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For as much great work as we do, Interior Designers get a lot of flack for the things we can’t share with you. 

ID one of these odd trades where people want you to tell them ALL of your trade secrets so you can arm them with the tools to totally cut you out in the end (and it happens more than you’d believe). Things like:

  • How much you pay for everything you buy (especially re-sale items).*
  • Who/where your workroom is and what YOUR pricing is.
  • Where you shop…not just the public places, but your special, sacred spots.
  • How to do everything you think needs to be done on their project so they can do it themselves (thereby lessening/eliminating your fee).
  • The “Do you have any ideas?” question. Like, “Oh, do you have any ideas about my kids room/guest room/drapery/front door color/office” etc.

But here’s the deal–the reason we can’t share these things with you is because Interior Design is a BUSINESS for us, not a hobby. 
Sure, we’re extremely lucky to be doing work we love and we love it because we’d do it for free, but life is such that we CAN’T afford to do it for free. And it’s totally not personal. Whether a designer works off of flat-rate fees or hourly fees, it all corresponds to a dollar value per hour for our services. So when we’re shopping on our own and find something for re-sale, it’s totally unrealistic to expect that you will be able to pay the same price that we paid for that item. We’ve spent not only our time but used our expertise to select an item we know will bring interest and if we pass it on to you at our cost, we are out the gas & time it took to purchase said item, not to mention the $ return on the investment we spent to be educated in our chosen field (if applicable). Most of the time your designer won’t have a problem tossing around an idea for your additional space, but when questions start getting specific (where can I find all of the components for a complete budget bathroom redesign?) or frequent (late night/weekend emails & texts to discuss spaces that aren’t a part of the original scope of work), it’s time to sign up for another consultation because it’s just the right & professional thing to do (and it’s also the same thing any other professional–like your attorney–would require you to do). 


But consider this:

You can walk into a store and buy a pillow from Target/West Elm for anywhere from $19.99-$69.99  (add $25 for WE insert). Or you can work with a designer who conveniently meets you at your home or office with fabric samples s/he’s pulled from a local design center to custom design pillows for your needs that do not yet exist. Want a flange on those pillows? No prob, we can make it as big as you’d like (and even in a contrasting/coordinating color). What about using pom-poms or beads as trim? We can make it happen.  Think you just want as basic, knife-edge pillow the trade-only fabric that you’ve fallen in love with? Easy peasy. Anything is possible when you’re working one-on-one with a professional but the reality is that ID is, at some level, a luxury service. And that doesn’t mean you have to spend $50,000 on every project you commission, but it means that it is considered a luxury to have someone shop around for your personal tastes and custom design a space to suit your specific needs. If fabrics & pillows & bedding are designed according to your specifications (even if it’s using Schumacher’s Chiang Mai that’s been E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E), it’s unrealistic to expect those goods to cost the same as what you might pay when you pop into a retail store and pick up a mass produced pillow. And I’m sure you’ve noticed this same thing in your local design boutiques, too. I can almost bet that the custom pillows they sell average between $150-$350 per pillow, and that’s because of the time investment & level of expertise involved. Someone took the time to thoughtfully select the fabric, decided on a  style, drove to the workroom, sat down with the fabricator to spec their ideas, later drove back to the workroom to pick up said pillows, and is now putting them up for sale in the shop. And that’s MUCH different than ordering thousands of yards of fabric, sending it to China, having the pillows stuffed with poly-fill, and selling 50,000 pillows at $19.99. It’s just not gonna happen for the little guy…the profits & numbers are totally different. 
And this is the thing…most of us LOVE what we do, and it’s our intention to have this passion support our family & lifestyle.  I think that, as professionals, we should be as transparent as possible about how we do business with our clients, yet we also need to make sure that clients understand the parameters on how we run our business. The best way to create a successful design experience is to select a designer whose work you love and whose personality is a good fit with yours. If you love their work, trust that they’ll work their magic on your space too. It’s not going to be as “cheap” as if you designed your space on your own, but a great designer is truly worth the investment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…


  1. Karen@StrictlySimpleStyle
    December 11, 2012 at 10:36 am (6 years ago)

    Good information Dayka. While I’m not in your profession, as a former small business owner I can relate to what you’re trying to express here. I can’t tell you how often someone wanted something for nothing and was surprised when I couldn’t comply. My favorite was asking for free services at an event as a way to “promote my business”. I got this type of request on almost a weekly basis.

    A couple years ago I called a local designer and asked if I could hire her for a couple hours to strictly give advice and that I would do the sourcing. She was terrific. Not only did I get great ideas, I saved a ton of money by listening to some of her cautionary advice.

  2. Amanda
    December 11, 2012 at 10:55 am (6 years ago)

    well said girl–well said!! Those late night emails and text are the worst! and Im so bad b/c I respond to them!! when will I learn?? Isnt it so sad they we have to try and justify what we and why we charge what we charge. You don’t see people questioning their hair dresser, their CPA or their lawyer nor do they send them late night emails or text right? LOL Ok-well I *may* have texted my hair dresser on a Saturday evening once–but apologized like crazy for it. 🙂

  3. Dayka
    December 11, 2012 at 11:01 am (6 years ago)

    Karen!!! So happy to hear from you! 🙂

    That’s a great idea, and often times clients don’t realize that there are several ways to work with a designer even if you don’t see your specific needs listed on their services page. I think it’s hard to really understand the “working for free” thing until you become a small business owner yourself. Still, I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with simply saying “no”.

    happy holidays to you!

