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Our Renovation Design Process

Inside The Design Process – How Much It Really Costs To Work With A Designer

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Design nerds, this post is for you. Velinda here, and today I’m talking spreadsheets, budgets, and survey data – all the good stuff that comes with the design process for an interior. Non-design nerds, I apologize. No eye candy today. Just dense, leafy-green style information. But I promise that if you just give this post a chance you might find something interesting/healthy. Pretend for the duration of this post that you’re thinking about hiring an interior designer for a space in your home. I’m going to cover what you could expect in terms of cost and time when working with a designer. But wait, are you an interior designer yourself, or thinking about becoming one? We’re counting on you to join the conversation down in the comments with your own perspectives.

How We Charge For Design Services Here At EHD

We’re in the final stretch of the “Working with a Designer Series” (start here if you’re catching up), where I took on the role of Sara’s interior designer for her living room, dining room, and TV room. We’ve got the first reveal just around the corner, and we are bursting at the seams with excitement to finally shoot this thing. But first, it’s time to give you the promised tell-all piece on budgeting for a designer and the final tally of how many hours were spent when designing Sara’s spaces. That’s the big question, right? HOW MUCH DOES THIS WHOLE THING COST?!

But first, a disclaimer from Emily –

“Hi guys. We have an unusual model here at EHD because the blog and partnerships are the bulk of our business, not residential clients (we can’t do everything). So considering most of our projects are blog-content productions, sponsored projects, or friend/feel good makeovers, our process is a bit different than your typical residential design firm – we make our money on the backend, but need projects that can move fast, with people we love and trust, and thus they let us have more creative control. When I did have clients I charged $200/hour for me (when I remembered to bill thus the real problem – and now I’m realizing that I wasn’t charging enough), and I think for a senior designer like Ginny was at the time $150, and $100 for a junior designer. Now we have what we call a ‘friends and family rate” which is $75/hour for my design team’s time which we charge simply to cover overhead costs (like payroll, office space, insurance, 401K, etc., for the EHD designers on the project). I don’t charge my time because these truly are my friends or family and I don’t like to charge them for me but I simply can’t lose money and go out of pocket for the time spent from my design team. In exchange for the design services, we get to document the whole process and shoot the spaces. It’s weird, I know, and we’ve only been doing it for a few months so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Love, Emily” 

I’m back (me, Velinda) and in order to properly put this post together for you, I needed to find out what interior designers out in the “real world” were charging these days, and how they were doing it. I didn’t want to make up rates or guess randomly. So first I did some research. I reached out to other designers we know and respect, all working at different experience levels in their careers and in different cities across the US (to whom we promised to keep anonymous, but THANK you to these generous folks!). They really helped to fill in the gaps between what we do here at EHD and what some of the industry standards currently are. All of our research moving forward is based on the answers we received. We’d all love to be Sara (whose designer was in-house, thus FREE to her)… but alas, research suggests that’s not the standard model. Who knew!? So then, what should you expect?

I can promise one thing; the design process will take more time than you expect. And I’ll be honest, it’ll partially be your fault. But more on why you’re to blame later. Suffice to say, like anything in life (namely kitchen and bathroom remodels) good things take time. Let’s start with the design you’ve been following – Sara’s house:

The Time and Money Breakdown Of Sara’s Makeover Takeover Project

The total amount of time I’ve spent on the design process (so far) is right at 80 hours. That’s prior to installation services, which will likely add another 10 or so. That also doesn’t include the 55 hours spent on blog content for the project, but since you likely won’t be documenting the whole process for a blog we’re gonna deduct those hours from our tally. Using our current EHD friends & family rate of $75/hour rate here’s how Sara’s project would break down:

Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer2

PLUS – Blog Administration & social shoots (writing 4 blog posts, shooting multiple stories/IGTV & YouTube videos, linking/crediting all sourcing, creating visuals for blog posts, etc.): 55 hours*

* This is EHD-process-specific, though it can pertain to other design processes that benefit from trade for press sponsorships; clients can potentially share in benefits from this model, but consider the extra time it might take.

Believe it or not, 90 hours isn’t that long. Given we designed three small rooms; living, dining, and TV, plus knocked out a custom cabinet design, we’re on track for a conservative timeline. Despite appearing (and often being) “fun,” designing is time-consuming work. My investigating revealed you can easily expect a single room makeover (complete design: concept/color palette, floor plan, sourcing furniture/accessories, and installation) to take 35-50 hours and span the course of up to 8 or 9 months. Kitchens take even longer. Structural changes usually mean additional time and the possible addition of pulling permits. Then a full renovation or new build is likely to take between 18 and 24 months. You’re looking at easily spending close to $6,000 per room for a full, designer-done makeover without major renovation, materials, or pieces. (Designers, what’s your experience? Are these estimates ringing true? And what if you’re touching a kitchen or bathroom??).

So pretending Sara had been paying our “friend rate” of only $75/hr, she so far would have paid $6,714 for my services. But turns out, $75/hr isn’t near the industry standard. Research shows designers charging hourly typically average between $100-200/hour. “High End” interior designers or decorators are charging $200-300/hr, and “Luxe” professionals can be close to $500/hour. This aligns seamlessly with what a professor once told me, “Straight out of school, you should charge $75/hr. At the peak of your career, expect to be charging between $350 -$375 an hour. It’s hard to get a designer for less than $100/hr.” Cool, cool, I guess…but holy moly! That’s going to add up.

Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer3

For this project, Sara helped reduce my hours by doing some of her own sourcing, purchasing, and communicating with vendors. Sara coordinated all deliveries and did her own product inspection/inventory. I’d give Mac and Sara a B+ on being “easy to please and quick to make decisions,” which made this process more “cost-effective.” They were fairly good at communicating desires they had upfront and we shared a vibe/vision overall. Still, there were times where one would thumbs up right away and the other would pose questions, want more options, or want each piece to be stand-alone “wow” vs. “within the room wow.” And that’s totally fine. But those moments meant additional sourcing hours. Overall, I’d use them as a great model for how much back-and-forth might be “average” for a particular, yet not-hard-to-please client. 

