5 less known tips to save money when hiring an interior designer for a first time

Hiring an interior designer for the first time can be a daunting and expensive prospect. With careful planning and a few smart strategies, you can save money while still achieving the well-coordinated, efficient layout and polished, personalized aesthetic you desire for your space.

Without a designer’s expertise, your interior may lack cohesion, fail to maximize space and functionality and fall short of your vision.

To help you navigate this process and save money along the way, here are 5 less known tips for working with an interior designer on a budget we use at TALLBOX:

  1. Prioritize and focus on key areas: Instead of redesigning your entire space, identify the most important areas that need attention. This could be a frequently used room or a space that significantly impacts your daily life. By focusing on these key areas, you can make the most of your budget and still achieve a notable transformation.
  2. Be open to alternative materials: Discuss your budget constraints with your designer and be receptive to alternative materials or finishes that can achieve a similar look at a lower cost. For example, using laminate instead of hardwood or opting for a less expensive fabric for upholstery can help you save money without compromising style.
  3. Consider a virtual design package: Some interior designers offer virtual design packages that can be more affordable than full-service options. With this approach, you provide measurements, photos, and a description of your preferences, and the designer creates a plan that you can implement on your own. This can be a cost-effective way to benefit from professional guidance.
  4. Reuse and repurpose existing items: Take inventory of your current furniture and decor to identify pieces that can be reused or repurposed in your new design. Your designer can help you find creative ways to incorporate these items, saving you money on purchasing new pieces while maintaining a cohesive look.
  5. Implement the design in phases: If your budget is tight, consider implementing the designer’s plan in phases. Start with the most essential changes and gradually make additional updates as your finances allow. This approach can help you spread out the costs over time while still working towards your ultimate design goals.
 
Picture of George Nicola
George Nicola

George is a seasoned interior designer and property marketing strategist with over 13 years of experience. He specializes in transforming properties into visually stunning spaces, helping clients recognize the potential and beauty in each property. With an impressive international client base of exciting projects throughout Europe and America.

5 Steps for a Seamless Experience to Hire an Interior Designer as a First-Time Buyer

Embarking on the journey of buying and customizing a home for the first time can be as thrilling as it is daunting, especially if done right after your first real estate purchase.

For many first-time buyers, the prospect of turning a space into a reflection of their personal style and lifestyle requirements presents both an exciting opportunity and a significant challenge. An interior designer can be an invaluable asset in this process, offering expertise in creating a cohesive look that aligns with the homeowner’s vision while maximizing the functionality of the space and at the same time if not done correctly can put a financial strain on your budget.

Illustration of a cutaway view of a two-story modular home, designed by an interior designer, showing various rooms and interior decor in a colorful style.
Illustration of a cutaway view of a two-story modular home, designed by an interior designer, showing various rooms and interior decor in a colorful style.

While some may question the necessity of hiring a professional for interior design, the benefits are clear: designers bring a wealth of knowledge on everything from spatial planning to material selection. They navigate complex projects with ease and can anticipate obstacles, thereby preventing costly mistakes. Moreover, they have access to resources and a network of tradespeople that the average homeowner may not. For the first-time buyer, this means the investment in an interior designer could add not only aesthetic appeal but also tangible value to their property.

Engaging the right designer involves more than simply admiring their past work. It requires a thoughtful approach to ensure the chosen professional understands the buyer’s needs, communicates effectively, and is transparent about the costs associated with their services. By strategically selecting an interior designer, homeowners can create a partnership that transforms a house into a home that resonates with their unique sense of style and meets their everyday living needs.

What are the 3 Basics of Interior Design?

The 3 main basic all time rules we use at TALLBOX are #1 Find the style, #2 Plan it well and #3 Budget right.

Interior design is all about making the inside of a building look and work better for the people who use it. It’s not just about making things pretty, but also about figuring out how to use the space in the best way possible. Interior designers think about things like the layout of the room, the colors and materials used, the lighting, and the furniture.

An interior designer in a vibrant orange suit and colorful hat, gesturing 3 fingers rule, wearing pink sunglasses, against a multicolored background.
An interior designer in a vibrant orange suit and colorful hat, gesturing 3 fingers rule, wearing pink sunglasses, against a multicolored background.

They work to create a space that looks good and feels good to be in.

When starting an interior design project, there are three main things to consider: figuring out your personal style, planning how to use the space wisely, and setting a budget. Each project’s end goal should be to create a well-planned space that is stylish and within a reasonable budget.

You can invest in hiring an interior designer to make a space that shows off your personality, works well for what you need, and doesn’t cost too much.

