Guest post written by Robyn Randall, ASID
- Scottsdale Interior Design: How Do Interior Designers Charge for a Project?-
In my last post, I talked about how interior designers work and how sharing information about what you like and how you live are crucial to getting the perfect final result. In this post, I will talk about the how interior designers get paid depending on the type of project.
The reality is that there are many ways in which a designer charges and they are dependent upon the many factors related to your goals. Formal education, years of experience, as well as variables like geographic location, professional reputation and client demand all play a part in how a designer charges. Exactly what we do and how we charge is directly related to what your project requires and can vary from a simple consultation to full-blown project management.
How Designers Charge
Every project is different and brings unique challenges to an interior designer. Some clients may simply want consultation, whereas others may need project management from beginning to end. The fees outlined in this article are relatively typical, but should not be construed as universal to the design industry. In the interview process it is critical to have a complete understanding of how the designer is compensated and how that fits into your budget.
A designer will apply the following fee structures based on your project scope or a combination to suit your particular needs:
• Fixed fee (or Flat fee) -- The designer identifies a specific sum to cover costs, exclusive of reimbursement for expenses and costs for merchandise. One total fee applies to the complete scope of services proposed, from conceptual development through layouts, specifications and final installation. A flat fee sometimes is established for smaller projects that require an undetermined amount of time, but the fee is gauged on a time estimate. It’s very difficult to put flat fees on projects, because each one is so unique and different so many designers steer clear of this compensation method. Point to remember : The fee is only covering the designer's talent and time, not product and many consumers get confused about this.
• Percentage of project fee -- Compensation is computed as a percentage markup on the total project cost, including furnishings and services purchased or specified on behalf of a client. In most cases, this compensation incorporates everything the designer is doing for the client and no other form of compensation is factored in. Typically all arrangements are finalized in the form of a contract or design agreement and the thoroughness of the agreement should be such that neither party has any questions about just what the designer is charging for.
• Retainer -- The client pays a sum up front to the designer for design services and usually involves a set amount of hours. After the time has been used, a designer will then bill for hourly services if the time is agreed upon by both parties. The retainer is customarily paid upon signing the contractual agreement. In my experience, this fee is strictly applied to the consultation aspect of the project and any purchases made on behalf of the client are handled under a separate entry in the design agreement and factored at cost plus.
• Cost plus -- A designer specifies materials, furnishings and services (e.g., carpentry, drapery workrooms, picture framing, etc.) at wholesale and sells to the client at the designer's cost plus a set percentage increase. The percentage a designer adds to the wholesale price will vary, again dependent on location. In Scottsdale, I find it to range between 25% and 35%.
The profit from the product is where there seems to be a bit of confusion. This is where a design agreement will typically outline two fees, one for the services that are required up to the point of deciding to purchase product and another for what I call the administration of all the orders and follow through that is required of the designer from the point of sale until it is safely delivered into your home.
• Per square foot -- The designer charges fees based on the square footage of the project. The designer will oversee the entire project and act as the client’s agent, providing all material selections, designs, and applications. Typically the designer is strictly supplying specifications and the various trades, and/or builder do all the purchasing of materials. The per square foot cost will vary due to the scope, once again. Extra services such as reflected ceiling plans, lighting design, etc. will dictate a higher per square foot charge. Some designers will use this compensation method for other types of design services.
• Hourly Fee -- Compensation is based on actual time that the designer consults on a project or specific service in or outside of the client’s home. This typically involves anywhere from simple color selections to actually putting together a complete design concept. Everything the designer does from the point of a signed design agreement spelling out the scope of the project, to the day of presenting the design concept is billed. It is typical to expect a deposit in advance for this fee type. No purchases are made through the designer at this point, but most designers will make the purchasing available through their firm.
When it comes down to the final decision of working with a designer, I recommend that you do your due diligence. While interviewing, ask lots of questions, make sure you understand how they work and what their fees are for any and all aspects. Expect to sign a form of design agreement - which will allow both parties to have a clear understanding of what the project exactly involves.
If your partnership with the designer is a good one, you should enjoy the process as you go through all of the phases. Not to say there won’t be bumps along the way, but a true professional will traverse those bumps with expertise and you’ll come out at the end with a lifelong friend.