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How to Hire and Manage an Interior Designer Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 January 2005
Article Index
How to Hire and Manage an Interior Designer
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The Day My Theater Room Fell Apart
The process of redoing a 1959 home proved to be far more expensive than anyone expected. The point where things went irreparably wrong with the designer was the day we started screwing the Stewart Filmscreen in the new framework. I kept looking at the location of the screen as per the placement of the Wilson WATT Puppy speakers I had bought and where the rack was going to go and things just weren’t adding up. There were a complete set of drawings. Things should have been perfect, but I could see before the drywall went up that perfection was not going to happen. I stopped the project dead in its tracks right then and there. And this is one of the biggest lessons I could offer to RHT readers: if you think things are going wrong – they probably are. We started measuring the room using a retractable tape measure and blue painter’s tape to determine speaker locations, furniture locations and the location of the rack. The reality was a nightmare. There were less than two feet to walk between my rack and my sofa and my speakers would be eight feet from my ears, thus creating a near-field listening environment. Worse yet, the 100-inch 4:3 screen would be six feet from the main viewing position. The rule of thumb is to sit least 1.5 times the distance of the width of the screen from the screen. I made this perfectly clear to my designer from the start, but he wasn’t really ever listening.

The solution resulted in a lost week on the project and needed two custom cabinets to be built, costing me over $5,000 for the mistake. My urge was to fire the designer again, but I was at a point where I was so into the project that it wasn’t in my best interests to give him his walking papers, despite my growing disgust with the situation and his lack of care for what was so dear to me.

Are All Interior Designers Direct Descendants of Satan?
Not every designer is a ruthless son of a bitch who lives to add needless drama and pure professional incompetence to your life. The trick is in finding a good one who will do what you want for an agreeable price. Here are a few of my best tips:

1. Ask your most respected sources (like your AV dealer, architect, etc.) for referrals for top designers. Pick a style that you like (modern, mission, country chic, etc. …) and be clear about what you want. When interviewing a designer, beware of the “I can do that style” line when they don’t have at least one project they have photographed or can show you on a walking tour.

2. Interview no less than three clients who have completed projects with the designer. Ask them what the upsides and the downsides of the designer are. Designers tend to be highly creative, which is good, but it is important to know what their weaknesses are before you make a significant commitment with them.

3. Find out how many purpose-built theaters a designer has done. Also ask which local AV installers have they worked with. Interview the AV installers to see how smoothly the project went. Remember to run from drama queens. If you sense that your AV firm is not comfortable with a prospective designer, then also avoid that situation.

4. Check the support staff of the design firm. Chances are, your dealer has someone who can do CAD (computer assisted drawings), but can your interior designer? Mine couldn’t. He wanted to draw on paper, which really looked pretty, but in the end cost me well over $30,000 in mistakes, some of which could not be fixed. Look to the level of support staff of the designer and the AV design firm. How many assistants do they have? Ordering people? Delivery and install people? If they have this kind of staff, they show signs of being a real company capable of pulling off miracles in crunch time. This is where the good firms earn their money. If a designer is a one-man show – buyer beware.

5. Most importantly, test the designer to see if he or she is listening to you. Many designers want to talk over you and then just do whatever they want, thinking that you will deem it fabulous when they are done, additionally parting with thousands of extra dollars to boot.

6. Beware of any sub who repeatedly tells you how busy he or she is. Ask why the designer is meeting with you if he or she is “too busy” to take on your project. Remind the designer you aren’t too busy to meet or talk with him or her. If the designer makes a big deal out of how “slammed” he or she is, find someone who is hungry. Someone who really wants the gig will assuredly do a better job than an entitled fat cat designer.


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