How to Identifying Your Design Style?

As first-time homebuyers who are unsure about their design style preferences, an interior designer can be an invaluable resource in helping discover and define personal aesthetics.

Understanding your lifestyle: An interior designer will start by getting to know you, your family, and how you plan to use your new home. They’ll ask questions about your daily routines, hobbies, and entertainment habits to gain insight into your lifestyle needs.

Exploring your tastes: To help you identify your design preferences, a designer may present you with a variety of images showcasing different styles, colors, patterns, and textures. They’ll encourage you to react to these images and discuss what you like or dislike about each one.

Identifying common threads: As you share your opinions on various design elements, the designer will look for common themes and preferences. They may notice that you consistently gravitate towards certain colors, materials, or design features, which can help define your personal style.

Providing education and guidance: If you’re unfamiliar with design terminology or the characteristics of different styles, an interior designer can provide education and guidance. They’ll explain the key features of various design styles and help you understand how they might work in your space.

Creating a cohesive vision: Based on your preferences and lifestyle needs, the designer will develop a cohesive design vision for your home. This may involve blending elements from different styles to create a look that feels uniquely yours.

Refining and implementing: Throughout the design process, the designer will continue to refine your style preferences, ensuring that each element contributes to the overall vision. They’ll help you select furniture, colors, materials, and finishes that bring your style to life in your new home.

 
Collage designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring a modern living room with a neutral color palette, sectional sofa, round coffee table, abstract art, and decorative plants.
Collage designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring a modern living room with a neutral color palette, sectional sofa, round coffee table, abstract art, and decorative plants.

What is the step of space planning?

Space planning is an essential step in the interior design process that focuses on creating a functional and efficient layout for your home. It involves analyzing how you use your space and arranging furniture, fixtures, and other elements to optimize flow, comfort, and practicality.

Here’s how an interior designer can help you with space planning for your new home:

Incorporating your style: As the designer develops your space plan, they’ll also consider your personal design style preferences. They’ll select furniture pieces, colors, and finishes that not only serve a functional purpose but also contribute to the overall aesthetic of your home.

Assessing your needs: The designer will start by discussing your lifestyle, family size, and how you envision using each room in your home. They’ll ask questions about your daily routines, storage needs, and any specific requirements you may have, such as accessibility or work-from-home spaces.

Analyzing your space: Your interior designer will measure your home and create a detailed floor plan. They’ll consider factors such as the placement of windows, doors, and architectural features, as well as the flow of traffic between rooms.

Developing a functional layout: Based on your needs and the analysis of your space, the designer will create a layout that maximizes functionality and efficiency. They’ll consider the placement of furniture, lighting, and storage to ensure that each room serves its intended purpose and is comfortable to use.

Optimizing circulation: The designer will look for ways to improve circulation and flow throughout your home. This may involve rearranging furniture to create clear pathways, defining distinct zones within open-concept spaces, or suggesting changes to improve accessibility.

Providing visual aids: To help you understand and visualize the proposed space plan, the designer may create 2D-floor plans, 3D renderings, or virtual walkthroughs. These tools can help you see how the layout will work and make any necessary adjustments before finalizing the design.

 
An aesthetic display by an interior designer of neutral-toned decor items including frames, a vase with branches, and ceramic ware on a textured table.
An aesthetic display by an interior designer of neutral-toned decor items including frames, a vase with branches, and ceramic ware on a textured table.

How to Budget for a Design Project?

Budgeting for a design project is scary, especially for first-time homebuyers who have just made the biggest purchase of their lives. It’s common to feel scared or hesitant about spending extra money on interior design, not knowing where to start and what to spend.

Working with an interior designer can actually help you make the most of your budget and avoid costly mistakes.

Here’s how an interior designer can assist you in budgeting for your design project:

Establishing priorities: An interior designer will help you identify your design priorities and allocate your budget accordingly. They’ll ask you to consider which spaces are most important to you and where you want to invest the most resources.

Setting realistic expectations: Your designer will provide guidance on what you can realistically achieve within your budget. They’ll help you understand the costs associated with different design elements and suggest ways to balance your wants with your financial constraints.

Providing cost-saving options: An experienced interior designer has a wealth of knowledge about different products, materials, and suppliers. They can suggest cost-effective alternatives that still achieve the look and functionality you desire, helping you stretch your budget further.

Avoiding mistakes: One of the biggest benefits of working with an interior designer is that they can help you avoid costly mistakes. They’ll ensure that you invest in high-quality, durable pieces that will stand the test of time, rather than making impulsive purchases that you may regret later.

