One of my favorite shows growing up in the late 80s was Designing Women. I LOVED Julia Sugarbaker--she was so smart and funny, with a little bit of an edge. She also wore the best power suits (!!). If you remember, she owned an interior design firm with her sister and their friends. The show centered around their office, which was in a mansion in Atlanta (FYI: the actual Italiante mansion depicted on the show is in Little Rock, according to this amazing website that touts itself as “The Web’s Premier Designing Women Resource since 1998”). They didn’t do much designing on the show--it was more of a backdrop for their stylish lives--but all the same, the show portrays interior designers as people who work exclusively with very rich clients.
I’d say most TV shows, books, and movies have a similar slant when it comes to the profession. While it’s true that some of the most famous interior designers do work exclusively with wealthy clientele, the vast majority work with all types of clients on projects large and small. You don’t necessarily need a big budget, or a large-scale project (decorating an entire home at once, for example) to work with a designer.
In fact, many large-scale projects often start out as small hourly gigs where the client and designer are feeling each other out. A client may ask the designer for help with selecting a light fixture for the dining room, or paint colors for the master bedroom, for example, before hiring him or her for a larger, bigger-budget project. There’s no harm in contacting a designer whose work you admire and asking if she takes on smaller projects, or is willing to work on an hourly basis. Most interior designers are happy to, as long as they aren’t stretched thin by their current workload. If your project is too small for them to take on, ask if they can refer you to someone who can.
There are many ways an interior designer can help you improve the look and feel of your space, as well as the function. It doesn’t have to be a big, overwhelming remodel either--many of these projects can be done in one afternoon! Here are 5 examples of small projects that interior designers work on:
Re-Arranging Your Current Furniture/Space Planning Improvements
Maybe your living room just doesn’t “flow” nicely or that hutch you bought at the flea market is hulking in the corner of your dining room, making the other furniture look like it belongs in a dollhouse. An interior designer can help by reconfiguring the seating area, or switching pieces out from other rooms to create a “new” space that is more comfortable and engaging for you. Maybe that hutch would work better by the front door? Have you ever thought of putting your favorite chair against this wall? How often do you use this table? A designer will hone in on the real, everyday ways you use your space, helping you determine the best way to use what you’ve already got.
Improving circulation space is another way a designer can assist, making sure that there is enough room to move through your home comfortably and safely. Often, furniture is either too close together to move around it comfortably, or too far apart to encourage conversation. A designer can optimize your space by correctly arranging your furniture, with special attention to sight lines and your TV, picture windows, fireplaces, stairs, and other elements in your home.
Selecting Artwork, Lighting, Mirrors, and Accessories
It’s often the finishing touches--the art, the accessories, the accent lighting--that really make your space come together! Perhaps you have the “bones” of your home decor complete, with the walls painted and the furniture delivered, but you’re looking for some help selecting window treatments, rugs, and other items that make the space feel like home.
A designer can help you select the pieces that fit your style and budget, bringing all those elements together to create a polished, but comfortable space. Most people have a clear idea of what they like or don’t like, but putting it all together can be a challenge. The designer you hire can hunt down sources for lighting, artwork, mirrors, throw pillows, accent furniture, and other accessories that fit your budget and style. Additionally, if you’re after something more custom, interior designers have access to items not available to the public. For example, they can help you purchase furniture or fabrics that are “to the trade” (sometimes there is a mark-up for the designer’s work to source, specify, and oversee the delivery and installation of the items) for something special and unique.
Choosing Paint Colors/Color Palettes
How do you choose paint colors? Most likely: you start with one room, decide on a paint color, and then move on to the next room. For your bedroom you may want a cranberry red. For your living room, you’re considering a creamy beige. This is great, until you realize the sage green hallway looks terrible next to the butter yellow you chose for the kitchen. Similarly, you may have decided you want to paint your bedroom gray, but there are literally dozens of different grays to choose from! What to choose: A cool gray? A warm gray? A darker shade, or something very light? The whole process can be overwhelming.
An interior designer sees your home a lot differently than you do. Instead of a series of rooms or individual spaces, a designer thinks of your home as one large space, where colors and styles all work together in harmony. This doesn’t mean that every room needs to be the same hue, or you can’t mix and match different styles! But as each room flows into the next, it should feel like a smooth transition and not an abrupt change.
This is where developing an overall color palette can really help your home feel pulled-together.
Working with your personal preferences for color, as well as your furniture and other home decor, an interior designer can help you develop a color palette for your home that celebrates your style and personality. Bottom line: choosing paint colors can be frustrating and time consuming. Hiring a designer for a few hours now to help you get it right can save you time, frustration and even money in the long run.
Staging for an Open House or Big Event
Many designers also provide staging services to spiff up your home for the holidays, a big party, or get it ready to be sold. They can help with re-arranging your space, bringing in temporary furnishings, or purchasing decorations and accessories.
Conceptual Design Packages
On a typical design project, a large chunk of a designer’s fee is often coordinating with the contractor while your project is in construction. There are a lot of details to manage, and the designer is responsible for moving the project from paper into a real, three-dimensional space. The designer works with different vendors, delivery people, the client, and often an architect and contractor. They place and track orders, manage deposits and payments, oversee installation, and handle the final punch list. They are available to answer the contractor’s questions and track down information. That’s a lot of juggling and coordination!
For smaller budgets and projects, many designers can complete “conceptual design” packages. This is when the design is created on paper, but you are responsible for installing it yourself or hiring and overseeing a contractor’s work. Based on information that you provide, a designer can develop a floor plan, and choose furniture, lighting, accessories, and colors. They package it up and send to you so that you can bring it to life, along with a shopping list so you’ll know where to buy each item specified.
Keep in Mind
Most interior designers are happy to work on smaller projects. However, be prepared to invest in about 5-10 hours of their time, depending on your project. Ask for a realistic estimate of how much time they think your project requires. You can always call a few designers and compare proposals. Good luck!