A lot has changed in the interior design world since I began my career over two decades ago. Interior design has become a more prevalent profession, getting entire television networks dedicated to the trade. Clients have gotten savvier thanks to the internet. Design solutions have vastly improved regarding customization, flexibility, and sustainability. Still, much remains the same! Clients will always want to find the right interior designer for their projects. However, education and skills aren’t the only things clients are concerned about. Folks want to work with a designer they like. Interior design is an intimate business. We designers learn a lot about our clients to create homes that work for their lifestyles and needs. What to look for when hiring an interior designer comes down to three things: project scope, designer skills, and personal connection.
3 Things to Look for When Hiring an Interior Designer
1. Determine the Scope of Your Project
Start your design journey by assessing what you want to achieve in your project before you start looking for an interior designer. After all, how do you expect to evaluate a designer’s skills if you’re not really sure what you want or need? An extensive home renovation or addition requires a larger design team, making it beneficial to hire a designer with connections to architects, landscapers, engineers, and permitters. On the other hand, small decorating projects lend themselves to designers who have a passion for custom furniture, textiles, wallpaper, and accessories. They should have connections to the best tradespeople, antique malls, and galleries. Whatever your needs, ensure the designer you choose has the experience to meet them.
2. Identify the Basic Skills Needed for Your Desired Result
Personal connections and communication between the designer and client are crucial for project success. However, you need to evaluate your potential designer’s basic skills before considering what it would be like working together. Ask about their design education, relationships in the field, and past project experiences to gauge if they can produce your desired result.
You can assess an interior designer’s skills by their education and project portfolio. However, you should dig even deeper during an initial meeting to ensure their skills match your needs. For example, do they thrive on kitchen renovations or focus on styling living and dining spaces? Can they help you design custom furniture pieces, or do they like restoring antiques? Can they create electrical plans that place outlets and fixtures in locations that work with the furniture layout? Make a list of questions to keep things on track.
Ideas are great, but good relationships are what move your project forward. More than anything, you want a designer who can make things happen. The best way to get your fabric order rushed, a permit expedited, or a contractor on site is through established relationships in the field. If your designer knows key players in their field, you will have greater access and insight that will help push things along.
Experiences come with time in the field. However, a designer’s number of years in practice doesn’t necessarily equate with the experiences relevant to your design situation. For example, if you’re doing a period home renovation, you need a designer with a background in older homes rather than new builds. Older homes come with unique challenges, such as historical regulations and the surprises that come with opening up 100-year-old walls.
A client should always ensure a designer has the necessary skills before assessing if they have a connection and could work well together.
Designer Advice: Experience Matters More Than Taste
When interviewing interior designers, focus on their experience and skills rather than their personal tastes. When it comes down to it, your designer’s taste doesn’t matter. A good interior designer will advocate for your unique style. It’s your designer’s job to help you discover more about your own style, not convince you to adopt their own. It doesn’t matter if your designer hasn’t done a project in the exact interior design style you want to achieve. However, they should have projects with similar scope.
It’s a common concern for clients that their designer will run away with the project, forcing their own ideas and not listening to their needs. A good designer will do just the opposite. They will take the time to understand your lifestyle, style preferences, and needs, taking what they learn to lead you in directions you hadn’t considered but feel very connected to.
3. Look for That Personal Connection
Interior design is a collaboration that should just get better and better as it grows. Designing a home is an intimate process. So, finding that personal connection with your interior designer is necessary. For example, I often ask my clients for details about their morning routines so I can design adequate bathroom storage. Or, we discuss how they like to cook and entertain so I can create a kitchen layout that flows. I learn about their mom, who loved daisies, and why it’s so important to have a daisy print wallpaper in their bedroom. Discussing these intimate details can feel forced or laborious if you don’t have a personal connection with your designer. However, sharing is the best way to get the most out of working with your designer. So I recommend finding someone you can connect with on that level.
When to Deviate from the Rules
There are times when you might want to work with someone who doesn’t fit all of the above criteria. So, when is it OK to deviate from the rules? Perhaps you interview a designer who is new to the field or branching out to take on new aspects of the trade. If you have that connection and believe in their work, it may be worth trusting them with your space. However, you must recognize this becomes a learning experience for both parties. It could be fun along the way, but your project might take longer. Ideally, the price of work should be less compared to someone with honed expertise.
Building Rooms and Relationships
One of my favorite parts about being a designer is connecting with people. This business is as much about building relationships as it is about building rooms. When hiring an interior designer, remember to look for their skills as well as the relationships they have built within the field and the potential relationship they can build with you.
Happy designing and happy connecting.
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.