Working with an interior designer is intended to make your life easier! Whether you are planning a new home, renovating your existing space or looking to refresh a room, a designer can bring order to your process and help you craft the space you envision.
When considering hiring a designer, the most frequently asked question is “How much will this cost me?” An interior designer’s fee structure will depend on the scope of your project and what is involved.
Designers will typically use one or a combination of the following ways to charge for their services:
FLAT (OR FIXED) FEE ➜ The designer charges a fixed amount for the entire project. Typically, this covers the designer’s work and time on the project, but does not include furniture and other purchased items. The flat fee method is used both in commercial and residential design. Some designers offer packages at a fixed fee, for example: a layout, color scheme and mood board for one room. These packages can be an affordable alternative to a full redesign.
HOURLY FEE ➜ The designer charges the client for each hour spent on the project. Hourly rates can vary from $75-$350, depending on geographic location and the designer’s experience/professional level. Design studios usually have tiered rates (e.g. senior designer v. support staff), and these should be outlined in your agreement. In many cases, the designer can estimate the number of hours it will take to complete the project and give you an idea of what the total might be.
COST PLUS / MARKUP FEE ➜ The designer charges a percentage markup over the wholesale/trade cost of an item (e.g. furniture, drapery, finishes, etc.) This percentage markup is intended to cover the designer’s efforts and service involved in finding, managing the ordering, logistics, trouble-shooting, delivery and installation of the merchandise. Retail products, e.g. West Elm, Crate & Barrel, are typically bought directly by the client from the retailer. If the designer is handling the ordering and purchasing of retail items, they may charge a percentage for this service.
PERCENTAGE OF PROJECT FEE ➜ The designer receives a percentage, usually 15-30%, of the total cost of the project, including furnishings and services purchased or specified on behalf of a client. A budget is established from the start, and payments are made based on the estimated total budget. The total expenditures are added up at the end of the project to be sure the designer has received the agreed upon percentage.
RETAINER ➜ The client pays a sum up front to the designer for their services, and the designer is basically “on call” for an agreed period of time to assist with the client’s design needs. If the client needs more work once the agreed time is over, a new retainer is provided and the agreement is extended/amended.
PER SQUARE FOOT ➜ The designer determines their fee based on the square footage of the project. This type of fee structure is mostly used in commercial design. However, it is used in residential design when the project mainly involves interior construction or renovation and minimal/no furniture selection.
Customarily, the designer will require a deposit to start work, except when paid by Retainer (which is the full amount). This deposit may be a percentage of the overall fee (say 50%) or equivalent to a set number of hours.
The designer should provide you with a letter of agreement that outlines the specific scope and payments terms for your project. No matter how small the project, it is important to have a written agreement, signed by both parties. This will protect your interests, as well as the designer’s, and ensure you are on the same page.
As a client, you have every right to understand clearly what you will be charged and exactly what you will get for your money. As a designer, I believe transparency generates trust and avoids future conflicts. If something is unclear, ask. You should feel comfortable and secure in this process. Think honestly about what you need and what you can afford: a smaller design package or a complete redesign or something in between? A good, professional designer will work with you to develop a fee structure that is just right for you!
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