Design Consultations: What’s the deal?
Interior design consultations and the level of help you can get from one, can be all over the map. Interiors designers all use consultations in different ways, so it’s no surprise that consumers are confused by what to expect. In this post I want to give you an insider’s perspective on what a consultation is, questions you can ask the designer about what to expect, and how to prepare for a working consultation. I’m also going to share with you what we can accomplish in just a couple of hours working together!
What They Are
A design consultation is usually the second step in the client “on-boarding” process for most residential design firms. The first step in this process is a phone call where the designer or her assistant will interview you and find out more about your project, your level of financial investment, and ask questions about your project goals.
Initial Phone Call
Typically, this first call gives the designer a chance to see if your project is a good fit for her business. All designers have a process for producing design and it is important that your project is a good fit for the process the designer uses to deliver design services. It also gives the designer a chance to see what services she offers that would be within your planned project investment.
In my business, I call this phone call a “Getting to Know You” consultation. I will usually ask questions to help you connect with the space(s) you want to work on. I also take detailed notes.
At the end of this call the designer will offer to set up the initial consultation.
The Design Consultation
Some interior designers treat the design consultation as a glorified job interview. They are still focused on whether or not you and your project are a good fit for their business. They may offer little or no advice about what changes you can make in your home. They utilize the consultation as a way to deepen their understanding of what you want and to determine if they want to proceed with you.
On the other hand, there are designers who use the consultation as a working session. They spend the 1-2 hours giving you as much advice and information as they can pack into the session. Some designers will provide you with rough sketches and notes from the consultation to help you move forward with the projects on your own.
Some designers offer both options. For clients who want to interview a handful of designers before they hire one, the consultation may take on more of a job interview feel. In my business, I offer consultations as a stand alone service for people who want advice on how to move forward with a project. At the conclusion of the stand alone consultation, I provide any sketches I made and thorough notes on the ideas generated during the meeting. I also offer all consultation clients a follow-up email to ask any questions that they may not have considered during the meeting.
Cost of a Consultation
Almost all designers charge for their design consultations. Usually, you will pay slightly more per hour than the designer’s hourly rate. This helps cover travel time and any time the designer needs to complete consultation notes. I also include the time it may take me to answer questions in the follow-up email.
Typically, consultations can range in price from $150-500 for 1- 2 hours of time in the consultation and about 30 minutes of pre- and post consultation work.
What to Ask on the Phone Interview
You’re interested in working with a designer and you think that a consultation is exactly what you need to help you get started. How do you know if the designer you’re contacting does a “job interview” consultation or a “working” consultation?
It’s really important to ask the designer what they will get out of the consultation. You should ask how much the consultation costs and
How to Prepare for a ‘Working’ Consultation
Have an idea what areas you want the designer to focus on. Do you need help with picking out paint colors? Then, you will want to give the designer access to textiles and art that will prominant in your home. Or, if you have a inspiration piece, such as a painting or rug that you want to be the basis of your color palette, make sure to have it available at the consultation.
Do you need help with ideas for a furniture layout or selecting materials for a kitchen or bath remodel? In a 2 hour design consultation an interior designer could help you create a palette of colors and finishes. A designer can also help you figure out what furniture pieces can fit in a room and how to best arrange the furniture to maximize the functionality of the room.
Need help styling a particular area? Some designers offer consultations where they help you style specific areas in your home. Typically these consultations will include bringing items to your home from their stocked decor or from a shopping trip. Then they use a mixture of your decor and new pieces to expertly style a bookcase, foyer, or other small space.
Taking a Visual Inventory
Ahead of your consultation, your designer will very likely have you share images with you of spaces that you like. I like to do this with Pinterest because you can save items from all over the internet to a Pinterest board. You can also create pins from your own images and use the pin description to convey information about the space to the designer.
In my own practice, I allot about one week before the consultation for the client to add images to a private Pinterest board. This gives both of us plenty of time to do a good visual inventory before the consultation. Leaving maximal time for us to work when I am in their home.
Have an Idea of Your Goals
The key to any good consultation is to have an area on which you will focus the consultation. When you speak to the designer during the intake call and as the consultation begins, tell her what you want to address during the consultation. If your goal is to select paint and finishes for a kitchen remodel, skip the full-home tour and use the consultation to work!
In two hours, I can accomplish a lot with a client. However, if we spend the first hour of the consultation doing a full tour of your home, we may not get as much done during the work session. Instead, I recommend that clients put images of their home on the Pinterest board so that I can get an overview of what the whole home is like.
More Than One or Two Areas?
My goal is always to get as much done in a session as possible, but the reality is that 2 hours goes by really quickly! If you have more than one or two areas you would like to focus on, I recommend scheduling multiple consultations with the designer.
Designers who offer consultations as a stand-alone service will often sell multiple hour consultations. I currently offer consultation packages in 2-, 4-, and 6-hour increments. The 4- and 6-hour denominations are delivered in multiple 2-hour sessions. I have found that focusing on one or two areas for a couple of hours at a time gets better results for my clients than trying to cram a ton of work into one marathon 6-hour session.
Design Consultation: A Case Study
What exactly can be accomplished in a 2-hour consultation? So glad you asked!
This is probably my favorite consultation story. This past spring I worked with a client who wanted to remodel her laundry room to include a utility closet, cabinets and a backsplash over her washer and dryer, AND a dog wash station for her two dachshunds.
Ahead of the consultation she sent me images of her laundry room and she took measurements. We started a private Pinterest board and shared images on what she wanted the room to look like upon completion.
The day of the consultation, we ‘met’ on a zoom call. We had a quick ‘tour’ of the space. I had the client double check some of the measurements, then I drew out the space on a piece of graph paper.
I held up the graph paper and had the client verify that the shape of the room looked correct. Based on the dimensions she gave me I added cabinets from an online vendor and created a cart for the client. Then, I planned the doggie shower and drew it on the plan.
After the plan was drawn, we found a tile vendor local to the client, and picked out the tile for the shower. I calculated the amount of she would need for the dog wash and the backsplash behind her washer and dryer.
At the conclusion of the consultation, I sent the client my notes and drawings for her contractor and I added the tile and cabinets to my online virtual studio.
We actually had an additional 30 minutes left on the consultation. I asked her if she had any other questions or wanted to look [quickly] at another space. We looked at her powder room and I also made recommendations for a new vanity in that space.
I was lucky enough to get pictures of the dog wash! I think it turned out really cute!
If you are thinking about remodeling or redecorating, make sure you grab a copy of my Cohesive Style Guide. The #1 problem that most of my clients want to solve is creating a home that has a “cohesive” look. In my Cohesive Style Guide I will teach you the basics of identifying your style and creating a concept for your next design project.