5 Signs You Don’t Need (or Just Aren’t Ready For) an Interior Designer

Over the past few years with my interior design business, I have come across some interesting clients–some good and some that, well…just weren’t my cup of tea. This whole process of being a third-year business owner has really got me (re)thinking my passion for the biz, what I want from it, and what people should expect to get from me. Especially that last bit.

Problem today is that a lot of people, I’ve come to learn, have very unrealistic expectations when it comes to working with an interior designer or decorator. A lot of this may come from having never worked with one before, or perhaps they’ve worked with someone who was under qualified and/or did not charge their true worth. (To be honest, I have been guilty of the latter, which is one reason why these things are on my mind.) Some of it, I fear, has come from the rise of the “DIY mentality” that’s been trendy lately. (Surely, if you can pin a lot of pictures of things you like on a Pinterest board with similar colors, you can pull together a cohesive, well-designed room…right?) And yet still, I think some of these unrealistic expectations may come from a personal unwillingness to be honest with one’s self.

Thing is if you’ve spent any amount of time toying with the idea of enlisting the services of an interior designer or decorator, then part of you already knows that you can’t actually pull that room together all by yourself. That is okay; it’s why designers and decorators do what they do!  However, if you find yourself continually struggling with the idea of hiring a professional and handing over some of the responsibility of redefining your interior space, then perhaps it’s time to consider the signs that hey, you might really not need one after all!

Sign #1: You Refuse to Part with Anything

A large part of good design involves editing, and that means making decisions about what should stay and what must go. But let’s face it: sometimes people hold onto things they shouldn’t simply because they are hoarders, are unwilling to sort through vast amounts of junk, or for purely sentimental reasons. If your dog has thoroughly shredded your living room sofa that once belonged to your grandmother, who passed away from cancer two years ago, that is understandably not going to be an easy thing to part with. However, if you really want that stellar space then you are going to need stellar stuff to fill it with. The sofa doesn’t necessarily have to be gutted, though; it could even be reupholstered and restored. Yet sometimes people are so invested in their belongings because of the memories and emotions they stir within them that they are unwilling to alter it in any way, let alone part with it.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of this, but the design process can be a very emotional experience. As human beings, we are constantly developing attachments and associating positive and negative thoughts and emotions with all sorts of things and people we come across, without even realizing we are doing so. It’s possible that in some cases a client may not be emotionally ready for the process of changing his/her home–which is totally fine, and I like to think a good designer would be aware of this, if this were the case.

If the thought of getting rid of any of your belongings to make improvements to your home, and essentially your lifestyle, sits ill with you, then perhaps it would be wise to consider putting off that pet design project you’ve been dreaming of until your priorities have evolved to accommodate your personal home improvement goals.

Sign #2: You Have Trust Issues

If you don’t feel like you can trust your designer, then your project is already DOA. Without trust, second-guessing and backdoor decision-making comes into play–which only sews negativity and distrust into the designer-client relationship. The last designer you worked with may have swindled you out of $1,500 for a project they never completed, though guess what? I am terribly sorry that happened to you, but I am not that interior designer.

There are terrible people in this world, sure, but there are also some really trustworthy people. Nothing worthwhile comes without risk, so if you are unable to go out on a ledge and place your faith in someone other than yourself to create the design project of your dreams then perhaps you should reconsider working with an interior designer. Granted, being an interior designer inherently involves playing psychologist at times, but that is not (usually) our specialty. We can only put up with so much baggage.

Keep in mind that coming into a stranger’s home is a risk for us, too. I’ve conducted phone consultations with potential clients who came across as very impatient, unstable, or verbally aggressive. Needless to say, I declined working with them. Of course, if your designer gives you an icky vibe, then it’s equally in your best interest to find another that you feel more comfortable with. Trust is a two-way street that has to be crossed to get anywhere, so let’s all use our best judgement and not let the past hinder us from achieving our goals and enjoying our lives.

Sign #3: You’re a Control Freak

This could easily stem from having trust issues, or this could be a precursor. Either way, an unwillingness to take advice from someone who truly has your best interests at heart simply stifles the design process. If the thought of letting a designer weed out certain possibilities in order to narrow down your choices to a cohesive, functional whole gets your blood boiling, then consider accepting the responsibility of sifting through all the choices and making decisions yourself. Or better yet, accept what you have and live with it.

Blunt? Perhaps, but anything else would be a waste of time. It takes not only time but good design sense to sift through all those furniture and decor choices and come up with a mix that works on both aesthetic and functional levels–not to mention keeping building codes in mind, if it’s a substantial remodeling project. Wouldn’t you rather someone else did that for you? No? Then you probably don’t need a designer.

