Sunday 23 October 2016

What can an interior designer do for your home?

Hiring an interior designer can seem like a daunting - and expensive - task. Meadhbh McGrath consults the experts for some tips to demystify the process

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

The thought of hiring an interior designer may have many of us feeling intimidated.

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There may be concerns about the cost, or that they may impose their own style on your home.

However, working with an interior designer could save you time and money in the long run by helping you to manage your budget and avoid expensive mistakes.

Many designers offer a variety of packages to meet different needs, from one-hour consultations to a full interior design service.

We spoke to Irish interior designers who cater to a range of budgets to answer some common questions about this somewhat mystifying industry.

What does an interior designer do?

Interior designers are often called in when a homeowner is feeling overwhelmed, lacking in confidence or at a loss as to where to begin - or end - a project. Put simply, their job is to create a plan with a timeline, a budget and a list of priorities, to liaise with shops, tradespeople, architects and other people involved in the project and to ensure work is completed according to schedule and within budget.

"The first port of call is to sit down with the client and get a good sense of where they are at and what they wish to achieve from their property," says Grace MacDonald of the Dublin-based firm Phoenix Interior Design.

"From there we will give guidance, compile a concept and quotation to illustrate any suggestions, and in some cases submit drawings of any structural changes required. We will do as little or as much as the client needs to bring a concept to fruition and completion. In short, we take the stress out of what can be a very challenging time by passing on our expertise and knowing off-hand where and how to source items."

When should you hire one?

Most designers agree: the earlier, the better. If you're considering hiring an interior designer, it will make the task easier for both of you if the designer is involved from the beginning of the building or redesign project. "That's when the interior designer's input - how much wall space a window treatment needs or the window height required for a certain sofa, for example - is essential," says Arlene McIntyre, who has been an interior designer for over 15 years and now runs Ventura Design, specialising in residential properties.

"Otherwise, a designer can create cost overruns by adding or removing a window, changing the distance between doors and windows, and adding recessed lights that weren't wired behind the walls," she adds, explaining that it is much more cost- and time-effective to let contractors, tradespeople or architects who may be involved with the project know about design elements that could affect the structure at an early stage.

Although such an arrangement - from inception to finishing touches - is ideal, Grace notes that a good interior designer will be able to work with a project even if they come in at the very end when a client may have grown tired of all the decision-making or become anxious about nailing the finer details. "We have the ability to steer the project in the right direction using creative vision and by applying industry know-how. Even if mistakes have been made, don't lose faith, everything is fixable."

What should you check before hiring one?

Part of an interior designer's job means being able to adapt to a range of different styles to suit the client, but you can make sure a designer is a good match for your own vision for your home by reviewing their portfolio.

Many interior designers will have examples of their previous work online, or they will be happy to send some if requested.

Arlene points out that while creativity is important when it comes to choosing an interior designer, experience is essential, as it means the designer has the necessary expertise to bring a project to completion on time and within budget - often the most challenging part of the job.

Don't be afraid to ask a prospective interior designer for references or testimonials from previous clients, and the same applies for any tradespeople recommended by your designer; make sure they have a good track record that you can access if required.

How much will it cost?

While costs will vary depending on the size of the project and the level of involvement you want a designer to have, Grace notes that, as a guide, hiring an interior designer usually amounts to 10pc of the overall spend for the project.

If you're looking for some help with a smaller project such as designing a specific room, lighting planning or colour scheme, many interior designers offer a home consultation service. Starting from approximately €250 for a one-hour meeting, the designer will typically visit your home and bring a selection of wallpaper and fabric books, paint swatches and product catalogues.

They will then follow up with a report outlining what was discussed in the consultation, allowing the homeowner to implement the design ideas themselves.

"It's a good way of getting some professional advice without breaking the budget," says Lisa Marconi of Dust interior design consultancy.

What should the budget include?

"A budget should include a room-by-room inventory of products and tasks to be carried out with an itemised cost for everything listed," Grace explains.

When compiling your own budget for a project, she says it is important to include all labour costs, waste removal such as skip hire, and to have a contingency fund for any unforeseen issues that may be uncovered during the project.

However, an interior designer can put the budget together on the client's behalf to ensure all costs are covered and at realistic prices.

Will the interior designer impose their own style on my home?

While some clients may wish to leave the entire process in an interior designer's capable hands, others may have a clear vision for their home that they just need a little help to bring to life.

"Some clients just want to be completely hands off and have it all done for them, which is absolutely no problem, they don't need to do a thing before meeting us. We come armed with plenty of inspiration for design directions that can then be discussed," says Lisa.

"Often we find clients want to be more involved and have many of their own ideas already. If this is you, then it helps if you keep pages from magazines of what you like, or pin images on Pinterest, and we'll do the rest."

Grace explains that an interior designer should have a natural ability to identify a client's sense of style, and recalls meeting clients who claimed not to know what they wanted or liked, only to be proven otherwise soon after.

"Half an hour into a meeting of listening and viewing images of what they might like, we are able to tell them their style and give further examples which gives them a sense of clarity and a starting block to build their scheme," she says.

"In other cases clients can be very certain of what they want and this is great for the designer but a good designer will always question anything they would envisage being a mistake and should be able to explain exactly why. We won't always tell you what you want to hear and similarly we won't allow you to do anything disastrous that you will later regret."

Living at home during a remodel

Any works being carried out in the home can be stressful. Here, our experts give their tips on how to make the experience as smooth as possible…

Consider the time of year:

As your home is transformed into a building site, the last thing you want is to be stuck inside surrounded by noise. Before the project starts, choose a time of year that is more likely to bring dry, bright weather to make it easier for you to get out in the evenings for a walk or a visit to a friend to escape the madness.

Avoid clutter:

Rather than dumping the furniture and belongings from the areas being remodelled all over the house, put them in storage where possible.

Set out some ground rules:

Negotiate guidelines on site akin to a code of conduct, such as the wearing of protective footwear to avoid damage to carpets and the removal of rubbish and clearing up at the end of each day. If you have a side entrance, ask workers to use that to reduce footfall through your living space.

Create a restful space:

If possible, ask if the part of the house under construction could be sectioned off to give you greater privacy. You can hopefully take advantage of a room that isn't part of the remodelling to get some headspace.

Ventura Design and Phoenix Interior Design are among the exhibitors at House 2016, showcasing the very best of homewares and interior design at Dublin's RDS this weekend. Tickets are available at the door, or at

Irish Independent

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