Selecting Your Ideal Designer

Somewhere in the world, the absolute worst gynecologist is alive and practicing. You just hope you don’t meet them while you’re wearing a robe made from a napkin. This truism holds for every imaginable discipline. Every industry has it wonderful “bests”, its nightmare “worsts”, and then the sea of “ok”. We want you to find your best in all things designer, so read on.

Full disclosure: Every designer alive has written a marketing blog on this topic, with the real or implied punchline being– “So hire ME”. (I know, I also wrote one once). But this article is about "you and me dishing at the design table". So, let’s set the condition that you may not hire me. Let’s take me off the table, so you know, hands down, our goal is for you to identify YOUR optimal interior designer. She or he is out there!

Your High Stakes:

The average full room projects take 4-6 months from contract through design, and installation; the average “small” renovation 6-8 months; and the average 7,000 sq. ft. or bigger new build home requires 16 months. Aside from financial risks, your design team will be in your life for a L.O.N.G. time. Fit is key. Here are some guideposts and cautions:

Shopping by Price:

National hourly design fees vary by region, city or suburb. US rates range from $85/hour to a heftier $350/hour. Studies indicate the popular national average is about $150/hour.

Here’s why that’s not necessarily helpful, beyond interesting.

A less qualified designer at $90/hour could potentially land a project with a higher total project fee compared to an efficient designer at $150/hour. Some designers charge hourly; some use a fixed-fee model based upon their hourly rate, and some do a hybrid fee structure.

Instead of shopping purely by price, while you are discussing fees, look at the total job scope of work “services” bid presented to you. Have a detailed discussion about design processes, project management, timelines, and efficiencies. Vet well.

The 5 Archetypal Designers: Who’s Your Ideal?

The Directive Designer: This is the designer who will work with your preferred style and take a very strong lead in guiding you. They include you, but they are the clear lead. Ideal for hands-off, busy clients who want some, but not huge involvement.   

The Collaborative Designer: A designer who will work with your preferred style, but with such a strong sense of collaboration that you, the client, are also pushing along the design journey and timeline. Great for clients who want huge involvement and have lots of time to invest.

The Hybrid: A blend of Directive and Collaborative, leaning more into one camp depending on the designer. As an example: I’m a Hybrid: highly collaborative initially, reducing to agreeably collaborative throughout, and becoming more directive as the project ticks along by leaning into a distinct design path and process we use. I might say things like, “Now that you’ve selected A & B,  “R” is no longer optimal/viable, here’s why”. Hybrids are a happy medium.

The My-Way Designer: There are “signature style,” talented designers who have a “look” they’re known for, and you hire her/him for THAT. It’s their way, or the highway. If you love their look and want a designer with a very strong hand, here’s your ideal.

Timing is Everything:

Make sure your prospective designer can accommodate your timeline. Almost all prospective clients want designers to start yesterday. Good designers are in demand, and there is a country-wide surge in demand for designers.

Try to be realistic and be willing to wait for a design team you love.

Honest Budget Discussion.

Your ideal designer is responsible to manage and optimize you budget resources, so avoid the temptation to play cat-and-mouse about your budget in early discussions. It’s a time waster. If you rip off the band aid and share your budget range upfront, you’ll receive guidance about whether your total project scope/size is viable within your budget restrictions.

If you truly have no idea what a realistic budget might be, ask for guidance. But for efficiency and to be taken seriously, try sharing a general budget range.

Now go forth and find that great designer for you and your mate, your family and your project. Cheering for you!

Sidebar: How to be an Ideal Client

Per a survey I ran, here are the 5 favorite client traits AS LISTED by designers across the US and Canada. The answers might surprise you:

1.    Kind (This was the #1 answer)

2.    Honest & Ethical

3.    Says Thank You/Expresses appreciation

4.    Budget and Project Size/Scope are congruent.

5.    (If a couple…) Works well together; no sniping at each other in meetings.

That list is pretty telling. Not one designer said, “I like wealthy clients”. Designers across the country wanted realistic budgets, and kind, honest, fair people.

Lead with your best self and your ideal designer will jump at the chance to work with you again and again.  

About Donna Hoffman: A multi-award-winning Bucks County based designer, Donna heads her design company specializing in new construction, renovation, whole home and full room design to deliver livable luxury to discerning clients. One of the nation’s design thought-leaders and seen in Forbes, Real Simple, TV and radio, Donna also founded, which provides online courses for DIY’ers.

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