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beth_olsson

Working with an interior designer

Beth Olsson
last month

Hi Houzzers - for some reason I have always felt inhibited about trying to work with a designer. Not sure why, but we are gutting our kitchen and it's making me rethink pretty much the entire first floor of the house. So I screwed up my courage, reached out to someone whose work I liked. She had me fill out a pretty lengthy questionnaire and I sent it back to her. She then responded that I was too far away from her and she doesn't work in my area....what? I told her where I lived even before filling out the form. So now I'm wondering if I got rejected for something else. When asking about budget, I was very clear that I think designers should be paid for their time, education, experience...I'm willing to make a serious investment (up to $5k) in having someone help me lay out a path even if I'm not ready to refurnish my entire house.


So, what do y'all think? I would especially love to hear from any professionals.


She did refer me to someone else, but I'm not as sold on her style and haven't contacted her yet.


Thanks in advance.

Comments (61)

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Anna you are probably right. Now I’m just even more intimidated. Frankly money isn’t the issue. If I need to increase my budget I can do that. I just had no idea where to start. Anyway. I appreciate the feedback here.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Magnifico, all due respect but I do understand the scope. I’ve done a full basement build out with a kitchen. I’ve added to our house and done major reno work upstairs. I have a dozen idea books for various projects. We are in the process of an $80K kitchen remodel. My issue is more akin to writers block than a lack of understanding the process and I was hoping for some help.

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  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.
    last month
    last modified: last month

    A professional designer will likely not give you input on layout without measuring and drafting furniture into a floorplan, whether through AutoCad or another program. So you cannot necessarily decide to take these steps out of your scope of work. There's a lot due diligence that goes into design decisions, even if they seem easy on the surface. You may have been rejected because what you want from the designer doesn't fit within their standard practice.

  • Anna (6B/7A in MD)
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Honestly, I would have no idea what to do if I embarked on this type of adventure. I would need to do some real digging and research so that I understood the professional terms, what would be expected of me and what the design process actually entailed. I have my own idea of what I expect, but does that match their intent and focus? I suspect each designer has a different focus--one more on decorating (which may be what you want) and another more on designing a new space via remodeling. I think our perspective may be skewed as we watch these "all-in-one" designing/decorating/remodeling shows on HGTV, etc.

    Maybe start here by asking about various terms, job descriptions, etc. That way you would know what to look for.


    ETA: Use this as a learning experience, you'll know what questions to ask and how to phrase your overall expectations.

  • mtnrdredux_gw
    last month

    ahh, ok, whew, that's better


    I have to say, IME, it is more common to discuss one's budget in terms of what one plans to spend, since so much of the compensation is based on their cut.

  • PRO
    Magnifico Profounde
    last month
    last modified: last month

    The items that you want to pick and choose to have assistance with are the most time consuming and costly portions of designing You might as well pay for a full service designer. Those portions can not be done without prior usable programming discovery work (outlined above) being handed to a designer. And a Concept Design.

    The personalized big picture creation and integration is the whole VALUE of using a designer. That prior work to those “suggestions” must occur. Suggestions do not occur in a vacuum. Otherwise, you will end up paying more to try to do this as a Designer For a Day type of a la carte hours than you would for a full service. Or you will end up with something rather hodgepodge and generic that you don’t love.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Ultimately Kristen nailed it. I knew that geography wasn’t really the issue but didn’t know what it might be. If using a designer is really more of an “all in” situation at where I need to be ready to refurnish a room or two in addition to the consultation expenses, at least now I understand the process of hiring one a bit better.

  • lynne3450
    last month

    This thread is honestly representative of why homeowners don’t hire designers in the first place. It’s really damn expensive! If you’re a homeowner who has some sense for design and has the patience and stick-to-it-iveness to do the work yourself, you can save the money. You just have to be in constant communication with your contractor and be willing to put in the elbow grease to figure things out for yourself. That is what we did. And it’s working out just fine and we feel very proud of our results.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Sorry Kristin (misspelled above)

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    FWIW, this is one of the things that drew me there in the first place. They have an option for full “concierge” design services … or à la carte…

  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.
    last month

    Haha...happens all the time. Yes, designers are expensive and are considered a luxury service for the most part. But that doesn't mean they cannot provide real VALUE. Like I said earlier, start with just one room to see if the experience is worth it to you. A great designer will prove their worth!

