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  • Lisa Christie

Interior designer, decorator or stylist?


What's the difference? ... and how to choose one....

Putting together a scheme, choosing the right finishes or re-envisioning a space – these are the things that keep us up at night and can put the brakes on even the most exciting of projects. This is where an interior designer comes in; bringing with them a trained eye, design contacts and the ability to turn your vision into reality. But working together on a reno or build is a long and intimate process, so it’s important to choose well. Your home should be a reflection of you and ideally customised to suit your lifestyle, so it is crucial to find an interior designer who understands and interprets your needs and objectives from the get-go, whose approach aligns with yours and – most importantly – one you feel comfortable placing your trust in. You will be spending a significant amount of time together during the course of the renovation or new build, and establishing a trusting relationship will go a long way towards ensuring things run smoothly and you get the result you're looking for.

What’s the difference between an interior designer, decorator or stylist?

>An interior designer: Typically holds a tertiary qualification in design and is trained in spacial awareness, form and function, problem solving and can produce conceptual and working drawings to communicate their proposed ideas.

>Has an understanding of building practices and documentation requirements.

>Is equipped to design every aspect of the interior including custom joinery, lighting and furniture.

>Can manage trades.

>Provides decorating advice and can select and source items.

>An interior decorator: Provides advice on the aesthetics of your home.

>Is skilled in soft furnishings and accessories and will select and source these items for you.

>An interior stylist: Provides a similar service to an interior decorator. This profession also extends to styling spaces for magazine shoots and other media platforms.

Interior stylists are more focused on the furniture and decorative items to improve a space that may already have good bones. Decorators’ services generally extend to include window treatments, paint schemes and decorative lighting. Interior designers encompass all of the above, with a focus on the built environment, including spatial planning, joinery design and architectural materials selection,The service you choose generally comes down to the scope of your project.

Where should I look for an interior designer?

The best place to find an interior designer is through someone you know who has worked with one in the past. If this is not an option, go online and connect you with interior designers in your area.

It looks like you've made a start considering that you're already browsing the Visual Edge website, Congratulations!

What should I look for on a designer’s website?

Look at examples of their work to get a snapshot of their style, and the type and size of projects they take on.You can determine a designer’s experience based on the extent of their portfolio. An experienced designer is worth paying more for because the outcomes will come more reliably, you need to capitalise on the designers experience - that's what it's all about.The ‘About Us’ page is important – it will give you an insight into the designer’s background, approach, personality and team set-up.Look for consistency in the standard of work a designer delivers.

What questions should I ask a designer?

>Why do you want to be part of this project?

>What are your aspirations for this project?

>Who on your team will be working on this project?

And if you are working to a budget…

>Has working to a budget ever been a problem for you?

>What type of projects do you like and take on?

>What is the design process and how will you communicate your proposed ideas to us?

>To what extent will you manage our project, and will this include co-ordination and management of trades on-site?

>Does my budget match my vision? Be open to the designer’s advice here, as your budget may or may not be realistic and could be the reason they don’t take the project on.

>How do you structure your fees? Don’t be afraid to talk money up front – an experienced and professional designer will be able to provide you with an indication of their fees from the outset, subject to firming up the scope of works required.

>What will be the expected timeframe? Be open to guidance here – designers need time to consider your project, produce floor plans, working drawings, elevations, renders and obtain samples required to present their vision to you. Providing your designer with too tight a timeframe will result in fewer choices for you and a less considered concept.

What’s the deal with designers and trade discounts?

Designers have access to trade discounts on most of the products they acquire for their projects. All design studios work differently – some will pass these discounts or a percentage of them on to the client, and others will charge full retail price in order to supplement their fee. You can ask the designer about this at your initial consultation. As long as you are clear on their fee structure, this shouldn’t be a determining factor. There are greater benefits to working with an interior designer than obtaining a small discount on furniture items.

What qualifications should a designer have? Most interior designers will have a tertiary qualification in the discipline of design, sme have diplomas and some have a degree. Experience and years in operation is a very important factor. For best results your designer will have both formal qualifications and tons of experience.

Do they need insurance? Generally, interior designers are not required to take out any form of public liability insurance, as this is covered by the appointed licensed builder on-site, and all furniture and accessory items provided are covered by the supplier. Some designers will have professional Indemnity insurance but it is optional.

How do designers charge? Design studios charge in different ways...

>Some designers charge by the hour and share a portion of their trade discounts with you on any products they acquire for your project.

>Others won’t charge a fee per se, but will source products for you at their trade discount, and retain the difference between the trade price and retail price. In this case, you should expect to pay full retail price for all products.

>Some designers charge a flat or fixed fee, which is directly attributable to their time to produce the concept design, manage the project through to completion and execute the installation for you.

The reality is, the best interior designers come at a cost, and you need to be prepared for this.


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Visual Edge is your exclusive colour consultant for Dulux, Inspirations Paint & Colour & Bunnings Warehouse in the Mid North Coast.

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