Given my currently-limited knowledge of client work and design firm business models, I’ve always wondered how you account for the potentially limitless back-and-forth, re-designs, or modifications that might come up in a design process. If charging hourly, what’s to be communicated in advance about overall estimates when (here comes the “your fault” part) one client may have only one round of notes while another wants to go back and forth for weeks? Or if one client only needs a mood board to get excited, but another needs fully-flushed 3D rendering to understand the vision, which can take several hours to create. There are so many client X factors! So are there better models than hourly? 

My professors spoke of this “ever-evolving, post-online-shopping-industry” that replaced standard models of the past. I was just too young to experience this shift (I was a late-blooming, decade-older-than-the-rest design student). Luckily, our designer friends had some solutions and are budgeting in contingency or overestimating in their proposals to allow for the X factor of clients’ particularities.

How Other Interior Designers Track & Charge For Their Design Services 

So, now let’s turn to our anonymous special guests and get some REAL answers. I can’t thank these pros enough for their generous, business-savvy insight. The following are the questions posed to our seven experts and their responses. Quick note, these pros are all in major US cities (Portland, Vegas, Los Angeles and New York), so if you’re in Duncan, Oklahoma, or something, you’ll probably need to call around to see if there’s truth in these numbers (or check down in the comments).

*Quick note! All of the designers we spoke with are working freelance, or own their own design firms. That means that within their hourly rate they are accounting for overhead that salary positions don’t account for: taxes, software licenses, travel to and from work sites, paying employees/assistants, unpaid vacation time, unpaid sick leave, health benefits, savings for retirement, and savings for times when work is slow. We didn’t include any designers working for a company or firm in our survey.

Okay, here we go:

Do you charge a flat fee or hourly rate, if so, what is your hourly rate or how do you calculate the flat fee? 

Everyone questioned charges a little differently for different types of project, but rates seem pretty standard across the board. Most charge hourly, but a few charge flat fees (based on sq. footage) for ground-up or hospitality gigs. 

The mean (or average) rate of people polled was $182/ hr. Here are a few sample answers:

  • “It depends! The range is $150 – $350 an hour depending on whether it is operations based, or design (creative). If it is a larger budget ($100,000 or more), we charge a percentage of that budget as a flat fee.”
  • “I bounce around between an hourly rate and flat fees. For bigger jobs (like new builds and renovations) I typically charge hourly since they go on for so long. Sometimes on smaller jobs that are just a few rooms, I set a flat fee. $150/hour-ish.”
  • “I charge hourly, which was $150 but recently increased to $175.”

Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer4

How do you account for paying assistants/a team? Is their time itemized separately or included?

The answers to this question were a bit more varied. Some designers account for the different levels of experience in their team by using a “blended” rate, while others charge different hourly rates for different team members.

  • “I have a separate line item for design assistants or 3D modeling/drawing hours.”
  • “We charge an hourly rate. My hourly rate is $195 for myself as the principal designer, $135 for project managers, and $95 for junior designers.”
  • “We log all our time individually. Initially, we had separate rates of $150 general manager, $100 assistant, but now we do a blended rate of $175 no matter who works on the project.”

How do you typically make accurate time estimates for a project, given the client X factor? Do you overestimate? 

Though the specifics varied, a common occurrence was evident; most designers have this element addressed/outlined in their contracts.  

  • “We’ve become more accurate with every project we do, but we feel it is better to overestimate a little bit. We send weekly updates so that our clients can see how time is adding up. We usually give a heads up if we feel the time will surpass what we’ve estimated.” 
  • “I can ballpark a time estimate based on previous projects of a similar scale. There’s no way for me to know if the client will be someone who makes quick decisions or sends me back to the drawing board 100 times until we get started. I’m sure I actually under-report a lot of my hours because it can seem crazy that I spent 1 hour designing an entire living room but 75 hours searching for the perfect lampshade!” 
  • “We try to look at past jobs and match the scope, and estimate based on those. We typically underestimate. Because we do not charge a flat fee, we tell our clients that these are mere time estimates, and can vary greatly. I always equate it to an attorney meeting with their client for the first time. There is no way to predict what something will cost until we’re deep into the project.” 
  • “We include a 20% contingency on all jobs to allow for scope creep. If it goes over, we will get the client’s approval to go into contingency. It’s nice to have this written into the original contract, as it saves time getting an additional contract approved. We can pull reports in Harvest (a time tracking app) at any time, and we try to do this weekly.”

How would you handle going over time estimations?

  • “Ooof. This is a tough one, but we just let them know from the outset that the more we do (call, order, email, discuss) the more it costs – it all goes on the clock and to keep that in mind!”
  • “We tell the clients upfront that we account for ALL BILLABLE TIME, which includes any electronic communication, phone calls, driving time, etc. We tell them that the more decisive they are the less they will have to spend on us. This is another reason we stick to an hourly model over a flat fee.” 
  • “Every client is different, spending a little more time upfront for creative alignment will help establish trust and ultimately saves time in the end. Weekly check-ins by phone, in-person meetings, connecting on a personal level, all help foster trust, too.” 

Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer5

Do you ever charge commission on furniture?

This is a common practice among designers, who are often able to secure furniture and accessories at a discounted “trade” price. A designer will purchase the pieces for their client at a discount, then charge a commission on the piece (usually a percentage of the discounted cost) to help account for all the little amounts of time that aren’t trackable. Often a client will still end up paying less than if they had bought the piece retail themselves.

