How to Find the Right Interior Designer for Your Home

Reviewing the designer’s portfolio and having a connection are both key to a successful relationship.

Finding the right interior designer for your home may seem like a daunting task. There’s a ton of information - not to mention interior designers - out there, and choosing from so many options can be overwhelming.

“You’re dealing with your home, which is your sacred space for you and your family,” Joan Robinson-Whitaker, CEO and co-founder of the Hawaii-based interior design company Designer for a Day said, adding that people can often be very apologetic about the way things look, especially during the “before” stage.

“It’s a big trust thing just to let you in and then to feel comfortable discussing sometimes really intimate details of your life or your finances, things like that,” Robinson-Whitaker said. “It is a very trusting relationship.”

ESTATENVY spoke with Robinson-Whitaker and other interior designers who shared their advice on how to pick the right one - and what can lead to a successful relationship.

Having a connection is key

Designers will tell you that making a real connection with clients is key.

Robin Drake, who worked in the interior design field for about 25 years and is now a professor in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Master of Arts program in Exhibition and Experience Design, as well as the school’s Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design department, noted that it can be difficult to find the right fit.

“I think a lot of it is a personality match,” Drake said. “It’s not just a talent match. Some people want the interior designer to take over for them and create a living environment that they’ll adjust to. Others have their own way of living and you need to pick a designer that’s going to be sympathetic.”

Kimberlee Jaynes of Oregon-based Kimberlee Jaynes Interior Designs, Inc. echoes the sentiment.

“I get inside my client’s heads to intuit what their wants and needs are because I’m guiding the way in which they will live, relate and communicate,” Jaynes said in an email. “This is a personal journey that I have created through my interview process.”

Designers and clients often end up working with each other for at least a few months, and so they’ll really want to connect in order to get along during that time.

“Clients and designers need to connect,” Jaynes said in an email. “As a designer I can be in my client’s lives for up to a year. You want an easy comfortable and fun relationship.”

Taking that first step

When it comes to searching for an interior designer, Drake suggested searching online and asking friends who have had good experiences for referrals.

Of course, reviewing an interior designer’s portfolio is key.

“The client needs to look at the designer’s body of work, portfolio and references,” Jaynes said in an email. “The client should ask for a current client list of people that the designer is in the process of working with, not just happy people from the past.”

Nadia Watts of Nadia Watts Interior Design spoke about the interview process.

“I think it is very important that the personalities are a good fit and that the designer is able to understand their client,” Watts said in an email. “This happens through questions and answers between the two as well as knowing the goals of the project. Another step is to have a clear understanding of the scope of the project, timeline and budget.”

Set up expectations - on both ends

Clients and designers should communicate their availability to each other. Robinson-Whitaker, for example, is the sole proprietor of her business. She doesn’t have a huge office staff and she doesn’t work weekends.

“You need to establish right away what your boundaries are,” Robinson-Whitaker said, adding that both parties need to let each other know how long it will take to reply to voicemails, phone calls, emails and so forth.

Drake noted that a successful interior design relationship takes time and sacrifices from both sides.

“The customer should ask the designer how they work,” Drake said. “That’s probably number one. People work differently. Not every designer works the same.”

Budget money and time for unexpected issues

Designers also need to make something clear to the client: Issues might arise, and that can have an effect on budget. Drake noted that this wasn’t always the case in his many years of experience, but it is something that has come up and should be addressed at the beginning. He recommends that clients factor in the possibility of a project going 20 percent over budget due to unforeseen circumstances.

“There’s going to be something that’s going to come up that will cost more,” Drake said. “If it doesn’t, that’s great, but I think the designers have to set the stage for that because a lot of people don’t really understand what happens when there’s a problem that stretches out everything.”