Interior Design Miami: How Much Does an Interior Designer Cost?January 29, 2019
Once upon a time, the answer was exclusively: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” Interior Designers traveled the world from New York City to Marrakech to buy one-of-a-kind hand-made chairs and individually chiseled mosaic tile flooring for their glitterati clients. Today, it’s a very different business available to a much wider range of people.
It’s commonly believed that only the very rich can afford an interior designer. I hear it all the time.
And there’s good reason why so many people think that.
For a long time, the industry’s pricing model was a baffling, overblown mix of flat fees, hourly fees, service fees, and commissions to a mob of middlemen. Not to mention hidden kick-backs, travel fees, the choice of overly expensive goods to cash-in on a hefty mark-up percentage, and endless “unforeseen circumstances.”
No client could really keep track of that. Often even the designers would end up fudging the numbers – in their favor, of course.
With that scenario, only people for whom “money is no object” could even think of getting involved.
These days, total upfront cost transparency
is the new wave in interior design.
Okay But, Yes or No — Are Interior Designers Expensive?
Straight up, it’s fair to say that we’re generally not cheap. However, “expensive” is a much more subjective term. So let’s look into that.
What You Get
For a true interior design project – which is on a whole other level from interior decorating – you do need to have a good understanding and realistic expectation of a mutually workable budget. That is, one that’s “worth it,” both to a hard-working, honest designer and to you.
On that note, let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing.
The terms Interior Designer and Interior Decorator are not synonymous.
Designers go far beyond selecting and placing
decorative “take-away” items in your home –
which is the decorator’s job description.
Designers do that as well, yes, but it’s just one
part of a much more complex service.
We also design and execute extensive structural work – concept to move-in – on permanent features of your home, from flooring to lighting, to doors, windows, architectural elements, and more.
With that in mind, value becomes an important defining factor in calling the work “expensive.”
But you probably actually want to see a specific price tag.
How Much Will My Interior Designer Charge Me?
At the starter level, you can contract a flat-fee, modestly scoped project from an experienced and highly rated (or even award-winning designers) interior designer with a budget of about $50,000.
It’s not a small amount, we understand. But it also doesn’t take a multi-millionaire to swing. And a good designer puts a lot into that fee for you.
More on that in a bit.
Beyond those fortunate enough to have a disposable savings of this size, undertaking a serious, value-adding home renovation is a common and sensible reason many homeowners do an equity cash-out mortgage refinance.
At this moment, you might decide that
this isn’t quite right for your budget.
If so, then you’ve been smart about your research.
This is when you want to figure this out,
not after you’ve taken the financial plunge.
Thinking maybe you could try your own hand at the job?
While modest for a designer, even a project of this “starter” size is generally beyond the DIY approach. I’ve seen it play out many times – you will most likely end up spending more than you planned and/or be unhappy with the result.
Yet, if you do decide that DIY is your best option, a scaled-back plan developed for a non-professional could be the answer for you. There are many available from qualified online resources.
For the record, of course, there’s also the customized high-end design work for clients that want special customer service, high-end brands, and turn-key solutions. Those project budgets run from $500,000 to several million dollars.
That’s simply no longer all there is, as was once the case.
Each Project Is One-of-a-Kind
It all comes down to the type of property you want the Interior Designer to transform. She needs to know the price of the property in order to assess the investment on real property items vs. items you can take away if you sell the place. The designer’s budget should not be more than 15% of the property value.
For instance, if a property is valued at $100,000, the designer’s budget should not be more than $15,000 for items that will remain on-site when the property sells. These include: flooring, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, wallpaper, customized built-ins, and everything else that cannot be removed and installed somewhere else.
Considering that the $15,000 must include the interior designer’s fees, there would most likely not be enough budget left for a complete renovation.
If you’re asking, “How much do interior designers cost?” then it’s likely you aren’t someone who’s prepared to throw money away. Price and value matter to you.