  • “For clients that require a little more of a “white-glove” service, I’ll charge commission on furniture considering I’m handling all the purchasing. If I pass along my discount then I have the clients place all orders themselves and they’re in charge of dealing with shipping/receiving/storing, etc.” 
  • “Always. We typically mark up 30% from our industry rate, which means the client is still paying less than retail (most retail furniture has a 2.5x mark-up).”
  • “Yes, purchasing is required on all contracts (except hospitality) and is a flat rate of 35%. The client is also responsible for paying a receiving company, where products get checked for damages, quality, etc., and our firm monitors these updates against the purchase order. Products get delivered according to the construction schedule, and a final install of furniture is done at the end of a project.” 
  • “Yes. 30% on wholesale, vintage, and custom. We don’t give clients our retail trade discount so they are paying what they would be if they purchased it themselves.”

Any favorite software or tips for logging project hours and invoicing?

There were definitely variations in billing practices, with some billing bi-monthly and others billing once a month. 

I’ll start with EHD. We use Harvest for logging hours and expenses, and Google Sheets or Airtable for a lot of project management and orders. Harvest was the most common time tracking and invoicing software reported by our small sample, with Ivy following, and Fohlio for purchasing. Spreadsheet-nerds will be happy to know those are still a popular-player, too.

In Conclusion…

Now knowing standard hourly rates, let’s reassess Sara’s “designer budget” with a more accurate rate of $182/hour (which is an average based on the hourly rate results from our survey): 

Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer6

I LOVED Sara and Mac’s project, but Sara could never have actually afforded me. And that makes me sad. (Sara would like to add that this is a very RUDE, but a true assessment.)

But, designers, you want to remain competitive with your rates. Your knowledge and resources are uniquely valuable (project-undertakers, be wary of hoping your contractor will moonlight as your designer. That can be an expensive mistake!). It’s a tricky tightrope to balance on, as you don’t want to be SO expensive you aren’t able to secure work, but not so low that you aren’t able to make a living. At the lower-end of the scale, you may actually lose work. Potential clients might wonder why you’re “so cheap” and assume you’re not a professional or lack experience. As with anything, there’s something to be said for not taking the cheapest option. 

Alas, a fully-executed design by a professional seemingly remains a luxury service (one well worth it, if you can afford it!). But if these fees don’t fit your budget, DON’T GET DOWN. There are still ways you can possibly work with a designer, and I’m going to share those with you in a second post coming soon. 

There is, of course, always the “do it yourself” model. Non-design school trained team members like Arlyn, Bowser, and Jess are all self-made success stories that exemplify the fact that all you need is a Pinterest board, a good flea market or two, a pinch of taste, and the time/patience to pull it off. And don’t worry, Sara is being forced to design her own bedroom and master bathroom, so she’s not sitting in lap of luxury – aka my lap – for too much longer. She’ll pull it off though, she’s done it before (see her old apartment below).  

Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer7

I have to confess, doing all the research for this post lined up serendipitously with my and Bowser’s recent leap into taking on our own clients. Spreading freelance wings can be scary, but now I feel like I have so much more information to work with. Emily B. and I are testing our own newborn-models now. (if you’re interested you can reach me here, and Bowser here).

Finally, to all the designers reading this post – are there any other methods you have tried that don’t weed out the “non-luxe” client? Partial designs, consults, e-design? I just want to keep working with cool people, like Sara and Mac, who might not necessarily have the budget to hire a designer. (Sara’s not my boss anymore, so now you know I mean it.) Okay, the end for real. BUT STAY TUNED for Part II on deck for tomorrow, where I share a few ways to save when working with a pro, and why working with a designer (even partially) might be an expense you can’t afford to cut…. See you then!

Catch up on all of Sara’s Makeover Takeover: Sara Buys A House Part I: Six Tips For First Time Home BuyersSara Buys A House Part II: The RenovationThe Designing Begins: A Floorplan Design AgonyThe Designing Continues: Time To Pick FurnitureThe Final Design PlanA Fireplace Design Agony | Sara’s Moody TV Room Plan

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K

Well-written post. Good information

Emily

I’m hoping you guys can share your new clients projects on Emily’s blog!

Karen

I have been wondering the same for a few years now. What has that huge EHD design team been accomplishing? What design projects besides Emily’s homes has the team done?
It would be fun and informative for us readers for you to get back to showing before and after situations of clients home projects. Thanks – many of us are looking forward to getting back to that!

Velinda and I are SO looking forward to sharing some of our projects on the blog this year! We are currently figuring things out, so please, reach out if you are interested! I do want to note that the “huge” design team was just 3 people :). And that’s only if you count me, the stylist. Julie and Velinda were the only Designers. We were working hard on the Mountain House, the book, Sara’s house, Violet’s bedroom and all the branded projects that keep this blog up and running. XO

Emily

Thanks for your transparency and I’m so glad you’re talking real numbers about real salaries. To this I will add, perhaps only tangentially unrelated, that I am a professional scientist who works for a large consulting firm on public and private projects (Dept of Transportation projects, FEMA disaster recovery, habitat restorations, etc) with a Masters degree, and 17 years of experience and I make $45/hr (and I can’t write anything off – a full 25% of that goes to taxes). Granted, I have a full time, salaried position, so there is very little “hustle” involved in my work and no overhead/expenses (for me, def my company has them, as they bill me out to clients at a rate closer to $100/hr). My partner is a self-taught freelance web developer with 7 years experience and charges $50/hr; he has significant business expenses though, but pays almost no taxes since as a small-business owner he’s able to write off most everything. I recently was looking for a housekeeper to help with upkeep since we both work so much and was blown away to find most charge in the $40-50/hr range, and if they charge a flat fee, sometimes it works out to… Read more »

Sam

Thank you for sharing this context. I think it’s really important and insightful.

