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Heartfelt Truths from an Interior Designer

Finding appropriate interior designers and contractors is gradually becoming an uphill task. Most homeowners cannot help but be sceptical at the thought of entrusting their home to somebody else. “Will there be blunders along my renovation journey?” “Will everything work out the way I want?” These are but a couple of common worries some people have. Truth be told, interior designers and contractors are running businesses too. Not all of them are bad. As consumers, it can be a little tough trying to figure out the job scope of an interior designer. The good news is, we’ve managed to find answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Read on for more.

1. Professional advice

Interior designers are experts at what they do but they’re also human. What do you do when you encounter doubts or are unsure about certain things while discussing designs with the homeowners? E.g. as a house owner, I want a certain design but I’m not sure if it fits (will the door be blocking the walking area/hindering certain movement). We all know it can be tedious for additional changes to be made after renovation. Do you let homeowners know upfront when you are unsure about something?

What the interior designer thinks: I usually request for some time to work on the things I’m not sure of. I [give] advice [based on] my personal judgement of the design, layout, or space given. If a client insists on what they want, I prompt them to make sure they know what they’re getting into.

What we think: Firstly, it’s always good to find out how many years of experience your designer/project manager has. If they’ve been in the industry long enough, they would know when functionality precedes aesthetics. Upon suggestion, try to stick with theirs. Go with functionality. As a homeowner, you also have a huge part to play in terms of creating your dream home. Ask any and all questions, don’t be shy. Be good friends with your interior designer and ensure they know exactly what you require.

2. Profit vs Consumer wellbeing

There are some designers that recommend the most expensive option for the sake of closing a larger deal. Is there are more ethical way of doing business? Is there a chance that you would renovate a home for a small budget?

What the interior designer thinks: Of course. I don’t think that a larger deal [necessarily] means bigger profits. I look at things in the long run. Let’s say we’re able to satisfy the customer within their budget and give them the things they need, at least we know we might be able to get referrals. This is an ongoing business.

What we think: Needless to say, budget is one of the most important elements to consider during renovation. The fact remains that cheap things can never be good, and vice versa. If you buy a cheap pair of shoes and they wear out, you can always replace them. But what about home renovation? Would you want to risk having things fall apart every now and then? We all know it is a potentially tedious process to deal with. That said, however, you don’t necessarily have to go for the high-end, expensive stuff. Try to do some of your own research as far as quality and branding of materials go before purchasing. If you still cannot find it in yourself to trust your designer (for some reason we always don’t), try to get quotations from a few (about 3) so you can get a better grasp of the materials and prices.

3. When errors/misunderstandings arise

Do you think a designer should compensate for mistakes they make or attempt to shift the blame to other factors? There are a good many technical aspects about renovation homeowners (especially first-timers) are not familiar with. When a blunder happens or when something goes wrong and if it means additional burden/costs, how should an interior designer fix the issue?

What the interior designer thinks: When problems arise, it’s not wise for IDs to put the blame on others. If it’s my own fault, I’ll definitely have to bear the costs. If it’s the customer that chooses the wrong materials, etc., we have no choice. We have to arrange for a meeting with them to sort things out. I believe that there’s always a way of sorting things out.

What we think: Interior designers, like fellow human beings, make mistakes as well. It is hence crucial to forge a good relationship with your interior designer to minimise any potential disagreements or arguments. As homeowners, we have to set our expectations right from the beginning. For example, carpentry works are all man-made, and man-made items can never be measured to the millimetre. Some glitches are forgivable. The same goes for raw materials such as wood or granite; there are always differences in terms of patterns and designs.

4. Quotations

Many designers are known to charge cheaply in the beginning but many hidden costs are piled on later on. How can we avoid this? Are there any measures being taken to ensure that quotations given are as transparent as possible?

What the interior designer thinks: This has always been a trending issue. That’s why we should always tell our customers to make sure that everything in the quotation is detailed (lengths, heights, materials used, models of furniture, etc.), especially the prices. It has to be 100% open, not charging in lump sums or unclear descriptions. The homeowners have a role to play as well.

What we think: The responsibility of making sure the quotations given are accurate does not solely lie on the interior designers’ shoulders. Because the price list is potentially extensive and complicated, homeowners have to be proactive and clear any doubts from the beginning to avoid further confusion later on.

5. Materials

As homeowners, we want to ensure the best materials go into creating our dream home. As designers, how do you make sure you get your hands on the best materials in the market? Since the best materials don’t come cheap and cheap things don’t last, what do you do to balance out costs in the process?

What the interior designer thinks: Best materials aside, I think homeowners need to understand that it’s not about the company or the materials. It’s always about the ID they’re working with. Are they able to trust the ID? Are they able to accept the ID’s ideas? Are they able to work hand-in-hand with him/her? It is tough to define “best materials”? There’s no such thing as “best materials”, only “suitable materials”.

For balancing out costs, it’s about priorities. As far as carpentry works go, hardware equals to lifestyle these days; some people prefer soft-closing, some prefer anti-slam. All these are secondary. I think the most important elements are usually waterproofing and paint quality.

What we think: According to different people, the definition of “best materials” differs. Be sure to come to a common understanding with the interior designer you’re working with and you’ll be fine.

6. Site visits

As far as we know, project managers are supposed to visit the site after the project is complete to ensure that the clients are satisfied and that quality is ensured. Is this something you pay strict attention to? —> Do you keep your clients updated as the renovation is moving along? If so, how do you do that?

What the interior designer thinks: Of course. Every ID works differently. My clients are usually busy at work or with their families. They really trust the ID and understand the ID will be able to handle the process. My way of doing it is updating them with photos every two or three days regarding every object we have completed.

What we think: After entrusting your raw home to the interior designer, keep in close contact. Feel free to request for updates and photos whenever you feel like it. Still, remember to give your designer some space and air to breathe. They are most likely handling much more than just your project. Never expect a designer to wait on you 24/7. Expect a responsible one who would take ownership of your home.

7. Anything we need to take note of? Any advice for homeowners?

What the interior designer thinks: It’s always about looking for the right ID. We are like hairstylists. You would go back to [your hairstylist, if you were satisfied with their work before] no matter where they are. Sometimes you shouldn’t look at prices and packages (these are trending now) because all these are always a little bit tricky to deal with.

What we think: The thing you should remember, more than anything else, is that your interior designer is always here to help. They’re the ones with the knowledge and experience. They’re the ones who know the industry inside out. Once you’ve decided on the most suitable one, trust them, and build a lasting friendship in the process.


We’d like to thank The Interior Lab for providing their insight.


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