Everybody loves to know what things cost, from the condo that just sold in their building to that fabulous pair of pumps on their best friend’s feet. So not surprisingly, the one question we hear again and again—not only from clients, but friends and strangers—is “how do you charge?” And for good reason—interior design fees are confusing and not especially transparent, particularly at the luxury level.
Interior Design Fees Are Not Uniform Or Transparent
Unlike doctors or lawyers, who charge by the visit or hour, interior designers don’t have a common fee structure. Options can range from flat fixed rates and retainers to hourly fees and commissions, or a combination of any of these methods. While consumer sites such as Angie’s List, Home Advisor and Decorilla discuss fee structures, the costs they note are averages for the service providers they work with, and the projects involved are rarely large or luxury oriented.
The same is true of online interior design services such as Decorist, Homepolish, Laurel & Wolf, Hutch, Modsy and more, Architectural Digest notes. These digital options are more about smaller or spot projects, from single rooms or smaller homes to easy updates and quick solutions. Their fee structures, usually hourly rates, reflect the limited scope of their services. Also, using most services requires a great deal of do-it-yourself follow-up from clients. Yet this is exactly what many clients want and need; to them these are meaningful, and even transformative, services.
But decorating service fees can’t be compared to those of luxury interior design firms that specialize in full-service, full-scope high-end projects. While decorating services usually do parts of a whole job, luxury interior design firms plan and execute a vast range of services and stand behind their work should issues arise, as we explain on Huffington Post in “7 Reasons Why It Pays To Hire An Interior Designer.”
The Different Fee Options For Luxury Interior Designers
Precisely because luxury interior design can be expensive, costs are a touchy subject—so touchy that it’s been over 10 years since Architectural Digest did a story on interior design fees. And just as each interior design firm has its own fee structures, they also have their own way of working with clients. Some will disclose their sources and exact costs, while others won’t. So you may not know where that $20,000 sofa came from, how it was made, what the fiber content is in its fabric or what the designer actually paid for it. And every other item in your home may also be a mystery, which can be problematic if something needs to be repaired.
Full Disclosure Works Best
We believe in full disclosure. It’s critical to offer clients total transparency about every part of the design process and every item we procure, subcontractor we hire or service we manage on their behalf—especially since these items are costly and need to stand the test of time. This kind of clarity is also important to build trust—and without trust it’s impossible to have a great client-designer relationship.
With transparency in mind, our fee structure is based on a flat hourly rate; a percentage markup on goods; and a nominal fee on services we manage. Design fees range from $125 to $300 per hour, based on a designer’s seniority. Our percentage on furnishings is higher for items bought wholesale, and nominal for pieces bought at stores so that our clients never pay more than retail for an item we buy at a major retailer (and get at their designer discount). And for services we oversee and execute, such as painting, refinishing, installation or restoration, we add a 20% management surcharge.
All this begs one more point: we put everything in writing; save receipts, warranties and product information; and present all pertinent information to our clients in a project binder when a project concludes. The best way to be transparent, offer your clients peace of mind and have a hedge against conflicts is to spell everything out in a contract and keep lines of communication open.
09 Feb 2018