Jessie

I’m a CPA in a public accounting firm, so another billable industry. I’m salaried, but my personal take home pay is about $40/hr before taxes, whereas my billable rate to clients is $210/hr. That’s with 6 years of experience and currently a manager – our entry level staff and interns are around $25/hr pay and $140/hr billable to clients. I know the senior managers and partners are billed out to clients at between $280/hr and $450/hr, though I don’t know their take home pay. That discrepancy between take home pay and billable rate probably seems crazy, but in order to do our work, there’s a lot of overhead – office space, very expensive and specialized software for tax preparation, research, document storage both electronically and paper in many cases, administrative personnel that never get billed to a client, our internal accounting, HR, marketing, etc. There are also a lot of costs of employing people that never show up in their take home pay – employer payroll taxes, insurance, retirement matching and administration, desks, computers, continuing education classes to keep our licenses, team social functions, community involvement, etc. which all make “pay” quite a bit higher than the hourly rate of… Read more »

Sheila

Great comment, Jessie! Lots of comments comparing the two but billable rates and hourly pay are very different things!

Jennifer

This perspective is very valuable. Thanks for bravely pulling the covers off the taboo topic!

Vika

Thank you for this thread. I am a university professor in STEM field, 47$/hr (before taxes), and I am fully with Emily on housekeeper thing. I get the billable hour/hourly pay argument, but if you simply do the math, it will be very clear that dirt-cheap cleaning supplies and work travel time (btw nobody pays for my commute time) are not a reason for housekeeper to charge 80$/hr. The reason it is expensive is not because it’s expensive operation to run but because it’s a luxury service and there’re enough clients willing to pay this rate. There are indeed a lot of people cleaning for cheaper e.g. undocumented folks working for hotels for 11$/hr cash.

So as far as personalized design services go, we should just call them what they are – a luxury service for a very select group of rich folks. There is no salaried job in this country except perhaps high-end medical and Wall street that would pay a salary sufficient to afford 16K for 3 small rooms design (incl 2K for purchasing and vendor communication).

Karly

As someone who ran a sole proprietor housekeeping business for five years, I can tell you that the reason I charged as much as I did (folded into that was taxes, overhead, business expenses, and yes, travel) is because I could clean 2, or at most 3 houses (if they were small, or condos) a day. Unless I wanted to start hiring employees to do the job I was doing at half the cost (which would not be a living wage for them), there was no way for me to “just work more” to make the business lucrative. It’s not an expensive operation to run, but it’s also extremely difficult to make a lot of money doing it. I only charged roughly $50/hour (but I charged as a flat fee per house–so a 4,000 sq. ft house would be about $200 per cleaning), but I can understand charging more than that if want to clean nicer residences and be more picky about who your clients are. Sometimes I was cleaning problematic/dangerous residences, or had clients that made me uncomfortable. Plus, people’s circumstances changed all the time; a client losing their job or moving away meant I had an immediate loss… Read more »

Christina

Karly, thank you for your perspective and reminding us that housekeeping is back-breaking work. I would add, it’s one job in which you do not typically get a 401k contribution or pension. People who work self-employed in service industries not only have to make enough to pay their bills now, but eventually to save enough to retire when their bodies give out and they can’t do the work anymore. I doubt many people do make enough money to clear that hurdle.

ALL OF SOCIETY BENEFITS when people are paid a living wage. In this specific instance, even if that means paying someone more than you yourself earn. (Or not hire someone and do it yourself, which is an option for able-bodied folks.)

Ashley

The women that clean my home are my angels. It’s a sacrifice to pay for this service, but it allows my family to have time together on the weekend and that is irreplaceable! It takes 3 people 2 hours to clean my entire house, which would take me more like 8! I don’t consider it a luxury, it is a necessity for my mental health and I will gladly buy less clothes for it!

Heather Evans

I’m from a military family and would happily pay 16K for three rooms, but I as also believe good design can really solve every day problems!

chiara

ditto!!! i’m shocked with these prices. we in europe charge 10x less!!!

lisa

No, sorry, the average costs / hour in europe for desingners or architects start with 75 euro + vat, depending on country and taxes. Most architects are charging 150 euro / hour, famous architects even more. prices are absolutely average all over the western world.
greetings from europe
lisa

Anilop

I don’t have an issue paying a housekeeper more than I have been paid. For reasons stated above, it takes me longer. But honestly, it’s cheaper than a couple’s therapist. We have one once a month to do the hard stuff. I don’t’ get to spend a ton of time with my partner and I don’t want to spend that time arguing about who is doing deep cleaning. I view this as a standalone service not what it costs per hour, which when I was contracting I found to be a more useful lens to view services. I’ve contracted and I found it took me a very long time figure out how to make the whole thing work wellfinancially. It wasn’t just the lead generation time. It was gaps and delays and unscheduled overlaps between projects. So they wanted the project to start on January 1st but someone was sick so it gets moved to January 8th. I can’t start another project because it would take me a week to find that project. Now I have a week of time I can’t bill for. If that happens 3 times during the year – and it often did. that’s three weeks… Read more »

Maria

Thank you from all the freelancers out there. It’s the gaps in time and availability you pay for to have the support you need when you need it.

There is no paid sick time off.. insurance or retirement being set aside or 40 hours of pay guaranteed a week.

You can do a few google searches and find that interior designers average a take home pay of 50-60k a year USD …owning their own businesses or paying someone. This isn’t an industry with stock options, job security, maternity leave or vacation time. Most Interior Designers are working freelance.

Alison

I will say on the housekeeping topic, if this is not through a large company, but an individual who runs their own set of clients… health/dental/etc insurance is not cheap. If they have to pay out of pocket healthcare for themselves, and possibly their children, it makes sense that their rate would be $40-50. I 100% know that I could not clean my home at the level a professional would/could do it in the same amount of time. I’d suggest maybe timing yourself sometime to do a full clean and see where you end up for amount of time versus what you’ve been quoted for their services. Might really end up being worth it in the end.

