Estimating Interior Design Fees

Forecasting interior design fees for budgets

One of the most difficult and perhaps even contentious issues in design is how much should design services cost a client? Or at the very least, how do you estimate the cost?

There is a variety of ways that designers and decorators charge depending on the type of work being preformed and the skill level and experience of the provider.  Many design professionals charge by the hour which is used to cover not only their time and knowledge but also to pay their rent, keep the lights on, put paper in the printer etc.  But for clients, the challenge with this common billing style is how many hours do you estimate so that you can be on budget?

For anyone who knows me, they will know I am practical and fairly conservative when it comes to money.  I don’t like not knowing how much things will cost and I certainly never agree to anything ‘open-ended’ when it comes to hiring other professionals.  So I am well aware of the uneasiness that arises from not really knowing what a designer will cost overall.  (This article will not challenge the value of designers as that is another topic altogether!)

A general estimate of time

So after 15 years of experience in the field working with clients daily, I have taken the time to basically figure out a way to estimate what design fees will generally amount to in residential design projects when the billing is hourly.  (This is based on the work WE do as a firm so it would be a good idea to check with your designer before you move ahead.)

Essentially, I have noted that the total cost of designer fees on a job from beginning to end will total approximately 5% of the entire cost of the job as estimated by the contractor.(This number can go as high as 10%)  So when doing your pre-renovation budget use the total renovation estimate and take 5% of this total for a number to install in the design fees budget line.  Remember, this is just an estimate, but at least it gives you a reasonable base-level expectation of cost.

For example if your contractor looks at your main floor and concludes that to fully gut it, add new lighting, a new kitchen, new flooring etc, will cost approximately $150 000, you can estimate the design fees to add up to be around $7500, including onsite visits, CAD drawings, colour and material selection, furniture layouts etc.  This does not include the other materials that designers offer such as window coverings, furniture and accessories.  These are usually additional costs added on top of renovation costs.

Decorating estimates

This type of estimate really applies to the design professional who works in the reno and cabinet building side of the business rather than the accessory and furnishings side.  In decorating, fees vary much more widely.  For this service, its a good idea as a client to set a cap on the number of hours you are willing to pay for if your decorator is looking for accessories or fabrics for you.  This is a way to control the cost of the project without going over.  If your decorator is experienced they should be able to tell you if your number of hours is realistic, after all they know how long it takes to complete a job.

Always create a budget before you swing a hammer

When it comes to renovation, it is essential to plan first!  I can’t tell you how many times I end up on a job site with a client AFTER they have begun work with a contractor who doesn’t have drawing and has just had basic discussions with the client.  Although it may seem like a great way to save $7500 up front, it will cost you at least that much in planning mistakes and missed opportunities as the project continues.  This is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL when it comes to kitchen or bathroom design.  There are so many new items available today, without proper planning you will miss the chance to at least consider what your options really are.

You have control

I know some of you are freaking out right now thinking, ok, no matter what value design professionals add, it’s still a lot of money!  This is true BUT you have control here! You can employ a designer who charges hourly as little or as much as you want so this helps in keeping to your budget.  But if a designer is good and is helpful, it is worth spending more money on them as they will save you money elsewhere with their knowledge and expertise.

Home is where the money is

Home ownership is about shelter, a place of pride, and of course, about money!  Don’t be foolish and proceed without great advice first!  Even a couple of hours talking with an experienced designer can be very enlightening and help you make some fast decisions which will save you money.  We will always be happy to consult with you just for one time if this makes your project go more smoothly in the end.