When it come to the interior design process, consumers have no idea what to expect when working with an interior designer. I blame HGTV… among other TV design shows. They don’t really give a realistic account of what working with an interior designer is like. Last year, I talked about why good design takes time and what you can expect from a designer. In this installment, I’m going to talk more about the design process that most interior designers use to set up how our process compares to other home improvement providers and vendors.
… And then I’m going to give you my opinion on a very controversial topic, which is the educational background and professional credentials of your interior designer. THIS IS A HOT BUTTON TOPIC, but I think it’s necessary to discuss as I move into my “Designer Undercover” series this year where I will be discussing the various “design” services offered by various vendors.
I use the term design loosely only because so many vendors are playing fast and loose with the term themselves. One thing you will learn about me is that I take the interior design process very seriously. Do I have fun with my clients? Absolutely! However, I am a straight shooter and I call a spade a spade. So, it makes me a little bananas when the term “design” is used in places where good design practices are not happening… More to come on that topic.
What Is the Difference Between a Designer and a Decorator?
Great question, I’m glad you asked. There is so much confusion surrounding these two terms because there really is not a clear cut definition. In some states, the term interior designer can only be used by people who meet certain criteria, which includes passing the NCIDQ exam, holding a license as an interior designer, and having completed a college level interior design program. Other states have little or no regulation.
On the topic of education…
Typically, the term “interior designer” should be applied to people who are educated and/or have some credential as an interior designer. One such credentialing organization is the ASID, which offers credentialing to individuals who have completed a certain level of education, but are not licensed designers or may not hold a completed degree in interior design. However, you will find ASID accredited designers are educated on the interior design process.
This is a super duper controversial topic. There are many, many people who believe that interior design education should not be required for residential interiors. Even some educated designers feel this way. They believe that for residential you do not need the education, it has no added benefit, and that it is mostly a waste of time and money. They also are of the mindset that you either have the ability to design or you don’t and that it is not something you can be taught in school.
I am not of that camp… well I do think that some people are inherently more creative and have the ability to make a room look great, but design principles and the understanding of them are not innate. Nor is the ability to space plan, create construction documents, and a basic understanding of structure. Just like people with beautiful voices benefit from voice training and people who are more creative benefit from art technique classes, I believe decorators can benefit from structured design education. Because you learn about the interior design process, design school CAN and does make you a better designer in the same way that training for a marathon makes you a better runner. Does it make you Kara Goucher? No, it just make you better at doing you.
But that’s just my opinion, and you know what people say about opinions.
Other means of differentiation…
Yet another way to look at the difference is the the process that the individual uses and the type of work that they are doing. Are they mostly making furniture purchases, selecting finishes, and not really doing space planning or working with building systems? Then they are more of a decorator. Are they involved in the interior design process? Are they drawing interior space plans, working with trade professionals on decisions about lighting, acoustics, and ceiling plans? Then they are definitely living more in the interior designer realm.
In residential design there is not a lot of regulation and this is where the term “decorator” is most often applied. This is because in residential interiors a lot of the work is decorative and does not involve the alteration of building systems. The reality is that residential interior design can be very complex, especially when it comes to kitchen and bath design.
I have a hunch that the real issue at the heart of the problem is that the term “interior designer” garners more respect than “interior decorator” and that because the term is not well regulated many who are decorators use the term because it has more cachet.
Interior Design Process: What to Expect
Every designer has their own process for delivering design to their clients, but for the most part, you’re going to see phases of the interior design process that are common to most designers on a FULL-SERVICE interior design project:
- Design development
- Construction Documentation
- Construction administration
This part of the interior design process is the fact finding mission. Everyone does this a little differently, so I will speak to my process. In my process, I use several tools to evaluate a client’s needs. First I schedule a Design & Style phone consultation. This is a complementary phone consultation where I learn about what a client wants to accomplish in their design project. I also talk about my design process and pricing of my services.
If we decide that it is a good fit and move forward with the project, I have the client complete a style quiz and a questionnaire. These help me get a little more into the specifics and enable me to come prepared to our first face-to-face meeting.