[…] post Inside The Design Process – How Much It Really Costs To Work With A Designer appeared first on Emily […]

Paula

Great post! Thank you for sharing!
I wonder if the fees would be similar in Europe, do you guys know?
Thanks again!
Xx
Paula

Anna

Definitely not! 🙂 But many of the insights and rationale behind the pricing strategies make sense also in Europe.

lisa

The prices in europe are very much the same, cost / hour für an architect or desinger start with 75, most are charging 150 euro + vat, depending on experience and tax regulations.
Greetings from Europe
Lisa

Susannah

Love reading all this- and yes, you should’ve been charging more!! I’m in Michigan and charge $150/hr.

Past few months I’ve been contemplating doing a discounted fee for people that give us complete creative control- in order to use those spaces on our blog, so it’s super interesting to hear you guys say you are doing that.

Keira

Great concept!

[…] {$excerpt:n} Source: Inside The Design Process – How Much It Really Costs To Work With A Designer […]

Carr

This was incredibly helpful and thorough – thank you!

How do the online design companies fit into this model, like Havenly, etc.? What aren’t we getting when working with someone like that – besides in-person meetings, of course.

Roberta Davis

I interviewed with a few of these companies, and had offers. They pay extremely low hourly rates to their designers (considering their qualifications and skills and the expenses these people still have to cover themselves). That’s how they do it.

Christa

They also swap out the designers choices for similar items from their retail partners, and get a percentage of the sale. Say a designed spec’d a Schoolhouse Electric flush mount lamp. The internet flat fee design services will switch it to something their low paid staff finds on Wayfair, changing the design somewhat so they get paid.

Keira Williams

I hired a designer through Homepolish a few years ago. I believe I paid $1300 for 10 hours of her time. It was up to me how I used her time, which I liked. She was a great sounding board and voice of reason, and scouted particular items, letting me know where she found them and then I purchased them directly myself.

Celia

I am a consumer, not a decorator, but thought I would share my experience in interviewing three separate designers during a recent full home remodel. Number one required that I spend at least 30,000 dollars and also complete a multipage contract which also included questions on my style preferences. This was BEFORE she would even set foot in my home. Number two came to my house, with a junior associate, drew up rough ideas and had me come to her office to look at various schemes – my issue with her was I never could pin down what she actually charged per hour and whether I would also be paying the assistant. I had a firm budget which it quickly became apparent was not going to be enough to afford them (as in 100-200,000 over budget -yikes). To her credit, she did not charge me for anything since I did not choose her. Number three was a woman who worked out of her home solo. Her hourly rate was 150$ (in Dallas). She was quite helpful in selecting paint colors, windows, and with a few other big decisions regarding construction. She took me to several lighting showrooms etc. But despite… Read more »

Shaun

Celia I’m glad you shared your experience with various designers. There is a huge spectrum of skill and ability in the design industry, just as there is in any industry. Before I started my education and new career in design, my first career was in the banking/finance industry. About 80% of my day is spent on the business of design and not the design work itself because I know how important it is to be responsive to clients. No one wants all the mystery about costs, or wondering if someone will show up on time, or if they’ve answer their phone.

Sarah

Shaun – I would be VERY interested to hear how you made the switch from the banking industry to design. I would like to do the same but and stuck at the switch – go back to school first? Do it on the side and grow it on your time off? Jump in head first?

Betsy

I would also love to hear more about your career jump adventure!

Jessica

Love this. Thanks for sharing all this great information about pricing and jobs. I myself am self made and working on projects. I’d love to see if you all have any mentors you can hire or suggest anyone to do so. It’s always nice to have some one to be able to bounce ideas off of or questions.

Katy

GREAT post! Wow, that’s a lot of money. Thank goodness for free blogs as resources to help us figure it out ourselves. Also, would love to see more process, behing the scenes stuff on Instagram. I’ve been wodering for months whatever happened to Sara’s house or if I missed the reveals.

Susan

Agreed! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford a designer, but I don’t need to because of all of the tips from this blog. Thanks, team EHD!

Lauren Bennett

I think a lot of it has to do with where you live. Many people are not willing to pay even the family rate stated where I live. I find it very difficult charging people for my work. Everyone wants a designer but no one seems to want to pay them. Anyone else have this problem?

Roberta Davis

That is definitely the problem, from everything I have seen! Designers really don’t make even a good living considering all the education, skill and knowledge they need to do the job, plus the expenses and risk of running a business. My conclusion is that society simply does not value the work they do. In my experience, many people think they can design just as well as a designer and many people really have no design sensibility- so why would they spend so much money for a designer? Which is why, even though I love design and would love to do the work, I don’t. It’s not worth my time, especially when you consider all of the aggravation designers go through working with clients.

Talia

Well said Roberta.

Many people think just because they have a lot of Pinterest boards, watch every design show, read a lot of design blogs and get great bargains at Home Goods that they are a designer.
As a designer, my process is always being refined, particularly in the beginning stages where insuring you and the client are a good fit is critical. Someone who is dismissive or balks at paying for the value of the creative and customized product that designers provide will not be a good fit or a good client. I’m constantly honing my initial interview meeting questions to make sure I won’t waste my time or a potential clients time.

Allison

Enlightening post! Wow, I’m kind of gobsmacked at those rates! Even a $75/hr rate for someone fresh out of design school seems so high to me, and I can’t fathom something in the $200/hr range. For perspective, I graduated with a Ph.D. in biology and my starting salary put me at a rate of about $35/hr, which was actually much higher than the typical fresh-out-of-grad-school scientist (just due to the career path I chose, which wasn’t your typical academic track). Even now, 15 years later, I don’t make $75/hr. I’m curious, what goes in to setting the rates that were mentioned? How much is salary vs overhead, and what factors in to calculating overhead? I’m sure it’s different depending on a designer’s specific situation (work for themselves, for a small business, for a large firm). It does seem that interior design services are really not accessible to the majority of people, from a cost perspective. Like others have noted, I’m so grateful for resources like this and other blogs and Pinterest to help people like me find ideas for my home!