And let’s face it, even the rich don’t get and stay that way by poorly managing their money.
You need to know where your hard-earned
budget money will go. You can only find out
by rigorously interviewing designers
about your custom project.
Do this even if they come with a great personal referral.
What are your fees?
What are your mark-ups?
Do you get commissions on tradesmen’s service fees?
Do you have your own suppliers to buy direct from or
are you buying marked-up retail (then marking up again)?
Do you pass-on any designer discounts you get on goods?
Do you manage the work on-site every day?
One size doesn’t fit all for most things in life, and interior design is no exception.
Whatever the conditions were that resulted in great service and work for the person who gave you the referral may be very different for your project.
Don’t worry about offending the
designer with these questions.
Worry about the offense to you of having
your precious, hard-earned budget
wasted on kickbacks and retail prices.
How the New Wave of Interior Designers Charge
Now, about that mutually workable budget I mentioned at the start…
I always advise clients to do the inverted math on this. Get a good picture upfront of how much all the fees will add up to, and then you’ll know how much of your budget will go into what you’ll actually see when it’s done.
You need to know you’ll have enough post-fees
money to get the result you want.
The designer needs to know she’ll have enough
money to do what you want and still turn a profit.
No matter how friendly you become, it’s a business after all.
In addition to the cost of the goods purchased for your home (lighting, flooring, furniture, French doors, what have you), your budget also has to cover the fees for the tradesmen that will work on installations, the fee for the general contractor overseeing the site, and of course the designer’s concept and execution fee.
Cue That Clear, Total Cost Transparency
Best case scenario (using ourselves as an example), working with an honest and transparently priced interior designer, right at the start you need to deduct the following from your budget:
Phase 1 – PROJECT CONCEPT
- $5 to $12 per sq.ft. for the detailed concept fee (no execution; variation based on complexity of project, which we establish before starting the work)
Phase 2 – EXECUTION
- 20% management fee for project execution (offset up to 50% by industry discount rates on goods and tradesmen services)
What Interior Designers Do with Your Budget
We Work Hard for the Money (Just Like You)
Again, using Design/Solutions as an example on a project designed and executed by us, this is what we provide:
- Design Consultation
- 3D Rendering Illustrations
- Complete Project Estimates
- Budget Development & Management
- Daily On-Site Project Management, Supervision & Administration*
- Architectural & Finish Specifications
- Space Planning
- Architectural Drawings
- Fabric & Furniture Selection/Placement
- Wall Covering Selections
- Art, Greenery & Accessories Selection/Placement
- Window Treatment
- Flooring Selection
- Lighting Selection
- Custom Built-Ins
- Turn-Key Projects
That’s a lot of work that goes into your project, and not all designers do it. Have this list handy when you’re doing your interviews.
*A very important point here is the daily on-site job management.
You’ll have several tradesmen working on your project, and you aren’t their only customer. Without someone experienced advocating for you on-site every day, they could leave at any time for unspecified “emergencies,” work at a slower pace than the established norm, invent issues that require more work (a.k.a. more fees), and so on.
It’s an imperfect world, and you probably won’t
think of these unpleasant realities when
you’re dreaming of your exciting design plans.
A good designer will.
And a good designer won’t take commissions
on those tradesmen’s fees because
it’s a conflict of interest.
With all this now laid out for you, keep this in mind… If you do find a designer with rates that most people would call “cheap,” you should definitely take a very close look at her experience and what you’ll be getting for that cheap price tag.
No project feels more expensive than one you paid anything for and ended up deeply unhappy with.
The Last Word
Being indisputably “rich” is no longer essential for hiring an interior designer.
Smart clients do their homework on which designers will provide total, upfront cost transparency. They interview contenders extensively to find out exactly what they’ll get, for exactly how much.
Carefully selecting an expert with proven integrity
having a mutually workable budget, and using it wisely
are what’s essential today for hiring an interior designer
and being delighted with the end result.