Then, I have the first face-to-face meeting, which is usually 1-2 hours in the client’s home. This is where I get to know their space and we dig a little deeper into the design problems. I usually take a few pictures, and if it is a “consultation only” I may take measurements of a specific area of concern, but for a larger project such as a multiple room project, I don’t measure until we have Trade Day, which is a second (and sometimes a third) visit to the home where I meet with the various trade professionals that will be involved in the project. This day occurs before I start a plan because this is where I get labor estimates to include in the budget. Ideally, the consultation to trade day time interval is no more than 2 weeks, but can be longer if there is a lot of coordination between trade professionals.
Schematics is a fancy word for drawings. This is the phase of the interior design process where the various types of drawings are created to communicate the design plan.
I produce all of the visual information that the client needs to see to understand my design plan. After the consultation, the client signs a contract, put down a deposit, and I get to work coming up with a plan. The first part of this plan is to come up with a main concept. I write a concept statement and draw a mind map of how the concept breaks apart. This is a collections of words and sketches that help me make decisions for furniture, finishes, and accessories that are in keeping with the main concept. This way if I am struggling to find a finish or piece of furniture that works in the space, I have a map to find my way back to the concept. During this part of the project, I will make initial selections for furniture, color scheme, finishes, and some accessories. I will also create an initial space plan and furniture plan. I present all of these on a product board. If the project requires it, which is the case in large remodeling projects, I present renderings. After the initial planning is complete and all of the drawing are present these ideas and an initial budget to the client.
1.Tile – Fireclay Tile 2. Trinsic Faucet – Delta 3. Drawer Pull – Belwith Keeler 4. Style 31 Cabinets in Cherry Cider – CliqStudios 5. Three Tier Lamp – Worlds Away 6. Leona Pendant – Worlds Away 7. Touch of BlushArt – The Uttermost Company 11. Sisal Rug – Surya
The actual time it takes to get a project from trade day to design presentation can vary widely between projects. The larger the project or more unique the concept, the longer it will take. I usually allot 4-6 weeks for the schematics phase. I stay in touch with the client during this period, but for the most part it feels like I’ve disappeared!
Here is where Interior Designers differ from other remodeling providers. Furniture stores, BBSs, and K&B* showrooms are in the business of selling goods, NOT good design. They tend to have a 1-2 week turn around on their schematics.
Interior designers are selling our concept and design. We make specific finish selection that are meant to create an overall cohesive look in your home, even if we are only touching one or two rooms. Our designs are also meant to improve functionality of a space. Therefore, our design decisions are specific and deliberate, so it takes us longer to create a plan.
The construction document phase of the interior design process is where the set of plans for construction are created. After we’ve made any revisions to the plan and it has had final approval by the client, the construction documents phase begins. In residential interior design this typically is not the massive undertaking that it is in commercial design. That is because most residential designs do not have to be stamped and sealed. Likewise, most residential projects do not require permitting and inspection. I prepare all of the plans, notes, work orders, and specification for the trade professionals that will be working on the project. Again, the time frame for this phase is highly dependent on how complex the project is, but this phase is usually about 2-3 weeks.
This part of the interior design process is exactly what it sounds like. This is where the project gets done. All of the furniture, finishes, and equipment are ordered. Any demolition that needs to occur happens and new construction is completed. All custom good are fabricated and installed. Then the furniture, lighting, art, and accessories are installed.
This is when the the client is most involved and it’s also the part that seems to take forever. There are delays and backordered items. In general, stuff just happens, but the designer’s job is to handle all the little bumps in the road so that you don’t have to. In essence, the product of good design shouldn’t just be a beautiful home, but also a great experience.
As we move through the Designer Undercover series, I’m going to be talking about other services that you might want to use to create a beautiful home. My goal is that you will see the difference between the various services and decide which one is right for you. Working with an interior designer on a full-service project isn’t for everyone. It can be very time consuming and can be costly, but there are many benefits to working with a designer that you will not experience with other providers. It is these differences that I hope to highlight so that you, the consumer, can make an educated decision on which provider type is right for you!
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*Remember, BBS is a Big Box Store and K&B showroom means Kitchen and Bath showroom.
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