This is the most asked question I get (right after “How much does a kitchen renovation cost?”), and it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Just like any professional service you’re looking to engage, it depends: on the scope of work, where you live, how experienced the service provider is, and how quickly you, as the client in question, make decisions.
I recently read a fantastic article by Kaitlin Petersen in the October/November 2021 issue of House Beautiful about exactly this topic. I’ve tried to post it, but it’s sadly behind the pay wall, so I will try to summarize here.
Generally speaking, interior designers charge in three different ways: by the hour, a flat fee, or a percentage or markup of total budget. Some also charge by the square foot.
By the Hour: Hourly rates can range from $150-$425, depending on where you live, as well as how established the firm is and who will be working on your project. For example, a principal designer’s work is billed at a higher rate than a junior designer or admin assistant. I like to tell my clients that one room generally takes 20-30 hours from start to finish. The HB article estimates that a 3,500-4,500 square foot house (3-5 bedrooms and baths) can take 600-800 hours.
Flat Rate: A flat rate is usually determined by an estimate of how many hours the designer determines the project will require. Any significant change to the scope of work as outlined specifically in your designer’s contract will likely incur additional charges or “change orders”. (This is the way I charge; I find it makes everything easier and everyone knows what the bottomline will be from the start, barring any major changes to the initial contract.)
Percentage and Markups: Some firms will charge a flat fee that is either a percentage of the total project costs (around 15%) but these firms will likely have a minimum project budget.
What exactly are you paying for? The details may will vary depending on how large the firm is, but from a “full service” firm you can expect:
a fully fleshed out furniture and space plan
millwork and lighting plans
elevations for your contractor
hard and soft finishes selections
complete project management (purchasing, budgeting, contractor meetings)
quality check for all purchases (and subsequent returns/refunds)
installation of hard and soft finishes
So much more than shopping goes into a design project. You can see from this list how quickly and easily those project hours will add up. It’s commonly said that interior design is 20% creative and 80% administrative, and I’ve found that to be very accurate. If you’re looking to hire a designer for a project, it’s well worth your time to invest in a consultation to ensure you’re good fit first. After all, you’ll be spending 600-800 hours together so you want to make sure you’ve found your perfect design firm!