Interior Designers – Professionals Versus Amateurs


Certain trades and industries attract people who want to dabble in them and who quite like being associated with them. These people purport to be a practitioner more for the kudos than for sound commercial business goals.

Unfortunately interior design is one such profession.

Take a peek in your Yellow Pages or do a Google search for “interior designer” + “your town”. You will see dozens of interior designers listed. The vast majority will be one-man (or more precisely one-woman) bands, and very few will be set up as small businesses let alone medium or big businesses.

Of those that operate from a shop or other retail premise many seem to be lifestyle businesses rather than businesses geared to providing employment or substantial income for the business owner.

Why so many businesses like this?

Many of these businesses exist because some women are attracted to interior design and they like to translate a hobby or personal interest into something that earns some money.

In most of these cases these businesses augment some other source of greater income in the proprietor’s family or household.

How to spot a Lifestyle Interior Design Business?

There are some tell tale signs

* The business is named after the owner, but is not a limited liability company.

* The business has limited opening hours; many small shops open from 10am-3pm to fit around children’s school hours rather than customers who might work 9am – 5pm

* The business deliberately stays small to avoid tax thresholds and the need to sub-contract work or employ staff.

* The business does limited marketing, if any, to keep costs down and to avoid unwanted growth.

What is wrong with using a Lifestyle Interior Design Business?

The principal problem is one of scale and resource. If the lifestyle interior designer is good at their job they will be very busy and your project will have to wait. If their current work drags on longer than expected you will have to wait longer before they can start your work. If they are not busy they may not be in demand or have a good reputation.

If you want your work in a hurry or you want access to them through extended hours, will you get it?

Small businesses may appear to be cheap if they can avoid certain tax thresholds (e.g Value Added Tax or Sales Tax) but that is only reflected in their labour charges.

If you use a small interior design business to source your fabrics they may have a limited range of trade accounts or if they have a wide range they will not do enough business with each of them to get good trade discounts on the materials that they buy-in for you.

Smaller businesses, by definition are less well capitalised which makes it harder for them to undertake large projects. If you want them to do your whole house including soft furnishing & furniture you may have to pay up front in full in order to finance your designer. A smaller business trying to stay below a tax threshold will not want big ticket purchases of goods on your behalf to transit their financial books as these will quickly increase their turnover too much!

Picking the correct Interior Design business for the job

If you want a small job done, say a single pair of curtains, then there is nothing wrong with selecting a small lifestyle interior design business. But if you are seriously thinking about revamping or remodelling a whole room or whole home and you want to hand it over to an interior designer, ask yourself these questions:

* Is there only one person to speak to? Do they do everything themselves? What if they are away, sick or on holiday or just busy visiting another customer?

* Are the business hours convenient? If you work 40-60 hours a week will you ever see your designer? Will they visit you at home at weekends & evenings?

* Do they have professional qualifications, membership of trade guilds, professional insurance and a portfolio of good work with genuine customer testimonials.

* Can the interior designer realistically undertake what you want to achieve or will you actually be left having to shop around for everything you need. Will you need to project manage the different aspects of your room make-over yourself, or can you hand it over to your interior designer and get on with your own life and business?

Ultimately it is your choice as to which interior designer you select. Most importantly you need to be comfortable with the design and outcome of your work. However you should also consider value for money and the key points highlighted above.