Are Your Hiring an Interior Designer or an Interior Decorator?...Now... What to Expect!


Interior Design & Interior Decorating Blog

So, you have a home or a space that you’ve either just acquired or have had for a very long time and finally decided to use your tax refund to aid in getting a home project off the ground or maybe just a hop off the ground. 

Your excitement will take you to the book store and you will thumb through design magazines and even buy a book or two to get your creative juices flowing. You will get paint samples and stand in your space with a blank look and a whole lot of colors in your hand – holding them up, twisting and turning them to see what color will look good on your walls. You will call in reinforcements known as your friends and bribe them with wine while you pick their brain about which color, sofa or furniture arrangement would look best in your space. After several attempts at taking on this project after you arrive home at 7pm after working a 10 hour day and spending a Saturday or two in Home Depot Expo looking at things you like but have not a clue as to how it will all come together, you begin to ask questions more like, “do you know how I would hire an interior designer, or better yet, do you know one”? 

However you find the perspective interior design professional you’d like to interview, the process begins with a home visit. At this point, your internal dialogue will go something like this; “aside from allowing the designer into my home and forcing them to stand in the space I wish to re-design, what do I say to them, when I’ve already resigned to the fact that I have no idea as to what I am looking for”…..?? 

The process is very human at this point. You truly have a slim idea as to how to hire someone to design your space. There are some questions you can ask, but how do you really get a true feel for this person’s talents and abilities in under an hour’s time and flipping fast through very nice pictures of spaces that have already been designed, mainly, other peoples spaces or commercial spaces that seem like they are worlds away from what you are looking to do. The question that needs to be asked is of you, not the designer. You need to get a very human feel for this person; their ability to speak, engage you; make you feel comfortable and how they present themselves. This includes you envisioning working with them closely and how YOU feel around them. The first impression is in full force here! These will be the factors in which you award the project. 

You hire, OK, now what?

Your thinking process about your project STOPS HERE and the designers creative process BEGINS….That is the single most important thing I can express to you if you wish your design experience to be successful. 
We (interior designers) know that you think you don’t have a clue!! That is why we are standing in your space; on an interview. We don’t expect you to have a briefcase full of notes and a full design idea, (maybe a magazine cut out or 2), or else you would not be hiring someone to provide that for you. We want you to feel at ease with not having a clue! The reason we say this is not because we want to hit you over the head and force you to do what we want, rather, we know that you DO have a clue and it is our job to extract it from you and turn it into your design. What you don’t have is clarity about how your space will ever be something beautiful. 

When a complete stranger is standing in your home selling their ability to make a strange home something of your dreams for a price, it is totally understandable that you may feel a bit on edge. To further this edginess, you visit their website that shows nice pictures of OTHER people’s spaces that may or may not have anything to do with yours, plus you have very little understanding of the process in which you are about to write a check for nor the profession in which this person claims homage to. Finally, you have no idea how much you should be charged because you’ve never worked with a creative professional before, so anything over $100.00 is insane! Can you say leap of faith…into an abyss…?

No! it is not a leap of faith, it is as faithful as walking into a doctor’s office with the utmost trust in his/her ability to deal with whatever you put forth with talent, experience and professionalism. To further this, how many times have you visited a doctor, accountant or a lawyer? Now how many times have you hired an interior designer? If you answer that question truthfully, you have a very cloudy idea of what we do. You absolutely may be wary of this stranger standing in your home – and repeat to yourself, what do you do, please tell me what you do…..? I have no idea what I am doing….?

As an experienced stranger standing in a room with a prospective client, I believe it immensely valuable for clients to know what to expect when hiring a creative professional; not only for talent but for pricing, expectations and an overall understanding of the profession. Before I go any further, I would be doing a grave disservice to the readers if I did not specify who I am speaking of. 
There are two “names” for the design professional; interior designer and interior decorator. It is highly common to use these two terms interchangeably to describe one person or one professional, but an interior designer and an interior decorator serve their clients in very different ways. As a client, you must have a basic understanding of who you need for your project. In addition and in terms of pricing and knowledge base, your understanding of the differences will lead you to the correct person. 
As an example:
Your living room needs a face lift to get out of the 1980’s in into the present. 
• The walls need a new color
• The windows need new curtains
• The furniture has about a day left of use and the throw pillows are well beyond "spot cleaning"
• Nothing about the CORE of the room need change; meaning the wood flooring is fine, the walls that enclose will remain and will not move, the windows will just get a cleaning and the 1980’s light fixture will be promptly removed and a 2018 fixture will be put right back in its place with no need for moving electric wires or seeing what is above your ceiling. 
You will be right at home with an interior decorator. The scope of your project can be described as finishes, fabrics and furnishings.

