Two weeks ago, I shared 5 interior design myths, including one myth about the cost of interior design. (No, it’s not just for the wealthy!)
So now, let’s talk about the big question: What does interior design really cost?
If it was an easy answer, you probably wouldn’t be here reading this post. In reality, a design fee depends on MANY (many, many) factors.
In an effort to give you 100% transparency, I’m sharing it all…
- Design options for varying price points
- Hourly rate vs. flat fee pricing
- Factors that influence flat fee pricing
- The numbers, by project type
You might want to bookmark this post — there’s a TON of valuable info in here. You ready?
Part 1: Are interior design fees really that expensive?
It is, and it isn’t. First, it’s worth mentioning that most designers offer a range of services that can set you on the right track if full service design (the highest investment) isn’t right for you.
However, if you are ready to invest in your home, interior design could save you money in the long run. I’ll use the same analogy I shared in my last post, because it’s a good one…
Interior design is a professional service, similar to hiring an attorney or an accountant. You could certainly defend yourself in court or do your own taxes, but the chances of success are 100x better if you hire a professional to ensure the best outcome.
I can’t tell you how many times I walk into a home and find furnishings that don’t fit properly, are scaled incorrectly, or create a lack of cohesion in the home. These furnishings often get consigned or donated when the homeowner realizes the potential of the room when designed properly.
These are costly mistakes that could otherwise have been invested in a design professional to get it right the first time — and to get that finished look very few people can do on their own.
Part 2: There’s a better way to invest in our homes
Let me get on my soapbox for a moment here…
Most of us spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars (or millions in many areas) to purchase our homes. We determine which homes are in our “price range” but never factor in the INSIDE of the home – what the home will need to function well for our family and reflect our personal style.
More often, people sink most of their money into the structure of their homes. The don’t adequately account for furniture, and then inch along for 15+ years making little purchases on their own and aiming to “finish” it. (Future post to come on budgeting for furniture!)
While this is certainly an option, I think a better way to actually ENJOY your home while you’re living in it is to factor in the cost of the interior furnishings (and a design professional, if you want one) at the time you buy the home.
Of course, few people can move into a home and not bring a single item from their old one – but wouldn’t it be nice to know which pieces work, can be reused, and which will make your heart sink every time you look at them in your new home? (Who wants to live that way?)
With so many options to sell furniture, like Craigslist, Chairish, etc., I always recommend that our clients sell furniture that just doesn’t work, and then take that money to invest in pieces that will. (P.s. You can download our Interior Design Project Planner here for a look at some typical investment levels.)
Okay, off the soapbox… but I got you thinking, didn’t I? 😉
Part 3: What does it cost to hire an interior designer?
This is a tricky question, as there are so many variables. The short answer: designers will charge for their expertise either hourly or by the project, and fees can range from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars or more depending on your project’s scope.
That’s QUITE a range (and doesn’t including your investment in furniture), so let’s dive into that deeper.
The hourly rates for professional interior designers typically range from $100/hr – $275/hr. You’ll find that the newer designers in the field (who may be awesomely talented) charge less per hour, as they’re trying to build a network of clients and referrals.
The more established (and sought after) designers charge more per hour, however, their experience enables them to be more efficient.
When it comes to flat fees, most newer designers will not have the experience to determine a proper flat design fee and usually charge hourly. (The first time I tried to charge a flat fee before understanding all that I needed to account for… let’s just say, I lost my shirt.)
Now, with 8 years of experience and tracking behind us, we charge for our designs using a flat design fee. I have found this to be the best approach for my company – mainly because clients know what to expect. They don’t worry about us ‘running up the clock’ or getting invoices for time they didn’t anticipate.
I am a huge believer in managing expectations. If a client knows this is what it costs to get these specific deliverables, then we’re all on the same page and can move forward in making great designs.
Whatever their pricing structure, if you choose to work with a designer, I do think it’s important to find one who sets expectations for you ahead of time.
Part 4: How is a design fee determined?
