1. Can I see your work? “Ask them to show you their portfolio so you can see their style,” says interior designer Greg Natale. A designer’s portfolio provides an overview of the kinds of house and scope of works the designer is experienced in.
2. Do you have relevant skills and qualifications? “The market is full of interior designers, decorators and stylists and there is no regulation about what qualifications entitle the use of those names,” says Sonia Simpfendorfer, of Nexus Designs. “Anyone can call themselves a designer, but not everyone has the skills to deal with the complexity of designing joinery and the problem-solving inherent in designing successful interior spaces.”
3. Will you pass on discounts? Designers can secure mates rates for just about everything from lighting to linen, which can quickly help to justify their fee. Of course, some designers supplement their income by pocketing the difference between recommended retail prices and their trade discounts. You might agree to this if it means a cheaper upfront fee but it’s worth factoring in to your decision-making process.
4. How do you base your fees? Some designers have a vested interest in steering you towards expensive purchases. “Make sure you understand how the designer generates their fee to avoid surprises,” says Sonia. “Our fees are transparent and based primarily on time. Other firms may include preferred supplier arrangements or percentages of the project cost.”
5. What will you actually do? Ask about the stages and what will be achieved at the end of each, says Sonia. Then, get it all on paper. “A clear scope-of-work and fee letter gives clarity to the process, costs and expectations. The DIA has guidelines for its members and is a great reference for potential clients,” she explains.
6. Can we chat? Interior designer Chelsea Hing says a designer needs to get to know the project’s story. “Talk about why you’re embarking on the project,” she says. “What are your concerns? And let us fill in the blanks.”
7. How will we work together? “Ask your designer how they will communicate their design to you,” says Coco Republic’s interior designer Victoria Chapman. Think moodboards, blueprints or artist renderings. And ask how you can best communicate your ideas, whether that is magazine clippings or a written brief.
8. Can you work with my budget? Don’t be afraid to talk money upfront, says Byron George. “Listen when advised that the budget is not realistic. You can’t expect a designer to deliver a Mercedes on a Toyota budget. However, you can expect a very well-executed Toyota that is customised to your needs.”
9. What is your philosophy? Greg Natale suggests taking the time to understand their vision. “Starting out with a designer is just like beginning any relationship,” he says. “It’s important to find out who you’re dealing with, what they believe in and how they work. Unless you can connect with them at this level, the whole experience could be a disaster.”
10. What kind of clients do you look for? Remember, while you might be interviewing your designers, they might be auditioning you. “I’m looking for a client whose values I share, because then I know I can produce work they value and work I’m proud of,” says Chelsea Hing. “Create the opening for them to disclose if your project is what they do best. Ask them to explain how they would approach the project, what their design process will be? Only then will you gain insights as to the differences between each designer’s approach and if you’re a good fit.”
“Starting out with a designer is just like beginning any relationship. It’s important to find out who you’re dealing with, what they believe in and how they work. Unless you can connect with them at this level, the whole experience could be a disaster.”