriously. Interview multiple designers to make sure you know what you want and that you’re getting the person who will be best for your project. Compare the prices and compare the answers to the list of questions you made. And then, have a less formal sit-down with your choice, and get excited about the great things to come.

What’s the most important question you ask your interior designer? What something you wish that they’d asked you?


Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at mary@spaldingway.com.

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