Knowing what you don’t know in life is perhaps more important than knowing what you do know. You know? Many homeowners don’t know where to begin when it comes to designing their spaces. And, that is totally fine! That’s what interior designers are for. We may make this look easy, but we’ve spent years training in order to deliver a room that is beautiful, functional, and comfortable. The problem I see homeowners face time and time again is that they don’t know how to get the most out of working with an interior designer. Or worse yet, they think they can DIY their project in a weekend. I hate to break it to you, but DIY is a lie! Let the professionals handle it.
To help you get the most out of working with your interior designer, I’m sharing three things not to do, three things to do, and three ways to forge a collaborative partnership with your design team. You could say this is a triple-threat strategy to make the most of your home design.
Here’s How to Get the Most Out of Working With an Interior Designer
What Not to Do: 3 Design Pitfalls to Avoid
1. Don’t Enlist the “Friend With Good Taste”
To work well with an interior designer, you need to actually work with a trained interior designer! We all have the “friend with good taste” who has the most stylish clothes, the prettiest furnishings, and the most popular soirees on the block. However, just because your friend has good taste doesn’t mean they will make for a good designer. I cannot tell you how many messes I’ve cleaned up where a “friend with good taste” has left a kitchen design unfinished and a friendship in shambles. Words of advice, keep your friendships intact, and leave the interior design to the experts. As designers, we are responsible for more than picking out pretty finishes. We interpret our clients’ needs, coordinate with builders, and manage tight project timelines. These skills require practice and expertise, not just good taste.
2. Don’t Try to DIY
I will say it again, DIY is a lie! There are countless articles, television shows, and bloggers selling the idea that all a remodel takes is some creativity, time, and a can of paint. However, most people cannot spend a weekend, a week, or even a year and achieve what a trained professional can in their home. Far too often, DIY projects fall flat (or end in disaster), and homeowners have to call in a design team to clean up the mess. All DIY creates is lost time, wasted money, and a soul-crushing sense of defeat. Don’t let this be you! Stick to your day job and leave the heavy lifting to the design professionals. Your home is your biggest investment, after all. Let someone with experience get the job done faster, better, and more beautifully.
3. Don’t Limit the Vision
Now, you’ve made the informed decision to hire an interior design professional. But, there’s one more thing you need to make sure you don’t do. Don’t limit the vision! Many homeowners don’t even realize they impede the design process with their set ideas and expectations.
For example, let’s suppose you are an avid record collector, and you want to redesign your living room to include more storage.
A limiting way to approach the project is to reach out and say:
I would like you to design shelves on either side of my existing fireplace to make space for my vinyl record collection.
This approach is limiting because you have given the designer one job, preventing them from making new recommendations or finding new solutions.
An open way to approach the project is to reach out and say:
I want to redesign my living room. Our family enjoys entertaining, and I also have an extensive record collection that needs to be housed. Please advise us on the first steps to reaching a design solution.
This open-ended approach is much better. Now, you and the designer can collaborate on endless ideas, many of which you may not have considered. For example, maybe you don’t use the fireplace, so you can remove it entirely and install the record shelf and media center of your dreams. In summary, be open to new ideas and don’t limit the vision before the project even begins.
What to Do: 3 Ways to Collaborate With Your Interior Designer
1. Do Enlist the Help of a Designer Early On
The earlier you bring on an interior designer, the better. With just a few early conversations, you will better understand cost and budget, proportions and scale, where to invest and where to save, and what is actually possible for your project. For projects where my team of Austin interior designers and I were brought on later in the game, we spent the majority of our time correcting things that went off track, redirecting the project, and working to establish connections with outside team members for better alignment. While you may not think you need an interior designer until the home is built, you are mistaken. Bringing us in at the start allows us to coordinate with architects and builders to make sure everything fits. For example, if we plan for wall sconces before drywall installation, we won’t have to cut into a freshly painted wall after the fact. Sounds easier for everyone, right?
2. Do Understand Your Needs
The best way to start a collaboration with an interior designer is to come to the process understanding your needs for the space (at least partially). Create a list of what you want while staying open to any solution presented. Your design team will apply their expertise to develop something wholly original and beyond what you thought was possible. Also, start collecting images of homes you admire to channel your specific interior design style. If you don’t have a clear vision, don’t worry. Your design team will help guide you to your personal style based on what draws you.
3. Do Stay Open to New Ideas
Most importantly, stay open to new ideas. In some cases, your original vision for your space may not be possible. For example, the bookshelves you wanted to install around your fireplace may not come to fruition if the fireplace is too shallow. Suppose a client isn’t open to pivoting. In that case, the result could be an unusable bookshelf with a depth shorter than the smallest paperback. Redirecting to a new idea can be scary, but that is where some of the best design breakthroughs come from. Trust what your designer has up their sleeve. They may just surprise you!
Interior Designers and Clients Need to Work Together for the Best Results
At the end of the day, the client and designer relationship is collaborative. In any collaboration, it is crucial to set expectations. Homeowners, don’t assume your designer knows what problems you need solving. Designers, don’t assume your client understands the design process. Design in the real world is nothing like HGTV. There are no magic timelines. There are no miracle budgets. But, there will be an excellent finished product. Get to know what your interior design team’s process is like, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Communication is key to a smooth design process! Things will come up along the way, and it’s ok to communicate new wants and needs. For example, the client may decide their needs have changed, and they don’t need a shelf at all. The designer may have to report a backorder on materials. Communicating needs and changes as soon as possible will help keep the project on track and prevent unpleasant meetings later down the line.
The design process is a major investment and time commitment, but it is also fun! Embrace the journey to your new space. It is important to learn about your interior design team in introductory meetings. You will be spending a lot of time with the designers you choose, and that time should be enjoyable. Find a team that gets you and can take you through the process to your dream space.
And, there you have it! Your triple-threat advice to getting the most out of working with an interior designer. If it sounds easier than you expected, then good. That means I’m doing my job.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.