Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finding a Designer - Lessons Learned

We can all hear the sound of it.  Some may argue that it is an icon of American television. Tick.....tick...tick...tick..tick..tick,tick,tick.  The sound of the wheel on the famous show The Price is Right.  A player’s hard work left to complete chance with the roll of it and the opportunity to play for the grand prizes at the end of the show.  Not a desirable situation to be in when you have made it that far in the game and certainly not something that you would ever want to happen in real life --- or in this case, design world. Your hard earned cash left to utter destiny because you didn’t do your homework.

As my faithful readers may recall from the last few weeks, the Moss family had found our new dream house in a desirable neighborhood in Dallas.  Being that I am not one to delve into anything lightly, I instantly began decorating it in my mind and found the task daunting.  To ease my anxiety about designing my own abode, I decided to do take this chance to hire someone else to help me with the transition from starter home to forever home.  I also thought that it would be a great opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the client side of things.  What a better way to learn more about design than to work with a tried and true professional on my own home!   I decided to take the plunge and began researching designers in the Dallas area for our possible new home.  (I really am an eternal optimist...) Let me walk you through the process.
One of several pictures of my dream living room.

The deep, brooding brown here is very comfy -- diggin’ it

Being that I am new to this whole design arena, I decided to take the very intellectual approach and comb the finest reading material that I had on hand --- DHome.  Each year, DHome lists the top designers in the area based on several criteria and possibly just a lot of letter writing I’m guessing.  I contacted many of the designers via email inquiring about availability and estimate of service charges.    
Initially, it wasn’t easy to wade through all the hub-bub of some of the designers but it did get easier the more I did my homework.  Personally, I would not suggest grabbing the Yellow Pages (do they still have those anymore?) or doing a Google search on interior designers.  This leaves too much to chance.  Be sure to stick to those that have write-ups in magazines, who came highly recommended or have stores in the area.  Not because there might not be others who are just as talented but because you want to make sure that you are getting a quality product.  Some designers that I spoke with didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing and have no formal training in the field.  Then there are some that have beaucoup experience without the website and the write-up.  Either way, be sure to ask lots of questions to those who will potentially be handling your hard earned cash.  You want to make sure that they are in it for the long haul and not just getting by in this world.

I basically got three responses:

1) No Answer.  No response at all.  Nada. Zilch. Zero.  This tells me a few things:  they either don’t work on homes in my area or they are so busy they don’t need the work.  Whichever the case, they are not for you.

2) An email.  Most of my soon-to-be comrades answered promptly with an email back to me.  They asked me to contact them directly via phone and the thought of making all those calls made my ears ring.  I decided the most concise approach was to check out their websites first and then narrow it down based on those details.

3) Quotes & Details.  Pricing does matter in design world.  While some persons were very upfront with me about their pricing, some were less open about their costs.  There were some designers who had the pricing on their websites and some who sent me a document.  Others freely gave it to me on the phone.  That got me to thinking that for some, pricing is a sensitive issue for whatever the reason.  Either way, it varies greatly so find someone that appeals to your personality (and pocketbook) on this issue.

Another dream house option for me...notice the trend?

With all this rolling around in my head, there were a few things that I found out about paying for a designer that were very insightful:

Initial Consultation.  Most designers would be more than happy to meet with you for an hour or so and don’t charge for the initial conversation.  A few do charge -- again, personal choice.

Retainer.  Some of the higher end firms require a retainer for their services and it is usually credited back to the client once the work is completed.  Oftentimes, this retainer is a percentage of the budget set in the beginning.  This helps ensure that the designer is not left high and dry at the end of the project without payment.

Hourly Fee.  This is to be expected in the design market.  Most will charge an hourly fee and the lead designer will fetch the largest coin, followed by design assistants, drafting and tech people.  Who knew that there was such a hierarchy to the method?

Markup.  All designers charge some type of markup on the goods they find for your home.  This can vary from 20 – 50%.  Designers will get a trade discount (things at cost) but they still mark it up to gain a well-earned profit.  It’s the way business is done (even at Walmart).  Take for example that stunning $4,000 antique mirror gracing the walls of your bedroom.  You are charged $4000 for it but the designer paid $2800 for it at the store and then sold it to you for way more than they paid.  Free market at work and rightly so....we all have to make a living right?  Again, the degree to which they mark it up varies greatly.

Type.  Designers vary their rates based on residential or commercial.  Some professionals only do one or the other so make sure that you are getting the right fit for your job.  With a huge endeavor, the price may even go down slightly for your budget.  Makes total sense.

This could even be option number four --- I can’t stop thinking about it!

     I really clicked with several of the designers that I spoke with and they indicated that I should pull together some pictures of what appeals to me.  (Don’t think I haven’t already done that.  Piles of files organized by rooms in hard and soft folders.  Makes me happy.)  A couple of the experts had me fill out questionnaires and sent me pics of the rooms that they had done for previous clients. 

    Yum, yum, yummy....

All in all, I was so excited about the prospect of being on the other side of the design equation and soaking in the expertise of another professional.  With the encouragement of other insiders, I decided to take the plunge and be a big girl and hire someone to help me out.  However despite all my enthusiasm and optimism, it appears as if our dream home is crumbling beneath us. 

We were recently outbid on the home and have been relegated to contingency on the contract.    It’s been a bittersweet adventure for us - as well as exhausting.  But, I really did learn a ton from this experience: sometimes you don’t get what you want, sometimes your kids will whine and cry despite the ideal circumstances, current neighbors don’t get it and new neighbors don’t either (but for different reasons). At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with your decision and know that despite all the grumbling and groans, it was a walk in faith.  So, for now hubbie and I will sit back and regroup about our next endeavor.  Take it from someone who has done their pricing homework, leave nothing to chance or the big wheel when you are designer shopping.  Use my experience to bolster your confidence in finding that perfect someone to create your living environment.
Until the grand prize round-


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