Demystifying the design process

I’ve been working in the design industry for about 11 years now, and I often come across folks who have no idea what people in my line of work really do.

So today, I want to demystify the design process. Simplify it if you will. Give you my perspective of how the whole thing works.

Remodeling your existing home or designing a new home can be an exciting but overwhelming process. Renovations require both a huge emotional and financial investment. Whether you are starting from scratch or giving a room or two a makeover, hiring a professional will streamline the process and save you both time and money, as well as give you a cohesive and beautiful design throughout your home. Planning and organization is the key to simplifying the process, and a designer can help you with just that.

The first date- The initial consultation

If you are considering working with a decorator or designer, finding the right one is imperative. Your home is a personal space, and you want to feel comfortable with the person that will be helping you through the building or renovation process. Above all, you should be looking for someone that listens to you. Ask family and friends if they have a designer they can recommend and do some research on local designers through websites such as Houzz.  Once you feel you may have found the right fit, it’s time to schedule the initial consultation. Evaluate a designer during a getting-to-know-you interview.  During this first meeting, the designer should analyze the client’s needs and goals. It should be time spent thinking about the ‘vision’ of the project. This meeting should also be a brainstorming session where ideas are exchanged and creativity is nurtured. Building a home is a personal process, so don’t be afraid to share how your family lives. It’s important that there’s a comfortable and open dialogue so good ideas can grow into great ideas! If after the first meeting you don’t feel like the designer will be able to help you achieve your dream space, perhaps explore finding someone else to work with.

What we need from you… your homework

The design process is a team effort, and in order to create the space of your dreams you need to do a bit of homework. It’s always beneficial to start doing some research sooner than later.

(PHOTOS AND VISUAL EXAMPLES) Start saving images of spaces you love, tear pages out of magazines, and start touring showrooms and suppliers to see what’s out there, and available to you. Collect fabric and paint swatches. Visual examples are a great way to communicate with your designer the overall look and feel that you that you are after. When considering a photo to share, keep in mind that you do not have to love every element of the space in the photo. It could just be a small detail or two, such as a light or paint color.


Prior to the Initial Consultation, I always ask clients to come up with a wishlist. A written description of likes and dislikes, needs and wants. This helps prioritize features in the design. The more thorough you can be in the early stages, the less time will be spent in fact-gathering and planning, which means your project will move along faster!

Once you have decided to move forward with the designer of your choice, a site measure is required.


The designer will need to take measurements of your existing space to have a starting point in the drawings. When coming up with a new floorplan layout, the existing dimensions will allow the designer to provide accurate, to-scale drawings. Wall lengths, window and door openings, ceiling heights, bulkheads and any details to consider will be measured.


Once the site measure is complete, the drafting process can begin. Every designer will have a different procedure, but generally speaking this is what you can expect in your drawing package. The first page will include your existing floor plan. We always include this to communicate with contractors what they will be dealing with prior to construction. The preliminary plans may be a couple of layout options, that don’t generally include a ton of information or dimensions. The preliminary designs are intended to get the conversation going, and the final design may be a combination of several preliminary floorplan options.

Once the floor plan has been established, the elevations are next. Elevations are drawings that showcase what each wall will look like as if you were standing infront of it. Elevations are especially useful in kitchen design or custom design details, as they indicate heights of different elements, such as drawers.

Some other components of  the drawing package may be an electrical and switching  plan to locate lighting and switches, a flooring plan to indicate flooring transitions and, a painting and material schedule to clarify where each color and material will be used.


Investing in drawings is one of the best things you can do for you project to give it the greatest chance to be executed smoothly. With scaled drawings, you are able to get accurate quotes of materials because the desired end result is conveyed. The drawings are like a road map that help you get from point A to point B.


A designer keeps a close eye on all details, big and small, and it is up to you to decide their level of involvement.  Depending on how much time and participation you would like to have in the process, your designer can either involve you in every step along the way or take care of everything for you. You can accompany them to furniture, lighting and tile stores or they can shop for you and bring you a selection in your price range. Besides saving time and getting expert advice, one of the best perks of working with a designer is that they have access to decorative sources that you do not. There are many high-end fabric and furniture showrooms that will not sell to the public but of course sell to designers. Designers are also in touch with professionals who can create custom pieces to suit your taste and needs. If custom is not what you are interested in or is not within your budget, many retail stores now offer a discount to designers as well. Find a designer that is flexible, and is available to whatever capacity you see fit.

Here are a few examples of how a designer can help you:

  • Provide general advice and help set your priorities.A good designer and decorator can offer suggestions for room arrangements, color schemes, material selection, and window treatments, based on knowledge of what is available in your price range and what is appropriate for each use.
  • Pull a house together.If you've moved your old furniture into your new house, a designer can help you bring the new look together.
  • Complete a room.A designer can also help you with smaller projects, such as fine-tuning one room or decorating to include an heirloom piece of furniture.
  • Coordinate a floor-to-ceiling makeover.A designer can help you create a dream come true.
  • Refer you to various home improvementprofessionals, and offer you a designer discount where applicable
  • Make furniture recommendations.If your primary need is new furniture, working with a designer gives you the option to explore a furniture layout. This scaled drawing can be a great tool when shopping, as you will know what size sofa and chairs, etc to look for.
  • Help you personalize your home.An interior designer can help you add the finishing touches that give a room that special "magazine look. Keep in mind, too, that one of the advantages of using an designer is access to exclusive or to-the-trade items, including fabrics, furniture, window coverings and accessories that contribute to your home's one-of-a-kind look.
  • Work with what you have. One service that is gaining popularity is "one-day decorating." For a one-time fee, a designer, sometimes referred to as an interior arranger, will visit your home and offer suggestions for working with what you already own by rearranging furniture, swapping artwork between rooms, re-covering furniture, and painting walls. Sometimes a set of fresh eyes is all your space needs to mix things up!


