3 misconceptions about interior designers

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | June 30, 2014

Your Pinterest board for home remodeling ideas has become your latest social media obsession, and you've watched more episodes of home improvement shows than Dancing with the Stars. If you know exactly what you want your remodel to look like and you've seen the pros do it on TV, why do you need to hire an interior designer?

Do not dismiss the idea so quickly of putting your project in the hands of a trained professional. You may think you know what they do and that you can do it just as well or better, but before you plunge into either a DIY remodel or let your architect and licensed contractor run with it, read on to dispel these common misconceptions concerning interior designers.

1. Don't interior designers cost too much?

According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) -- the oldest organization of professional interior designers with 48 chapters across the U.S. and Canada -- designers' rates are flexible. Some highly sought-after designers may command higher fees, but others may be more reasonable than you think. You can pay your designer by the project or by the hour. They might get paid a commission instead, on the materials and furnishings that they typically can get for you at a cost discounted to the trade.

Interior designers can oversee and direct your entire project if that's what you need, or you can consult with them for direction in the planning stage or during the actual work. The real value of an interior designer, however, is how much they can save you in costly mistakes or by offering alternatives that can keep you within your budget.

They not only see the big picture, they also manage the smallest details. As San Francisco designer Lindsey Hairrell puts it, "Interior designer's are important because they help take the guess work out of design and will help you make the right decisions the first time."

2. Won't interior designers override your vision with their own?

Elizabeth Carrasco, owner and principal designer at VIP Interior Design in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area says, "My approach to design is the same regardless of budget or style: to convert my clients' dream into a comfortable, functional living space that is approachable, visually stimulating, and looks like a million bucks.". She "...recognizes that when you are comfortable in your surroundings, it makes a difference in your day to day life," as her summary of the firm's design services states on her LinkedIn profile.

Carrasco is "...passionate about building relationships. Every client of VIP Interior Design is a Very Important Person and the heart of each job." She adds, "...the most valuable things in your home are not things. It's the people…It never gets old seeing their emotional reaction to the newly designed space and how it impacts their lives. You can instantly see their excitement, sense of peace, and renewed pride."

Other designers echo Carrasco's sentiments about taking the client's vision and making it workable, functional and something the client can be passionate about. The ASID website stresses to consumers that "Whether you're building a new home or remodeling a single room, you want the finished space to be attractive, comfortable and functional. It needs to fit the way you live, as well as reflect your personal style and taste. Interior design addresses all these concerns and more."

Hairrell's take is that "A good designer has the ability to get you excited about the potential of your surroundings. Colors, proportions, textures, pattern and lighting are all so important when it comes to a harmonious space. Designers have the ability to pull all of these elements together in an unexpected way because they have a knack for visualization."

If they didn't have that ability, then you wouldn't need them.

In the initial stages of working with a designer, you typically answer a lot of questions about your needs, your preferences and even about which elements you currently have that you want to keep. A designer not only creates a concept but a living area that accommodates the members of your household, including your pets, and how they will use the space that you plan to remodel.

3. Why hire a decorator when you like choosing colors and decor yourself?

You love shopping for furnishings. You don't want a designer to take that pleasure away from you. While interior designers are trained to handle those details, they are so much more than just decorators -- although you might see the title "interior designer" used inaccurately when what is really meant is an interior decorator.

Today designers must be trained in all aspects of completing a remodel, not just the furnishings and decor. They handle things like home acoustics, storage and organization, space planning, and building materials. They have to know how to plan for lighting, heating and cooling and even wiring to accommodate your home technology. They specialize in universal design to accommodate the physical and cognitive needs of every family member. They coordinate the entire team involved in your remodel: architects, contractors, and subcontractors. They can shop for your furnishings if you need that service, and they have suppliers that can provide items you might never be able to find yourself in the retail establishments, but they can also let you do the shopping or join you if you want their input.

What to know when you hire an interior designer

So what should you look for if you decide to hire a designer? Many states now require certification and even licensing for interior designers, but not all. Be sure to check your state's requirements. The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exams are the gold standard for credibility. Designers who pass the NCIDQ series of three rigorous tests are assigned an NCIDQ Certificate number that validates their knowledge and experience for state regulators and potential clients.

The California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC) requires interior designers have CCIDC certification. They advise that in addition to those credentials, you get referrals, references and put everything in writing. Make sure you set a budget, but be prepared for unexpected expenses if you're doing demolition work, warns CCIDC. You never know what problems are hidden behind your walls, above your head or below the floor until everything is exposed.

Once you have your designer, remember, she or he is the one who has to come up with the solutions when the remodel encounters surprise issues. If you've done your due diligence and you like your designer, relax and take their advice. That's why you hired them in the first place.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.