Using a professional interior designer can help you save time and money on your home improvement project.
Designers know what product lines go on sale and when, and they have relationships with merchants whose prices are in line with the client’s budget. Photo courtesy of Sharon Hanby-Robie Interior Design
Saving by Designing Green
"Things like solar panels, gray water systems and organic cotton upholstery may carry higher upfront costs, but they save money in the long run because you are saving money on energy," says Lori Dennis of the Los Angeles-based Dennis Design Group.
Save Money by Working with a Designer
A Q&A with two professional interior designers.
- by Suzanne Gannon
Can you save money working with a designer? The answer might surprise you. To explore the potential cost-saving benefits of hiring a designer, we sought inside advice from two notable interior designers.
Sharon Hanby-Robie founded her firm, Sharon Hanby-Robie Interior Design, in Lancaster, Pa. in 1986. She specializes in residential interiors and occasionally consults on hospitality projects. Lori Dennis is a LEED-certified Accredited Professional focused on sustainable design for residential clients. Based in Los Angeles, her company Dennis Design Group, also has offices in New York and Miami.
What do you say to clients who think they cannot afford an interior designer?
SHR: The clients who can least afford interior design services are the ones who can most benefit from retaining one. We designers know all the tricks, we know the sources. We know what product lines go on sale and when, we have relationships with merchants whose prices are in line with the client’s budget.
Does the timing of the interior designer’s engagement on the project have a bearing on cost?
LD: Absolutely. The designer should be brought in as early as possible, well before construction has begun. That way you avoid wasting time ripping things out after they’ve been installed, and you avoid wasting energy and materials. It is also important that materials be ordered before the start of construction, so that when the schedule calls for installations, they can be completed on time by the designer and the contractor working together. You don’t waste time waiting around for materials to be delivered—or for replacements on items that arrived broken or have been discontinued.
How do you keep project costs from spiraling out of control?
SHR:The key is to set priorities. I had a client, a new couple, who had only $10,000 to spend on the entire home, and they were starting from scratch. They had nothing. We took a look at what their life would look like in the future and decided, for the short term, to focus just on the rooms where they spend their time: the kitchen, the dining room, and the family room. We left the bedrooms as they were. With faux painting, wallpaper and fixtures, we turned it into a wonderful place, and we stayed within the budget.
Most people seem to think that going green costs more money. Is this true?
LD: The funny thing is that there’s a perception out there that green design costs more, but that’s a myth. If you do your research, you can find environmentally friendly materials that are comparable in price to non-green materials. Things like solar panels, gray water systems and organic cotton upholstery may carry higher upfront costs, but they save money in the long run because you are saving money on energy. If you buy good outdoor furniture, it may cost more than the less-expensive set, but rather than having to replace it every five years, you can keep it for 30. Green design lasts.
Is there a way clients can make designer meetings more productive and less costly?
SHR: Touching base with the designer before meetings is a good way to cut down on the time a meeting will require. Clients should be prepared for every meeting. If they need the designer’s opinion on a finish choice they’ve made, they should bring their floor samples or their tile and paint choices to the meeting to make it more productive.
Is it more economical for a client to work with a designer on an hourly fee basis or on a project fee?
LD: Let’s say a designer quotes a flat fee of $15,000 to design a family room. He or she knows she’s not going to earn any more money on that job by spending more hours shopping for furniture. Instead he or she will move quickly because the fee is the same, regardless of the hours put in. Conversely, if the designer is being paid hourly, they may not be so quick to move, which is not the most ethical approach.