Interior Designers: Reality Shows vs. Reality

I've been in quite a few conversations lately involving interior designers bemoaning the burdens that reality decorating shows place on clients' expectations, and clients bemoaning the money that it takes to design a house. They made me think about the design industry, and three things to keep in mind if you're thinking about hiring a designer or decorator.• Designers aren't necessarily personal DIYers, and if they are, it will cost money. Design shows depict designers on their hands and knees painting decorative borders on rugs and scraping paint off mirrors, but for the most part, a designer's time is more valuable to you than their painting skills. Let me explain: it's often more cost effective for a client to have a designer source readymade products and know how to arrange them in interesting ways, than to pay a designer to go out and find something totally unique and make it perfect by say, changing the finish. Time is money after all, and clicking a mouse takes way less time than scouring a flea market, hauling a great find, and refinishing it. If you do want a designer to use as many creative touches and unique products as possible, expect to compensate them for the time they spend finding the good deals and one-of-a-kind treasures.

One more thing to keep in mind related to this point is that it's not always possible for a designer to recommend the same product to a client that they would use for themselves. For example, a designer might be ok with having a wonky but beautiful cabinet with sticky doors in his own home, but wouldn't want to recommend that same piece to his client and be responsible for making sure the client remembers to open the doors in just so, so as to keep the whole thing from falling over, you know? But the cabinet with non-sticky doors is going to cost more than the wonky one… you get the point.

• Hire a designer for her/his vision. There are plenty of high end design situations, where designers are hired primarily for their access to trade only products. But as the industry changes — and products become more widely available — I think it's safe to say that most people who hire designers do so because they don't have the time or the confidence to do it themselves. If you're hiring a designer for their creativity and expertise, you have to trust them, especially if you don't want to end up with a totally boring, flat space. The most exciting interiors are usually the ones where the client trusts the designer to understand their practical needs and to meet those needs while using the most creative resources possible. They are rarely the ones where the client has a laundry list of specific products to send a designer out to find.

• Murphy's law loves design projects. Because interior design is all about human life, you can just go ahead and assume that something will go wrong during the design process. Maybe a product that's integral to the design plan has been discontinued or damaged, or the contractor has a personal situation that requires him to abandon the project, or maybe it's something simple like badly mixed paint. The point is, the design industry is imperfect just like everything else in life. Just because we only see the pristine, resolved end-products portrayed on tv doesn't mean there hasn't been a battle waged to get it to that point. If you trust your designer, you can trust the situation to be taken care of, and in the meantime, a little patience will go a long way.

Designers, tv watchers, DIYers, chime in!

(Image: A project in Beverly Hills by LA-based Burnham Design)

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