Lauren

I work for myself as an interior designer in Houston. The rates they are giving are Absolutely for people running their own business. The tax rate is around 30% plus overhead costs of office space, supplies, internet, phone, software, etc etc etc. When I worked for another designer who paid for all the things I needed to do my job I was paid $40/hr (which IMO was VERY high for the position) and my position was lead designer, with a degree and 10 years experience. I think it needs to be recognized that the numbers given in the post were for people running their own business. $75/hr (Or $95 or $125) for an employee is what is being charged to the client but is NOT what that employee is taking home. Working for myself – in this industry – was the only way I had the potential to surpass the very real cap on my salary working for someone else.

LOVE LOVE LOVED the post and these conversations need to happen more! ???

Roberta Davis

I have been offered design work at rates of $15, $16, $18, $20, $25 and $50 per hour for residential design work, and this is with absolutely no benefits. It was contractor work- which means not even unemployment benefits. I would even have to provide my own computer and internet access. Right now, the minimum wage in Seattle is $15 per hour. I have 2 bachelors degrees in design and several years’ work experience with architecture and design firms. How could anyone live on that? They can’t. Ok, the $50 is pretty good but that was one isolated incident- most have been toward the lower end. As an employee of an established company (I’m guessing), you get paid the rate you mentioned above, but you also get paid sick leave, vacation and holidays among other paid time off. Your employer pays payroll taxes. You would get unemployment if laid off. You are provided a work space, a computer, internet service at work, at a minimum, right? You probably also get health insurance that is partially paid for by your company, and a 401k plan with possibly a match, and/or a pension fund. You don’t have to bill anyone or do… Read more »

Allison

Lauren and Roberta, thanks for your responses! I figured there was quite a bit that went into “non-salary” components making up those rates. And I would guess that the higher rates are for individuals working for themselves who also have employees to support (vs freelance, where you wouldn’t necessarily have things like payroll and a billing department of your own to support).

I do see “taxes” mentioned a lot as part of the factoring of rates, but we do ALL pay taxes – my take home pay is definitely not my hourly rate! But I do see the difference between a salaried, full time job and other non-traditional positions like freelance designing – I currently work part time from home, which does not come with some of those wonderful benefits that have been mentioned, like paid sick leave and vacation. I have to supply my own internet connection, phone line, and office equipment, too – I didn’t know how good I had it when I worked outside the home! But I do get some retirement compensation and health insurance, and if I didn’t I’m sure I’d be finding a different job! They can make a huge difference in take home pay.

Roberta Davis

We’re all learning a lot from this! Thanks for your response, Allison.

Tara

Allison, one thing to add to your pay rate is what your employer pays for your benefits (medical, dental, vision, life, disability, retirement, vacation/PTO, and other perks), workers compensation, the place where you work, your computer and equipment, all the things. When I provide employees total compensation statements they are often gobsmacked to learn that the Company is paying 1/3 as much of their salary (or more) for their “extra” benefits.
The design fee has to cover ALL of those expenses plus taxes as most are likely working on a contract basis (they pay the taxes on what they make not the person who pays them).

Kelly

I’m a scientist in academia and much of my time is paid off external grants. My institution pays about 60% on top of my salary for my direct benefits and payroll taxes. The percentage is higher (up to 110%) for lower paid employees since some costs are fixed (like health insurance). They charge an “overhead” rate they have negotiated with the federal government of an additional 50% on top of both salary and indirect costs which pays for office space, computing, the library, the salaries for IT support, etc. All in, my charged rate is about 2.5 times my pre-tax rate. This is a fairly standard (and conservative) approach since the feds audit the expenses every few years. That means the salary rate for a billable rate of $150/hr is about ~$60/hr.

Allison

I think my “wow!” feelings relate more to not knowing previously how much it costs to hire an interior designer (never having worked with one before). I do understand how fringe/overhead works. I fully support paying people living wages, it just seems clear that use of interior design services is not something I (or most other people, I would imagine!) can afford.

Susan

I feel the same way!

LC

I have hired three different design companies and each time I have been disappointed in their product. The first one was hired for selecting fabrics for window coverings. The meeting went great and I thought she heard me distinctly tell her that I did not like strong, busy patterns and I was going for serene and cool tones. Behold she brings me a horrendous black and green houndstooth pattern. Totally not what I asked for. Second round, more of the same. Fired her after that but was still billed $200 per hour (I live in Dallas). I’m just glad I capped the loss at 3 hours. I’d also like to add a similar comment that is not meant to denigrate the design profession, but to juxtapose the reality of other professions. I make a decent living as a science project manager but my hourly rate is $56. I manage projects that directly impact public health and the environment. Picking furniture and drawing a room at an hourly average rate of $180 dollars just blows my mind! Maybe I picked the wrong career. After getting burned 3 times, I’m likely done using in person designs. I have started using e-design services… Read more »

Roberta Davis

Do you mean that your salary works out to $56 per hour? And that is for full-time pay? As mentioned elsewhere, designers do not get paid for every hour they are working. They have to do the business tasks, research, keep their skills up, etc. and they can’t bill for that stuff. Their hourly rate has to cover this time plus all their expenses. They also have to pay 100% of their own health insurance costs (I buy my own, which is $700 per month with a $5400 deductible for the barest-bones plan offered in the market).

From everything I have read about working as a consultant or an independent business person, you should charge 3-4 times the hourly rate you would make as an employee, just to come out even.

I agree, though- most people just can’t or won’t afford full-service design.

Shaun

Hi LC I think I understand where you’re coming from when you talk about the gravity of the work that you do compared to that of a designer picking furniture and drawings a room. While everyone could benefit from good design, design is mostly a luxury service. A “want” and not a “need”. It has been democratized through online and e-design services, and even through blogs like Emily’s, but that still doesn’t mean that other designers are rushing to the lowest common denominator if they want to earn a living.

