Hiring an Interior Decorator

Hiring an Interior Decorator

I personally believe in the wisdom of hiring an interior designer. They will give you a professional assessment of your needs, help you budget and plan, and be a liaison between you and a myriad of vendors. To put it bluntly, hopefully, you will hire a trained eye!

Of course, everyone wants to end up with a “wow home.” Here are a few of my tips to guide you through the process. I know these steps are important because of my personal experiences!

Let’s Start From the Beginning

It all started very innocently with a comment from my husband, Shelly!

“I think it’s time we replace the carpet in our apartment, Honey.”

I felt sparkles of enthusiasm rush through me and replied with delight, “That is a great idea! Oh! You know I would love wood floors instead of carpeting!”

With reluctance, like all men, he replied, “Ok, but get a price from a decorator.”

I felt another adrenalin rush; but came down to earth thinking to myself, “No interior designer will just do flooring!”

So I boogie – boogied the pot and naturally figured out a plan! Don’t we always, darlings?

My sister-in-law just completed her apartment! Her decorator might do us a favor! I thought to myself, “I will ask Shelly to convince him!” I knew he would.

My husband made the call. The decorator said yes and we set up our first meeting.

My Last Experience With an Interior Decorator

To backtrack, my last experience with an interior decorator turned out to be a two-year love fest. Shelly and I built a home in California with the perfect team of professionals led by the brilliant interior designer, Richard Himmel, who was chosen by Architectural Digest as the “Decorator of the Sixties.”

Dick had timeless taste and was revered by clients across America. I loved this man. Dick and I were in sync. We enjoyed every minute of working together because I ‘got him’ and he ‘got me’. And that, darlings, is the way it should be when you hire a decorator.

Meanwhile, ‘back at the ranch,’ the new decorator arrived on the scene. He walked through the apartment and very excitedly said, “Oh grey wood floors will look marvelous with your present color scheme of whites and touches of color. Carpet is so out of Vogue!”

And then he went for the jugular, continuing excitedly, “Would you consider updating and recovering some of your furniture? I can see changing the fabrics in your living room, buying a ‘new’ coffee table and replacing your card table and chairs!

And in the den, let’s buy a stunning, modern style, zebra area rug to place over your new grey wood flooring. Modernize the lamp shades and definitely put in a larger TV screen and new fabric on the furniture!” He ended with this punch line, “Let’s make the den really sexy!”

Sounded good to me and to my husband. But, I had a somewhat sinking feeling because he was not Richard Himmel. I felt stuck because I did not want to insult my sister-in-law, so I rationalized (I so wanted to upgrade our condo!) that I could make him understand my style.

Rules to Live By

RULE 1: Choose a decorator like you choose your husband! Carefully! Your husband makes your life. Your decorator makes your home!

This means taking your time to:

  • Show him through your home.
  • Ask to see a portfolio of his work.
  • Talk to his clients.
  • Inquire about billing processes.
  • Ask for his professional website. (This separates the men from the boys.)

The more questions you ask, the fewer surprises you will have. You are spending a lot of money to live ‘your way,’ not ‘his way!’

Needless to say, we hired him. On our first meeting, he brought me fabric samples.

To backtrack again, when I worked with Dick, he took me to the furniture mart and boutique shops and on and on where we (Shelly included) picked out everything together. I felt fabrics, walked on carpets, opened chest drawers, sat on chairs and couches for comfort, turned on lamps, etc. in several designer showrooms. You must too. Therefore:

RULE 2: Do not allow your designer to bring samples of fabrics or pictures to your home for your preview. 

My husband and the decorator signed a contract. They haggled back and forth. Never feel intimidated by asking the designer to make changes. He knows you will! Trust me on this… he will budge.

There are three ways to pay your designer: free, percentage, and hourly. Look for a professional website(s) to educate yourself before signing any agreement. But, remember this rule of thumb: you will probably spend more than you anticipated.

RULE 3:  A contract between you and your designer is for both of your protection. Hire a designer who is a member of The American Society of Interior Design. Be realistic about your budget.

You must enforce the following rule, but I have never spoken to a friend who has not complained about this front, including yours truly.

Sometimes delays happen. For instance, they ordered the wrong armoire for our bedroom! The painter accidentally misread an important instruction and painted over an entire mirrored wall in our foyer! Our zebra area rug, loomed in Nepal, was destroyed by the earthquake! Our new bed does not properly fit our mattress!

RULE 4: Request a timeline for your project.

This is an absolute must. Put a finishing date in your agreement but don’t bank on it. Interior designers are notorious for not being able to keep their promises. But, because my husband put a finish date in the contract, most of our apartment was completed by the deadline.

Don’t aggravate yourself over things you cannot control. Everything will get done… it is just a matter of time.

RULE 5: Just let go!

Everything will eventually get done.

As I walk through the completed rooms of our apartment, I often think of my designer idol, Richard Himmel, wishing he were here to put his finishing touch here, there and everywhere. And then I think, he left me with his knowledge… and I will try and do it for him.

Please share your thoughts with me via TwitterFacebookPinterest, Instagram or in the comments section below.

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  1. You had me “agggghhhing” when you wrote the painter painted over your mirrored foyer wall! I can only picture your faces when you both saw that! Bless you for being a spirit that flows! It has saved you time and again. Now you will add your own little touches here and there to truly “make it yours” with the Honey Style! Enjoy!

    1. It was one of the several negative surprises. The painter was so gracious. It was the designer’s fault. His assistant gave the wrong instructions to the painter. Warmly, Honey

  2. You are so right! And, reading up on those perimeters is clue to a great relationship and getting the job—not only DONE..but correctly…

  3. Thank you for your support I’d designers who are professional members of ASID. I have spent 46 years working as a designer, and as a professional member of ASID, I feel it’s important that people understand the difference between designers and “decorator”. We are educated, and must continue to take continuing education to keep our ASID credentials. Your experience is fairly typical as mistakes and accidents due happen. We work hard to minimize those but maximize our clients satisfaction. I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to work together. I’ll miss you in the desert.

    1. Thank you for replying. I think one of the key requirements of a good designer is his or her’s ability to interpret his client’s taste. Richard Himmel had that ability. The designer I used was like Sally Sirkin Lewis. You always recognized her homes. Richard Himmel…you always recognized his taste. We will be back unless our home sells. Hope you are enjoying your summer. Warmly, Susan

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