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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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AV Education on RHT

How to Hire and Manage an Interior Designer

Written by Jerry Del Colliano

If you are in the process of building a theater or maybe someday looking at adding to or remodeling your home to include a fantastic, purpose-built home theater, the likelihood is you are going to be working with an interior designer. Much like knowing lawyers and paying taxes, they are a necessary evil. The choice you make in picking an interior designer is essential in the success and budgeting of your project. In most states, there are literally no significant barriers to become an interior designer. In California, where I recently finished remodeling a 1950s “post and beam” home, the guy who maintains my SUV or the guy who washes my hair at my Beverly Hills salon must have state certification, thus insuring at least a cursory level of expertise. An architect has to have years upon years of technical and artistic training before he or she can start building homes, and with each project, a city’s design review oversees your project relative to their codes and standards. All of these safeguards go flying out the window when you hire an interior designer. Any desperate housewife or wannabe Straight-Eye-Turned-Into-A-Designer-Guy who can convince you they can make your house “fabulous” can automatically start to manage what will easily become a six-figure-plus budget. Considering that for most people, their home is their biggest asset, the decision to work with a respected and modest designer is absolutely essential to the success of your project. When a project is completed on budget and has all of the little touches that a good designer keeps in their bag of tricks, you can reap big gains in the value of your home. Pick the wrong designers and prepare the tourniquet because you are going to be hemorrhaging cash within weeks. Having experienced the good, bad and ugly of interiors designers, hopefully the lessons I learned can help you avoid many of the mistakes I made and can lead you to a beautiful home and a no-compromise theater that looks like a gorgeous living environment not a wire strewn recording studio.

Hiring a Designer
When my girlfriend and I started looking to move from my 800-square-foot condo in the hills of West Hollywood, we were quickly drawn to a new, ocean-view condo building in Marina Del Rey called the Regatta that was brand new (a rarity in the Los Angeles area). We found a stack of condos that we liked and, with a few sacrifices, could afford. One particular unit, 1714, was decorated fanatically. We wrote an offer on the unit three times, all of which included the furniture. The real estate agent (who could honestly screw up a wet dream) balked at all three of the offers, thus keeping the unit on the market for five to six more months and getting not a penny more than we offered for the unit despite having the client foot the mortgage plus the $800 per month homeowner’s dues. Don’t get me started on real estate agents – how this mainly incompetent group of “professionals” are worth five to six percent of a million dollar transaction is simply beyond me. But I digress.

Before I wrote my fifth and final offer for units in this gorgeous building dominated by this deal-wrecking real estate agent, I was able to get the name and number of the woman who designed the unit we loved so much. Ultimately, I purchased a modest home in the hills of West Los Angeles and upon closing the deal, I arranged for the designer to come out to see the house and to suggest where we could start. When I spoke with the woman on the phone, she was quick to note that she designed the unit we loved the look of in 14 days, which is really fast. She also bragged that she had completed it for the builder as a spec unit for just over $20,000 furnished. At 1,700 square feet, done up to the nines – this was truly an impressive pitch. A week later, when the designer came to my new home as the building inspector was sitting with me, my real estate agent and the selling agent, going over critical issues relevant to the closing of the deal. The first sign of trouble was the fact she showed up 40 minutes late. When I asked for 10 minutes to finish my meeting, the woman huffed around the home before she interjected herself back into the conversation asking, “Exactly how long is this going to take because I am giving you my time for free – you know?” She was fired before she was hired. Drama queens are your enemy. Tolerate none of their bullshit, no matter how well recommended they are. Your theater will end up completely compromised if you allow some pushy jerk to decide such important elements of your home and AV system.

The next interviewee was an interior designer who lived in my old building who had won multiple Emmy Awards for set design. I gave him a budget of $45,000 to do the most with my house as possible, including a modest guest and master bathroom redesign, along with a rack for my theater. I paid him a $3,500 retainer and an Apple iMac to get him started. When the bid arrived for the entire project, eight weeks in, it was sloppily handwritten, sent via fax, for $128,000. He was even to be commissioned at the rate of 20 percent for each dollar I spent on his contractors that he would subcontract. He too was fired. He claimed that his hand-drawn bid and drawings (which I didn’t get copies of) took him 70 hours, so he kept my retainer but returned the iMac. I sold it on eBay and started to lick my wounds.

Things were looking pretty bad at that point, yet little did I know I was about to make the worst decision yet. My real estate agent set me up with her personal friend and designer who came in and bid the project lower than my $40,000 budget. I hired him just to get going and we started flying by the seat of our pants redesigning the home and preparing the home for a theater in the living room. He took my credit card numbers and a healthy retainer to get started. In retrospect, I needed an architect, but I was told by that designer that he was “an architect” and that I didn’t need anyone else. I was looking into the abyss and didn’t even know it.


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