Thursday, June 25, 2009

DESIGN: The True Cost of Interior Design

What would you guess this room, designed by Charles Faudree, cost?



The Skirted Roundtable tackles the true cost of using an interior designer. Join Linda, Megan, and Joni as they discuss what things really cost and why custom design can get a little pricey!




28 comments:

La Maison Fou said...

Another great room! The home is even better with the grounds and the wonderful architectural details! The owner is the wonderfully talented proprietor T.A. Lorton, a beautiful & sharp store in Tulsa.
Leslie

Leah said...

Ye gads. I can't fathom ever having that kind of money to spend on furnishings or window coverings -- I guess hiring a professional designer is not in my future! This is why pretty much everything in my house is either secondhand or from IKEA ...

Michelle said...

In a perfect world, my clients would be listening in on this roundtable! I listen for clues at the initial consultation...if they are prepared or have unreal expectations. I've been right MOST of the time.

Great to listen in...
Michelle

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear you discuss how you charge your clients. It sounds like Joni sets a budget and doesn't charge for her time. Do you charge a commission on the total project? Markup each item you purchase? Charge a commission on workrooms, labor, painters? It sounds like Linda & Megan charge commission plus hourly, as most designers do.
As for budgets I think it has alot to do with the market you are working in. I work with upper middle income clients mainly. Alot of them are empty nesters. They are established and have decent budgets, but not what Pam Pierce or Renea Abbott would get to work with. On the other hand someone like Layla (Lettered Cottage) is younger seems to work with younger clients, just starting out, would love to have one of our budgets, and I would love to see what she could do with it!!!

Linda Merrill said...

Leah - no question, what we were talking about it not right for most people really. As I said, I can't afford me either!! And Ikea is Ikea because of the large market they serve and they serve it well. There's definitely no criticism meant towards those of us who cannot afford higher end design - we just wanted to discuss what design for that segment of the population really entails.

Michelle - you are so right. The better prepared clients are, the better for all. Stay tuned for a Saturday Short episode where we talked about the importance of open communication regarding the budget.

Anon - in trying to keep as close to the subject as possible, I did edit around our conversation about how we charge. You're correct - Megan and I both charge a combo of fee (for the design stage) and markup on goods (for the implementation stage). It depends on the situation, but I usually split my designer discount with my clients. I forget what Megan said on this score. Joni said her fee is a % of the price the clients paid for all the goods, which included no markups. Her clients paid what she paid, then overall she added her %, which is much like how architects and builders do it. Interestingly, Joni's % markup is very nearly the same % that I realize doing it my way.

And absolutely, the budgets are totally affected by geographic market (the coasts are more $$ than inland, and LA is more $$ than Boston). We tried to focus our convo on our own client base experience, which is neither the creme de la creme of the design world (the folks you mentioned, or a Ruthie Sommers, etc) nor the totally entry level either, if that makes sense. I'm sure Layla would do a gorgeous job with a large budget and, quite frankly, there are high end designers who couldn't do what she does at all.

The Little Big House said...

I really enjoyed this podcast - it's amazing how things add up -even in my small budget if I add it all up sometimes I get overwhelmed. It's nice to hear a frank discussion about the reality of what these things cost!

best :)

Angela in WA said...

Ladies,
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!!!

FrenchGardenHouse said...

Thank you, Ladies, for this frank and honest discussion. It's very helpful to have this budget talk. The tv shows do make it seem as if designing a gorgeous room is inexpensive, it's an unrealistic view of the whole design process.
T.V. is t.v.~ they can make plywood look grand on camera. But for real clients, with real thoughts about style, durability and quality, things add up. It's always better to know what things cost up front, so we can all budget and plan accordingly.
Lidy

Linda Merrill said...

check out this post on Vicente Wolf's blog today. It's related to this subject:

http://vicentewolfblog.com/random/frustration/

Michele said...

Thank you so much for this post. It is a subject that comes up over and over in my circle of interior designer friends. Budget, client expectations based on what they see on HGTV and what/how to charge are all hot topics. I read Vincente Wolf's blog and felt his frustration. It's a little disheartening that he has to deal with that even at his level of client/design.

Anonymous said...

I charge the same way Joni does except I charge hourly for my assistant and myself when we are staging the house. I've found it works great with some clients and others take advantage, sometimes I feel like my assistant actually makes more money than I do if I figure all the hours I've put in.
The percentage needs to go up or I need to start charging for time. It is alot easier to charge a percentage than trying to keep up with all of my time, not to mention milage, book keeping, sales tax, employ tax! Now why do we do what we do? Oh yeah we LOVE IT!!!
Tina

laurie @ bargain hunting said...

You know, it's funny that there are a lot of blog readers out there who just look at the pictures on a blog and don't read a lot of the commentary. I feel like that's what happened with Joni's $500 makeover! But I think it happens on all blogs. There are people who just want to see the photos and not do the reading, and they leave a comment that doesn't pertain to the blog, or they ask a question about something that was answered in the post! laurie

laurie @ bargain hunting said...

