A Design Project: Where & How to Start

A Design Project:  Where & How to Start


OK!  You’ve pretty much decided that you need to fix up your house, or redecorate or repaint, but think that perhaps you can’t properly do this alone.  WHAT now?

Get referrals – hopefully based on experience.  If you are looking for a single product type (shades or some other non-drapery window covering) or a couple of things, a well-experienced/educated sales person can be where you start.  Look around the store/showroom and watch and listen for someone knowledgeable.  It’s possible that the store will have a sequence for matching up salespeople with customers, and someone will jump as soon as you come in.  Carpet, flooring, tile, lighting, kitchens/baths all fall in this kind of category.  Some of the best experts I work with “in the trade” do retail sales as well and have abundant information to share.

Need more, but know where you think you’d like to shop?  Many furniture and some department stores have “decorators” or “designers”, at all levels of taste and expertise. They likely have different training/design education backgrounds than independent designers.  But they will know their showroom’s products.  Retail is retail, so remember that they are primarily salespeople.  If they are having a 30-40% off sale, go for it.  If it includes delivery, prices are good.  Can be Very Good.  Again, they will (and should) mostly sell what they show:  Walter E. Smithe, Ethan Allen, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn & Bloomingdales are in that category.  Some retailers might offer no-interest financing these days.  If you can get it, that’s an awesome opportunity.

OR, is this a multi-faceted project?  Do you want access to all the showrooms and all the bells and whistles?  Many specialized retail showrooms also discount to “the trade”, so then you should consider a Design Professional for your home, or office or whatever your interiors project is.


In order to get into the “real” wholesale showrooms or get “trade discounts” all most vendors require is a resale (sales tax) number and a business card.  Many wholesale showrooms don’t think that’s enough.  Doing a beautiful job decorating your own home or your neighbors’ condo is not enough experience and knowledge to be a design professional.  A Designer should be able to understand Construction Documents (blueprints and specifications) and help you make some educated changes, plus be able to do all you expect and perhaps introduce you to art, antiques and accessories.

Illinois REGISTERS Interior Designers.  One who is qualified by the State (& has that 5 x 7 bluish Certificate somewhere, with a number on it, like a barber or a doctor) is considered a Registered Interior Designer.  That is not the same as a Decorator or a Designer.  If y’all ask, I’ll explain more, but there is an “act” (yep, “legalese”) published on the State of IL web site that explains ALL of it. If you fit the education criteria and have passed a Qualifying Exam, you can be registered in Illinois.  The web site lets you look people up.


First:  personal referrals.  From work, your family, your architect, the gym, the showroom salesperson, a contractor.  Also check credentials, experience in the kind of job you need.  If you get a name from someone, use these tools.  It seems that most Designers have a web site, Facebook Fan page, Twitter account, or a combo.  ASID and IIDA have offices in the Mart.  On their web sites, searches connect to names of Designers.  ASID lists Prof. and Allied members, some link to individual web sites.

You can Google: Designers, IL Designers, IIDA, ASID etc, and it will work, but muddling through will be cumbersome (I just tested it) and remember that the ones on the top and in the side columns pay for those ads.  Good for them!  Really!  But it doesn’t make them more qualified, just more visible. (Like this Blog is for me!)

Then call! (or, I guess, send an e-mail).  Between your questions and theirs you’ll both know if you want to pursue the conversation in person.   Ask how and what they charge. Probably, you’ll get a different response from everyone.  Unfortunately for the consumer, there’s no one method.  Years ago everyone charged based on List (or suggested Retail).  Now, it’s everything from a Tiered Set Fee (depending on the complexity, size of your project) to full List, plus freight and delivery (don’t forget that component) or by the hour.  Combinations are OK, too.

This info is “heavy lifting”, but belongs out there for all to see.  Take whatever time you have to decide and remember that waiting 10-14 weeks is standard for anyting custom, so don’t wait till a week before you want it Done!





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