Interior Decorators: Budget-Friendly Ways to Get Help

Interior Decorators: Budget-Friendly Ways to Get Help

Catrin Morris
Oct 7, 2010

I have never hired an interior decorator because I can't imagine outsourcing something I find so fun and rewarding. And I imagine most Apartment Therapy readers feel the same way. Even if you could afford a full-service soup-to-nuts home makeover you probably wouldn't want one.

You don't just love the idea of a beautiful finished product, you like the creative process itself. Through your home you get to invent and reinvent yourself, infusing your rooms with pieces that tell your story and reflect your aesthetics. You like trawling the Web and the local shops, searching for that one-of-a-kind piece, endlessly rearranging your furniture, hanging and re-hanging that picture.

But as much as you may love decorating your home, what if you are strapped for time? Or what if you are intimidated by certain aspects of interior design? While you don't want to commit to an expensive, lengthy, full-fledged relationship with a professional, you do need some help.

That said, do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

• You love shopping and have collected some terrific pieces but are stuck on how to put them all together. You need an extra eye to help with room layout.

• You know what you like but simply don't have the time to find the best sources. You feel like you just keep going back to the "same-old, same-old" stores and are spinning your wheels.

• You are confident in terms of furniture and accessories but are stymied when it comes to fabrics, flooring and window treatments. In fact, you didn't even know curtains and blinds were called "window treatments".

• You have a short-list of potential buys but are paralyzed when it comes to making the final cut. You need help pulling the trigger on a purchase.

• You are an Apartment Therapy addict and have décor magazines piled up on your bedside table but still need help translating your vision into a functioning 3-dimensional reality.

If so, happily, there are some low-cost and low-risk options for folks just like you.

I spoke with Annie Elliott of bossy color, an interior designer in Washington, DC. According to Elliott, some interior decorators offer smaller-scale, a la carte services, especially in markets hardest hit by the recession. Elliott recommends calling a designer whose website you like or whose reputation you know and asking whether they take on small, self-contained projects. "For a designer who's just starting out, this can be a great way to build relationships, and for an established designer who's having a slow spell it can be a good way to fill 5-10 hours with no continuing obligation."

And Elliott knows from experience. When she first started out, a lot of her business came through neighborhood list serves (i.e., harried moms and dads who have a few things they need done, quickly, without breaking the bank). Elliott would set an initial meeting with the client (for which she charged an hourly rate) and they would come up with a plan of attack. "I would give them an estimate for providing a list of off-the-shelf recommendations. For example, I may come back with a list of options, like 'here are two tables from Crate & Barrel that would work, here are four blue paint swatches for your living room, here are three rugs from Rugman.com that are the correct size, style, and color for your room.'" Then the client would take it from there, ordering the pieces, waiting for deliveries, making the final choice on upholstery, etc.

Elliott no longer takes on these kinds of projects, noting "they aren't necessarily gratifying to the designer because you have no control over the final product and can't get pictures you can use for your portfolio or to build your brand." She does, however, offer—for a flat fee—what she calls the "bossy basic", which helps clients focus and prioritize on a select number of issues and priorities. The motto speaks for itself: "The bossy basic. In, out, no one gets hurt."

First, Elliott sends you a questionnaire and has you dog-ear pages from your favorite design magazines. Then she spends 2- to 2.5 hours with you at your home, listening to your needs, moving furniture around and providing practical and actionable next steps. She also leaves you with the Bossy Binder, a design notebook chock full of her preferred local tradespeople, favorite local resources, and go-to online resources. "For example, a client may describe the kind of sofa she wants but is overwhelmed by all the options and is loathe to buy one online without trying it out first. I may steer her to specific models at Vastu, Mitchell Gold or Room and Board, all of which have local showrooms. the client can go to these stores on her own with a short list of options, and sit on a few sofas before ordering." Elliott also says that many people are intimidated by fabrics for upholstery or window treatments. And rightly so. "There are so many poor quality fabrics out there. And it takes a lot of experience to know what is a bargain and what is a rip-off."

Image: Flickr user natala007, used with permission.

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