Ooops! I forgot that I had a lot more to say (of course!). I feel that I have been told a deep, dark secret. When I have asked interior designers to tell me something about their fees, they have always started telling me what they could do to make my space look fabulous. Although I have always thought I'd love to hire an interior designer, I really just wanted to ask about fees, so I could either decide to hire one or get the idea out of my head and decide to live with whatever I can accomplish on my own. Your honest discussion of this subject has brought me to the realization that I will be living with whatever I can accomplish. That is what I always wanted - the honesty that would allow me to be realistic about whether or not I would hire a designer. Thank you so much for this discussion. laurie

Anonymous said...

OMG you're not going to tell us how much that room cost? I'm going for $120k.

-jennie

Ivy Lane said...

Great insight! I had no idea!!

Terry said...

The only TV show that is very good about budget is Kenneth Brown's reDesign. He always mentions the budget and usually mentions time. Time is the other great secret. On his blog he said that some of the TV projects took more than a year. Kenneth also presents the inevitable design snafu and how they accommodate it.

Designers never mention (in public) how they charge for their services. If you have to ask...

For a long time I've been looking at how costs are presented on designer sites. Pineapple House in Atlanta has the best and one of the only explanations of cost that I've seen.

These sorts of costs are familiar to commercial architects and developers but not to ordinary home owners.

My experience with pro design is a 20 year relationship with Gordon. We've never done a $30K room. We've picked colors, arranged what we have, bought a few new things as needed, brought in some incidentals, bric-a-brac, etc. to help tie things together. Gordon has also prevents us from spending money on mistakes.

Basically, we call Gordon when we think we need to do something. Sometimes we don't see him for years. He comes over and straightens us out. We pay him, save money overall and our place is nice.

Liz said...

What a great discussion topic. So few people really do realize the true cost. I am starting my own design business and have run into this issue from the get go. My first client wasn't sure what her budget was but definitely had the HGTV budget frame of mind. She had no concept that we couldn't do a new breakfast room table, rugs, and curtains over a wall of 9 ft windows, plus my design fee, for under $1k. It's been painful, but a good learning experience for all.

Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality said...

What an insightful discussion & I can't say I'm surprised, although my home will never be decorated like this..ever. As a small-time decorator, my young clients just want some help getting a room pulled together, so that's what I concentrate on. No designer drapes or furniture, but just some basics. And that's how most of the people I know live. So, the clients that you girls get are probably WAY above the norm, from what I can gather.

The high-end design is just SO far out of the realm of the normal everyday people I know, although I sure enjoy looking at magazine features of those high-end rooms. At least I can take some ideas and inspiration and make them my own. With my teeny-tiny budget! I had a hard enough time when I worked for Ethan Allen, quoting drapery prices to people that just made me gag. I'll never have one of those homes and really, that's OK with me!

Linda Merrill said...

Laure @ Bargain Hunting - any respectable, professional designer should have been willing to discuss how the charge, fee structure and budgets they wish to work with up front. I think sometimes the issue is that they don't want to frighten potential clients away by focusing on $ without first showcasing why they are worth the money. As far as where you are in the spectrum, there are services available that will provide limited designer help without the large budgets and designer fees. It's the place between total DIY and full service, upscale designer service. It wasn't this weeks topic, but it's a good one for an upcoming chat. So, stay tuned!

Terry - you're actually not really correct saying that designers never are willing to share fees publicly and most don't hold the "if you have to ask" view point. It's a waste of our time to focus on a potential client who ultimately isn't going to want to pay our fees, so why wouldn't we address it. But, there is knee jerk reaction to the fee process that can turn some people off initially, so as I said above to Laurie - we do want potential clients to focus on our results and talent first. Then the price tag will make more sense.

I was at a design show in Boston and Vern Yip was speaking. He was very open about how he charged. $200 per hour, no markup on any goods. Period. The real question is not the hourly fee, but how many hours are we talking about. So you're right, the time something takes is also never really addressed. Another topic for an upcoming podcast, I think!

Terry said...

We don't expect y'all to tell us how much your client paid, but we'd like to know.

So clients have to ask and designers have to make a sale. It's a cost of doing business.

The design media isn't much help. How is an inexperienced client supposed to know?

The very thing that would be most interesting - an itemized list for a specific project - is they very thing we'll rarely see.

Maybe there is an anonymous designer who would dare this: Show us a rejected proposal. The space, the design, the estimated budget, the project timeline. And, tell us the expense and timeline for preparing the proposal.

My family's advice to me is from the Princess Bride: "Get used to disappointment."

Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) said...

Another facinating post...I feel that I'm learning so much! Appreciate your frankness on this subject!

sketch42 said...

I have been on both ends of the table, client and designer, and I don't really think it's cheapness that leads clients to these unrelietic goals. I think they just don't know and/ or don't understand that they may not be able to afford a designer, or that particular designer.

I once worked with a designer who I first consulted with as an architect who would help me combine the two apartments I'd just purhased. The plans came promptly and the design was executed by our contractor, and it came out beautiful.

The designer then began to question me on my choice of wallcoverings, ideas for rooms etc. I was so happy with his previous work that I decided to continue with him.