  • PRO
    Magnifico Profounde
    last month
    last modified: last month

    A Virtual Designer On Call “consulting” isn’t in person, first of all. It’s Zoom time. And all On Call work assumes that most of the prior and subsequent homework to the consults is done by you. Like the measuring for those floor plans, and picking out the brand and quality level of that navy blue velvet sofa yourself. They may create a space plan from those measurements, but you have to do the work to provide them. They may tell you a navy blue velvet rolled arm sofa, but you have to decide who meets quality construction standards, and order and manage shipping, delivery, and placement.

  • PRO
    Sabrina Alfin Interiors
    last month
    last modified: last month

    $5K for a full kitchen remodel and possible other first floor design is pretty low for fees. A good rule of thumb is ~10% of the cost of construction. So if you're general contractor is charging you $150K to gut and remodel your kitchen, the designer's fees will be somewhere around $15K, give or take, depending on how complex the project is.


    P.S. I also have a job minimum of $10K in fees. Anything less than that really isn't a big enough job for me to take on.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Sabrina I’m not looking for any design help on my kitchen. That’s all finished. I do think a contract minimum is a great idea too. Do you include that info on your website or marketing? I think it would be so appreciated for people who are so unsure of the process.

  • Sharon Fullen
    last month

    Beth, I think the designer “dumping” you did you a favor. Hiring someone to help you interpret your desires into a home requires mutual respect. Keep looking for someone who listens to you and respects your budget. They should have an excitement for the project and your home’s potential. Perhaps your designer budget wasn’t enough but the person should have explained their value and service cost clearly and professionally. It would then be up to you as to whether you wanted to pay their rate. That’s what hiring someone means. Keep going and you’ll find the right designer partner.

  • PRO
    Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.
    last month

    I have a 30-hour minimum and it is indicated in the initial document that I send to potential clients which reviews my service and process. But if I'm honest, a lot of people ignore it and still want me to do their small jobs. It can be difficult for a pro to tell someone they are turning down their job so having it up front and in writing is a good start.

  • PRO
    Sabrina Alfin Interiors
    last month
    last modified: last month

    @Beth Olsson Sorry, I don't understand. If you're not looking for design help, why are you looking to hire a designer? The point I was making is that regardless of the project, most designers have project minimums, and the percentage I gave you is a reasonable rule of thumb. As for including the minimum fee on my web site, I include that as a screener during the first initial call with a prospective client.

  • HU-144972567
    last month

    Have you pro's even read her postings and comments? Good grief.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Sabrina - I’m realizing how vague I was in my OP!! 😜.

    We are re-doing the kitchen. Like everyone else in the post Covid world we have about 4 more months before our appliances ands cabinetry arrive. The kitchen design is fully complete from canned lights, to every knob, to the flooring. Total kitchen Reno budget is $80k of which we have paid half upon contract.

    So while I’m waiting for my gorgeous wonderful kitchen to be installed, I’m also looking at my dreary, tired breakfast table, family room and sunroom that are open to the kitchen and thinking we should update the paint, furniture, rugs etc in those rooms. Like all projects I’m having the typical “while we are at it …” kind of thoughts. And usually I have a very clear idea about what I want to do with a room. I’m no pro by any means but I like to think I can pull together a room pretty well. For some reason I’m just not feeling inspired and I am feeling stuck. Designing writer’s block.

    So despite feeling intimidated, I found a pro here on Houzz whose portfolio looked great and whose website offered a la carte design options. Having zero experience with a pro design process at all, I called her and gave her my thoughts around what I hoped to do. She sent me a long questionnaire that I completed about my likes, dislikes, how I use the space, etc. I filled all that out and she responded right away that she didn’t work in my area. I find that difficult to believe since she already had my area, but the experience left me feeling even more intimidated.

    When she asked about budget I said that I was open and although I had no idea what something like might cost my guess would be $5k for consulting expenses to help me focus on some design ideas, colors, styles to fit my family room and sunroom. I was also very clear that I fully expected the costs for furniture and other items to be separate. I am not looking for a full renovation of my first floor, I can see how that was not the right word choice in the OP. I should have said “refresh”.

    I wish that she had taken time to explain why she “dumped” me (that’s how it felt Sharon - good word!!). Was it money? Was it what I was asking for? Just not a good fit? Maybe she’s just super busy?