  4. Dayka
    December 11, 2012 at 11:08 am (6 years ago)

    LOL at texting your hairdresser on a Saturday night!

    Your comment is so true. I think the answer as designers is making sure that WE’RE clear on why we’re charging what we are and then communicating that to clients…period. We all have the right to decide when & how to spend out hard earned cash and I want clients who see the value of my services and WANT to work with me. Thankfully, these are the clients I have, too. 🙂


  5. pve design
    December 11, 2012 at 11:09 am (6 years ago)

    Every day, an inquiry comes in the form of an e-mail asking for “free” or the fact that they have “no budget” to work with. I love what I do and I often do many jobs to meet one’s budgets to be mindful of the economy but in the new year I am certainly not going to do work for free. Would one ask their Dr. to do a surgery to fit their budget?
    Saying no is also important – just as important as finding the right clients.

  6. Dayka
    December 11, 2012 at 11:24 am (6 years ago)

    You are echoing a conversation I recently had with a colleague. The thing about lowering your fees it that it (not all the time but) often leads people to DEVALUE the service you provide…and that’s a BIG problem which leads to unrealistic expectations on behalf of the client and endless frustration for the service provider. I think it’s fine to make exceptions to the rules every now & then, but as a whole, we have to decide the value of our services, believe in the quality of our abilities & stand by that number.

    Thanks for leaving a comment!

  7. LiveLaughDecorate
    December 11, 2012 at 11:25 am (6 years ago)

    OMG, I think I need to post this as guest post on my blog! Gurllllllllllll. You’ve really offered up some lessons here. I had to put on my writers hat last week and craft an award-winning email to a POTENTIAL client about why I could not offer free advice for her 5 bedroom house because I was not yet hired to do the job. I asked her to think hard about the gazillion text/emails she’d sent to me late at night (which went unanswered) and if she would have done the same to her hairdresser (hi, hairdresser, where do you buy the weave, perm you use in my hair) or her mechanic (hi, where do you buy all the car parts you use to fix my ride. I think not. We’re in a tough trade (the business of service) and even though I felt a bit bad after sending that email, I simply had reached my wits end with folks trying to pick my brains for free to avoid paying for our service. The truth is, if you ask a client/potential client to place an hourly value on their time it would exceed what they would pay most of us. I now use that to frame any discussion that starts off with, “so why should I pay that much to have you design my space and shop for items.” Truthfully, I also now avoid any client who has to ask that question.

  8. Tonia B.
    December 11, 2012 at 11:58 am (6 years ago)

    I think people realize all of this yet disregard that its a business and how you earn your living. I agree with just saying no.

  9. myblackfriendsays
    December 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm (6 years ago)

    My thoughts are…

    you tell ’em, Dayka!

    It’s not reasonable for people to expect you to cut them deals all the time. This is a problem in a lot of creative fields. I think it just comes down to people not valuing art enough.

    December 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm (6 years ago)

    Oh you went there girl…..yes you did. And it was very well said I might add 🙂

  11. HevelHouse
    December 11, 2012 at 8:12 pm (6 years ago)

    Amen, amen, aaaaaamen!!!! I could sing your praises!! I hate to be a finger pointer, but I think we can blame a lot of this on the TV shows that are out. The ID world changed a LOT when those came out. They don’t tell you in those shows how much it would cost in design fees. Nooooooo. It’s “Design on a Dime” and “Copy this $15k room for just $500!!”. Ugh. So now, we have a bunch of clients, who probably wouldn’t have hired a designer before TV, expecting to get a high end room finished for about $600 including design fees. Anyways. Of course I could go on and on, but I LOVED this article. I especially LOL’d at the Chiang Mai comment!! Love you so much!

  12. Jessica Warner
    December 12, 2012 at 7:14 pm (6 years ago)

    This could not be truer! My new year’s resolution is to be better at saying no! If I feel like the client is trying to get something for nothing up front I am not even going to go down that road anymore! It’s sad and I’m over it! I would definitely blame a lot of it on the get this look for cheap shows! That’s not real life people!!

  13. Nancy
    December 14, 2012 at 9:05 am (6 years ago)

    Perfectly said! I love this post and thank you so much from us professionals that you addressed this subject that we all have haunting us. You’re a dream, and thank you for your voice! Happy Holidays to you , and have a great weekend.
    xoxo Nancy

  14. Cris Angsten
    December 16, 2012 at 9:51 pm (6 years ago)

    Dayka, I love this post.
    I think one … It feels like my time, all those hours of lost sleep that I cannot bill for, the time mulling something in the back of my mind and looking for the right answer to appear to me, I also cannot bill for. What we sell is our creativity. The right answer doesn’t just appear sometimes. We have to work it out from all kinds of angles. I struggle with this, but so do others. A friend who worked as a set designer for Universal Studios for 20 years said the same thing. You can turn your whole life inside out for a project, but nobody seems to appreciate the time and creativity needed to get it done, on time, in or under budget, and looking absolutely fabulous. Our industry has been changing. 40% of interior design firms have gone under in the past 4 years. So how do we get people to understand that our time is invaluable?


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