How Much Does an Interior Designer Cost?
Why you might hire an interior designer, what a designer costs, and why delivery timelines are important
(Above) Sweeten renovation designed by Julia Oddo. “After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten
Hiring an interior designer has not been the easiest process to navigate, from seeking out and hiring the right one to finishing the job. For one thing, there is no universal price sheet. For many years, there was a lack of transparency in how much an interior designer costs, especially when it comes to the cost of goods and the “markups” designers take.
Sweeten spoke to two New York interior designers and a business consultant, who coaches designers, to get a lay of the land.
Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.
Why hire an interior designer
(Above) Renovation by designer Danielle Fennoy. Photo by Dane Tashima for HGTV Magazine
Melissa Galt identifies the biggest role of an interior designer. Melissa, who honed her own skills as a designer, is an author, business coach and marketing consultant to the trade.
“Our hope is to help homeowners discover about designers what they didn’t know existed,” said Melissa.
“Space planning is the most important element of interior design,” said Danielle Fennoy of Revamp Interior Design in New York. “It indicates the flow of a space, prioritizing an area’s function and storage. Visual hierarchy is established.”
Julia Oddo of TC Interior Design said some tasks include:
- FF & E (furniture fixtures and equipment) selection
- Full wall elevations
- Electrical plans
- Tile layouts
- Communication with vendors/contractors/installers
- Custom cabinetry and window treatments
- Art curation
- Styling and accessorizing
- Sourcing beyond public retailers
- Sourcing according to a budget
- Lifestyle needs (pet- and kid-friendly, ADA compliant)
Selecting lighting is also part of the job. But it’s not just about picking a light fixture.
“It’s about creating a mood, an environment, an experience,” said Danielle. “Designers renovate kitchens, bathrooms, and can make selections on architectural finishes. We can even design custom cabinetry. If the project allows, we can influence the exterior façade and landscaping. Consequently, the project will have a coherent vision from the inside out.”
“An interior designer will help you create a master plan,” said Danielle, “from an all-encompassing vision for an entire space to smaller visions for individual rooms that are connected to the big picture.”
Those with a vision…can still use a designer
“There are people who have great taste and a lot of available time. They may choose to take on the challenge of selecting everything by themselves,” Danielle continued.” But, 99 percent of people are not able to handle a project of that size alone. Clients may have an amazing vision, but not the skills necessary to execute it. So, it’s really about hiring someone who will help you create the road map.”
“You have a dedicated team to help execute your project,” said Danielle. “As a result, you end up with bigger, bolder ideas and selected pieces of quality. A designer will take the intricacies of your life and shape the space around you.”
Likewise, if something goes wrong with delivery or damaged goods, a designer is your advocate.
How to work with a designer
(Above) Renovation by designer Julia Oddo. Photo courtesy of Julia Oddo.
Sometimes clients’ tastes clash. Therefore, it’s important to get on the same page, to talk about expectations and how much client involvement will be expected. Melissa feels it’s a disservice for designers to do anything the client wants.
“Design is a process. It takes time. It’s an amazing transformative device. Design is so powerful when we are allowed to work our magic—without micromanagement.”
“Designers have to adapt to clients’ style,” says Melissa, who has a communications clause in her contract. For example, the specific preferred method of communicating—text, emails. She said these are optimal, because then you have a written record.
“If you’re doing a zoom meeting, I encourage recording. And after every meeting, a docu-sign ensures there’s no misinterpretation about the conversation.”
Can you afford an interior designer?
“If you can afford a contractor, a cleaning crew, or a landscaper, then you can afford an interior designer. However, it’s definitely a luxury,” said Julia, “but if you’re spending a lot of money on a space you love and will keep it for the next 10 to 15 years, it makes sense to hire a professional.”
What are considered standard fees?
Depending on the level of experience, the interior designer cost ranges anywhere from $50 to $400 an hour.
“Commissions range from 20 to 50 percent on top of net pricing,” said Danielle. “For project management, we charge a smaller markup for oversight. This may sound like a lot, and it is. But, we go through great lengths creating budgets at the start of the project. Clients will start the process with their eyes wide open.”
“I like to work on a project-by-project basis,” said Danielle. “All tend to be large-scale transformations. This includes at least an entire room renovation to redesigning a multi-floor townhouse.”