Above all, the relationship with your designer must feel right, or it won't work. Remember, you're working together on your private environment. Once you decide on a designer, be sure  that you clearly understand the services offered and fees implicated with those services. Designers charge in different ways. Depending on your needs and the scale of the project, a designer may combine payment types. Keep in mind, too, that not every designer offers every payment option.

A couple of ways designers charge are:

  • Hourly Be sure to understand if this includes travel, shopping, and the like. Also ask what expensesyou may be billed for during the project.
  • "Cost plus," where you pay retail prices for fabrics; the designer's "fee" will be the difference between what you pay and the cost of the furnishings at wholesale.
  • percentageof the cost of furnishings and/or labor.
  • flat feefor the entire job.

I want to end with clarifying some very common myths. Here are some classic misconceptions of decorators and designers that I want to emphasis are not true!

 Interior Designers Are Unaffordable

This is a big one—a lot of people assume that designers are just for the rich and famous. This is such a huge misunderstanding that stops most people from picking up the phone to call a designer for help.

Here is what everyone needs to know: Designers will work within your budget. If you only want help with one room, or just a wall color—most are willing to offer advice for those very small projects. Pick up the phone and just ask them if they are willing to take on a small, budget-friendly job. You will be so happy that you did!

 Designers Are Rigid And Uptight

You know how this myth has been generated?? TELEVISION. Of course, there are a lot of design shows that highlight a rigid designer who seems hard to deal with; who expects things ‘their way or the highway’; who are just plain mean!—I am going to be so bold to suggest that a lot of this is an act for television, increase ratings.

Unfortunately, it may stop some everyday people to look toward a designer for help. Designers live just like the rest of us, most of them aren’t rich and they are more down-to-earth than many people think.

All we do is Play With Fabric Swatches

A large part of a designer and decorators job is to make spaces functional, safe, and beautiful. They not only play with fabrics, paints and decorative items; they must determine space requirements, layouts, read blueprints from builders, be well-versed in building codes.

If you are working with a designer, then you can rest assured they have attained a lot more from school than just the opposing colors on a color wheel.

Designers are more than happy to design rooms to suit your needs, whether they be masculine or feminine.

 Designers Are know-it-alls

While most designers will certainly know a lot more about design than the average person, it doesn’t make them know-it-alls! As a client, you need to be clear and concise about your wants, needs and budget constraints. You need to be specific about how you see the designer being apart of your project, and which roles he or she will take.

Designers can only give you what they know, and if information is lacking, well, then they will fill in the blanks with their own personal ideas of what you need and want. It may be a dream-come-true for a designer to hear the words ‘Do whatever you want’, but this scenario is unlikely to result in a home that speaks to who you are.

So don’t hesitate to communicate! I always emphasize to my clients that my feelings will not get hurt… it is important for you to tell the truth about likes and dislikes, since, afterall this is your house, not mine!


 Their Homes Are Stage Perfect

We imagine a designer to have a perfect home. Funny thing is, many are much too busy working on other peoples homes, leaving them very little time for their own.

Sure, they get discounts at all the great showrooms, giving them opportunities to design the home of their dreams, but this is not the case for all designers. Most designers find themselves surrounded by a space that has a long ‘to do’ list. If you were to come to my house today, you would many dings in the drywall from my 4 year old’s hockey stick and a sticky finger print here and there.

They Won’t Reflect My Taste

You want your home to reflect who you are—no one wants to be left with a home looking like a stale, false magazine cover where it seems no one would ever really live.

A good designer would never let their own tastes mesh or take over a client’s taste.  Before any project begins, a designer will sit with you and learn all your wants and needs. Only after a clear image has been created and approved will they then create your space. Yes, YOUR space. In the end a design should reflect who you are.

 My Modest Home Is Not Worthy Of Design

Every home deserves a great design, no matter how small or how big. While it may seem that design is only for the rich and famous, it is simply not true. And as we have mentioned above, design can be affordable to every one and even the smallest budgets can create a well-designed home.

Regardless of size, your home should be your castle. We suggest you reach out to a local designer who is able to work within your budget. Turn your small, modest space into one you are proud to call home.

A Designer Won’t Give Me A Livable Space

As we mentioned earlier, we don’t want to be left with a unwelcoming, cold space where everyone is scared to sit down, let alone live.

There are a lot of designers who are skilled at creating a homey environment that remains livable, yet also looks amazing. Before deciding on who to hire, be sure to ask the designer for pictures of past projects, and tell them that you want a space that is beautiful and livable. Perhaps you have kids, dogs etc.. a well-skilled designer can create a home that accommodates all your living needs.

Designers may battle a lot of misconceptions, but their skills and expertise trump all the myths. Paying for the expertise of a designer is well worth it; they have the power to turn a plain and simple space into a beautiful home.


Don’t let your project overwhelm you. While it may have at one time been thought of as an unnecessary luxury, hiring an interior designer will afford you the time to focus on what you do best while they use their expertise to create a space that both functions and exudes the style and warmth you want in your home.

When working with a designer, thought will be given to all the little details so that the choices made will flow with the overall style and design you are trying to achieve throughout the home.