Developing a phased approach: If your budget is tight, an interior designer can help you develop a phased approach to your design project. They’ll identify which elements to prioritize and create a timeline for implementing the design as your budget allows.

Maximizing your investment: An interior designer can help you make design choices that not only improve the functionality and aesthetic of your home but also increase its value. By making smart, strategic design decisions, you can ensure that your budget is spent on improvements that will benefit you in the long run.

 

Should you hire interior designer or decorator?

Designer or decorator, this is the question, and the answer changes depending on whether you need structural changes such as remodels, moving walls, changing wiring/plumbing, or additions, or if you’re happy with the layout but want help with colors, furniture, lighting, and accessories.

 
Interior decorator in bold colors who can help you achieve a cohesive and stylish look without major structural changes
Interior decorator in bold colors who can help you achieve a cohesive and stylish look without major structural changes

Hire an Interior Designer when:

  • You’re planning a major renovation or new construction project that involves structural changes, electrical work, or plumbing modifications.
  • You want a comprehensive, holistic approach to your space that considers functionality, flow, and aesthetics.
  • You need help with space planning, layout optimization, and maximizing efficiency.
  • You want professional guidance in selecting materials, finishes, and fixtures that are both stylish and practical.
  • You have a complex project that requires technical knowledge and coordination with contractors and suppliers.

Hire an Interior Decorator if:

  • Your primary focus is on enhancing the aesthetic appeal of your space, rather than making significant structural changes.
  • You want to refresh your space with new colors, textures, furniture, and accessories.
  • You need help defining and implementing a cohesive style or theme throughout your home.
  • You have a limited budget and want to make impactful changes without the expense of major renovations.
  • You’re looking for professional advice on furniture placement, color schemes, and accessorizing to create a polished, put-together look.

How to Find the Right Interior Designer who will not overcharge you?

Finding an interior designer who will work within your budget and not overcharge you is a common concern, especially for first-time homebuyers. A less experienced designer might charge less but may need more guidance from you.

Cheaper doesn’t always mean better. A good designer could save you money in the long run by avoiding costly mistakes and connecting you with reliable contractors.

Some designers receive discounts from furniture stores – ask if those savings are passed on to you.

An interior designer in a pink suit holds a bag of snacks with money sticking out, in a colorful room with a vibrant painting in the background.
An interior designer in a pink suit holds a bag of snacks with money sticking out, in a colorful room with a vibrant painting in the background.

Here are some tips to help you find the right designer for your project:

Define Your Needs and Budget:

  • Scope: How much of your home are you redesigning? A single room, a full apartment, or something in between?
  • Style: Have a general sense of your desired aesthetic (modern, traditional, Japandi, Mid-Century, or just a mix of everything?)
  • Budget: Be upfront about your financial limits. This saves time for you and the designer.

Research and Get Recommendations

  • Get referrals from friends, family or colleagues who have worked with designers they were happy with. Personal recommendations can be very valuable.
  • Use platforms like Houzz, Decorilla, or designer websites let you view work samples and get an idea of style and pricing.
  • Check bulletin boards at home improvement stores, design schools, or community groups focused on interior design, but have one in mind, not every designer can design in every style!
 
A circular fisheye lens photo of a modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring a curvy orange sofa, spiral staircase, and elegant decor.
A circular fisheye lens photo of a modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring a curvy orange sofa, spiral staircase, and elegant decor.

How to prepare for an Interview with a designer?

Schedule consultations: Many interior designers offer free or low-cost initial consultations. Use these meetings to discuss your project, budget, and expectations. Pay attention to how the designer communicates and whether they seem genuinely interested in understanding and working within your budget.

Ask about pricing structure: Interior designers may charge hourly rates, flat fees, or a percentage of the project cost. This is CRUCIAL to avoid surprises.

Get detailed proposals: Ask for breakdowns of estimated costs – fees, furniture markups, etc. from past projects. Request a detailed proposal outlining the scope of work, timeline, and estimated costs. Make sure the proposal aligns with your budget and priorities, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or negotiate if needed.

Experience: Find out if they’ve done projects of a similar scope and budget to yours. Make sure you feel understood and that they can clearly explain their process.

Empty room with grey walls, designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring two windows and hardwood floor, reflecting sunlight.
Empty room with grey walls, designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring two windows and hardwood floor, reflecting sunlight.

Get Everything in Writing

Detailed Contract: This should outline the scope of work, payment schedule, timeline, and process for changes or revisions.

