Building or renovating your home or office can be an overwhelming and expensive undertaking, sometimes more so than you bargain for. There are so many decisions to make and, given the amount of time and money that you invest in the process, those decisions matter as you’re likely stuck with the end result for quite some time.
If you’re just gearing up for this great adventure, you may have wondered about hiring an interior designer or decorator to help with the process. On the one hand, it could make your life a whole lot easier: you’d have someone to guide you through decisions, provide advice on different options for colour, material and layout, and perhaps see possibilities for use of space that you would never think of. On the other hand, it represents yet another cost for your already bulging budget. Surely you can do a decent job on your own and save a bit of money, even if your home doesn’t look like a magazine when all is said and done?
If you’re wrestling with this decision, read on. We went right to the source and asked some of our favourite New Brunswick interior designers and decorators for their insights into the benefits of working with a designer, and how to go about it.
A word on titles
There are many talented people and businesses out there offering design and decorating services for homes and workplaces. However, they go by several different titles - interior designer, interior decorator or simply designer. Are they all the same? Not exactly. While there is overlap in what they do and the services they offer, the title of Interior Designer is reserved for those with a specific combination of education, experience and accreditation, including a fully-fledged Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design. As Dominique Fournier of Osez Interiors explains, in New Brunswick - and in many other provinces – “[interior designers also] have to be part of the provincial association and, after a few years working in the industry, they have to go through an examination process to become a qualified interior designer.” Interior designers are morally and ethically bound to protect the health, safety and well-being of the occupants of the spaces they design. You can find a full list of qualified interior designers and interns on the website of your provincial interior design association, or through Interior Designers of Canada’s national membership directory.
The Interior Designer designation is a bit like the Red Seal designation in carpentry. It gives you a base level of confidence in the skills and abilities of the person you are hiring. However, it doesn’t mean that a carpenter who isn’t Red Seal isn’t any good. It does mean, however, that you should do your due diligence in asking about the qualifications and experience of the professional that you are interested in working with to ensure that they have the knowledge and resources required for the scope of your project. Interior decorators and others working in the field bring to the table various combinations of education, experience and talent that may serve you very well.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the generic term “designer” where appropriate in the discussion below. We’ll talk more about how to choose the right designer in a minute.
What exactly do designers do?
Moncton-based Interior Concept Studio often runs into the misconception that “[they] only deal with colours and aesthetics and that [they] only work in one style (modern)”. In fact, interior design is about far more than that. It is about optimizing the use of space (making every square foot count!) to meet the needs of those who will be using it. Or, as Colleen O’Donnell of Optimized Planning and Interiors (OP&I) puts it, “we create experiences for our clients in their spaces that satisfy their needs”, with the ultimate goal of “satisfaction and delight”.
Most designers will begin with a consultation to understand your needs and wants, and identify any challenges that need to be solved for your space. From there, each firm will have its own step-by-step process and range of services. For example, Saint John-based Tuck Interiors’ interior decorating services include “visual display boards, material samples, floor plans, 3D concept drawings, detailed budgets and expert advice on furnishings, lighting, finishes, and décor”. Likewise, interior decorator Nicole Brigham of Brigham Interiors describes herself as a “do-what-needs-to-be-done kind of gal”, with specialized offerings such as custom sewing and wallpaper installation helping to set her apart.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked – and most valuable - services offered by designers is project management. Once a concept is approved, full service interior design firms, such as Interior Concept Studio and OP&I, will “line up the trades and follow the project until it is complete”. Interior decorators, such as Tuck Interiors and Brigham Interiors, offer similar services for clients that want them. What would it be worth to you to have someone who can not only help you design the best space for your needs, but also oversee the coordination of the actual construction or renovation project? Can you feel the weight lifting off your shoulders? Interior designers have specialized knowledge of the interior non-structural construction process, including building codes and building permits, and can often apply for permits, collect quotes and coordinate the construction schedule on your behalf. Experienced designers also have strong relationships throughout the construction industry, from architects and engineers to contractors, tradespeople and product manufacturers. While interior decorators and other design professionals might not have the same background in building codes and construction standards, they may be able to leverage their professional connections to fill any gaps.
An important part of project management is about working within a budget and a timeline. “As a designer”, says Dominique of Osez Interiors, “our job is to make sure your vision stays true to what you want while keeping in mind your budget and [keeping] you focused so that your project finishes in a timely manner”.
Advantages of working with a designer
Designers have no shortage of stories about clients who have been surprised by the amount of value they reaped from working with them, especially after trying to manage the project themselves. Nicole Brigham (Brigham Interiors) often hears, “I wish we knew to call you before we got started!”. So how exactly is working with a designer going to help you? As Dominique Fournier (Osez Interiors) puts it, “hiring a professional can save you money and a headache!” We already talked about saving yourself the headache of handling the project management (or finding someone else to do so). But let’s break it down a bit further:
Interior Concept sums up the value that they bring to their clients in this way: “peace of mind, originality,…knowledge and that little extra touch of wow”.
Who can benefit most from working with a designer?