Colleen

Wow, this is so interesting! I never would have guessed that rates were so high. I mean no disrespect, you are all great at what you do, but who besides the 1% can actually afford to hire designers? Are any clients “regular” people? My husband and I do pretty well (make around $150k a year combined, live in the suburbs of a medium sized city) and I cannot imagine ever spending $16k when there are great resources online – this blog and others, pinterest, Modsy, etc. Also, some math… if the “average” rate is $182/hr, this works out to $378,560 per year! I know this is not what a Designer’s take home pay would be, after all expenses are subtracted, but even if it was less than half, let’s say $150k, that still sounds really high to me. I work in tech the tech industry, and only senior level engineers are making that. In large cities they might bring in $200-250k.

Sarah

I hear this. But it’s important to remember that these designers are working much more than they’re actually billing their clients, so they don’t take home $182/hour for every hour of a 40-plus hour workweek. I’m not a designer, I’m a psychologist. When some folks see that my rate is $150/hour, they think I must be incredibly wealthy. But I only charge for the time directly spent with clients. I’m doing billing, paperwork/case notes, research and continuing education/training (that I pay for), correspondence, advocacy work for many, many hours every week to benefit my clients, but I only charge them for the hour-long session. Velinda said say they bill for “everything,” but I’m pretty sure it still doesn’t work out to $182/hour for every single hour of a 40-plus hour workweek; there is a ton they’re doing all week that doesn’t get billed. It’s such a fascinating conversation, and I’m glad we (especially as women) are talking about it!

Alyssa

For what it’s worth, no designer (except maybe the ones working just for themselves or really high up in a company) gets to take home even half of what the company charges for their time. My company bills $150-$175 for my time (I can’t remember the exact number), and I get to take home about $30/hour of that (my salary is $58,000/year with about 4 years of experience). So it’s definitely not tech-level salaries.

Personally, most of my time at work IS billable. But the firm has to also pay the overhead (you wouldn’t believe how much design software liccenses cost per month) and salaries to people who don’t do billable work (a whole job is just billing our clients for the firm’s work; lots of time is spent marketing, meeting new clients, etc).

And generally, no. There aren’t a whole lot of “normal” people hiring interior designers and architects. Custom is expensive. Good design is expensive. Paying people a living wage for their time is expensive. I know it’s shocking to see those numbers, but this post is very much in line with reality!

Ashley

I’m so glad you mentioned the marketing! How do they think these clients find them- magic fairies?! You have to spend money to make money and a larger part of that is marketing costs (social media, networking, blogging all take tons of TIME!).

Shaun

Colleen, there are definitely a lot of designers with a great deal of visibility working with the 1%. They get a lot of attention and create the impression that we’re all making a lot of money. Truth is, the national average income for designers is $50-60k. Your numbers assume the designer is billing for all of their time which is never the case.

My clients are not in the 1%, they’re firmly middle-class (I know that’s subjective these days). They work with me because they want someone to handle the headaches and hassles of remodeling their kitchens, bathrooms, master suites, etc. and they want them to be beautiful. They’d rather pay me to do this work for them than lose time away from their jobs, or miss spending time with their family, or losing peace of mind during the project. They understand that this has value and they’re willing to pay me for that service and my knowledge.

For every person like you who has the gumption and tenacity to handle a project on their own, there is another person who can’t even fathom doing the project without help.

Laurel

The average interior designer is making about $40-60k a year. Overhead is HUGE in our industry. We utilize three software programs at a minimum and each cost about $1k per month. Usually designer positions have no healthcare, benefits, retirement, and minimal vacation time. And as some people have mentioned, when the economy goes into even a mild recession, housing is the first thing that slows.

R

Thanks so much for your honesty and transparency in this post. I looked into hiring a designer for some remodeling work and found that most of them charge $150 an hour (in the Midwest.) That was more than I could afford so I kept looking and discovered that a designer who my mother had used back in the day was still working part-time. I hired her for $75 an hour. I’m fine with paying $75 an hour but anything over $100 an hour is out of reach for most people, including me. That’s why we devour blogs like Emily’s. (By the way, just for perspective, a family member is working on finishing his PhD and will probably start earning a salary that comes to about $75 an hour, so a new designer charges the same hourly rate as a scientist with a PhD?)

Wow a lot of science people in the audience! That’s so sick. I think the whole idea of freelance pros and cons versus salary pros and cons is SO interesting. And also the different values that we as society put on different jobs. For example, I think educators should be paid WAY more than they are (but I’m biased, my mom’s been a kindergarten teacher for 35+ years and should be paid all the money in the world for doing that job). My best friends is actually a PhD candidate, and she’s always lamented that unless she goes into private sector she’s never going to make much, despite the amount or time/money/effort she’s put into her education. But she also wouldn’t want to do anything else, and is very passionate about her research. Her partner already has his PhD and recently had to choose between a lucrative private corporation job or continuing research on his own start up with academic funding, which would pay him a fraction of what the private corporation job would have. He choose the start up because it’s what he was more passionate about (despite the eye rolls from my friend who hoped at least ONE… Read more »

Roberta Davis

And also, a salary at $75 per hour is not the same as an hourly billed rate of $75 per hour, as discussed elsewhere in this chain. What the designer takes home from that $75 per hour is probably more like $15-20 per hour, and not all hours worked can be billed for.

R

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. Yes, I’m very aware of the difference between the hourly rate charged by a self-employed person vs. the take-home pay of a salaried employee. And as a former business owner, I’m also very aware of the additional costs of running a business and having employees. Still, I was amazed at the rate that designers are charging.

Zach Mitchell

I love this! Well written, well researched, and incredibly helpful. Thank you!

