7 Things to Do Before You Hire a Decorator

How to Hire an Interior Decorator
Interior designers at work. Gary Houlder / Getty Images

Hiring a design professional to work on your home can be a great investment. Whether you know what you want but don't know how to get it, you don't have the first clue where to start, or you simply don't have the time to invest, a professional interior designer or decorator can help channel your ideas and turn them into something beautiful. They can lend their experience and their creativity to your home, creating a restful and welcoming retreat that's unique to you and your loved ones.

While hiring a design pro can be a great solution to your decorating problems, they won't just magically appear one day and solve everything. You need to play a part in the process as well. In order to make the most of the experience, make sure you've taken care of the following things before you hire a designer or decorator.

Designer or Decorator?

Before hiring a design professional you need to decide which is right for your project - a designer or a decorator. Some people don't realize that while the two have many similarities, they are actually quite different. Interior designers play a part in the actual design of the space. This can mean moving walls, enlarging windows and doors, moving staircases, and basically planning out the space in order to make it more functional (and working with contractors and/or architects to make it happen). Interior decorators on the other hand participate only in the furnishing and decorating of the already designed and completed space.

Interior designers usually play the role of decorator as well, while decorators do not play a part in the design. (For more information on the differences between designers and decorators please check out this article.)

Determine Your Style

Determining a style can be difficult, and it's something a lot of people have trouble with.

But don't panic - you don't need to decide on one style and stick with it forever. Determining a style is more about discovering what things you like, figuring out what characteristics they have in common, and then giving this overall look a name. You may find that your style fits in nicely with a pre-existing look, or (and this is more likely) you may find your style consists of several elements of other styles. The benefit of giving the look a name is that it will help your decorator (as well as yourself) to assess what you like and how the elements fit together. When given a name like 'modern global', 'industrial chic', or 'urban glam', it creates a mental picture that can make it easier to interpret and make a reality.

Set a Budget

The hardest part of decorating a space is making and sticking to a budget. Decorating can be expensive, particularly when you find inspiration through professionally decorated homes in books and magazines. You have to remember that these rooms don't come cheap. If you have the money to spend, by all means do so, however in most cases it will be important to set a realistic budget. Be honest about your expenses and figure out how much you have to spend on this project.

This will determine the quality of the finishes and the type of design service you can afford. Remember also that there is no set fee structure for design professionals so you will have to assess on a case-by-case basis. Rates are usually broken down by the hour and can vary wildly based on experience, field of expertise and location. When you're meeting with designers make sure to go over their specific payment structure in detail so you know exactly what you're paying for. And of course remember that the designer or decorator fees do not include the furnishings. If you find it's too much to work with someone throughout the whole project you can always arrange for a few hours of consulting and then do the rest of the work yourself.

Research Design Professionals

Deciding on who to work with requires a bit of research.

If you really have no idea what you want start by searching an online database like Houzz. With Houzz you can search by location in order to find design professionals in your area. It's best to really spend some time searching so you can find someone who has a style you really like. While it's your designer or decorator's job to help bring your style to life, it's always best to work with someone who has created similar looks in the past. Another great way to find someone to work with is to go to your favorite furniture or home store and ask the sales people which designers or decorators frequently shop there. If a designer shops frequently at your favorite store there's a good chance he or she will "get" your style. And of course, if you're hiring a designer you can always check with national or state associations of interior designers for information and suggestions.

Interview Decorators

Just because you've found a decorator whose style you like it doesn't necessarily mean you should hire him or her. Working with a decorator is very personal, and it's important that your personalities mesh and that you can work comfortably together. After all, this is someone who is helping to adorn the space you live in with your loved ones. They have to get to know you, how you live, and how you use your home. In many cases they become privy to very personal elements of your life. You'll also likely be spending a lot of time with this person, visiting stores and design centres. While you don't have to be best friends you do need to be comfortable with each other and be able to develop a good working relationship. If you interview someone and and things don't feel quite right, move on to the next person.

Create a Vision Board

Determining your style and downloading it to your decorator is made easier with the help of a vision board. This can be a physical collection of items such as magazine tear outs, photographs, fabrics, wallpaper samples, etc., or it can be done online with a Pinterest board or other similar tool.

The idea here is to collect inspiration and figure out what types of items you'd like to have in your home. This includes colors, patterns, textures, types of furniture, furniture layouts, and so on. Your decorator will help you to figure out how to incorporate the things you love in a way that's pleasing to the eye, and he or she will help you filter out the things that might not work as well. Delivering this vision board to your decorator will also help him or her to get a picture of what you like, and they will draw inspiration from it.

Decide What Items Are Important to You

Before you get started working with a designer or decorator you need to know what items are important to you. Everyone has something they can't part with, whether it's an old family heirloom, a treasured piece of art or furniture, or even a silly souvenir. Go through your house an do an inventory of what pieces you want to incorporate into your new space. When you consult with your decorator make sure he or she knows what's important so they can work with it. In some cases a special, treasured item will become the inspiration piece for the entire space. At the same time it's also important to recognize what you can live without. We all tend to hang on to things for sentimental reasons that we probably don't need to. Be prepared to part with some things that don't work in your new space. Be reasonable and trust your decorator's opinion when it comes to things you may be holding on to that would be better off being donated or recycled.