At this stage, before I got into the nitty gritty of what things cost, I had no idea what to expect from this designer. I explained my budget, and this designer, who normally does HUGE houses, said that though it is a smaller job than normal, he loves to do a Manhattan apartment, because it is so much fun!
I had a realistic budget in the 6 digits, appropriating half for the living/dining and half for the master bedroom. (Nursery and the spare bedroom where not part of the deal. Bathroom and kitchen were all brand new.)

After some meetings with the designer, at over $200 an hour, he picked out wallcoverigs that totalled to over half the budget. He had me wallpapering every wall and cieling in the whole apt!!!
When I asked if we could paint some walls/ cielings instead I began to get awful treatment from him and his staff. He Missed apts with no apology while I waited and his staff called me cheap and said "He would meet you, but what's the point???"

I paid his bill, which was time charges for picking out the wallcoverings that I couldn't afford and then enrolled in design school.

Now, as a decorator, I am very sensitive to people's budgets and their sensitivity about the budget. If they come to me with unrealistic goals, I explain to them that with the budget they do have they can start their project. There is no need to purchase everything down to throw pillows all at once. There is also no reason why everything in the room needs to be custom. I often wear my Chanel bag with an H&M dress and there is no reason why décor should be any different. Of course, we need quality, but Ikea hacks and flee market finds are sometimes the most special things in a room.

There is nothing I hate more than when someone else is so cavalier with my money, so when spending other peoples money, sensitivity is really in order.

That said, the client should trust me enough to know that if I want to purchase a big ticket item for a room, that I really think the money will be best spent this way and not on a lot of mediocre things.

I wrote a whole post about this on my blog www.sketch42blog.com

crossranch said...

I loved your discussion of the HGTV issues. There is something else about HGTV that really bothers me and I'd love to get your take on. Why are there no longer any shows like "Homes Across America", where you can see the work of great American designers in beautiful homes? Maybe I'm just a shelter magazine junkie, but I also want to see those homes on TV. Is there no market for that? Do we really only want to see Property Virgins and low budget renovations? Even if the homes are ones about which the average viewer can only fantasize, is isn't it still fun to look at?

Debbie said...

I really enjoy listening to you three ladies...Even if I could afford such prices I probably couldn't swallow it! haha..I'm SO glad I have a husband that can make me almost anything I like (furniture) They aren't antiques but they will be someday for our future generations LOL and that's perfect for me. ..I agree about HGTV and it being a lil unrealistic, just painting our home took forever! There's no way we could have painted and decorated in 24-48 hours. Thanks for your discussions, I learn a lot here :0)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Crossranch, I called and emailed HGTV when they quit showing Homes Across America. I tried to find out if I could buy dvd's of the show, they never responded. I emailed the host and he responded immediately! I wished I would of taped all of the shows!The only show I watch anymore is Devine Design!

Lauren said...

I think I might have to send my clients over to this podcast before we discuss budget!!! I'm definitely dealing with a bit less of a budget than you 3 are but still feel all of this...

Thanks to HGTV, I also find that there are clients who want to meet me, have me create a design plan & THEN they get to see if they want to hire me or not. They think that they can interview several designers & get several proposals & get to choose... I think there is a show that does that.. arggg hahahaha

Anyway, just starting out, I find budgeting & billing to be the most awkward/ difficult part of the project... I reccently switched form hourly to a percentage of the total project so we'll see how it goes.

great topic & would love to hear more--- maybe about billing (without giving us exact specofics of course)
thanks!!

The Affair said...

Ladies Ladies Ladies...

I am so disappointed in this discussion and your previous discussion about budget decorating. I think the BEST places to buy pieces are from T.J.Maxx and Homegoods. Target is absolutley no comparison. Yes, Target has some great and different pieces of which I have, but the quality is 2nd grade.

I think you guys should really really rethink the price tag of $10,000 for a room.

I recently looked for dining chairs and the chairs I wanted were approximatley $500 each. Well I looked on craigslist and found chairs (made by a high end designer) and had them re-upholstered and they look soooo much better than the ones I originally wanted. You guys need to really consult Eddie Ross or even my self on how to tackle budget decorating. I think you guys have missed the mark on this discussion...and I am such a loyal listener.

Linda Merrill said...

Hi The Affair - I think you may have mis-understood this podcast a bit, or we weren't clear enough which is always possible. We tried to make it very clear that we weren't saying a high end room was the only way to go, but we were being honest about the true cost of a high end room - the kind you see in magazines. There is a disconnect between what people swoon over when reading a magazine like Elle Decor or Traditional Home and when they hear what people paid for those rooms. That is a true cost. As I said, we weren't suggesting that good design has to come at that cost, but that often it does. As far as the Homegoods vs. Target thing - there's 2nd grade quality at all price points and it's a matter of personal choice. I've seen junk at the high end and junk in Homegoods and Target. The idea is to be selective. And finally, your idea of buying second hand and reupholstering is terrific, but a fully upholstered dining chair at my upholsterer would be well over $500 when all is said and done - between the purchase of the chair, the fabric and labor. So, on an absolute cost basis, it's more expensive, but if the original 2nd hand chair is of good condition and quality, then it's better than the newer one in the long run.

Thanks for your thoughts and input, we really do appreciate the varying points of view!