Below are a few questions and answers to help the consumer better understand the business of interior design with a focus on the role of independent interior designers in today’s design environment. There are also some closing thoughts to consider when trying to understand how independent interior designers work to help you decide whether you should work with an independent interior design professional.
Q. Can I find the products designers sell for less money elsewhere?
A. Yes and no. Furnishings manufactured in bulk and offered to retailers at wholesale pricing may be offered at costs lower than what a designer can provide to you. By their very nature; however, custom furnishings – combinations of furniture frames from one supplier upholstered with fabric from another, for example – are truly unique, one of a kind pieces that most likely can only be replicated one at a time. Whether ready-made or custom pieces, their retail pricing includes a markup that covers the retailer’s expenses. Markups include such costs as overhead (e.g., mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, etc.), tax, shipping, delivery and compensation.
Q. If I can find and buy the products an interior designer shows me on my own why would I purchase them from a designer?
A. Depending on your arrangement with your interior designer, there are several advantages and benefits your designer can provide you when you purchase directly from them that you would not receive if you made your purchases independently. Some of these include the designer’s expertise in bringing a desired “look” together, project management in executing the design and white glove delivery services.
Q. What are some examples of the advantages and benefits a designer can provide me if I decide to purchase furnishings from a designer rather than if I purchased items on my own?
A. The best way to answer this question is to provide a real-world scenario – a full home or full room design project – and then provide examples of what might happen during a design project and what is required to address the issues as they arise, as follows:
- Overall Design Cohesiveness or Design Integrity – The main reason, in my experience, that people hire interior designers is that people know what they like, BUT they don’t know how to pull “the look” together they seek. For example, many people see individual items in a vacuum: “I LOVE that chair. I WANT that lamp. And, I simply MUST HAVE that area rug.” But, what frequently happens next is the same consumer finds themselves standing in the middle of a room where everything they love doesn’t speak to one another or, worse, they fight one another. Simply put, a designer’s gift and expertise for seeing the Big Picture can save the consumer hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on poor design investments.
- Delivery and Installation – Another advantage of hiring an interior designer, from whom you receive both their design services and furniture purchases, includes the benefits of white glove delivery services. With white glove delivery services, delivery personnel:
a. Bring furniture to the specific locations where it is to be installed.
b. Unpack the furniture.
c. Assemble furnishings.
d. Place furniture in the room according to the designer’s specifications.
e. Remove all packing materials.
- Damaged Goods and Returns – Inevitably, some items may arrive damaged. If you purchase items on your own and they arrive damaged, you’ll have to call the supplier to report the damage and order a replacement. Often, you’ll be responsible for packing the damaged item and you’ll need to return it OR make arrangements for a shipper to pick it up. Even in the case of the supplier telling you that you do not need to return the damaged item (they often recommend you donate it), you’re now responsible for disposing of it and all of its packaging. When you purchase through an interior designer, they ensure the receiver inspects the item before it is cleared for delivery and installation in your home. And, any damaged items will be the responsibility of the designer to resolve. Since time is money, these services – offered by an interior designer – provide you a great savings in time, effort and money by freeing you up to pursue more important activities to you.
- Variety and Design Expertise – There exist online interior design services that provide floor plans and elevations and perhaps even product recommendations. And surely, big box stores offer complimentary interior design services, but their product offerings are limited. Working with an independent interior designer, you’ll have access to a much broader range of home furnishings and they will meet with you – face to face – in your own home to review and select home furnishings. Also, you’ll receive personalized interior design expertise tailored to your design vision.
Q. So, what exactly is included in a designer’s markup and why may it be more expensive than when I find the same item online or at a retail store?
A. Simply put, it’s a matter of scale. Big box stores, online retailers and interior designers ALL markup items to cover their overhead, shipping, delivery – an in some cases – design expenses. But, since brick and mortar stores and online retailers deal in greater volume, they can offer their products for less; however, the consumer usually does not receive either design consultation or white glove delivery services provided by an independent interior designer.
Q. Can I work with an independent interior designer and either have them purchase products through my suppliers or make an agreement where I will purchase product on my own?
A. Yes. Many independent interior designers do offer interior design services only but, choose not to sell product to their clients. In these instances, interior designers typically charge an hourly or flat fee for their design expertise. Also, under these agreements, clients will obtain product on their own from their own suppliers. Designers won’t likely ever attempt to purchase products for you from your suppliers since they don’t have control over shipping, delivery and installation. Some interior designers will provide project management services that may include receiving products at your home. Typically, depending on the size of the project, the designer may charge either a flat fee or hourly fee for such services. Under these types of agreements interior designers only receive product, but do not open packages, inspect for damage or handle returns. Under this type of agreement, those tasks are the responsibility of the client since they made these purchases independently of the interior designer.
Q. Can I hire an independent interior designer to go shopping either for me or with me?
A. Yes. Some independent interior designers will provide shopping services. Whether with or without the client accompanying them, these interior designers will shop for clients at an hourly rate. Also, unless otherwise agreed upon, interior designers, under this type of agreement, are not responsible for shipping, delivery and installation and any issues that require receiving, inspecting and returning items. Under this type of agreement, the client is responsible for these tasks since these purchases were not acquired through the designer’s suppliers.
In summary, when working with an independent interior designer, your design investment may be higher than if you manage the process yourself. Yet, when working with an interior designer you will receive unparalleled design advice and expertise. You will also have access to customized products and designs, personalized services and attention that are often unavailable via conventional online resources or via the limited product offerings and customer services of brick and mortar retailers. Ultimately, independent interior designers are almost always highly-talented, honest, hardworking professionals seeking only to help others create the beautiful rooms and spaces most people cannot create successfully on their own. If you choose to work with an independent interior designer, you will likely be glad you did once you see the final results of their efforts in service of you and your design plans.