So… exactly how much does a designer cost? It’s a question that designers everywhere are asked, and a topic that Certified Kitchen Designer Robin Siegerman tackled recently on her blog. The Renovation Bootcamp founder’s column stirred up lots of comment, so we’re sharing it here on NKBA Connect. Enjoy!

How Much Does An Interior Designer Cost?

The question,

“HOW MUCH DOES AN INTERIOR DESIGNER COST?”

sounds like the opener to a joke for which the punch line might be:

Too much

I’ve been a designer for over 20 years. I’ve won awards, worked in cities from San Francisco to Montreal, been on TV, had work featured in magazines and written a book about it.

Yet, if a client asks me at the first meeting what the lump-sum cost of my services will be, I have to say, “It depends.”

If they ask me how much I charge per hour, THAT I can tell them. And if you want to know, email me so we can talk about your project. But as to EXACTLY how many hours it will take me, I’d have to say, “It depends.”

“What will it cost?”

Loonie

The Canadian $1 coin is nicknamed the
“Loonie” for the bird on its face

That’s the most frequently asked question at the first meeting. Oh, yes it is. If I had a Loonie (that’s a Canadian Dollar for you foreign folks) for every time a prospective client asked me at the first meeting how much it was going to cost to design their whole home, I’d be able to ditch this business in a heart-beat and live in Tahiti drinking Mai-Tais all day long.

I understand why someone would want to know the cost before they get started. I do. No one likes surprises. The problem is, at the first meeting, it’s impossible to answer that question more specifically than to say, “It depends”. Which makes it sound like I’m stonewalling. And people actually have told me that it seems very odd to them that I can’t give them a “straight” answer with a set price. Like I’m trying to be devious.

frustration

Why won’t anyone give me a set price for my project??

Believe me when I say: I. canNOT. Be. Devious.

Some days I forget my own name. So how could I be devious without getting all tied up in knots and forget what lie I told to whom?

That’s why I’m a straight shooter. Right from the hip.

Or straight from the lip, if you will.

lips

Oh, yeah. I’ve been known to shoot my mouth off. But that’s another blog post altogether.

They don’t call me the Renovation Drill Sergeant for nuttin’

Drill Sargeant

No-nonsense, and straight to the point.
The Renovation Drill Sergeant

Life is too short to get tangled up in a web of deviousness that will end up choking me. In fact, I might be richer if I was devious, but I prefer being able to sleep at night.

Interior design is not like buying a toilet. But even buying a toilet is not as straightforward as you think it is.

toilet

Brand X toilet is not always
going to be $495.

Why not?
It depends….

sale

The manufacturer may suggest that the retail price should be $495.00 (MSRP), but Mr. & Ms. Retailer may decide to discount it if they have a pile of them taking up room in the throne room and they just want to get rid of them, or they need the space for new inventory. They’re willing to make a lower profit margin, this time. They can’t do that every time, or they’ll go out of business.

OR…

…a manufacturer may run a promotion to give the retailer a break on the price and the retailer decides to pass the savings along to the customers in the same proportion, so the retailer made their full profit margin. Win/win for customer and retailer. The manufacturer won by selling a higher volume of merchandise.

Or…

butler

…a high-end retailer may actually charge MORE than the MSRP because they offer white glove service and some people like the cachet of buying from the chi-chi place, and are willing to pay the price.

Or…

grocery shopping

DaPriceIsDaPrice

You see? The price depends on Variables.

THEN, you could have the variables of color. Colored toities cost more.

Variables

Maybe you want to add a soft-close seat and lid that lower themselves slowly with a touch, so your beloved doesn’t fall in when going for a tinkle in the dark… which costs extra.

(It also prevents your beloved from slamming the seat down while YOU’RE tinkling and cutting off the family jewels.)

See? The cost depends on Variables.

That’s like the interior design work itself.

There could be hundreds of variables. Literally.

It depends on what the client wants, needs, prefers and their budget, and every project is different.

Are there kids, pets, extended family, allergies, disabilities, major height differences between partners, home office, staff, deliveries, caterers, style preferences, lighting preferences, biases, frequent entertaining or intimate gatherings…?

In the basement do you want to create a nanny or in-law suite, add a separate entrance and derive rental income, have a workout room, home-office, playroom, home theater, laundry, workshop or an appointment-only retail space?

living room

A basement can be a great place to create a media room

These are only a few of the variables which will affect how long it will take to come up with a plan for the most efficient use of space and to find the best products with the specifications that will make them work in the space. All of these things have to be taken into consideration when designing or re-designing a space.

