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Photo by Dustin Halleck

How to Get the Most Out of Your Interior Designer

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Decorating your home is no easy feat, even for the design-minded. Finding that enviable mix of style and warmth that exudes an aesthetic that is truly yours–while keeping in line with a budget–can be a challenge. Thankfully, Homepolish, a brilliant interior design resource, has help to solve the riddle. Curating the talents of interior designers across the country, the firm works to create spaces tailored to your exact tastes–all for an hourly fee. (Their current roster includes designers in nineteen cities across the US.) We asked Ariel Farmer, Liz Lipkin, and Amy Row, three NYC-based Homepolish designers, for their advice on how to navigate the ins and outs of working with an interior designer. Here, their tips for keeping the decorating journey going smoothly.

A Q&A with Ariel Farmer, Liz Lipkin, and Amy Row

Q

What should you look for in a meeting with an interior designer to ensure it will be a good fit from a taste, vision, and budget perspective?

A

ARIEL FARMER: I think a successful consultation comes down to three things: communication, an open mind, and personality. Communication is so important. It ensures that your vision is being heard, and also allows the designer insight into the your world. With effective communication, we’re able to put together spaces that are truly reflective of our clients needs and aesthetic. Unfortunately, designers are not mind readers (although that would be awesome!), so it’s important to keep an open mind as the designer begins to delve into your personal style.

“It’s important for you to be able to relate to your designer professionally and personally. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do want to make sure you feel comfortable and excited to work alongside them.”

Try to let your designer show you some things you may not have had first considered. It’s often the ‘I never thought of that!’ element that takes a design from nice–to wow! It’s important for you to be able to relate to your designer professionally and personally. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do want to make sure you feel comfortable and excited to work alongside them.

 

Q

What does hiring a designer entail? What are the benefits?

A

FARMER: Often more times than not, clients do have a distinct vision. It’s the implementation of that design where a designer really makes all the difference. Design is a big picture process: There are so many factors to consider in each specification, from finish to scale to materials. We take that all into account while simultaneously considering and designing the big picture. This allows for you to be able to engage in a creative process that is as equally inspiring as it is enjoyable. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious is no way to design your dream space. 

Q

What are some tips to expressing your vision to your designer?

A

FARMER: We’re lucky to live in the age of social media where boundless amounts of inspiration are at our fingertips. Instagram, Pinterest, and shelter magazines are often where I point clients trying to hone in on their aesthetic. If that proves overwhelming, I will have clients think of a restaurant or brand they feel expresses a mood or aesthetic they relate to. A client may not always have the design vocabulary to articulate specific design elements but we all have a favorite place that inspires us and makes us feel good–and our homes should make us feel the same way.

Q

Can you explain the relationship between an interior designer and a general contractor?

A

LIZ LIPKIN: An interior designer is your advocate on a renovation–and she or he will be in close communication with the general contractor from the hiring process through project completion. Once your design, materials, and fixtures have been determined, your designer will convey the project vision to the contractor via a written scope of work, detailed drawings, and product spec sheets. The designer and the contractor will coordinate deliveries, meet at the site frequently, and work together to ensure that the project is progressing according to plan.  Ideally, the interior designer and contractor are buds who bounce ideas off of each other, troubleshoot problems, and text each other photos of the project’s progress every day.

Q

Are there any red flags to look out for?

A

LIPKIN: Be wary of contractors who are unresponsive, who over promise, have negative reviews, don’t have recent references, or whose budget proposals or timelines are out of sync with those of other contractors that you’re considering. And don’t trust anyone who can’t produce a tape measure at a moment’s notice!

Q

Are there certain things (testimonials, references) that you should always ask for?

A

LIPKIN: Always do your homework! To ensure that you’re hiring the best contractor, use someone who’s licensed and insured–and check state and local agencies and the Better Business Bureau for any issues or complaints. Ask for references: Speak to former clients whose jobs were similar to yours, and get feedback on the quality of the contractor’s reliability, quality of their work, and their reaction to issues that came up in the course of the project. It is also beneficial to ask to visit one of your contractor’s current job sites. This will give you a sense of their level of attention to detail, their professionalism, and their relationship with the crew. Lastly, ask how often they’ll be on site once your job starts, which should be at least once a day.

Q

How much of a budget overage should you expect?

A

LIPKIN: Establish a clear budget with your designer before the project starts. This will avoid overages altogether. As a client, you control the amount spent on sourcing. If you have a budget range in mind, target the lower number to leave a cushion for taxes, delivery fees, and surcharges (like white glove service).  A shared line item budget sheet will keep you and the designer on budget–and on task.  

“If you have a budget range in mind, target the lower number to leave a cushion for taxes, delivery fees, and surcharges (like white glove service).”

Each item is assigned a max amount, and every purchase is recorded to maintain a running total of expenses by room and by project. My clients and I love using Google sheets for budget management.

Q

What’s a typical amount to spend for a living room, bedroom, or study, assuming that you already have some basics?

A

LIPKIN: There’s really no standard amount since every client has a different budget–but always be thoughtful about how you’re allocating what you spend. The sofa, bed frame, and desk are the most important pieces in each of those rooms. Invest more in well-made, long-term key items that will get the most use, and spend less on smaller items or accessories that you may want to switch out in a few years.

Q

Any recommendations for keeping the design process going smoothly–and keeping it fun?

A

AMY ROW: The smoothest projects I’ve had are the ones where the clients gave me their total and complete trust. I know how hard that can be, being that your home is a very personal space, but trust that every suggestion from your designer has been painstakingly thought through from every angle. I’m constantly thinking about dimensions, the lifestyle of my client, the mood we’re creating, what other pieces are in the space… so when I bring design suggestions to my clients they come from a place of deep thought and care. Find a designer you love, trust them for the professional they are, and allow them to take the lead. Do planning meetings over drinks to keep it fun.

“Invest more in well made, long term key items that will get the most use, and spend less on smaller items or accessories that you may want to switch out in a few years.”

I love to see my clients face to face for the opportunity to explain my ideas thoroughly, and this allows us to have the back and forth that can be cumbersome over e-mail. There truly is a relationship between client and designers and it’s nice to get together every once in a while and not only make progress on the project, but check in on life as well.

Q

Is it more economical to design one room at a time or an entire home?

A

ROW: I always say do the entire home. It’s so worth it to commit to the complete project because then you and your designer are in it together from start to finish to make a cohesive, comfortable living space. You build a relationship, and you also create something whole that you love to come home to.

Q

How can you tell you’re being charged fairly?

A

ROW: I like to compare interior design to therapy, personal fitness training, going to the chiropractor. Buying Design Hours is like treating yourself to a service like a massage that will benefit your mental health and your overall well-being.

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