    I can’t be alone in feeling like this. Just in reading this thread some of it comes off as a bit patronizing. I have ideas, I have money (although not unlimited) and I have a desire to creatively collaborate. I don’t have experience in how to engage. It feels like the industry keeps things like this opaque. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time (or my own filling out questionnaires) if budget is an issue.

    Again, maybe it wasn’t budget at all. There could be a hundred other things. But I asked here because I was looking for answers in what is realistic to expect.

    So I’ve learned that often there is a minimum investment required which I understand and respect. Often designers can’t or won’t (either is understandable) engage unless it’s a full Monty with CAD drawings etc. And that I’m not wrong to want to work with a designer who is excited about taking my gig. Seems like that would be more fun for all! 😁

  • PRO
    Sabrina Alfin Interiors
    last month

    Honestly, there aren't that many designers out there--most of whom are now fully booked because everyone (as you noted) is re-doing their kitchen or similar--who do consulting, only. They usually do consulting in the course of doing full remodeling design or full decorating design that is inclusive of purchasing.


    You might be better off taking advantage of some of the online decorating services out there that do fully remote design which would leave you to do the shopping based on their ideas and your budget.



  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    last month

    Sabrina - that would actually be preferable for me anyway (to do my own shopping). I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  • jsk
    last month

    The designer that 'dumped' you should have explained why. Perhaps it is because they are now so busy with full projects that the a la carte option is not something they can do right now. But they should have told you that and not left you wondering.

    Also, I am mostly a lurker here and don't post often. But I have to speak up and say that most (not all, Kristin was helpful) of the 'pro' responses here are exactly why I don't post. Unnecessarily condescending. I mean, do you talk to your actual clients that way? If not, why do you feel it necessary to speak that way here?

    OK, said my peace. Back to lurking.

  • jkt107
    last month

    Beth, have you heard about TheExpert.com? There are many designers with their portfolios on there, including some very big names, who will do zoom consultations. The prices are much more reasonable than I would have expected.

  • bbstx
    29 days ago

    @jkt107 I was going to ask if any one is familiar with TheExpert.com. I love most of James Farmer designs and he announced earlier this week that he is available through TheExpert.com

  • Joaniepoanie
    29 days ago

    There’s also Havenly and Modsy for virtual interior design help. I have not used them but there are reviews on Youtube.



  • Sueb20
    29 days ago

    Instead of looking for a designer, try looking for a ”decorator.” And ask around to friends and family for recommendations. There are decorators who work for an hourly rate without exorbitant minimums.

  • J D
    29 days ago
    last modified: 29 days ago

    You say you have done the design process before so then I assume you are saying you've done bubble diagrams, block diagrams (maybe even around 25-30 for one room), concept development, site and neighborhood analysis, etc? These are at the beginning of the design process, before you start picking out finishes or whatever. To "point you in the right direction" would require everything I've said above, which would take many many hours...weeks really. If you haven't done these parts of the design development before, that is because most non-designers or non-architects have never heard of them, however they are VERY important to the process. They never do this stuff on silly TV shows (it also isn't done on the Houzz forum), so the public thinks most of our job is just picking out pretty stuff and making sure the layouts are functional. So my point is that I think your expectations for the consultation are much too high. This also comes back to the budget, because in order to give you a "direction" the designer needs to do a lot of work (the steps I've written above), and 5 thousand is quite low for that.

  • J D
    29 days ago

    It also could be really anything else you checked on the form, tbh. Designers can be picky who they work with, which is ultimately good but can be frustrating to find the right one for you.

  • jkt107
    29 days ago

    @bbstx I saw that he announced that. That would be hard to pass up! Love him!

  • PRO
    Magnifico Profounde
    29 days ago

    1K for 55 minutes is not going to be within anyone’s reach who has a 5K total design budget. You can’t get anything done in 55 minutes but a bare idea of a client’s actual list of needs to be organized and prioritized.



  • homechef59
    29 days ago
    last modified: 29 days ago

    You are at Houzz. Lots of good design help is available through this chat room. I realize that you may want some professional help to you organize your thoughts and expose you to some ideas that you might not otherwise consider. Why don't you contact Flo Mangan here at Houzz. She is a very experienced designer/decorator who is active on this website. I've seen some of her work and I think she is very good.

    Flo Mangan

  • suedonim75
    29 days ago

    “1K for 55 minutes is not going to be within anyone’s reach who has a 5K total design budget. You can’t get anything done in 55 minutes but a bare idea of a client’s actual list of needs to be organized and prioritized.”

