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Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Tips for working with a designer

  • This bedroom was designed by Phoebe Howard, who advises homeowners to communicate closely with their designer.

    Phoebe Howard

    This bedroom was designed by Phoebe Howard, who advises homeowners to communicate closely with their designer.

Home-decorating television shows and magazines have many Americans dreaming about inviting an expert interior designer into their homes.
But what's it really like to hire a designer? How can you make sure it's a successful -- and not too expensive -- collaboration?
As with a good marriage, interior designer Phoebe Howard says, the relationship between designer and homeowner is about communication, trust and respect.
Find candidates
Many homeowners find a designer by asking friends whether they've used one. Designer Cathy Davin, founder and president of Davin Interiors in Pittsburgh, says new clients are often referred to her by previous clients.
Others discover her online, she says. Interior designers generally keep a portfolio of photos of rooms they've designed on their websites. Browse through as many as you can in your area, noting photos that fit with your vision for your home.
Training varies: An interior designer "typically has a bachelor's degree in interior design, and in several states must be certified," Davin says. They can collaborate easily with engineers, contractors and architects, and should have a full understanding of color, proportion and other elements of design.
The American Society of Interior Designers offers a database of certified members that is searchable by location (asidwa.org/find-a-designer).
Discuss money
Howard, who is based in Florida, says a good designer should be able to tell you whether you can have what you're envisioning for the money you're able to spend.
Be realistic and clear when discussing your budget.
Design fees vary, but Davin says they tend to range between about $4 per square foot (for limited services like choosing a room's color palette and furniture layout) to $10 or more per square foot for full project management.
Get cost estimates in writing and be sure you know exactly what is included. If you make any changes to a project after hiring a designer, get those adjustments in writing, as well.
Agree on style
Davin suggests starting with a meeting at your home with all decision-makers present. As you make choices, Howard says, do your homework: Touch the fabrics and study the colors to be sure you like them. Comb through websites and magazines, showing your designer what you have in mind.
And trust your instincts: If a particular decision feels wrong, don't go with it. But also remember that you've brought in a professional for their creative input.
Stay flexible
When choosing a designer, be sure to ask previous clients how the person handled changes or challenges.
"It's impossible to install a job of any size without something going wrong," Howard says. "Something's going to break. Something's going to be measured wrong. Things happen and things get fixed."
Try not to make too many changes, since that can increase the possibility of confusion and mistakes.
Design projects can move slowly. Davin says redecorating a master bedroom or family room can take at least three months. Design and decorating work for a home that's not yet built might take 18 months or more.
Story tags » Interior decorating

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