Let’s take the same living room and do exactly what is said above and add the following: 
knock down the wall between the living room and the kitchen and take over the hallway that leads into the living room and create an open plan so that the living room, kitchen and entry hallway are one big space that share the sunlight as well as a gorgeous view from the front of the house straight to the back. 
• Now that the arrangements of the spaces are different, the existing location of the lighting will not work and rather than a fixture, recessed LED down lighting is more energy efficient and attractive
• To piggy back the lighting, since walls have moved and/or disappeared, the flooring in all three spaces will have to be new
• After the walls are moved and/or demolished, the electrical is re-routed, the new flooring is laid and the new plan is built, the portion of the project known as finishes, fabrics and furnishings can begin
• Attend project meetings were schematic space/floor plans are presented to you and discussed. Coordinate with other professionals such as architects, lighting designers and other trades
• When a floor plan is chosen, decisions regarding awarding a contractor to build the new space should ensue
• During construction, your designer will make frequent site visits to ensure the quality and accurateness of the work
• At substantial completion of the project, your designer will formulate a punchlist of all items that are not acceptable and/or need to still be completed as well as complete a detailed walkthrough with you and the contractor to view all aspects of the project and deem them satisfactory or not

You will need to hire an interior designer for this type of project. The scope of this project can be described as finishes, fabrics and furnishings with a side of a full gut renovation and construction. 
This project cannot be designed nor implemented by an interior decorator; not only based on knowledge and experience, but ethically. It is also important to know that an interior designer can move freely and seamlessly between completing projects that denote the scope of finishes, fabrics and furnishings as well as full construction projects; conversely an interior decorator cannot.

There are two sides to an interior designer… the “Gemini” of the design world. This quality runs parallel with architects, but not as extreme as painters or sculptors. Meaning interior designers and architects are forced to dedicate 50% of their creative abilities to the inflexible world of construction/building, computer aided drawing, physics, the human form and the science of problem solving. The other 50% is fully the fanciful creative being that sees beauty between the physics and intertwines a vision within the stringent conditions of construction. Interior designers are highly capable professionals that do not just decide one day that they can splash color on a wall and, poof, they are able to charge money for design services and call themselves interior designers. All of us hold professional degrees; either a professional bachelor degree or a master’s degree succeeding our 4 year college degree. The program in which we graduate from is a dedicated and accredited program that is tailored to enhance our design abilities as well as prepare us for the necessary licensure process we will need to complete in order to practice interior design in the eyes of the state in which we choose to practice. Immediately following our education we gain our experience in design firms that are either dedicated interior design or are combined architecture and interior design. We move up the latter as in most professions and, if, at a turning point in our careers, we decide to branch out on our own and build our own firm we have reached a place where we know the industry, hold a phone full of contacts and can manage a project from conception to completion. In addition to all of this, we all are governed by an accreditation board that issues professional licenses that declare competency to practice interior design with the priority being the public's health, life safety and welfare. 

That being said, the professional standing in your space has traveled a path of education, experience and licensure.

So I will reiterate; it is OK that you don’t have a clue about your home project, we do and know how to use it! 

The most important thing at this point you, as client should gain from the stranger in the middle of your room is a “feeling” and whether they are offering interior design or interior decorating services. 

After you award the project to a competent professional, your role as the client is far from over. Your design process can be compared to a tango. It will feel awkward and just plain wrong at first, but as you begin to gain confidence in your designer and see the dance going a bit smoother and the music seeping into your feet, you will tango, following your designer. It takes two to tango…and to complete a design project! Unlike going to the doctor or to an accountant, your participation is mandatory.

We do not render services TO you we tailor them FOR you and in that vein; we need you to be part of the tango, or else it is just music playing and a lot of awkward blank staring. 

When we seek guidance, services or help from doctors, lawyers or accounts, we have a common understanding of what we are going to receive. At an early point we can deduce whether the price is fair, the level of talent is exceptional or the services are satisfactory. We know that these professionals are educated and experienced in their field and thus, have a basic trust in their abilities. With this trust, we allow the professional to take the lead in letting us know what we are facing, which way to go or just to talk frankly with us. This approach enables communication with someone who knows a plethora of information on a subject that we may or may not hold any information. In my opinion as a professional and a service seeker of many professions, I find it worthy to listen, ask some questions and give the professional in which I am visiting the forum to give me as much information as I can absorb. I have concluded that professionals that love what they do are happy to speak about it, ones who find it a chore to express information just don’t! But some of these professions are universal, meaning, we all have a basic knowledge of the general information we will be receiving. 
With creative professionals, it is appropriate to say, HUH! What do you do, and how? 
The word “creative” now is something that has to be pinned down as a topic, a price and most of all a distinct definition of terms. All mentioned seem to oppose to vast and beautifully imaginary quality of being creative! But as we grow deeper into a process with a professional, we conclude that we will not know everything about the services and we just need to “give it up” to them. Let them lead, follow them. Think of it this way: You walk into your doctor’s office and your blood has to be drawn. OK so you pull up your sleeve and your doctor is moving closer to you looking at your arms to see the best option and begins to set up for the draw. At this point, you lean away from whatever side your doctor is on and say, “No, No doctor, please draw from this arm and specifically this vein, and could you please use a different needle and different color gloves? Thanks!.....” 
Well I don’t know about you, but my doctor would forfeit the blood draw and recommend me to his friend the psychiatrist down the hall and I probably would not get past the reception desk on my next visit; if even get past a phone call to his office. 

As I end this blog, I realize that I have just skimmed the surface of how interior designers approach and complete successful and beautiful projects and the importance of client/designer relationships to make it all happen. My experience is my education and I can talk about it all day long. In short, the best projects I have completed with my clients are the ones where both of us are involved to the fullest degree, care about the next step and know when to let the other have the forum. As my grandfather and mother used to say, “It takes people, not person, to realize big dreams.” Works for me and upon this, I have solidified my philosophy project by project!

Cierno Designs, llc - Lisa O'Dierno, Founder