    Thats not what she said. Did you actually read any of her comments?

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    29 days ago

    It’s becoming clear that most of the pros do NOT read the comments. Good grief!!!

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    29 days ago

    @Magnifico where in this entire post did you come to understand that my entire budget is $5k? I wouldn’t hire you based on your lack of English comprehension.

  • partim
    29 days ago

    My sister had a very good experience hiring a person who does staging for home sales. Previously she'd had a decorator who did good work too, but the stager was a better person for what she wanted now, which was just a refresh of wall colour, rearrange furniture, rearrange her wall art and add some new decor items. She did end up buying a new rug and easy chair too. The stager charged by the hour and bought the needed items at places like Homesense, not at places exclusive to decorators. It was a better fit for what she needed now, than the decorator who previously did a full-home decor from scratch for her some 20 years before.

  • Kswl 2
    28 days ago

    Partim, was your sister trying to sell her house, is that why she hired a stager?


    Having a person buy stuff for you at discount retail outlets isnt at all what I understood the OP wanted per her description of the job.

  • PRO
    JAN MOYER
    28 days ago
    last modified: 28 days ago

    "To clarify - I was budgeting $5k just for consulting alone. And I’m not looking for CAD drawings. I’m looking for thoughts on paint colors, flooring materials, suggestions on furniture layout."

    So. Lets say you get 30/ 40 hours of consulting:

    In that time frame, you could get:

    A full half day to learn about you, how you live, entertain, a review of the type of style, look you want, what pieces you would keep....or let go

    A hard measure on site of the first floor. Or you provide the builder plan.

    A furniture plan that makes sense with that hard measure. It would accommodate seating, storage, accent pieces etc. It would give you sizes and placement, and for each of the rooms.

    A recommendation for flooring, and that is ONE ....as you don't want more than that in any scenario

    PAINT: Not really possible until soft furnishings are selected.

    At this point you have entered the land of WHAT will any and all of those things be? What style, what color, what finish. You have entered the realm of anything is possible........

    And that's the RUB

    Designers are reluctant to "consult" for just this reason. For the same reason threads on Houzz grow to over 20,000 comments.

    Designers are reluctant to simply charge for time,, unless they are brand newbies. Part of this is EXPERIENCE . You aren't paying for hourly time with a designer who has a lot of experience/skill. , You are paying FOR all that experience. ........the prior YEARS of his or her endeavor. None of us want to charge you two hours of "consulting" regarding the benefit of one cocktail table over another, or one dining light same thing. .................when we could sell you the right light in a single heart beat.

    Find a local, not a virtual. Figure out what you can devote to your first floor in dollars- and by that I mean everything and over what period of time. 20 ? 50K ? 100K More ? less?

    Do you have a friend whose home you admire? Did they have help? This can be a good way to begin.

    The real point is there is no "just" in design> There is no "just" tell me what to get, what to paint" It is simply too infinite, and that is the WHY of the design help : ) From any designer, you will get the best result, when they "own" that result. Fully. Control and responsibility go hand in hand. Fiduciary and every other aspect.

  • Allison0704
    28 days ago

    I had a post typed out, and POOF! Decided not to repeat it here. So....


    If you have had success decorating your home all these years, why do you think you need one now? Are you tired of waiting on the kitchen to be finished, so you want the rest done right away?


    Why don't you start by focusing on the area adjacent to the kitchen. Do you have things you want to keep? Take photos and measurements. What is the most important thing yo uwant to change/add in the room? Mine is usually working with a current rug. My point is you need a starting point. Is the current layout bothering you? Start there. Since you said you are unhappy with entire first floor, are there pieces you want to keep, but can be used elsewhere? Unahppy and don't want to keep, list them to sell or donate.


    Maybe you just need a kickstart - post some photos here for suggestions.

    Beth Olsson thanked Allison0704
  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    28 days ago

    Thank you Diana and Jan. I appreciate your insights!

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    28 days ago
    last modified: 28 days ago

    Allison, as I said somewhere before (twice I think) for some reason I’m just feeling stuck on the family room and sunroom. Not really looking to change the entry, living room or dining room. Believe I called designer’s writer’s block.

