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Getting An Affordable Interior Designer

Updated on February 27, 2010

Looking for an expert who will give hints on chintz, wade through wallpaper and tell you exactly where to put Aunt Eppy's umbrella stand?

No problem: Interior designers can sort through the good, the bad and the ugly, and, if you have the will and the bankroll, guide you through a basement-to-belfry renovation. But you don't have to rearrange your bank account along with the furniture to pay for design expertise. While a full-blown makeover can easily top six figures, in-home consultants start as low as $60 an hour, depending on the area, and some store-based consultants provide free designs or discounts to customers considering their merchandise.

When you do spend money, designers often get the best value for the bucks by imparting their savvy and steering you away from decorating disasters. No matter how much money clients have, no one wants to blow it away. They all want to be able to justify what they spent their money on.

To find a designer who suits both taste and pocketbook, you can try time-honored methods like word of mouth and the Yellow Pages, or check out the web. Make sure that you are very careful, ask for references and call up all the numbers provided. This industry is certainly not immune to scammers who try to profit from the naive.

Even after coming up with names and vetting credentials, you'll find the best match by asking for a one-on-one interview. You're not going to know, unless you've had that face to face, whether it really clicks or not. Also talk about fees and budget and don't forget to put any proposed plan in writing: That avoids a lot of heartburn down the road.

Fees can be flat or flexible, depending on the scope of the job and the services provided. For instance, a designer might charge an hourly rate of $60 to $150 for walk-around advice; a flat rate for the entire job, from design to installation; or a percentage fee based on total costs. Other arrangements include cost-plus, in which the designer buys products and services at wholesale and adds to your bill a percentage, maybe 30 or 40 percent, which includes any freight and delivery charges; and retail-basis, in which you pay a retail price that includes the designer's percentage over the manufacturer's cost.

You can also find design services that work by the room, suggesting new arrangements, producing samples and sometimes offering accents from their own stash of designer stuff. If you are anything at all like me, and couldn't possibly come up with a room decor on my own since although I am not physically color blind I have never really "gotten" what it means for this color to go well with that color but not at all well with that other color, I'd be quite likely to perform hideous crimes against interior design. Therefore as in many aspects of life which are overly complex for the layman to easily absorb, you are way better off shelling out the bucks and getting an expert to do that job right for you the first time rather than plunge in yourself and then later have to pay the expert double to undo your damage and then do it right the way they were doing to initially anyway!


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