How to choose an interior designer

By Ann-Marie Appleton

Looking for an interior designer is the easy part of the job – flicking through magazines, website searches, visiting show homes is all pretty non committal stuff – it’s finding one that you like, trust and look forward to working with that’s the most difficult bit.

Here at Frobisher Interiors, our clients are mainly referrals and lots of new client enquiries come from our website, but where do you start and what should you consider?

Often interior designers are recommended by friends, family or neighbours. You may have seen examples of their work through building company show homes or larger commercial work you have admired.

Remember though, interior designers always try to suit their clients’ specific needs (and budget), which is why you shouldn’t just judge them by the work you have seen say at a friends home alone. A good designer will want to clue in to your style, even if you don’t quite know how to express it!

Website searches of local interior designers in your area will not only tell you about themselves, but you should be able to view images of their work or projects they have worked on.

Before you contact an interior designer, decide on the scope of the project, are you:

  • Designing one room or a whole house?
  • Are you relocating and need help with your new home in a new area?
  • Consider how involved you want to be – at what level do you want to be involved? Do you want the nitty-gritty or are you more big picture?
  • Do you need help ‘home staging’ your existing property to sell it fast before moving onto the next new project with your new interior designer?
  • What is your timeframe? Some interior designers are booked weeks in advance and they may not be able to meet your timeframe if left too late
  • Have some idea of styles, designs and looks you like – or don’t like – which is sometimes easier.

Some interior designers have a ‘signature’ look and a unique approach that may not mesh with your needs. I know of a designer who will only specify black and white products and another who will insist on clients throwing everything out before starting again.

While doing your research you may want to consider the following (which may or may not be important to you):

  • Are they formally trained? It is not proof of quality, but it is a sign of the seriousness of the designer
  • Do they belong to any professional bodies?
  • How many years experience do they have?
  • What is the nature of the projects they have worked on?
  • Is their background and qualifications appropriate for your project?
  • Any referees you can contact?
  • Clarify terms of engagement and fees.

Once, I was ‘interviewed’ by a prospective client (along with two other interior designers), before he finally made his decision; I got the job and spent the next 18 months working on a really great project with a super client.
We had a great ‘interview’ and I was quietly confident I got the job because of how we related to each other and the answers I gave to his questions clearly impressed him.

Once you’ve chosen a designer whose work you feel happy with, the next step is to arrange a meeting either at their design studio, or your home, depending on the job.

The most common client concerns at first meetings are:
“I’m not really sure what I want, as I like so many different things”
“I don’t know where to start”
“I just can’t visualise things”
“I think I’m on the right track, but I’m not feeling very confident.”

These comments are very common and a good interior designer should be able to put you at ease straight away.

We encourage new clients to show us any images, magazine cuttings, fabric swatches, which will help express themselves.

Be realistic about the budget – it is amazing what can be achieved with open, honest communication and if necessary, compromise. Know when to splurge on the ‘wow’ and main pieces, couches, chandeliers and when to choose less expensive pieces for accessories like end tables and lamps. Breaking up the project into phases helps keep the budget on track.

Be prepared to ask a lot of questions and answer a lot of questions. Trust your instincts – as with every intimate relationship, you will have your ups and downs, so you will need to communicate comfortably and work well with each other.

Ann-Marie Appleton is the director of interior design company Frobisher Interiors. She holds a diploma in interior design and is a member of DINZ.

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