How To Find A Designer

Why Bother?

If spending evenings and weekends looking at a dizzying array of sofas and wall colours isn’t your idea of a good time, consider hiring a designer. They can help pull together a cohesive look whether you’re starting from scratch or want to add a few well-chosen pieces to what you already own. If you’re looking to renovate, they can help plan the space and tailor it to meet your needs and lifestyle.

Where To Look

Friends and family: See a house you like? Ask if the owners would recommend their designer.
Magazines or newspapers: Look up the designer of a featured home or model suite.
Store staff:
Your favourite shop may offer decorating services, generally using their products.
Designers’ associations:
Get links for your province’s association via Interior Designers of Canada. Or brownse our directory of designers whose work has appeared most often in House & Home magazine.

What To Look For

Examine portfolios: Do you see rooms you’d want to live in? A registered interior designer should be able to handle any project in any style, but it’s helpful to find someone who has handled projects like yours before (especially for technical requirements in kitchens or bathrooms).
Find out how the design process will work: Will she draw possible room designs for you to choose from? Does he shop retail or custom (the latter is typically more unique — and more costly)? What services are offered (drawings, colour choices, coordinating trades or shopping for items you need) and how many hours are estimated? Agree on a plan, then get it in writing.

Words To The Wise

Decide if you need an interior designer…: In most provinces, registered interior designers must have at least three years’ education at an accredited design school, a minimum of two or three years’ professional experience and have passed North American qualifying exams. Although some designers have a great eye despite no formal training.
…or an interior decorator: Decorators focus less on drafting and building codes and more on a room’s cosmetics, including textiles, wall and window coverings and furniture. Find a decorator through the Canadian Decorators’ Association.
Clarify your wish list: Are you looking for a complete room redo or just a new wall colour? If a designer insists on tossing everything, whereas you were thinking new sofa and cushions, keep looking. Finding the right fit is essential.
Bring magazine clippings: Flip through design and decorating magazines and tear out what you like — and what you don’t. These pages will help a designer get a sense of your style. It’s even better if you can express what appeals about each room: is it the paint colour you admire, the abundance of natural light or the way the space is furnished?

What You’ll Pay

Flat rate: There will be a fixed fee for the designer’s consultation and creation of conceptional drawings and/or choosing paint, fabrics, etc. For $500 and up, you could get a design and floor plan for a small bathroom.
Hourly plus retail: About $65 to $200 per hour, depending on location and the designer’s experience. You pay retail for whatever the designer purchases for you.
Cost-plus: Hourly rate plus 20 to 30 per cent of wholesale products purchased. Designers can shop at trade-only dealers and pass along their discount of about 20 per cent.

Thanks to Sara Dunton of Fredericton, N.B., past president of Interior Designers of Canada; Calgary-based Douglas Cridland of Douglas Cridland Interior Design.

See also How To Hire A Contractor and How To Find An Architect.

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Trish Snyder
Michael Graydon