5 Simple Questions to Ask When Hiring an Interior Designer

Posted By Tim on Aug 20, 2017 |

How do I find an Interior Designer? Where do I start? What questions should I ask? Do I need it? Can I afford it?

These are some of the first questions that come up when considering hiring professional design help. Hiring an interior designer can be a stressful and confusing process for some people.  For many, it’s the first time they considered getting professional design advice, and they wonder if it’s necessary or affordable.  I think this is partly because people don’t know what interior design is or what a designer does.  I want to offer you five simple questions that will help you decide if (and whom) you should hire for your interior design project.

What is an Interior Designer, and how is it different than a Decorator?

Redesigned bathroom sink

Redesigned bathroom sink

Why is this an important question?  You need to be clear in your mind for what you are contracting.  We all have a pretty good idea what we are getting when we hire a plumber or a carpenter.  But what does an interior designer do?

According to Lisa League at Thrive Magazine: “Interior Design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.”

So, interior design is about creating a space that matches the person’s behavior and personality.  The space becomes an extension of who you are.  For me, being a designer involves having a personal interaction and deep psychological understanding of my clients. I once helped a woman redo her bedroom. Her bed was where she liked to hang out when she was home: she watched TV in bed, she ate in bed, etc. And so before I even began offering her ideas she invited me over to hang out with her in her bed. I laughed when I first hopped onto the mattress with her. Two months later, when her whole bedroom was complete, I realized I’d collectively spent several hours with her in her bed talking and chatting about what she what she wanted, liked and didn’t like. She loves her finished room, but I could not have done it without the personal interaction and psychological understanding of my client. I don’t just decorate a space with pretty things – I design entire spaces to work and flow AND look good for my client.

How do I find an Interior Designer?

Man sitting in elegant hotel lobbyFinding an interior designer is like finding any other professional consultant.  You rely on recommendations, reputation, and credentials like experience. For example, you can ask friends who may have used one. Ask a hotel or restaurant you’ve seen (that you like) who created/designed it. Google Interior Designers in your area and see what comes up. Cut out a picture in a magazine of a room you love and take it to a furniture store and ask if they know of someone who can help re-create that look in your own home. Finding a designer who fits you is part of the journey.

As a designer, a majority of my work comes from word-of-mouth. I do have a website (TimTattersallDesign.com), I am connected on Instagram (TimTattersallDesign), and I am an approved Design Pro on Houzz.com – but most of my work comes from people who have seen or heard of one of my projects, and they begin to wonder if I could do something to help them.

Also, your interior designer doesn’t have to live or work in your area.  I work with clients all over the world.  I also have consulted with people remotely using video conferencing and good old-fashioned phone calls.  Finding a designer who is a good fit for you personally is the primary concern.  His or her location is a secondary issue.


Can you design to fit my lifestyle?

Tim Tattersall with Ralph Lauren

Tim with Ralph Lauren

Some designers are very set in their way and aesthetic. They design and are known for having “a look.” They’re good at that look – but it’s challenging for them to veer too far away from what they know. Other designers are trained in a very structured manner and as a result, they design well within tight parameters – e.g.,  designing hotel rooms where all 350 rooms must have the same specific look without being too “crazy” or too “creative.”

I worked 20 years for Ralph Lauren, one of the most respected clothing designers in the world. During my tenure at Ralph Lauren I learned, for example that there are many ways to get dressed (as there are many ways to dress a home). In the course of a week, Mr. Lauren would go to work one day with ripped jeans, a silver vintage concho belt, a buffalo plaid shirt, bolo tie and beat up cowboy boots – looking like he’d just flown in from his Colorado ranch. The very next day he walks in in a cashmere charcoal chalk stripe 3 piece English hand-made suit with custom lace wingtips and a handspun silk tie with a spread collar shirt – all fit for a board meeting. The day after that I’d see him in RLX athletic gear – looking like he’d just worked out at the chicest gym in NYC. The diversity of his design style seeps down through the ranks. I learned there are many ways to put an outfit or look together – just as there are many ways to put a room together. I’m as comfortable designing a traditional single level home in the suburbs as I am creating a modern tech space in a high-rise in the city.

I would never dictate my own style on anyone. My job is to give guidance regardless of style – some clients just want direction and want to do most of the work themselves; others really hate the process and want me to do everything.  My goal is to work with you as a partner to create your space.  I start with these three questions to help me understand you and what you are looking for:

“Tell me what it is you’re looking for?”

“Tell me what you like about your space.”

“Tell me what you don’t like about your space.”

Your answer to these questions will help me understand your lifestyle and how we can design your space to fit it.

What kind of experience do you have?

Florence Italy where Tim lived for five years

Florence Italy

When looking for a designer, their experience is probably the most telling aspect of whether the designer is a good fit for you.  Many designers go to design school and have degrees in commercial design, residential design, etc. When a potential client asks me if I have a degree in design, I tell them I do not. But I also tell them what got me to this point: I spent 20 years with Ralph Lauren, who taught me far more about design than any 4-year college design degree.  Look carefully at the designer’s portfolio or website. Do you like what you see?  Ask the designer why he or she chose that design for that client. What led them to that design? Does the design meet the client’s needs?

Tim standing on the Great Wall of China

Tim on the Great Wall of China

Another often overlooked characteristic of a good designer is how extensively they have traveled. How well can a designer who has spent their whole life in New York City design a home in Maui or New Mexico?  Travel broadens your perspective and opens up a world of possibilities (no pun intended.) Personally, I love to travel and spend a good deal of my time doing so, knowing that it has deeply influenced how I design.  I even wrote a short blog post about it. I have lived in Florida, Washington, Italy, Germany, New York, and Maui. I have visited every continent except Antarctica -I do not believe I could be the designer I am today without having had those experiences.

How much will it all cost?

Of course, everyone wants to know this, and yet it’s a difficult question to answer. The response you would hope to hear from a prospective designer should come in the form of a question, “That depends.  What’s your budget?” A good designer will always work within the client’s budget and will do more or less of the work depending on what that budget is.  However, regardless of the original budget the costs almost always change in the course of the renovation or redesign, simply because as you progress through the design process you learn.  Not everything is known up front.  It’s an easier number to set if someone just needs new bedroom furniture and a fresh coat of paint – and I do smaller jobs like that, but most of my jobs are larger.  A client often wants to move a wall, change the lighting, put down new tile, order new furniture, buy some art, etc. Setting a budget is more difficult when a wall is moved by a contractor, as sometimes wiring or electricity or support needs to be unexpectedly moved or added.

Most designers work on an hourly basis, myself included. That fee is then added to the whole budget. Though it may feel like an extravagance to hire a designer, I pass discounts to my clients when stores or company’s give me a designer discount. For example, Restoration Hardware gives me a designer discount of 25%. If a client orders two sofas, four chairs, and a table or two, and we ship the items from the mainland to Hawaii, the savings on that furniture order would far exceed my hourly fee, therefore saving them money as I guide them through the order process and then track shipment and receive the order once it arrives in Hawaii. Not to mention the cost you might incur by making mistakes if you try to do the work on your own. Often hiring a professional can be the soundest financial decision you can make. Someone might think they have a basic grasp of electricity and can repair a light switch or hang a chandelier on their own. But too often the switch is complicated or the chandelier awkward or vintage or needing special hanging procedures. In the end a professional is finally hired to do the job correctly so as to avoid a dangerous situation, or to correct a botched job. I’ve been hired on many occasions to make something right that the homeowner had started – but couldn’t complete.

I hope you found these tips and questions helpful guidance in your search for an interior designer.  If you have any further questions or if I can be of any help in your interior design project, I would love to hear from you.

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