I can’t speak for all designers, but having designer friends throughout the country, I can say that most develop their fees based on some sort of criteria, or at least they should!
Some do it based on the square footage of the home (although this method is becoming less prevalent), some do it based on a fee schedule by room, some even do it based on the percentage of your furnishings investment. Others (like us) set our design fee based on the estimated number of design hours anticipated for the project.
Because each project is so unique, we’ve found this to be the only way to determine an appropriate fee. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes. Believe it or not, only 20% is picking the “pretty things.” The other 80% goes toward technical drawings, project management, and behind-the-scenes tasks.
Okay, so by now you’re probably saying, “That’s great, Janelle, but what does it actually cost to hire an interior designer?”
Lol. The short answer is that it depends. It depends on…
- Is it full-service design or is it consulting? Full-service design creates the best end results, but it is more of a design investment. Consulting gives you guidance but requires you do all the heavy lifting… figuratively and literally.
- What level of construction is involved? Working with trades, selecting materials, and creating plumbing elevations and electrical plans takes a greater amount of time than selecting furnishings for a dining room.
- What level of project management is needed? Is this a design-only project, where your designer will be making selections and handing it off for you to order, track, receive items, and install them on your own? (This is where full-service design is worth its weight in gold! Another post on this topic to come in the future.)
- How good of a decision-maker are you? Do you need to see several rounds of options just be sure the first option your designer showed you was the best one? Time is money, my friend.
Now that you’ve seen the million variables that impact the design fee, let’s talk numbers.
Variables… like a gorgeous countertop…
Part 5: Possible design service investments, by project
From a design consulting perspective, you could get some great direction in a single design consultation (usually 1-2 hours) that runs anywhere from $300-$600, give or take.
For example, many of our clients will book an in-home design consultation, pick our brains, and then do the work on their own once they have confidence in their decisions. (Or call us back for additional consults as their project progresses.)
Some designers also offer larger blocks of design time, such as Designer for a Day. This is where you work side-by-side with a designer for a full day, making decisions and selections together, and then you manage the design implementation on your own. This is a great option if you need more than a single consultation but full service design is out of your budget.
Note: If a designer does not charge for their consultation – be wary about what you’ll receive. They are not likely to be forthcoming with ideas and tend to be tight-lipped until they’re under contract with you.
Full Service Design: Rooms
From a full service design perspective, the cost of a professional designer usually runs at thousands of dollars per room – again, depending on what’s involved.
For spaces that don’t have much construction and consist mostly of furniture, drapery, and artwork selections, the full service design fees typically range from $5,000 – $10,000.
Larger rooms requiring a lot of furniture will take longer to design and therefore have a higher fee.
Remember this is a range and some designers will fall on either side of this depending on their experience and business model.
Full Service Design: Whole Homes
Whole homes (and new construction), as you can imagine, are a much more significant design investment. Many factors play into this as well….
Will the designer be selecting all the hard materials (ie. tile, flooring, casing, handrails, doorknobs, etc) throughout the home? Or will their services be focused on the softer components?
A full service whole home design fee (again, not including furnishings) would likely start at $30,000 and go up from there depending on size and scope — an investment well worth it to ensure your new home where you’ll spend many, many years is a place you love.
(To put it into perspective, you may not blink an eye on spending $30K on a new car… yet it’s where you spend only a fraction of your time!)
Again, if full service design is what you want, I recommend consulting with a designer at the onset of your home purchase (or new build) to help understand what you’ll want to budget for design fees, furnishings, and how to factor those into your overall investment. Go read my soapbox moment in Part 2 above if you skipped it!
Before I wrap this up, I want to highly recommend that you download our Interior Design Project Planner. There is a budgeting worksheet in there that we created using the numbers and data we see every day with our clients — perfect for getting a rough estimate of your potential investment.
I’ll be back here again in two weeks, but in the meantime, let us know if you have any questions at all about this process. It might not be for the faint of heart, but it is going to change your life… for the best.