Based on the list above, it’s hard to see how your project couldn’t benefit from a designer’s help. Indeed, Saint John-based Tuck Interiors encourages anyone who feels the need for advice to contact them, even if it’s just for a one-off consultation. That said, there are some people and projects that stand to benefit the most. Here’s a shortlist from our designers:
How to choose the right designer
Choosing a designer, says Dominique Fournier (Osez Interiors), is “like picking a pair of shoes. You have to make sure they have your vision, that you’re comfortable and [that] they fit your personality!” It is important that you trust your designer’s judgment and feel comfortable communicating with them about what you like and dislike. Here are a few other things to consider:
So where do you start? Nicole Brigham (Brigham Interiors) suggests picking up the phone and calling “a few designers whom you’ve heard good things about or [whose] social media feeds” appeal to you. If you get a good feeling from that first conversation, book an in-person consultation so that you can get a better idea of their design and professional style. Ask the designer how they would “respond to [your] needs and the goals of the project. If [you] like the answer – engage and enjoy” (Colleen O’Donnell, OP&I). Don’t forget to ask (and follow up on) references!
When to start working with a designer
How soon should you start working with a designer? The answer is unanimous: as soon as possible, and ideally before you start work on the project. At the “dreaming stage” is best, according to Nicole Brigham. The sooner a designer gets involved, the more value they can bring and the sooner they can start saving you money by helping you avoid costly mistakes and unnecessary expenses. If you’re building new, it doesn’t hurt to have a designer review your house plans before you finalize them. “We aren’t experts on home building, but we know how to lay out a space, so having us look over your plans is worth it” (Tuck Interiors).
How much does it cost?
We hope that, by now, you have a good sense of the value that comes from hiring a designer. But you may still be wondering about the cost. When you’re hiring a designer, “you’re paying for [their] time and expertise. Although every firm has its own pricing, a designer’s fee is usually a small percentage of the cost of” the project, says Dominique (Osez Interiors).
Most designers we talked to work with an hourly rate that ranges anywhere from $75 to $160/hour depending on the services offered and required. Brigham Interiors, for example, charges a one-time consultation fee of $175, with lower hourly rates thereafter. Whether the designer charges by the hour or by the project, they should provide you with a detailed cost estimate of their fees for the project before moving forward. When considering the estimate, remember that while “it might seem expensive at the start,…the project will benefit from that investment at the end” (Interior Concept Studio). If you’re on the fence and unsure whether the investment is worth it, ask the designer to walk you through a cost-benefit analysis.
The size of the project will affect the cost, but so will the amount of time you demand of your designer. “If you’re able to communicate via email on small items…, then you’ll save money. When you’re organized and know what you want, you’ll save money” (Nicole Brigham, Brigham Interiors). If it’s not spelled out, ask your designer about their communication preferences and how much face-to-face time they have allowed for in their project cost estimates.
While full service design firms, such as Interior Concept Studio and OP&I, can bring more value to clients who have “flexible budgets”, most designers are happy to work within “any reasonable budget” (Brigham Interiors), as long as you are also prepared to adapt your expectations to what can reasonably be accomplished within that budget.
Advice for homeowners
We asked our designers what advice they would give to homeowners who are designing a new home or preparing for a major renovation, whether or not you choose to hire a designer. Their response? PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! And do it early.
The design process “is a process that comes together in layers”. Colleen O’Donnell (OP&I) emphasizes that good design is not magic. Rather it is the result of hard work and iterative steps. As a homeowner, it is important that you start by “do[ing] your homework and defin[ing] what ‘life’ will need to be like in your new home”. Then “design to satisfy that vision”.
Nicole Brigham (Brigham Interiors) also reminds people to “’zoom out’ to consider the overall look and feel you’re looking to achieve” before you start purchasing materials. She often sees clients “considering materials they’re instantly attracted to without considering how it looks installed or with other materials and furnishings”.
While your plan may change “100 times” before the build is complete, “try your best to stick to it as closely as possible and adjust when needed,” says Tuck Interiors. With a good plan in place, you’ll be able to better evaluate how any changes will affect your cost, timelines and the end result.
“Just do it!”
If you’re still unsure about working with a designer, Tuck Interiors says “Just do it!” As Colleen O’Donnell (OP&I) points out, there’s nothing to lose by starting a conversation to learn about the design process. The most it will cost you is a consultation fee. Don’t get hung up on the size of your project or the idea that hiring a designer is extravagant. Whether it’s a one-room makeover or a full home renovation, there is value to be found in good design. Remember, the biggest reward for designers is “[b]eing a part of making people’s lives better” (Nicole Brigham, Brigham Interiors).
Still got questions? Leave your question in the comments and we'll do our best to get you an answer!
A huge thank you to the following designers for their input and advice:
Interior Concept Studio (Moncton) https://www.interiorconcept.ca/
Osez Interiors (Moncton) https://www.osezinteriors.com/
Optimized Planning & Interiors (Fredericton) https://www.opiinc.ca/
Brigham Interiors (Fredericton) https://brighaminteriors.ca/
Tuck Interiors (Saint John) https://tuckstudio.ca/tuck-interiors-commercial-residential-decorating-saint-john-nb/
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