How Do Interior Designers Work? – The Design Process

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 | No Comments

blog3I noticed that many people don’t really know how interior designers work and what they do. And that does not surprise me at all. The honest truth is: There is no simple answer; it differs with each client and every project. Sometimes I get calls for something as simple as a paint color consultation, or finding the right fabric to reupholster a sofa. Or to design draperies, select the fabrics, and get the drapes made and installed. On the other hand it can be something much more involved, like doing an entire home remodel or addition. In this case I collaborate with qualified general contractors who are licensed, insured and bonded.

First Step: Getting To Know Each Other

At KK Design Koncepts the bulk of the interior designers work falls into 3 categories: 1. Room make-overs or furnishing a new home; 2. Kitchen and bath remodels; 3. Home remodels. But no matter which one it is, the initial step is ALWAYS a client meeting during which I find out about them as much as I possibly can. Typically I ask potential clients to bring pictures to the first meeting, tear-outs from home magazines or any visuals indicating what direction they want to go and what they like. I ask them to fill out a detailed client profile, but this really just scratches the surface. I get my best clues as to what they are all about from conversation and observation. And what interests me just as much as style and look is: How do they go about their daily life, their routines, what do they do when they are at home, and how do they do it? I try to figure out their personalities, their idiosyncrasies – what makes them tick. And I see if they have existing pieces of furniture or art work that we need to incorporate into the design. This step is very important, because it is the base of all design work. And it also dictates to a certain extent how I work with this client: Do they want to be very involved in every step of the project or do they have neither time nor confidence  and prefer for their designer to work more independently.  And – very important – during this first meeting I try to figure out where they are at with their budget. (See my blog “How much does it cost to furnish a home”.)

The Letter Of Agreement

The next step is for me to write a contract or “Letter of Agreement” that spells out a) what I do – the Scope of Services – and b) how I charge for it – hourly or flat fee contract -, and all other specifics. (See my blog “How do designers charge for their services”.) Once the Letter of Agreement is signed, the work starts. And now it really depends on HOW the client wants to work with me. Most of the time my clients want me to handle the entire project. But sometimes all they want is to use me on a consultation basis (and, again, this would be reflected in the Letter of Agreement). They do the leg work, find their own fabrics, furniture, fixtures, or we go shopping together, whatever it takes, and ask for my advice on how to pull it all together. And that’s fine with me IF the client is dedicated and focused, has the time and an overall affinity for interior design work. I will give them my honest opinion, make suggestions, give them ideas they might not have thought about, point out solutions and, if necessary, problems and issues. My only reservations would be a) that from my experience this can often be a very lengthy process. And b) that I think about projects in a different way when I develop them from the ground up versus only standing by as a consultant. Therefore, the results can be very different.

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How Do Interior Designers Work – The Design Process, Part 1

Now, if it is a bigger project, like a home remodel or furnishing an entire home; and if the client wants to rely on their interior designer to do the work, but still wants to have input, I would start with the Conceptual Design Phase. Depending on what the project entails, I would sketch up floor plans or a space plans or furniture layouts, or do sketches of custom cabinetry or window treatment designs etc. etc.. I would quickly gather fabric samples, flooring materials, pictures of furniture, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures – whatever it takes. The point is that I develop ideas and a general concept during this phase, while still keeping it loose. Neither the samples or pictures that I gather, nor the sketches that I draw are final. They are there to represent the overall design concept and the general direction, look and/or layout. During the next client meeting I find out if I am on the right track or not. If it is a small project however, let’s say just redoing one room or one area, I often skip the Conceptual Design Phase.

How Do Interior Designers Work – The Design Process, Part 2

After that I enter the actual Main Design Phase. I draw up a final floor plan, space plan, furniture layout. If the project calls for it I do a plan for architectural detailing, as well as a ceiling plan/ lighting plan and an electrical plan. Plan views, elevations and sections of custom cabinetry, and specification of finishes. I draw custom window treatments/draperies and custom pieces of furniture if that’s what the project requires. I finalize the selection of flooring materials, countertop materials, wall treatments, stone and tile. If necessary I draw up a back splash design or a tile layout for the shower walls. I select the pieces of furniture and fabrics for both, furniture and window treatments. Bottom line, what was loose and general in the Conceptual Design Phase gets pulled together and finalized during this main Design Phase. This does not mean that the client gets completely cornered in. I typically give them several options. And if there is anything the client does not like we can still change it. During the meeting at the end of this phase the client and I make the final selections. They will also be presented with a price list to double check that it fits into the budget.

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How Do Interior Designers Work – The Design Process, Part 3

The third phase is what I call the Design Implementation Phase: What has been on paper and idea boards gets implemented into reality. During this phase I place orders and follow-up on them. I meet and work with contractors, installers and trades people. I visit workrooms, upholsterers and cabinetmakers etc. to review work details with them. I check on everybody on the job site whenever necessary. I supervise deliveries and installations. And I keep my clients informed about everything they need to know. However, what I will NOT do is general contracting. If the project is too big for me to handle, I will always let my clients know and advise to hire a general contractor, which, of course, I can always make recommendations for.

How Do Interior Designers Work – The Design Process, Part 4

The last step is the Accessorizing  Phase. Finding the right accessories and art work cannot be underestimated, because this step is really what turns a house into a home. It is the most fun part of the project, but it takes a trained eye and someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Accessories can make or break a home.

As you can tell, as interior designers we are true Renaissance people – there are a bazillion different disciplines and aspects to it, and we handle it all!

I hope this made sense. And if you have questions or would like for me to swing by for a free 1 hour meeting, please give me a call at 714.404.9816.

Kind regards,
Sabine Klingler Kane



posted: 13 February 27
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