An interior designer can do more than an interior decorator. An interior decorator can look at the space you have and help you decide how to make it look its best for its intended use. An interior designer can do that too, of course. But he or she can also help you remodel the space and schedule the appropriate contractors to come and change the plumbing and the wiring and the walls.
A designer can save you money in the long run by getting it right the first time. They also know where to shop and get the best deals. They even have access to showrooms that are not open to the public, often wholesale warehouses that give a substantial discount.
Sometimes it's hard to know how to get started. If any of your friends or neighbors has used an interior designer, talk with them and see whether they enjoyed the experience or would recommend someone else. You can also look at one finished product by that designer-the friend's or neighbor's house. But don't be misled. What you're seeing there is a combination of the interior designer's work and your friend's or neighbor's taste. If the work appears well done but not something you'd personally care for, that's a sign of a good interior designer working in a style other than your own.
You can also call the American Society of Interior Designers and tell them about your project and budget. Their free referral service will recommend three designers in your area who might be right for you.
In addition, furniture show rooms and home stores often have decorators on staff who can talk with you about your project. They can recommend someone in-house or an independent contractor who will be able to help you with your design ideas.
Choosing the Designer
Now that you have your prospects, it's time to decide who gets the job. Before you interview anyone, you'll want to think some more about what it is you want to do and what your personal style is. See if you can write a simple, short description of the project you have in mind. Spend some time looking through magazines to see what styles you like. Cut out the pictures that reflect the sort of look you're going for.
When you interview the designer, show him or her the description and the clippings and see what happens. If the designer immediately tries to steer you in a different direction, that may be a bad sign. Or it may mean your ideas are impractical. But if that's the case, a good designer will be able to help you understand what you really want and to find a more practical way of getting there.
You should also ask the designer what other work they've done. If they have a portfolio, that will help you get an understanding of the breadth of their style. Make sure to find out how involved you can get in the project. Some designers prefer to work alone and show you the finished project. Others enjoy the amateur help. If you want to implement the design yourself, ask if they are amenable to providing the design and letting you take it from there. And of course, you're going to want to know how much the designer charges and how those fees are structured. Remember that an hourly fee can seem cheaper if you optimistically estimate the time. But a flat fee will tell you exactly how much you'll pay.