I get emails and phone calls every week from potential clients who have never worked with an interior designer before. There is usually nervousness about the process and some pre-conceived notions about who I am and how I work. I know I feel nervous having another designer over to my own home so I can imagine it’s worse for someone who already feels insecure about their house.
I thought it would be helpful to write up a list for how to hire (or not hire) a designer. I tried not to skew it towards making my life easier, but some of that might have slipped in….
1. Start looking early! Most designers (in a good economy) are booked in advance. You should try to interview with them now, but be ready to be put on a wait list just as you would expect from a contractor or an architect. They should be able to tell you an approximate date for when they expect they can start on your project.
2. Ask friends, co-workers and family members for recommendations. I think this kind of goes without saying, but look at that designer’s website before you call to make sure you like their style and the overall vibe they and their company project. Look at their social media and any other online presence – this will give you even more insight into their projects and work attitude.
3. Email the designer with a brief project description, where you heard of them, your time frame and what part of town you live in. Some designers have worksheets for new clients to fill out. All of this will help you move on quickly to another person if they don’t work in that part of town, or their time frame is different, or they aren’t taking on projects like yours. Also at this point, check in with them to see how they charge.
Despite what you might think, when I get an informative email I’m not judging the client on potential money they bring, I’m judging on the project itself and how interesting it is, where the home is located and what their timing is like. If you have a small project or a smaller budget, don’t feel shy about it.
4. Set up a time to meet. Some designers charge for this time, some don’t. Make sure you know how long the meeting is – especially if it’s free. Confirm the expectations for this time. For instance, if you’re expecting design advice right away – this doesn’t usually happen. Typically this meeting is a getting to know you type of meeting and an introduction of your project and yourself to the designer.
5. Meeting time! Now here’s where some people go a little crazy. You don’t need to obsessively clean or decorate or worry about what the designer is going to think about your home. This is probably why you called her in the first place, right? I rarely see homes that are fantastic looking – I’m almost always called because there’s something not great about the space in the first place. Keep in mind, this designer is also human and her house probably looks more normal than you would think.
Use this time to communicate what your goals are for the project. Write out a list if it helps and give it to her. Ask her about how she would approach the project. Be aware of this person’s time. Now is not the time to ask her to select paint colors for you or to re-arrange your living room unless you’ve established that is the goal for the meeting. This is a great time to see if you think you could work closely with this person. If you don’t get a great vibe and feel like they aren’t listening to you, then don’t hire them! It’s probably not a good personality fit.
6. Get a contract: If they don’t bring one with them, they will probably email you or mail you a contract. Expect and ask for a contract if they don’t. You want this to be a professional relationship. Read it over, if you don’t understand something just ask. I get asked about one part of my contract all the time – and I’ve even had a lawyer client re-write it for me to make it more clear – but I still get questions.
7. Breaking up is not hard to do. Don’t feel shy about telling the designer they didn’t get the job. You don’t need to say why, just tell them you’re moving in a different direction, or you’ve hired someone else. But please make sure you email and let them know. It’s hard for me when someone doesn’t bother responding, even with a follow up.
8. Make a timely decision: The more time that passes while you decide who you’re going to hire, the more potential clients that designer is seeing and potentially signing. Don’t feel rushed into making a decision, but also don’t let it sit for a month and then expect that person to be able to start the next day.
9. Pick someone you like. Silly advice from someone who just said this is a professional relationship? Maybe, but you’ll be working closely with this person for a while and you might as well enjoy their company.
One other thing I would like to pass along to you: Most designers aren’t judging you when they walk in the door. They see all different kinds of home environments. Think of it like a psychologist – they see and hear about all manner of human behavior. We are there to help you love your home.