Itemized Costs: Request a projected breakdown of all expenses, including the designer’s fees, furnishings, and any potential subcontractor costs (painters, electricians, etc.)

Haggle: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on hourly rates or fees, especially if you have a firm budget.

Check Reviews: See what previous clients say about the designer’s work ethic, pricing, and communication.

Trust Your Gut: If someone seems evasive or pushy about costs, it might be a red flag.

Avoid These 3 Mistakes When Planning Your Interior Design Project

When planning your interior design project, it’s crucial to be aware of common mistakes that can lead to frustration, delays, and unsatisfying results.

Here are three mistakes to avoid:

Mistake 1: Not Having a Clear Goal

Not having a clear goal or vision prior to starting your project will set your project weeks to months in delay and cost you more money. This lack of direction can lead to a space that feels disjointed, ineffective and doesn’t reflect your personal style.

To avoid this mistake:

  • Take time to think about how you want your space to look and feel
  • Create a mood board with images, colors, and textures that inspire you and share with your designer, who will help you streamline the style further.
  • Write down your goals for the project, including how you want to use the space and any specific features or elements you want to include
  • Communicate your vision clearly to your interior designer or any professionals working on the project
A small minimalist bedroom with a large bed covered in white bedding, white walls, and sheer curtains partly obscuring a window, creating a serene ambiance.
A small minimalist bedroom with a large bed covered in white bedding, white walls, and sheer curtains partly obscuring a window, creating a serene ambiance.

Mistake 2: Not Having a Clear Budget

Failing to establish a realistic budget
Another common mistake is not setting a clear and realistic budget for your interior design project. Underestimating costs or not accounting for all expenses can lead to financial stress and the need to make compromises that may affect the overall quality of the project.

To avoid this mistake:

  • Research the costs of materials, labor, and professional fees in your area
  • Create a detailed budget that includes all aspects of the project, including a contingency fund for unexpected expenses
  • Set aside 10-20% as a contingency fund for unexpected costs.
  • Be honest with yourself and your designer about what you can afford
  • Prioritize your spending based on your goals and the areas of the space that are most important to you.
  • Remember things like labor costs, paint, taxes, delivery fees, and permits (if necessary).
  • Wait to get all quotes for major elements (furniture, flooring, appliances) before starting.
A small minimalist bedroom with a large bed covered in white bedding, white walls, and sheer curtains partly obscuring a window, creating a serene ambiance.
A small minimalist bedroom with a large bed covered in white bedding, white walls, and sheer curtains partly obscuring a window, creating a serene ambiance.

Mistake 3: Wanting to Fully DIY Everything

Attempting to DIY everything without professional help
While it can be tempting to try to save money by taking on all aspects of your interior design project yourself, this approach can often lead to costly mistakes, delays, and a final result that doesn’t meet your expectations. Some tasks, such as electrical work or structural changes, may also require professional expertise for safety reasons.

To avoid this mistake:

  • Be realistic about your skills, time, and resources
  • Consider hiring an interior designer or other professionals for tasks that are beyond your capabilities or require specialized knowledge
  • If you do choose to DIY some aspects of the project, make sure to research techniques, materials, and safety considerations thoroughly
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice when needed

Most common Timeline and Project Management disaster first times do

If you are a DIY doer who will manage your interior design project, read the next few sentences carefully.

A well-defined timeline is crucial for the smooth execution of an interior design project. It outlines important milestones from initial designer consultations to the final walkthrough.

A badly planned project will lead to a “bungee effect,” stalling all contractors, increased budgets and spending, and potential mistakes or low quality of the finishes.

There are 3 main components of Project management and these are:

  • Task Scheduling: Defining what tasks need to be completed and when.
  • Milestone Tracking: Monitoring progress through agreed-upon stages.
  • Adjustments: Allowing flexibility within the timeline for any necessary changes.

Failing any of these can trigger a series of a project issues, below are some of the most common we face daily.

Unrealistic Expectations

One of the most frequent mistakes first-timers make is not allowing enough time for each phase of the project. This can happen due to inexperience, optimism, or failure to account for potential delays.

Common timeline pitfalls include:

  • Not listening to the designer.
  • Biting off more than you can chew, especially for first-time projects, is a recipe for trouble.
  • Failing to factor in time for unexpected setbacks, such as backorders, weather delays, or construction issues
  • Not building in buffer time between project phases to accommodate changes or delays
Modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring beige sofas, wooden ceiling beams, and an adjoining kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Bright sunlight streams in through large glass
Modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring beige sofas, wooden ceiling beams, and an adjoining kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Bright sunlight streams in through large glass

Poor Scope Definition

Another common disaster is allowing the project scope to expand without adjusting the timeline or budget accordingly.

