Homeowners who can t> tell ecru from eggshell or what fabrics match them--may want a little professional help coming up with a new look for a drab or worn-out room. But that know-how doesn t come cheap. Interior designers charge upwards of $200 per hour knick-knacks not included.
But like a lot of service providers these days, many designers are increasingly willing to negotiate on price, says Stuart Perkins, a spokesman for the American Society of Interior Designers. And if not, there are other ways for the design-minded to get an expert eye at little or no cost.
Hairstylists-in-training give free or discounted haircuts to anyone who s willing to let them learn by doing. Soon-to-graduate design students will do the same and you won t have to wear their mistakes. The number of students enrolled in interior design programs nationwide rose from just under 17,000 to more than 42,000 from 2003 to 2009, a 250% increase, according to the American Society of Interior Designers. And that uptick means there are plenty of would-be interior decorators looking for practice jobs for their portfolio.
Ask a local design school s career services office to post a job or solicit student proposals, says David Brogna, a professor of home product development at the Fashion Institute of Technology. For a student who s nearly completed a degree, it s fair to pay half what you d pay an established designer, he says.
Just be aware that while these newbies might have creative ideas, they don t have the same experience drawing up contracts and invoices that an established designer would, says Alison Southwick, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. Nor are they likely to have the relationships with manufacturers that can help keep the process of ordering that new sofa running smoothly, Brogna says.
There are a number of online-only interior design services. But most consumers don t know that a couple of brick-and-mortar firms offer online design assistance at deep discounts. Avenue Interior Design, a Los-Angeles-based luxury design firm, offers an online service, I Heart Design that charges $4.50 per square foot, and online clients get recommended products at about half the mark-up clients would normally pay, says Ashley Manhan, a principal designer for the firm. At 144 to 256 square feet, a typical living room, so you d pay about $650 or $1,150. The firm usually charges $150 an hour for on-site work and a living room might take 16 hours of a designer s time. Total cost: $2,400. Savings: Up to $1,750.
The firm s online tool allows homeowners to choose from nine different style templates, go through a simplified version of a consultation explaining the goals for the redesign, and then get recommendations of what to buy. Because the look is partially pre-planned, it s simpler for the firm (but more DIY work for the customer) than the traditional design process, Manhan says. Similar online tools include Los-Angeles-based Burnham Design s Instant Space service.
Many retail home furnishing stores, from major chains to small boutiques, offer free in-store design help for shoppers and you shouldn t feel that getting some advice means you re obligated to buy. Ethan Allen, for example, offers both online room-planning tools and in-person consultations, and design consultants will visit shoppers homes if necessary. Of course, these helpers will likely be recommending the brand s products; at the very least, be prepared to listen politely. Brogna says the best way to get good service is to walk in with a floor plan, a realistic budget, and pictures of the space as it currently looks. It s also fair to ask about a design consultant s qualifications. A designer with a degree might offer a different experience than someone who s only there to sell sofas, Brogna says.