What to Expect When Hiring a Designer for Your Custom Home

Share Share this post
What to Expect When Hiring a Designer for Your Custom Home

So far in our “What to Expect” series we’ve discussed ways to get started planning for your new custom home, and reviewed some resources on how to hire a builder and an architect.

interior designerToday, we are going to look at the role of and importance of an Interior Designer for your custom home.

What can an Interior Designer Do For Me

Interior Designers can do so much more than just help with furniture selection and wall colors.  The right interior designer can provide a variety of services including:

  • Product Research and selection
  • General Inspiration
  • Spatial Planning from Room to Room
  • Color Selections
  • Lighting Designs
  • Furniture Selection and Layout Planning
  • Wood Floor Design and Selection
  • Designing for Special Circumstances – Wheelchair, Aging in Place, Designing for Children or Special Needs Family Members
  • Cost and Product Comparisons
  • Design boards
  • Design Board With Wide Plank Floors

How to find an Interior Designer

Narrowing down a list of potential interior designers for your project may be easier than you think.  You can start by visiting the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).  They have a helpful link right on their home page that allows you to select your project type and state and immediately find licensed Interior Designers in your area.






Another good source for interior designers is Houzz which has over 45K listings for Interior Designers! If you already found someone you like, see if they have a Houzz portfolio.  Here you can browse past projects of the designers you have in mind, and see if their design style complements the vision you have for your home.

You can also use Houzz to search for an interior designer. Just type in your city or zip code, and you choose how far you want to search (i.e. 10 mile, 20 mile radius).

One final resource for finding a designer is through the Interior Design Society. They also have a search function on their home page.


4 Things you Need before you Can Meet with Designers

Hiring the right interior designer for your project is going to take time, just like it did when you were finding the right architect and contractor.  But it is time well spent.  Just like you are going to spend every day with your builder, you are going to spend a lot of quality time with your interior designer too.  But unlike the decisions you make with your builder – what type of plywood to use, what size are the 2×4’s…the decisions you make with your designer are aesthetic in nature and will be seen after your home is complete.  They will have the largest impact on the final appearance of every room in your home.

Before you meet with potential interior designers there are 4 things you want to have available:

  1. The “Wish List” you put together when you were getting started on your custom home.  You may not know exactly what you want, but you have a vision of how you want your home to look.
  2. A list of websites and product clippings that you have been gathering
  3. A general idea of how you live, and how you want your family to function within the home
  4. Your long term plans for the home – will this be a forever home, will you be aging in place?  Designing a home for a young, new family can be quite different from designing a home that carries a family from their 20’s to their 80’s.

Questions to Ask Potentials Designers

What are your Credentials and do you have  Business License?

There are many different designations of “Interior Designers”.  Some people have professional training and accreditation and are affiliated with organizations like the ASID or IIDA.  They have taken the NCIDQ exam.  Some professionals decorate as a hobby but may not have the same training and educational experience.  According to Gail Doby of Design Success University, LLC the decision to use a decorator or an interior design depends on the type of the project you are doing:

If you’re doing a basic refresh of your materials and furnishings and accessories for your home then possibly a decorator or someone who hasn’t completed a degree and taken the NCIDQ exam might be appropriate if you like their work. If your project is more involved and it might involve building permits and opening up or demolishing, a designer with more technical expertise and training is appropriate.

Since you are building a custom home, an accredited interior designer is probably your best choice to ensure they have the licensing and experience to tackle anything that might come up.

Can I see a portfolio of past work and speak to previous customers to obtain referrals?

Seeing a portfolio of past work should not be hard to do.  Interior Designers are highly creative and love to show off the beautiful interiors they have created.

When seeking past customers and referrals make sure this list includes homeowners and professionals the designer has worked with.  You want to establish the level of service the designer was able to offer past customers and if those customers felt they got the full value for the money spent.

You also want to know that this potential designer is good at collaborating with other professionals on the job site since their decisions can affect the architect and builder as construction progresses.

