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Connoisseur's Guide to Finding a Decorator

Adele Cygelman

There is no perfect science to hiring someone who is going to become intimately involved in every aspect of your home and life. In most cases, you will work and collaborate with this person for at least a year, and longer on larger and more complex projects. Consider the fact that you will be making decisions together every day about every aspect of your home; there is little room for privacy or secrecy.

Important tips:

  • There has to be good chemistry and trust between you and your designer.
  • I suggest that you interview at least three designers before making your final decision. This will give you an understanding of your options and allow you to determine the best partner both professionally and personally for this very intimate project.

How to find a designer:

  • Many designers are members of the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers, www.asid.org), a professional association that sets industry standards, a code of conduct, and offers design referrals.
  • Major design centers such as the D&D Building in New York (www.thedanddbuilding.com), or the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles (www.thepacificdesigncenter.com/home.htm), or the Merchandise Mart's LuxeHome in Chicago (www.mmart.com/luxehome) are to the trade only. However, they all provide complimentary design referral services to match you with a local designer whose taste is compatible with yours. This is a particularly valuable service if you are buying a second (or third) home and need to locate someone in that area who can be on-site while you oversee the project long-distance.
  • There are also independent design search companies that can help you locate an interior designer. One of the longest established is Karen Fisher's Designer Previews (www.designerpreviews.com), which offers a tightly edited selection of high-end interior designers, architects, and even spa and restaurant designers around the world.
  • However, many designers are neither affiliated with ASID nor with a design center. The majority get most of their jobs through word of mouth. Clients typically see a house of a friend or neighbor, fall in love with it, and voilà, the designer is hired.
  • Another option is to look through a home-design magazine, tear out pages of rooms and homes you love, and contact those designers.

The process:

  • Most designers offer a free on-site consultation. Be prepared to answer a multitude of questions about your lifestyle and preferences. If possible, have fabric and color swatches, mementos, magazine pages, and anything else that will help you convey how you envision the design of your home.
  • Payment methods vary widely. Designers charge by the hour, by the square footage, and some charge a flat project fee. In some cases, a client shops for his or her antiques, furniture, or accessories, while in other cases a designer expects to be paid a percentage of the cost of purchasing whether you shop alone or with the designer. All of these options are explained fully on the ASID website
  • Be up-front about the scope of the project, time frame, and your budget. This information will help designers guide you as to which area of the home to target and where best to allocate your resources.

Remember, it's your house and your taste. An interior designer's help is invaluable for editing down all the choices and perhaps pushing you into areas you would never have explored by yourself, but never let anyone dictate how you should live. Only you can decide.

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