Planning for Your Interior Design Project

Updated: Feb 4

Knowing a bit of how the interior design process works can help make the project journey smoother.

So you've decided you need help on your next project. A great decision! You've done your research, picked a couple of design firms to interview, but what is the process going to be like? What should you expect from your Interior Designer? Here is a brief overview of what the typical process may look like. Please note that not all designers work in the same way or format. This is also an overview, your designer will fill you in on more specific items during your meetings. This article will however, help you to ask questions along the way.

The initial consultation meeting: The first meeting will hopefully take place at the site of the project, but a conference room, coffee shop, or even a restaurant lunch are not unheard of for a first consultation. This is where you will discuss the scope of work. What is that? Your interior designer wants to know what the project is going to entail. He/she is going to ask you lot's of questions about the project size, timeline, budget, but also what your needs are. Do you need furniture, finishes, window treatments, artwork, lighting, or plumbing fixtures selected or custom designed pieces made? What about style? Contemporary? Traditional?

This is also the time you'll get to know each other a little. Do you get along? Does your interior designer understand your needs? What is his/her experience? Schooling? Certifications? What's the overall 'vibe' from the meeting? You'll notice I didn't mention whether or not you both had the same style? If you've selected a good designer they should be able to accomodate and design for any style. They are designing for you. Not themselves. Unless that's what you want is 'their' style. Some people want that and there is nothing wrong with that either! I don't know a designer who would say no to that!

The Contract Stage: You've picked your favorite designer and now it's time to hire them. This is where your designer will draw up a contract for design services also sometimes called a letter of agreement. He/she may ask more questions and get more information about the project such as a site visit, take pictures, and measurements of any existing spaces. It may seem tedious, but your designer is just being thorough. In the contract you'll get a detailed explanation of the scope of work, what the designer will provide for services and tangibles (design boards, drawings, etc.), length of time, and of course cost and payment terms. Now if you have hired an interior designer who will provide you with your FF&E (Furniture, fixtures, and equipment) out of his/her office you'll get detailed information about that too and it may be a separate contract all together. If your designer is just providing her services then your fee will only include that; no obtaining FF&E. Have questions? Ask them! If there is some confusion or something was forgotten this is where to correct that. Don't assume!

Schematic Design: You've signed on the dotted line and shook hands. You now have a designer on board. Now begins what's called the schematic design phase. This is where your designer collects as much information as possible. While you may not have time to design the project yourself you will need to be available to answer questions and review design concepts at this stage. If you have an existing home or building your designer make take additional pictures and measurements. If this is a commercial project your design team may interview employee's and discuss how everyone works. This is an exciting stage because you'll start to see your design come to life! Inspiration images and options may be presented, layouts, space planning, some colors and finishes may come into play, and themes or styles may start to emerge. You'll need to have an open mind during this time. Why do I say that? You've hired your designers to create. They are artists who are going to want to think outside the box and may challenge you to push your boundaries a little to make your space not just look good, but look fantastic. So good that people constantly ask you about it.

Design Development: This is the stage where things start coming together. Your going to finalize the design during this stage so if there are any adjustments to make, do them now. You'll finalize finish selections, lighting, plumbing, and any other building specific finishes required for construction. You will also start finalizing furniture and fabric selections during this stage. Furniture can take six to eight weeks and if it's custom it may take up to ten to twelve weeks to get so your designer is going to plan ahead as much as possible. Your designer may also be coordinating with an outside furniture dealer, window treatment fabricator, artwork manufacturers, etc. and that takes time as well.

Construction Documents Phase: This is where everything comes together. If you have any work that requires a permit or construction documents (provided by an architect, engineer, etc) this is the phase they will all be produced in. Can't my designer do all of this? This is a tricky subject. It depends on the scope of work and the laws in your state. Typically construction documents are done by an architect. Why? These documents require a licensed architect to stamp and submit drawings (construction documents) the town/city/county building permit department for approval. Nothing can happen until these documents are approved by the local authorities. The experience and level of detail an architect can provide is unparalleled and their expertise is not to be underestimated. Some states will allow an interior designer to submit a limited amount of documents for permit and even stamp them. These can sometimes include floor plans, basic electrical layouts, custom cabinetry, lighting, etc. Again, check with your locality or ask your designer what they can and cannot do under the law. Your designer, depending on scope, can typically created the construction document pages or coordinate with the architect the finish schedules, custom cabinetry work, floor pattern plans, lighting, and ceiling plan drawing sheets.

Bidding Phase: Once your construction documents have enough information, but maybe not at stamping for permit phase, may be sent out to multiple contractors for pricing. This is something your architect will typically handle if it's a significant project, but your designer can handle portions of this that deal with finishes, furniture, fixtures, etc. This can be a very time consuming phase as dealing with changes, substitutions, omissions, errors etc. for each bidder can take time.

Construction Administration Phase: This is the final phase of the project. Drawings are done, permits have been approved, and construction has finally begun. This is no time to relax though. This can often be the most nerve wracking (is that how you spell wracking?) part of the project. You should be aware that mistakes will be made during this phase. It doesn't matter how well your designer or architect drew the construction documents, something can always be miscommunicated. Some clients choose not to pay for construction administration phase for their architect or designer and I truly believe this is a huge mistake. This is where you need the professionals the most. This is where the mistakes and change orders are the most costly. This is where cost overruns and overages can happen. If your not knowledgeable in the building trades let the professionals help you.

Installation Phase: This phase is typically after all the construction is done and the certificate of occupancy has been obtained. Specific to the design industry, this phase is where your new furniture, accessories, window treatments, artwork, and on and on are installed. Most think this is the fun part, but it is a lot of work and can take a few days depending on the size of the project. Yes, I know Joanna Gaines and the other HGTV designers always make it look like so much fun. They also have a huge team off camera to help them. Most small design firms only have two or three people or hire out for help to do installations. Now, you may encounter the occasional error during this phase. This is where you'll find out if something got damaged during shipping, is the wrong color or shade of a color, is too big or too small, etc. DON'T PANIC! This is not the end of the world. These things can get fixed. Yes, it will take time, but it happens and it's just part of the process.

After a final checklist has been run through the project is completed and the final bill will be submitted to you.

Congratulations! You have a beautiful project to enjoy! I hope this helps you to see what a project involves so you can ask questions and think about logistics, budget, and time. If you are considering starting a new design project and need help, please email me at to set up a consultation.

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