Costs and Fees

Designers, like other professionals, are different from one another in their combinations of talents, skills, knowledge, experience, personalities, specialty areas and reputations. What and how they charge will vary accordingly.

There is no such thing as a “typical” or “customary” fee for an interior designer. Many factors, including those mentioned above, influence what a designer may charge for his or her services. Most residential designers and many commercial designers use one of the following methods, or combine methods, to set their fees and may negotiate to suit a client’s particular needs:

Fixed fee (or flat fee) — The designer identifies a specific sum to cover costs, exclusive of reimbursement for expenses. One total fee applies to the complete range of services, from conceptual development through layouts, specifications and final installation.
Hourly fee — Compensation is based on actual time expended by the designer on a project or specific service.
Cost plus — A designer purchases materials, furnishings and services (e.g., carpentry, drapery workrooms, picture framing, etc.) at cost and sells to the client at the designer’s cost plus a specified percentage agreed to with the client to compensate for the designer’s time and effort.

For larger commercial projects, costs may be calculated on a per square foot basis, based on the area of the project.

In addition to the fee structures outlined above, designers may require a retainer before beginning a design project. A retainer is an amount of money paid by the client to the designer and applied to the balance due at the termination of the project. The retainer is customarily paid upon signing the contractual agreement in advance of design services.

At one time, cost plus was the most widely used fee structure for residential designers. It is becoming more common now for designers to charge an hourly rate for design services and cost plus for products and services the designer is asked to purchase or a fixed fee for the entire project.

In addition to the designer’s fees, there are other costs to consider. Only you can decide what a reasonable budget for your project is. If you have concerns about price, discuss them with the designer. Don’t be shy about asking the designer to help you optimize your budget. But be realistic, too. You may need to scale back your project or consider having the work done in stages. If you are concerned about the quoted cost of furniture or furnishings, ask the designer to provide you with a list of options.

A final word about cost: How you choose to furnish your interior and how you work with your designer will have tremendous impact on the final cost of the project. Items such as antiques or custom-made furniture, and modifications that involve altering or moving load-bearing walls or beams will significantly increase the cost of your project, as will requesting changes mid-project or making excessive demands on the designer’s time. The more research and planning you do before you start, the more you will be able to help keep costs down during the project.