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How to Track Down Designer Right for You, Your House

December 27, 1990|JANUARY RIDDLE

Haven't quite figured out how to make the old place look less like the 70s and more like the 90s? Struggling with bare rooms in a new home?

For many people who've always decorated by default, there comes a point of frustration with the way things don't quite come together. They may figure it's time for outside help, but the decision to hire an interior designer seems too formidable.

How will you get something you like? How do you hire the right person? How much will it cost?

Here are some of the things professionals designers who work in North County recommend you consider in making your decisions:

Decide what you want the designer to do.

Do you want someone to design your whole house from scratch? A taste coordinator who makes sure all the pieces go together? Or someone to "fluff up" the place--perhaps just recovering furniture and repainting walls?

You need to know what you want and how you want it to look when you're finished.

"Find a look that you like," said Richard Kaleh of La Jolla. "Designers tend to have their own styles. You'll want to find one whose work matches your tastes."

Designers suggest watching for ideas you like in magazines, catalogues, home displays and friends' homes.

"Pick out specifics, if possible," said Cuilly Burdett of La Jolla. "A lamp, a sofa, for example. Many times, what clients like about a room they see in a photo is 'the mood,' rather than the components."

"The more prepared you are, the easier it will be," said Janice Howard. "Clients are sometimes too intimidated to bring in torn out magazine pages and pieces of fabric. Don't be."

Know how much you want to spend for this project.

"Many times clients are reticent to hire a designer because they think we're going to spend all their money," Kaleh said. "But you must be candid about your budget."

This does not mean you have to wait until you have the funds to revamp your whole house before you begin. You and your designer can begin by working out a master plan, then doing one room or project at a time, as your pocketbook permits.

Don't buy furniture and the carpets without having a plan, advises Andrew Gerhard of Rancho La Costa.

Although recovering a sofa or installing new track lighting can often do wonders for a room, you'll be happier if it all conforms to your expectations in the first place.

Seek your specialist.

Once you know what you want and how much you have available to spend, you're ready to make some contacts. Ask your friends and associates for recommendations. Call professional organizations for referrals. Get the names of several potential designers and call each for an appointment.

If your project is relatively small or if you have a very limited budget with which to begin, you may be happier with a designer who is just starting a practice rather than one with a high profile.

When you hire an associate designer for a lesser amount, you often get some of the benefits of the name designer's advice since the associate will usually confer with the head of the design group.

"Most designers will give you an hour free time," Burdett said. "Talk about your lifestyle, your preferences. Your lifestyle is the most important thing. If the work doesn't live up to your lifestyle, it's a failure no matter how it looks or what it costs."

"Interview two or three," Gerhard advised. "Look at their portfolios, photos of work they've done for other clients." Take your photos, swatches and tear sheets with you.

Although the first interview will probably be in the designer's office or studio, you'll want to do an interview in your home before you hire anyone.

"Don't neglect the chemistry factor," Howard said. "You need to feel comfortable with your designer." And, says Howard, ask for references: "Don't be afraid to call the people on a designer's referral list. Ask about the budget and whether they worked within it or went over, for example."

Get a contract.

How a designer is paid depends upon the person and the scale and scope of the project.

Jobs can be negotiated at a flat fee. If the project is an entire house, fees typically range from $1 to $2 a square foot.

Although an hourly rate is not common, it can often be negotiated if the job is mainly one of planning and advising. If you are negotiating an hourly agreement, expect to pay $40 to $50 per hour for an associate, $75 to $150 per hour for an established designer. Any time a designer's time is tied up with you, whether it is in shopping for materials, meeting with workers or discussing ideas, the meter is ticking.

Designers are often paid a retainer to begin the work and then receive a commission on furnishings and products. The cost of materials, furnishings and labor is in addition to professional fees.

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