This can happen when:

  • When the client says “We’ll Figure it Out Along the Way”. Starting without clear goals and boundaries. This leads to scope creep (the project constantly expanding), wasted resources, and never-ending revisions.
  • Misunderstanding or miscommunicating design goals, budgets, or timelines
  • Not having a central point of contact or decision-maker, leading to confusion and delays
  • Not establishing clear lines of communication between all parties involved (e.g., designers, contractors, suppliers)
Modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring beige sofas, wooden ceiling beams, and an adjoining kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Bright sunlight streams in through large glass
Modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring beige sofas, wooden ceiling beams, and an adjoining kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Bright sunlight streams in through large glass

Inadequate Planning

Failing to Break Down Tasks: Not creating granular task lists and a work breakdown structure makes it hard to track progress and anticipate resource needs. The designer should provide such task lists, make sure to follow, and do not diviate without reasons.

Missing Dependencies: Overlooking how tasks relate to each other. Do not ask the designer to jump over tasks, this can lead to delays (for example, not ordering materials until a task you thought was independent is completed).

Solutions:

Project Management Tools: Good designers use tools like Gantt charts, Trello boards, or dedicated software (Asana, Monday.com) to map out tasks and dependencies, which can be updated in near real-time if needed.
Risk Assessment: Great designers identify potential risks and create contingency plans in advance, exactly like the budget contingencies.

Modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring beige sofas, wooden ceiling beams, and an adjoining kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Bright sunlight streams in through large glass
Modern living room designed by an interior designer for a modular home, featuring beige sofas, wooden ceiling beams, and an adjoining kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances. Bright sunlight streams in through large glass

Not Learning from Mistakes

Effective communication and coordination are essential for keeping your interior design project on track.

If you DIY manage your design project, make sure to:

Repeating Past Failures: Every project offers lessons. Not documenting them ensures you’ll make the same errors.

Lack of Post-Project Review: Failing to debrief what went well and areas for improvement means missing out on valuable growth.

Retrospectives: Schedule time after each project task to discuss successes, challenges, and key learnings with your designer; if needed, pay for an entire day with them.

 

Communicating with Your Designer who managing

For non-DIY doers who prefer to rely on the expert’s help even in managing and supervising a project, effective communication between the homeowner and the interior designer is fundamental.

It ensures that both parties are aligned on expectations, deliverables such as floor plans or material samples, and any evolving ideas. Regular updates and feedback can help in addressing potential issues promptly, and digital tools or face-to-face meetings can facilitate this ongoing dialogue.

Communication strategies involve:

  • Regular Meetings: Scheduling weekly or bi-weekly check-ins.
  • Digital Tools: Utilizing software for sharing updates and visual representations.
  • Feedback Loops: Creating a system for providing and receiving feedback on progress.
Cozy, modern tiny house interior designed by an interior designer for modular homes, featuring wooden walls, large windows, and stylish, neutral-toned furniture.
Cozy, modern tiny house interior designed by an interior designer for modular homes, featuring wooden walls, large windows, and stylish, neutral-toned furniture.

Navigating the Design Process

When starting the journey of hiring an interior designer, understanding the design process is pivotal. It involves critical selection of furnishings and decor, collaboration with contractors and suppliers, and the culminating steps of installation and styling, each carrying its weight to ensure a cohesive and pleasing end result.

Selection of Furnishings and Decor

Selecting the right furnishings and decor is foundational to interior design. One must assess their functional needs and aesthetic preferences in unison. It is essential to choose pieces that not only look beautiful but also serve the intended purposes within the space. For lighting selections, considerations of both ambiance and utility are taken into account, ensuring that each fixture adds to the overall design while providing adequate illumination.

 

Collaborating with Contractors and Suppliers

Collaboration with contractors and suppliers is a critical step in the interior design process. The designer acts as the intermediary, translating the client’s vision into specific instructions and selections for these professionals to follow. They must ensure that the construction elements align seamlessly with the proposed design, managing timelines and material delivery from suppliers to maintain project flow.

The Final Touches: Installation and Styling

The last step is the installation and styling phase, where the vision truly comes to life. This includes the careful positioning of furniture, hanging of decor, and arranging of items as per the design plan. Styling is the designer’s opportunity to perfect the space, adding elements like throw pillows, art pieces, and accent lighting to create the desired atmosphere and complete the transformation of the space.