And to design the space a space properly, you need accurate dimensions of the whole space. Not just length, width and height. Every wall, every duct, every window, every piece of existing furniture you want to keep, every jig and jog of every room to be designed has to be measured accurately to do a floor plan of the existing space. Oh sure, you could take measurements and not really worry about the size of the duct in the corner of the room, but you may run into a situation where a new piece of furniture you bought to go there won’t fit. Or even worse, that a custom designed piece won’t fit. That’s how important accurate dimensions are to the efficient design of a home.

measuring

Measuring the space is usually the first step

Only with accurate dimensions of the space can the very best use of every inch of that space be determined in a new floor plan. If you’re just re-furnishing the room, the new floor plan will take less time, but you still need detailed dimensions to get it right. If you’re reconfiguring space, as in, moving or removing walls, or adding custom designed pieces like cabinetry, the plans will take a lot longer, since there are more…

Yup…here it comes again…

Variables.

Permits. Structural elements. Air supply ducts. Cold air returns. Lighting locations. Wiring. Plumbing...

I recently had a new client tell me that the time it took to me to measure the space seemed excessive…

When I was hired, we discussed that they wanted ideas of how to optimally use the space. That means that an analysis of the current space must be done before a new plan can be conceived. Which requires measuring. And depending on how big the room is, how many obstructions (either structural or family clutter) I have to work around, the time it takes to accurately measure will vary.

Variables.

You know how raising a child is EASY PEASY until you actually have one? Well, the easiest job in the world is the one of which you have limited experience. Ok, granted, someone may have been through a few home renovations, so have a better idea of what it’s all about than someone who’s never done one. However, I’ve designed HUNDREDS of homes. Supervised the renovation of HUNDREDS of homes, and I AM STILL ENCOUNTERING THINGS THAT I HAVE NOT SEEN BEFORE.

So is the contractor I’ve worked with for 15 years, and he’s the guy swingin’ the hammer. So throwing out a flat price for something that has so many variables can often lead to disappointment and false expectations, especially if it turns out it takes longer than expected because of…

Variables.

The next variable is

The Designer Factor.

Every designer’s business model is different and so everyone charges differently. I explained it in some detail in a previous article called

Why Hiring a Home Design Professional Isn’t Like Buying a Bag of Potatoes.

But no matter which way you slice ‘em, time is money.

The Product Procurement…
…could be an integral part of your project. Time researching, specifying and procuring product can be considerable so the designer has to be compensated, which is more fully explained in the article I just mentioned that you can find here.

You may expect that buying products through the designer will cost you less money, since some designers pass along their discount, or share a portion of the discount with their clients. However, the designer may not share the discount with clients, and I explain why in a past article which you can find here.

builder

So, can you ditch the designer and go straight to a contractor?

Given the number of variables involved in determining the cost of working with a designer, the temptation might be to by-pass the designer all together and go straight to a contractor. The homeowner might think:

“I know what I want. I’ll just get a contractor to do it.”

If you know the make, model number, finish, color and size of every single product that you want to use in the renovation BEFORE YOU START, you might actually be able to hire a contractor without needing a designer.

By every single product, I mean things like:

  • flooring (species of wood, or laminate, or tile, cork or carpet)
  • paint color and finish for walls, ceilings and trim (or other wall covering)
  • lighting (recessed, pendents and surface-mounted, low-voltage, line voltage, LED, fluorescent)
  • light switches and receptacles (styles, and exact locations)
  • trim (style, size and material)
  • faucets (European, domestic, handle options, finish, center dimensions, integrated or separate sprayer, soap dispenser)
  • plumbing fixtures (porcelain, ceramic, stainless steel, resin, stone, undermount, vessel, surface mount, apron front)
  • appliances (built-in, counter depth, free-standing, finish, color, height, width, depth — NOT cubic feet, which means nothing in your room
  • cabinets (framed, frameless, stained, painted, lacquered, full-height, demi-height, stacked or single crown)
  • countertops (wood, stainless, quartz, granite, marble, zinc, laminate, tile, porcelain slab)

…TO NAME ONLY A FEW!

planner

A virtual sample board will show products for your approval

This is why you would be best served to have a design professional specify all of this for you so that the contractor gets a document in drawing and written form that shows and explains the scope of work and the products required so you can get a quote. Otherwise, what you’ll get is an “estimate” with “allowances” made for products that have not yet been finally decided, which means the price will vary.

Variables.

It’s a pesky word, but it’s what stands between you and a price that’s ironclad.

About Robin

Robin Siegerman is a 20-year veteran of the home design and renovation business, an international award-winning, Certified Kitchen Designer, speaker and author of the Amazon Best Seller, Renovation Bootcamp®: Kitchen – Design and Remodel Your Kitchen Without Losing Your Wallet Your Mind or Your Spouse and blogger. She has been practicing in Toronto for 20 years. Her clients are mostly local, but she has also done work for clients in Palo Alto California, New York, Montreal, Victoria, and continues to work in the Caledon and Georgian Bay vacation areas north of Toronto.

You’ll find Robin’s original blog post (along with her other musings on design) here