What actually goes into interior design, and why can a project be so costly?
I can't tell you how many times I've encountered a look of shock when a proposal is sent, and while we aren't the cheapest, we most certainly are not anywhere near the most expensive. The problem is, people genuinely have no real idea what goes on behind the scenes, and how many hours it actually takes to complete a space properly. So, I thought it may be beneficial to provide a little clarity.
Let's walk through a project together. Take a master bedroom as an example.
Step 1: Initial Client Consultation
Meeting with prospective client, assessing technical details of the space, gaining an understanding of not only what aesthetic this client thinks they want, but also how they view themselves and how they want to be viewed. Getting a deep understanding into how the client thinks is extremely important, as more often than not, how they want to be viewed and view themselves directly impacts the design choices they will make. We also get a good understanding of the functional and mental needs of the space. As a master bedroom, is this a place to relax? Simply to sleep? To reassess oneself before the day begins? Much of this is done via a brief questionnaire and some slides of furniture and art selections.
Once that is complete, a general budget and timeline are confirmed. The client decides what level of design service they are interested in. For example, space planning and direction only? Basic furniture? Or the whole package, including all finishing touches, art, accessories and decor etc.
Step 2: Draw Up Proposal
Here, all information is reviewed and used to establish projected hours needed to complete the project to our standards. We assess how many hours are expected to go into space planning, budget proposals, design aesthetic direction boards, regrouping and changing design direction potentially, drawings, renderings, product selection, reassessing selections within space planning, ordering samples, following up with vendors, coordination of deliveries, reselecting for items that didn't work out, site visits, working with vendors for custom pieces, material selection and comparison, purchasing, tracking, returns, managing timelines, communication and project management with contractors and other subs, travel time, onsite install and placements, arranging decor, clean up, backend budget recordings and invoicing for client and general client communication along the way.
Overwhelmed? Well then you may be beginning to get the picture, except remember, we haven't done anything yet, we've only carefully considered the estimated amount of time that will be needed to complete all the above for this clients particular space and needs. And remember, the more a client is involved, the higher the cost of our services. Why? Because it ends up taking much more time to complete each stage.
Step 3: Contract Execution
At this stage, the client has agreed to terms and we now send out a formal contract. This outlines the proposal agreed upon, the project timeline, expiration date of contract, rights to photos etc. The client signs, sends back and sends us a deposit. Once received, the real fun begins!
Step 4: Space Planning and Direction Boards
Every project will work slightly differently, but this is general procedure. Behind the scenes, we're working those measurements, making sure we are getting the most out of the square footage we have to work with, and accounting for any special needs like handicap clearance etc.
Simultaneously, we're using all the information we initially gathered about the client and the space needs, style and personality, and putting together a direction board. This includes materials, furnishings and decor but as a general rule, does not necessarily include items that would be used or are in budget. This is just a tool for us to be sure we nailed what this client is looking for and for the client to be ready to move forward feeling heard and understood.
Step 5: Adjustments & Smart Design
This stage is where we make the tweaks. Whether it's a layout adjustment based on new feedback, or veering slightly with the design direction. We also go through the project with Cloud9 Smart (assuming this is a new build or some serious renovations, does not apply to simple decorating face lift) to be sure we're planning things correctly from the get go, and properly assessing our lighting/speaker/window treatment needs and systems. We go over it all with the client and make sure we've covered all necessary points and are ready to move forward.
Step 6: Purchasing Proposal & Contractor Coordination
After the general assessments with space planning and direction have been made, we put together a spreadsheet of items we believe will need to be purchased and the estimated price range. With this sheet we provide the client with an estimated budget they can expect and make sure we're in line with expectations before moving on to product sourcing. Simultaneously, we're completing our "book" for the contractor to follow and adjusting/coordinating anything necessary from a renovation or build perspective.
Step 7: Sourcing & Project Management
Client has approved of the purchasing proposal or estimate, and now the team works on narrowing down each piece. What's super important to understand is that a lot goes into this phase. Each piece needs to not only match the design direction and aesthetic, but also has to be of a certain quality, the correct measurements needed, be available in the right lead time, work within the budget etc. And all of those qualifications need to be met. And often it takes time to even find something that works with what we need from a design perspective! Let alone one that fits all the needs.
At the same time, we're constantly working with the contracting and sub teams to ensure all directions are followed properly, and timelines are being met. As well as quality of work being up to par.
Step 8: Purchasing
Once we've pulled together all the needs of the project, we send the client a new purchasing proposal, this time not an estimate. The client reviews, approves, sends purchasing funds, and the purchasing/scheduling/tracking begins! This part is much harder than most realize. Some vendors are incredibly difficult to deal with or get a hold of. The amount of follow up needed to ensure a smooth process is quite frustrating. But that's why you hire us!
Step 9: Install & Completion
Depending on the nature of the project, we either store all items for a one time install, or we have the items delivered to the site as they come and install in pieces. In this stage, we purchase all finishing touches, smaller decor and styling items still needed etc and handle any return or exchange of items that simply didn't pan out as expected. Keep in mind, depending on the size of the space, this can be a few days on it's own! As we go through this, there's often a punch list created and handled with the contractor of all minor fixes and finishes needed.
Voila! Now you have a (hopefully) clearer idea of why projects cost what they do in terms of design fees. You are simply paying for glamour and style. you're paying for hours and hours of work, design and due diligence!
On one of the next posts, I'll be answering some common interior design project questions. If you have any questions or curiosities beyond what was listed in steps 1-9 above, please email them in to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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