Dezignare Interior Design Collective Vol. 1.8

How Do Designers Charge for Their Services?


The method by which interior designers work is as varied as the finished products they produce. They often use combinations of methods depending on the scope of the services required of them.

Initial Consultation

The initial consultation enables an interior designer to evaluate the project, present a portfolio, discuss terms and determine whether the project is a good fit of capabilities and services. It also may be possible to make valuable suggestions based on first impressions of the space. This gives a client time to evaluate the designer to determine capabilities, comfort level and compatibility. Initial consultations are handled in a variety of ways. Interior designers may or may not charge for this service. Much depends on the level of experience, their existing work load, the standard policies of the firm or the distance from their office to the site of the project. Travel time is valuable time and will add to the cost of the project.

While many designers offer their initial consultation at no charge, the client may not get the best overview by utilizing this method. The old adage, "You get what you pay for," may apply here. For those who offer free initial consultations, many may wait until an agreement is reached before sharing their thoughts completely. While some individuals will bid a job, a method typically reserved for commercial work, the majority of residential interior designers do not utilize this method. Much of the design work is achieved successfully by having time to fully understand clients, their needs, desires and lifestyles, which cannot be fully understood in one meeting or in a bid situation.


Often an interior designer will request a retainer fee be paid, in advance, once an agreement has been reached to hire the designer. This fee represents what the designer feels will adequately cover both designer's and employees' time to plan the project. Retainers are usually applied to the project.

Fee Based (set price)

The design firm reviews the project to establish a complete scope of services. They a bid is submitted (a set price), typically based on the number of hours, square footage, or various other methods. The fee is paid in increments throughout the life of the project or as items are received and delivered or services are rendered. While this may seem advantageous, it may not be if the project is under-estimated. Going with the lowest price may result in sub-standard services. A rule of thumb often used is to discard the lowest and highest bids and then select from the rest.

Square Foot Based (set price)

With this method, pricing for the project is based on a square-footage basis for the spaces under consideration

Fee Based or Square Foot Based methods are difficult for many interior designers to utilize, because they do not relate to the client in any way. One client may require more services than another and one client may be more demanding than another, even if the house is on the same street, in the same neighborhood, by the same builder. It is a risk some professionals are willing to take and others are not.

By the Hour

The designer assists you on an hourly, as-needed basis, relaying ideas which you are free to implement as you see fit. Fees range from approximately $60-$300/hour depending on level of expertise, region and demand for services.

Cost Plus

The designer handles the design process and is paid to implement the purchase of goods on a cost-plus basis. These arrangements usually include mark-ups on all charges including freight and delivery.

We do not recommend this method for several reasons. Primarily, although it seems safer, it is misleading. "Costs" vary greatly from firm to firm. Much depends on volume and purchasing agreements made between the manufacturer and the design firm. Secondly, interior designers are offering more than simply products. Complete interior design services include custom designs, custom finishes, custom fabrication, delivery, freight, installation, liability, etc. And, the level of overhead for these services can vary greatly from one firm to another. Consumers do not expect a retailer to share cost information; rather they work from a retail price and receive discounts based on seasonal sales, volume purchases, etc.

Hourly & Cost Plus

The designer charges by the hour for meetings with the client, time preparing specifications and budgeting, but handles the purchase of goods on a cost-plus basis.


In this instance interior designers often make their living on a commission basis related to the volume of products sold and offered by specific manufacturers. While this method is common and may seem a safe approach for the consumer, it is not necessarily the best way to hire interior design services. Not all salespersons are created equally and motivations for the sale vary from salesperson to salesperson. Not all products are created equally and you may be limited by what a particular company has to offer. Commissions are figured into the price, whether or not the person is talented, educated, licensed or not. Therefore, should you choose an interior design working in a retail scenario, ask for references and credentials.


Keep in mind, IN ALL CASES, you are paying for any showroom space required to display merchandise so you are able to determine quality, utilities and overhead, a designer's time and experience, the labor and materials to fabricate products, packaging, freight, handling, delivery personnel and equipment, advertising and promotion, and tax.

Furniture is a major investment, one which should last you a minimum of 10 to 20 years, perhaps a lifetime. It may even become an antique? Classic proportions accompanied by durable finishes and fabrics will serve you best in the long run for your investment, no matter what style preferences you lean toward. By using interior designer services you receive the benefit of their expertise to help you refine your selections and to avoid costly mistakes. They guide you toward the best purchase and help unify your selections into a cohesive, well-functioning environment, be it private or public.


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