  • Allison0704
    28 days ago

    Yes, I read every comment before posting. Just trying to kickstart your thinking process. Your OP stated "it's making me rethink pretty much the entire first floor of the house," which sounded like more than family room and sunroom.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    28 days ago
    last modified: 28 days ago

    Allison, yes, I want my FR and SR to flow well with the new kitchen and existing LR and DR. But I'm just not feeling inspired on what to do with them. Edited to add that I am not going to post any photos here...I may never post in this forum again! Regular folks like you have been helpful but good grief, some of these pros should take it to Twitter! :)

  • H B
    28 days ago

    I bartered with some local stagers; their ability to work with what I had was amazing and helped generate a much better layout of the furniture I owned and they were able to explain why it worked (no plan to sell house or furniture). This discussion has confirmed I don't have (and probably never will) the budget to hire or work with an interior decorator or designer.

  • partim
    28 days ago

    No, my sister was not planning to sell her house. She just wanted a bit of a refresh and she got exactly what she wanted. Based on what the OP said she is looking for I think my sister's experience was relevant. Neither of them, I think, are looking for a deep dive with detailed measurements etc etc. More like what I do when I decide to move all my pictures around the house, but with someone who does this for a living.

    As far as decor items from discount stores, her experience with the stager was "That lamp's a bit small beside the living room sofa and would look better on your buffet. For the sofa are you interested in one I saw today at Home Sense when I was shopping for another customer?" or "I saw some cushions that would complement the colours in your art and rug."

    Beth Olsson thanked partim
  • Lori Proudfoot
    28 days ago

    Beth, you filled out an extensive questionnaire. Was that exercise helpful to you? Personally, I would love to do that, just to help me narrow down ideas.

  • Beth Olsson
    Original Author
    28 days ago

    @Lori Proudfoot It was actually somewhat helpful, that's a great point. It helped clarify the style I want to move away from since my last makeover of these rooms in 2010 or so.....I would send it to you but it was on their website and they just sent me a link.

  • PRO
    JAN MOYER
    28 days ago

    OR........... you could simply get brave, post the existing that would remain UN touched, and post the portion you want to kick in the fanny.

    There are no mind readers, be that in person or online. : )

    You put what you have...........along with a few inspo of the direction you want to go. Free.

  • homechef59
    28 days ago
    last modified: 28 days ago

    Not a pro. I'm an appraiser. I'm pretty much done with my house. I would never hire a designer myself. What I like to do is look for pictures of homes that I like and use them for inspiration. Then, I do my own thing. That's the great thing about the internet, there are pictures everywhere. I'm not too proud to copy someone's inspiration if I like the result. I find Pinterest to be a great place for discovering good pictures of things that I like. I find it more useful than Houzz for inspiration pictures.

    I also have found from hanging out in this place all of the things that I would never do. Knowing what you don't want is more valuable than not knowing what you do want.

    You said that the questionnaire helped you clarify your style or desired style. What did you discover? What is your style?

  • bbstx
    27 days ago

    Beth, I contracted with a decorator (not designer) about a year ago to help me refresh my house. I told her on the front end that I did not want to make any major furniture purchases; I wanted to use what I have although some of it would need reupholstery.


    She worked on an hourly basis. Because she is 2.5 hours away, I also paid a lesser hourly rate for her travel time. I would say the project is substantially complete although there are a couple of items that are still needed. I am tickled pink with the results.


    All told, I think she spent 3 full days at my house - not 3 consecutive days. The first time was spent going over what needed to be done. The second was a couple of months later when she and her assistant spent the day hanging pictures. The third was final tweaks. Between those we communicated by text, email, phone calls, and FaceTime.


    I think the main things she did was help me choose fabric to reupholster 4 chairs; help me choose new headboards for the guest bedroom; moved artwork around the house (for example, the woodblocks that were formerly over the LR sofa are now in the guest room and the painting that was in the DR is now over the sofa); and moved existing casegoods around the house.


    All of the upholstery fabrics were purchased at her price plus a small mark-up. Other than that, she was paid on an hourly basis. I’ve looked back at my invoices. Her charges for consultation might exceed your budget but only by a tiny amount.


    If I understood you correctly, you are wanting to do more or less what I just did. I’m hearing that your new kitchen is making the rooms around it look dreary and dated and you want a little freshening of the those rooms. It can be done well and within your budget. You may have gotten a stinker on your first try (or maybe she is geographically challenged and didn’t realize how far away you were when you first talked). Nevetheless, don’t let that deter you from continuing to look for a good decorator. I love the way my house ended up looking and I would do it again in a heartbeat!


    You are welcome to DM me any specific questions you have about my experience.