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Ed Twohey on Oct 27, 2020

Should You Hire An Interior Designer? 

Although not required, hiring an interiors consultant has many advantages, and if incorporated into your design team, can produce fantastic results. There are however, pitfalls with this decision and the purpose of this article is how to avoid them. Your interiors consultant and architect should have a mutually beneficial working relationship, where they understand each other’s scope, contractual responsibilities, and can make your building design stronger together. 

Coordinated collaboration will benefit the project.

A designer can strengthen the architectural relationships by choosing furniture that may be light and airy or substantial depending on the room. The sophistication of layered colors, textures and finishes can tie an entire home together as well as provide functional benefits. Choosing the correct space defining objects and character elements requires not only a good eye, but knowledge of the vendors and current product offerings. An interiors professional is going to have that inside knowledge of these things to make your project a success. 

In a design meeting environment, while brainstorming room relationships, we want to vet ideas, to find the best solution. Those ideas can originate with the owner, Interiors Consultant, or us, it does not matter.  What matters is the result. 

Chemistry is also an important aspect. As you may have heard, many designers and architects are known to have strong personalities which can be counterproductive if they are working off of a different set of priorities.  Your priorities should guide both. When everyone is moving in the same direction, a unique harmony can occur and become truly special. 

At BBA, our interiors strength has always been the architectural elements, tile, cabinetry, floor finishes, Interior trim work - all the things that are a built-in part of the house, including plumbing and light fixtures.  We normally include selection of these items, as a part of our Building Interiors package, whether you bring on an outside person or not.  When a client brings an Interiors consultant, we encourage them to participate in these elements. Once selected, we prefer to require procurement by the GC as part of the General Contract. Some designers will offer to procure these elements with a markup or do so as part of their fee structure, just as they would for furniture, rugs or window treatments. You need to know this expectation up front.

As such, we highly recommend an early meeting with the owners, architect, and prospective interiors consultant to review the project goals together and to discuss specific responsibilities, including specification and procurement. 

What services do Interior Designers provide? 

As with architects, design firms offer a wide range of services and service levels.  For residential design, we can divide these service levels into the broad categories listed below: 

A. Full Architectural Interiors

Includes full design coordination and specification of the interior spaces. Can include drawings, specifications, and procurement services. Similar to what we provide in our Building Interiors Service, firms that offer full architectural interiors may overlap with the architect. It is common for this type of design firm to be hired when the architect is only contracted for a minimum “shell & core” type building design. Typically, this is not what we have done. 

B. Kitchen & Bath Design, Millwork Design

 Includes full consultation for these areas and can often include procurement of cabinets, surfaces, plumbing fixtures, appliances, and equipment, often with a markup. 

C. Color & Texture Consulting & Specification:

This Includes all finished surfaces, such as floors, walls, ceilings, along with decorative lighting, bath accessories, etc. This can include procurement services, often with a markup. Color and texture management can also include managing the painting contractor at the site. 

D. Furniture & Decorative Items

 In addition to furniture and textile selection, this can include window treatments and decorative lighting.  This may  include procurement services, often with a markup. 

E. Logistics, Setup & Staging

On moving day, your designer can have a team on hand to receive deliveries, place furniture, hang artwork, and even arrange your books on the new bookshelves. They will get your new home ready for living in short order. 

How does Procurement work? 

Procurement is essentially the process of purchasing items for your home. It involves dealing with a wide range of vendors, often buying at a wholesale rate, and selling to you including local taxes and/or delivery fees. There is a lot of confusion about how procurement fees work, especially with traditional design houses. The industry as a whole is far more transparent than it used to be, and now, your designer is just as likely to purchase items from a retail source as a design house. Clear communication with your designer about procurement expectations should be a requirement. 

Procurement however, is a big job and whether your designer charges hourly, by percentage, or some of both, your project installation will go more smoothly if done professionally. 

It is now common practice for most designers to say that they “pass along their discount” to their clients. List prices are also under pressure, as you can now check competitive prices instantaneously. With certain purveyors of high end specialties, however, the old system persists. Your designer though, can and should provide transparency, and be clear as to how they charge for procurement services. Generally speaking, we think that an agreed upon procurement fee is a fair way to compensate your designer.  

Today, your designer may source items from a wide variety of vendors,  including traditional design houses (such as at the Merchandise Mart), designer friendly retail vendors (Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware), retail, or custom artisan craftspeople. You should know the fee policy for each source. 

If you are interested in pursuing an interiors consultant, See our list of preferred providers under the resources tab on our website.