How fees can be structured
When considering how to handle the interior designer cost, “A smart option for a client is to consider fixed fees,” said Melissa. “This takes care of managing the procurement. It’s not a markup. Not a commission. It’s an appropriate payment that ranges from 25 to 45 percent.
“Even though it may be a larger number upfront, it does protect both sides. These are value-based fees. Remember, it is a short-term investment for a very long-term result—10 to 20 years.”
“You can estimate hours either per room or per project,” said Julia. “With experience, you know how long it takes to design a specific room. So, you create a proposal, specifying everything that needs to be done. I break the total fee down to equal payments. A deposit; next installment at the presentation; next after everything is purchased. Final payment comes at completion. It doesn’t have to be equal payments, but different percentages.”
(Above) Renovation by designer Danielle Fennoy. Photo: Dane Tashima for HGTV Magazine.
By the hour
“Payment by the hour is the easiest,” said Julia. “Pay as you go. You don’t overpay or underpay. It’s fair.”
Fee + percent of products purchased
“Typically, it can be either by the hour and percentage of sales. Or you can charge a lower hourly fee and make it up with sales. Designers can (share) their full trade discounts. Another option is giving a percentage of a discount. Some don’t give any discounts,” said Julia.
Fee- based on percentage of a whole project
Typical range is 15 to 20 percent. “This works best for large-scale budgets when you know the budget,” said Julia.
What’s the difference between an interior designer and a decorator?
“To call yourself a designer, technically, you should have a degree,” said Melissa, “and be trained in remodeling and decoration.”
“An interior decorator primarily deals with decorative finishes and furnishings. Sofa selection and fabrics, wall finishes, drapery fabrics, and accessories.”
Training, however, does not assure skills or quality. Some have architects or professionals with specialized training on staff to deal with more complex designs, interior architecture, and technical issues.
Are homeowners hiring interior designers right now?
At the beginning, everything was in slo-mo because of the lockdown. After a few months of self-quarantine, the desire to remodel escalated.
“Everyone was spending so much time at home, they realized it was high time to give their spaces facelifts,” said Julia.
“Many people are going through a renovation right now,” said Danielle. “The interior design and construction industry is in high demand.”
Consider delivery timelines
(Above) Renovation by designer Julia Oddo. Photo courtesy of Julia Oddo.
HGTV spoiled us with big reveals. The pandemic bought slowdowns. Then came high demand driving up costs across the board. Add to that heightened delays.
“Something that used to take eight weeks is now 10 to 12 weeks or backordered even more,” said Julia. “Prices are going up for any construction. Manufacturers are raising their prices anywhere from five to 30 percent.”
“A normal 30 to 90 days (delivery) now is taking nine months,” said Melissa. “Something that took 12 months now is taking two years.
Some advice: Book your renovation team now to lock in prices or end up at the end of the line for product. Designers’ and contractors’ schedules are filling up.
Renovation trends in the home
There’s also been a little shift in what is being remodeled.
“Floorplans are changing,” said Melissa. “We used to have foyers and vestibules. They’re coming back. Place to shed the outside world and sanitize.”
Mudrooms, typically at the back end or side entry of house, had been trending out of favor. Now they’re again on the upswing.
Outdoor spaces are popular renovation projects. “Because if you can’t leave your bubble, you have the outdoors,” said Melissa. Kitchens and baths always are on the remodeling list; even more so now.
Home schooling also changed the way spaces are being used. “People are looking for flexible ways to close off areas of their homes,” said Melissa.
What is the new normal?
“We will never go back to the way that it was. Only forward into a new temporary normal. Our normal is changing really fast.”
More popular questions
The cost of interior designers can be anywhere between $40–$500 per hour, depending on their skill set. Other times the price will be a commision of the entire project. There could be an additional small charge for project management.
Interior designers will either charge any hourly rate and/or a commission on the entire project, usually 25-45%. Many interior designers will require a deposit when the project starts, another payment when everything is purchased, and the final payment at the end.
Interior design is the practice of creating a cohesive and functional layout of any room or home. During a renovation, an interior designer helps find the best layout to maximize space, storage, visual appeal, and flow.
The interior designer’s role ranges from laying out electrical plans, custom cabinets, and art curation to tile layout and accessorizing. Responsibilities also include FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment) selection and working with vendors and contractors. Sourcing outside retailers is a specialty.
In order to be an interior designer the person will have a degree focusing on remodeling and decoration. Decorators focus on finishing up the project with furnishings, decor, and art. Interior designers usually have more training.