How to choose an Interior Designer for your Project

What is the Scope of your Project?

Do you want a designer to provide a fully designed package, so that you can obtain comparative quotes from builders/contractors and get an apples for apples comparison? Are you looking for a designer who will tailor your design specifically to your needs, and offer unique solutions? Are you looking for a designer who is not restricted to selecting from a ‘cookie cutter’ formula of materials, furnishings and fixtures from a limited range of suppliers?

Do you need an Interior Designer or an Interior Decorator?

There is a difference in the type of work an Interior Designer or a Decorator can do.

Interior DesignerInterior Decorator
Tertiary Qualification required (generally 4 years)Yes
Plan and detail Commercial & Industrial Interiors (ie. offices, public buildings, hospitals, department stores and shops)Yes
Designs every aspect of the way in which interior spaces are laid out, allocated and usedYes
Plan and detail Residential Interiors & Small Commercial (ie shops & private offices)YesYes
Major home renovations & new homes (working with an architect or building designer) to design the interior spacesYes
Trained to consider the modification of the interior structure of the building, moving walls, installing services & planning for safety and utilityYes
Design kitchens, laundries & bathroomsYes
Lighting & acoustic designYes
Knowledge of construction, building systems and technologiesYes
Design for Accessibility (ie disability access) & utility Yes
Design Management & documentationYes
Cosmetic decoration and furnishing existing spaces that are already builtYesYes
Relevant Australian Codes, Standards and PracticesYes
Custom design furniture & cabinetry to produce an environment tailored to a purposeYes
Create well designed and functional spacesYesYes
Decorate residential environmentsYesYes
Advice on colour schemes, layout, lighting, soft and hard wall and floor finishes & soft furnishing productsYesYes
Advice on Interior Styling (ie artworks & accessories)YesYes

Is Your Designer a Registered Building Practitioner?

In Victoria, a few qualified interior designers are also registered as Registered Building Practitioners with the Victorian Building Authority. This allows them to work on projects that require a designer qualified to provide drawings for a Building Permit.

Design Institute of Australia (DIA) Membership

Membership of a professional industry body such as DIA association membership is not necessary, however it does indicated that the designer has the necessary recognised education, qualifications and experience, a minimum number of years practical industry experience, and keep up to date with developments in the building industry. Lisa Elliott Interior Design was recently awarded a Best of Houzz 2020 award for Service

Set a budget, and include design fees

Do some preliminary research and have an idea of what you can afford to spend on your project. Remember that you’ll need to include interior design fees in your budget; this is something clients often forget. Some designers charge a fixed fee and others charge an hourly rate, while some may give you a choice. A fixed fee will generally offer a set scope of work, and any changes or additions you make or unforeseen issues will be an additional cost that you’ll need to budget for. A fixed fee may sound high when it’s presented to you, however a professional designer is familiar with how much behind the scenes work goes into a project; a fixed fee is generally based upon the estimate of hours X an hourly rate. It gives you an overall idea of the cost you can expect by the end of the project. When engaging a designer on an hourly rate, be aware that you will be billed on a regular basis during the design & documentation phase while work is being done in the background even before you have seen the end result. It’s possible to ask a designer for an estimate of the overall hours it may take.

Interior Designers fees vary widely from as low as $80/hr and up to as high as $300/hr (or more), depending upon the designer’s experience and ‘celebrity’. You get what you pay for; if you want an experienced designer with the necessary experience to complete your project, expect to pay at least $150/hr. A junior designer who has just finished their education will not have the required industry experience to run a project.

Get at least 3 comprehensive itemised quotes so you understand what you are paying for.

Is your Interior Designer insured?

Your designer should have Professional Indemnity Insurance and Public Liability Insurance, in the states / country that they work. I have known designers that work without Insurance; it’s a great risk for you and them.

Meet with Designers

Most designers will offer a free phone or web meeting consultation; take advantage of that to get to get to know them and tell them about your project. Even over the phone they can offer valuable insight and advice for your project.

If you want to proceed with obtaining a quote, you’ll need to provide existing plans, existing photos and a brief. The clearer & more concise the brief is, the more accurate the designers quote will be. Most designers will require an initial consultation before they can provide a fee, as a great deal of information about your needs, the existing site conditions, and existing furnishings & finishes which may need to be reused will be gathered at the consultation that will inform your brief

Ask potential designers how much experience they have. Designers can spend anywhere up to 10 years working for established design firms to gain the required experience, in order to run their own.

Ask your designer if they have the required resources available to complete your project, such as a comprehensive sample library of products and materials, the right BIM or CAD software and computer, a database of local suppliers, contractors and tradespeople. Can they offer 3D design so that you have an understanding of the design of your space throughout the project?

Find a designer that you ‘click’ with and who shares your vision. Your designer will be working with you for a substantial period of time, and will get to know intimately how you live and/or work in order to design a space especially for you. Refer to my blog “The Design Process” for a brief summary of how we’ll work together.

Identify Your style

While this is somewhat important for a designer to have experience on the style you prefer, it’s not critical. This is because designers are trained to design to your functional requirements, and the cosmetic element of style is secondary to this. It is more important that the designer you select has sufficient industry experience to deliver your project; take a look at some portfolios to gauge this.


  1. What’s the difference between interior designers and interior decorators?

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