How to Survive: Hiring an Interior Decorator

By: Honey Good

I personally believe in the wisdom of hiring an interior designer. They will give you a professional assessment of your needs, help you budget and plan, and be a liaison between you and a myriad of vendors. To put it bluntly, hopefully you will hire a trained eye!

Of course, everyone wants to end up with a “wow home.” Here are a few of my tips to guide you through the process. I know these steps are important because of my personal experiences.

It all started very innocently with a comment from my husband, Shelly!

“I think it’s time we replace the carpet in our apartment, Honey.”

I felt sparkles of enthusiasm rush through me and replied with delight, “That is a great idea! Oh! You know I would love wood floors instead of carpeting!”

 With reluctance, like all men, he replied, “Ok, but get a price from a decorator.”

I felt another adrenalin rush; but came down to earth thinking to myself, “No interior designer will just do flooring!”

So I boogie - boogied the pot and naturally figured out a plan! Don't we always, darlings?

My sister-in-law just completed her apartment! Her decorator might do us a favor! I thought to myself, “I will ask Shelly to convince him!” I knew he would.

My husband made the call. The decorator said yes and we set up our first meeting..

To backtrack, my last experience with an interior decorator turned out to be a two-year love fest. Shelly and I built a home in California with the perfect team of professionals led by the brilliant interior designer, Richard Himmel, who was chosen by Architectural Digest as the "Decorator of the Sixties." Dick had timeless taste and was revered by clients across America. I loved this man. We even bought our Wheaton Terrier, Orchid, because he had a Wheaton! Dick passed away and is now ‘fluffing the pillows' in heaven! 

Dick and I were in sync. We enjoyed every minute working together because I ‘got him’ and he ‘got me’. And that darlings, is the way it should be when you hire a decorator.

Meanwhile, 'back at the ranch’ the new decorator arrived on the scene. He walks through the apartment and very excitedly says, “Oh grey wood floors will look marvelous with your present color scheme of whites and touches of color. Carpet is so out of vogue!”

And then he went for the jugular continuing, excitedly, “Would you consider updating and recovering some of your furniture? I can see changing the fabrics in your living room, buying a ‘new’ coffee table and replacing your card table and chairs! And in the den, let's buy a stunning, modern style, zebra area rug to place over your new grey wood flooring. Modernize the lamp shades, and definitely put in a larger TV screen, and new fabric on the furniture!” He ended with this punch line, “Let’s make the den really sexy!"

Sounded good to me and to my husband. But, I had a somewhat sinking feeling because he was not Richard Himmel. I felt stuck because I did not want to insult my sister-in-law so I rationalized (I so wanted to upgrade our condo!) that I could make him understand my style.

RULE 1: Choose a decorator like you choose your husband! Carefully! Your husband makes your life. Your decorator makes your home!

This means taking your time to:

  • Show him through your home.
  • Ask to see a portfolio of his work.
  • Talk to his clients.
  • How does he bill?
  • Ask for his professional website. This separates the men from the boys.

The more questions you ask, the less surprises you will have. You are spending a lot of money to live ‘your way,’ not ‘his way!’

Needless to say, we hired him. On our first meeting he brought me fabric samples.

To back track, when I worked with Dick, he took me to the furniture mart and boutique shops and on and on where we (Shelly included) picked out everything together. I felt fabrics, walked on carpets, opened chest drawers, sat on chairs and couches for comfort, turned on lamps, etc. in several designer showrooms. You must too. Therefore:


My husband and the decorator signed a contract. They haggled back and forth. Never feel intimidated by asking the designer to make changes. He knows you will! Trust me on this…he will budge. There are three ways to pay your designer: free, percentage, and hourly. Look for a professional website(s) to educate yourself before signing any agreement. But, remember this rule of thumb: you will probably spend more than you anticipated.

RULE 3:  A CONTRACT BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR DESIGNER is for both of your protection. Hire a designer who is member of The American Society of Interior Design. Be realistic about your budget.

You must enforce the following rule, but I have never spoken to a friend who has not complained on this front to include, yours truly.

Our decorator promised us our project would be completed by May 18th, 2015. It is now the middle of July and I am still living out of my guest room armoire drawers! Why? Because they ordered the wrong armoire for our bedroom! The painter accidentally misread an important instruction and painted over an entire mirrored wall in our foyer! Our zebra area rug, loomed in Nepal, was destroyed by the earthquake! Our new bed does not properly fit our mattress!

RULE 4: A TIME LINE FOR YOUR PROJECT: This is an absolute must. Put a finishing date in your agreement but don’t bank on it. Interior designers are notorious for not being able to keep their promises. But, because my husband put a finish date in the contract, most of our apartment was completed by the May 18th deadline.

We are now two months behind schedule! I was beside myself with stress until one day my husband casually said, “Don’t be silly, honey.  Everything important in our life is fine. Don’t aggravate yourself over things you cannot control. Everything will get done…it is just a matter of time.”

RULE 5: JUST LET GO!  I have gone on with my life, thanks to Shelly. Everything will eventually get done. Until then I am living my life to its fullest while looking ‘forward’ to receiving our carpet from Nepal, taking my clothing out of drawers in the guest room and putting them into my armoire drawers in our bedroom, seeing the new mirror on our foyer wall and as the King said “In the King and I,” etc. etc. etc.!! 

As I walk through the completed rooms of our apartment I often think of my designer idol, Richard Himmel, wishing he were here to put his finishing touch here, there and everywhere. And then I think, he left me with his knowledge…and I will try and do it for him.

Photography Source

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