Do you have Insurance and What Warranty’s are Available?

There are many different types of insurance that a designer can have to protect their work and their business.  Find out more about this from the ASID and educate yourself before you ask the question.  You may also want to understand what warranties are available for the work performed and/or products being considered.

What is the design process like and how will we work together?

Similar to the questions you would ask of your builder or architect:

  • What is going to be my role in the process and what expectations will you have from me?
  • How will you gather the info you need to prepare my interior design plan?
  • How do you handle day to day communication and how often do we need to meet?
  • Who else will be involved in my project from your firm?
  • How will you present your design ideas and what visual and 3-D renderings options are available?

Cost of an Interior Designer

If we didn’t list it as it’s own category “what do you charge” would have been the #5 question to ask a potential Interior Designer.  Naturally you need to understand this expense before you can agree on a partner.

Pricing associate with interior design services can vary greatly, and can be very complex.  When working with an Interior Designer to obtain an estimate you want to understand that they cannot provide a detailed cost without first understanding the scope of your project.   So take the time to honestly layout your design ideas and the products you are interested in to outline the most accurate interior design plan.

Interior Design pricing can be complex depending on how your interior design operates.  Here are the most common pricing models from the ASID:

  • Fixed fee (or flat fee) — The designer identifies a specific sum to cover costs, exclusive of reimbursement for expenses. One total fee applies to the complete scope of services proposed, from conceptual development through layouts, specifications and final installation.
  • Hourly fee — Compensation is based on actual time that the designer consults on a project or specific service.
  • Percentage of project fee — Compensation is computed as a percentage markup on the total project cost, including furnishings and services purchased or specified on behalf of a client.
  • Retainer — The client pays a sum up front to the designer for design services. The retainer is customarily paid upon signing the contractual agreement.
  • Cost plus — A designer specifies materials, furnishings and services (e.g., carpentry, drapery workrooms, picture framing, etc.) at wholesale and sells to the client at the designer’s cost plus a set percentage increase, or at retail rates or slightly less, to cover the designer’s fee and services.
  • Per square foot — The designer charges fees based on the square footage of the project.

Make sure you understand which pricing model your potential designer will be using and compare prices between designers, relative to the overall service you will receive, to understand who will give you the best value.

Asking your designer HOW they can save you money, may seem like a candid question, but given the overall investment you are considering for a custom home it is worth it to ask and understand the answer.  Designers can provide many valuable cost saving methods.  In a recent article by CitiBank, Women & Co writed Amy Patural writes that designers can save you money by saving you time, taking advantage of their connections in the industry, repurposing your existing items so you don’t need to buy all new stuff, and helping you make decisions based on quality not just cost so you get the most benefit, value and longevity out of each piece.  Lastly the interior design always keeps you in mind and makes decisions in your best interest.

Making a Final Decision

Once you decide on the right Interior Designer for your project there is one thing you want to do every step of the way – make sure you get everything in writing.  This includes the original service agreement or contract with the designer and all product orders and estimates. Don’t rely on phone quotes because product availability and costs can fluctuate – sometimes daily – on products.  Also find out if you need to order a product by a certain date.  If you have your heart set on an certain kitchen cabinet design or particular engineered wood flooring the manufacturer may only honor it for 30 days, so you want to make sure you place your order to get the negitatied price.  By getting these items in writing you can ensure you accurate monitor product selections and expenses for your interior design.

If you haven’t already, make sure you check with your designer on product discounts available to you for the products you are considering. Some designers may pass on product discounts to you, their customer.  And as we already discussed, make sure you have developed a contingency fund for any unexpected expenses that might come up.

Have you hired an Interior Designer for a recent project? How did you find them?  What services did they deliver that were most valuable? Would you use them again?

Share Share this post
smart buyers guide selecting the right flooring
Get the Guide to Selecting Beautiful Floors

Looking for a new wood floors? This 20-page guide can help you explore flooring styles and options as you narrow down your favorite floors.

Get the Guide