Sign #4: You Keep Your Budget on a (Very) Tight Leash

This one goes hand-in-hand with Sign #1. Sometimes there are ways to rework what you already own to get a better looking space without spending any money, but in order for that to work you need to have some pretty decent stuff to begin with. “But a real designer can make anything work!” (I don’t know if anyone has ever actually said this out loud, but if they have, it is a lie.)

If your designer is recommending you make some new purchases for your project, then you really only have one of two options:

  1. Take his/her recommendations; or
  2. Don’t.

Ultimately, all decisions come down to what you, the Client, is willing to invest resources in. Don’t want to spend money on great stuff? Then don’t expect great things. (Again, blunt, but it truly boggles my mind how many people think they can get photo-worthy homes when they keep 30-year-old Craigslist finds and ratty hand-me-downs around without putting a bit of money and elbow grease into them, if not considering an upgrade.)

Sign #5: You Can’t Make a Commitment

Now, this last one might seem counterintuitive (after all, your designer is supposed to be helping you make decisions), but the interior design process is ultimately a collaborative one. In order for it to work, the client either has to be willing to make decisions when given options by a designer or be okay with said designer making decisions for him/her, if not a bit of both. If no decisions are made, then no progress is made.

I once consulted with a woman (a realtor, actually) who had difficulty in choosing new flooring for her living room, which she was also seeking decorating advice on. She also had her own contractors in mind and was planning on managing the renovations herself. She had two flooring options in mind, which she showed to me. “Which one should I choose?” she asked. Thing was either of the flooring options really could have worked (our furnishings and materials selections had not been finalized yet), and I communicated this to her. Each option would give off a different feel and had its pros and cons, which we discussed. I will always have my own preference, but at the end of the day, I told her, it really comes down to what you, the Client, feel most comfortable with.

Even after “making a choice” for her by sharing my preference, the client later presented more qualms about the flooring. Now, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get the flooring done just then or down the road. There was a lot of dust and chaos and inconvenience involved, she said, with getting existing floors redone when you already live in the space. True. I told her that even if she didn’t get the flooring done right away, the existing flooring could still work with the design scheme we already had in mind. If she wanted the flooring done now, it would result in less work later because we wouldn’t have to take everything back out again. Though, if she was truly stressed about the process at this point in time, then maybe holding off on the installation would be a better decision for her. Maybe, by then, she would find she didn’t want to change the flooring at all–something my design proposal had already taken into consideration.

Again, I said, which way do you feel most comfortable with? That is the way you should go.

Ultimately, the client was unable to answer this question. She also continued to waver on flooring options and further progress on the project dwindled, even ceased.

Sometimes the inconvenience of a home renovation is so overwhelming that it stops a client from wanting to make any progress whatsoever. Granted, as an interior designer part of our job involves eliminating potential stressors by helping our clients make good decisions, but the keyword there is “help.” In the end, it is not our space we’re being hired to design, so everything must ultimately be approved by the client. If the client can’t make any decisions, then we can’t really do our job because nothing we do will ever work for the client.

I think a lot of people have this idea in their minds that there are “wrong” and “right” decisions with it comes to interior design and decorating; that isn’t necessarily true. What’s “right” for one person may be completely “wrong” for the next. It is a largely subjective process, actually, deciding what should stay in one’s home and what new items should be brought in. In a way, I think this matter also comes down to trust. If your interior designer assures you that any of the choices you are considering for your project are workable, then it is in your best interest to believe her!

After all, you hired her for her expertise. Now all you have to do is trust it.

Have you faced any of these signs during a project?

Honestly, it’s okay if you have. I think there is a time and place for embarking on interior design projects. During or following an unrelated stressful life event, at a time of financial crisis or uncertainty, during transition periods (you’re in the middle of buying a home)…? Yeah, definitely not the time or place.

So before you hire that designer, or even reach out to one, take an honest stock of not only your current life situation but also your state of mind and tendencies. There may be no time like the present, but the present may not be the right time for you!


One thought on “5 Signs You Don’t Need (or Just Aren’t Ready For) an Interior Designer

  1. Sarah White says:

    I think your article is on point! Especially trust issues and control freak, Lol…that is why I only work with you! :) There is a level of trust you have to have to let a complete stranger come in and move things around. It also requires for the homeowner to be open to new possibilities and suggestions…both are difficult. If you can’t let go, then you can’t evolve! :) You have to choose clients that you mesh well with and who are open to change, but not give up on the ones who have little more apprehension…Sometimes we need a little help with letting go! :)


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