Liz

For everyone comparing their own salary against the rates posted here, remember that your ‘hourly rate’ doesn’t include taxes, insurance, or retirement benefits, which your employer (hopefully) pays on top of your salary. I currently work for a company, but I was a freelancer in the same field for a couple of years – when I was trying to figure out what to charge the advice was to go 2-3x what my salaried rate was, both to account for those extra benefits and to build in a cushion for the fact that it’s really uncommon to be able to bill 40 hours a week for the entire year.

Jill Michnick

Hi,

This post could not have come at a more perfect time. I have two rooms (bathroom and laundry room) in my home that I would like to renovate as well as finding siding for the outside and tile for the porch. I would like to use a designer but finding someone seemed very intimidating but after reading your post it would be great to be considered for your friends and family rate. How are each of you finding your first 5 clients? Is it possible to be considered?

you can visit our sites, emilyedith.com and velindahellendesign.com and shoot us a message 🙂

Gretchen

Honestly, nothing surprising here. Prices are about what I would expect (I was assuming it would be $200+/hr). And while understandable and totally deserved, it makes me sad that I’ll probably never be in a place to afford it. I have 3 shelves in the living room that I want styled, but I can see how quickly that would add up to be out of my price range. Let alone a full room or house. And I assume designers would rather have bigger projects with more control. So would any designers even want to help style only 3 shelves? That scope is so small. I do LOVE knowing the numbers. It helps me think about goals and what I could save up for.

Alyssa

It probably wouldn’t be worth a designer’s time to style just 3 shelves. BUT! The good news is that you don’t need a designer or a stylist for that. There are so many resources for figuring it out on your own. Start by checking out shelf photos on Pinterest or Instagram, and then look for the commonalities between them to find what you like!

Roberta Davis

or this blog!!!!! there are so many good articles and examples- which is why we love this blog, right????

Jenn Matilla

Hi Gretchen! I’d say your best bet would be to book a consultation with a designer/stylist if you can. I started doing these last year for clients who couldn’t afford me full time, but wanted an in-person professional opinion. I charge 2-3x my hourly rate (just so that it makes sense for me to travel for a 1-3 hour meeting and I give a lot more information than I would for a typical first meeting) and I include an in-depth recap e-mail with sourcing ideas. It’s definitely worth asking designers you like if they provide this service. You’ll get a lot of great ideas and the confidence to do it yourself. Hope this helps!

Alex Becket

As a self-employed designer and renovation specialist, I offer 1.5-2hr design consults that are just what you describe…an on-site walk through where I listen to what the client needs/wants and offer very specific recommendations, insight and helpful info for the client to pursue. I follow it up with a summery email and contractor/subcontractor recs. I should be charging more for this service….thanks for sharing that you charge about double your hourly rate for this. I charge $150 an hour in Los Angeles, but I offer SO much helpful info and direct leads…..so I should charge more for the initial walk through! If they choose to continue with me further, I’d stick to my regular hourly price. Although I have NOT been charging for my travel time, bc I feel $150 is TOO high for travel time. After reading through the post I’m thinking of upping my hourly to $175 bc all of us designers know we do more work than we track!!! All those little emails and time thinking over the projects…they get in my head during ALL hours! I put my clients needs and wants first and foremost and do my very best to make them happy!

Susan

Studio McGee has a great post about styling shelves: https://www.studio-mcgee.com/studioblog/2019/1/28/refresh-your-shelves

Paige

Hi Gretchen! I have a design Instagram and am just starting out after styling for friends/family/myself over the past few years. If you have a budget in mind for the shelf styling I’d be happy to help! I like to take on small projects that can make a big impact!

Jessie

Maybe an e-design would be a good fit for your small project? 🙂

Lea

Totally wish we all could collab on my master bathroom! Especially after reading yesterday’s post! OMG!

Jessica

I’m a designer in the midwest and though I’ve been reading the blog since the very beginning, I’ve never commented before (always a lurker). However, reading some of these comments has motivated me to respond. Multiple people keep knocking designers for charging a decent hourly rate (I guess we shouldn’t making a living wage?) and belittling our value compared to scientists, tech engineers, and those with PhDs which is really bothersome to me. First, it is not apples to apples! The hourly rates these people are mentioning are salaried. You are guaranteed pay (with benefits, I assume). Designer hourly rates on based per project. We aren’t making $150/hr, 40/hrs/wk. We aren’t making $300K a year. We aren’t making $150K a year. Believe me, most of us barely make more than $50K/year and that includes a ridiculous amount of hustling our asses off working 50-60 hrs/wk (no pay there), dealing with clients who consistently undermine what we’ve spent hours working on, and repeatedly being told we aren’t worth being paid. I mean, just read these comments. Would you want to go to work everyday and hear this crap? Ugh. Second, most designers are small business owners. WE DO ALL THE JOBS.… Read more »

Amy

110% agree with every word you said.

Megan

I love this. Thank you for saying it. I am not an interior designer, but I do work in a creative field and I was shocked at how elitist some of these comments are. It’s fascinating to see how people openly value science/tech jobs more highly than creative ones, and how that lines up with traditional masculine and feminine roles.

Deepa

Thank you for this much-needed perspective. I’m not a designer, but I agree that people seem to underestimate or undervalue the kind of professional expertise needed to do this job.

Emily

I don’t think anyone here is knocking designers nor what they charge, and it’s not elitist to say “I work in tech/science/public health”. We’re all here faithfully reading our favorite design blog so we all must value what art/great design brings to our world. True, many of us cannot afford it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t value it. There are several conversations going on here, and the one about relative salaries of different professionals does not suggest that there’s less value in the one about how much designers charge or the one about how freelancing has a very different pay structure than a salaried position. Its good to talk about all these things.

Jessica

Totally agree that it’s really good to talk about these things! And true, it’s not elitist to mention you work in the tech/science/public health space because that’s fantastic and obviously important. However, what I meant was that it’s elitist to assume because you work in that space that you automatically deserve to make more money than someone who works as an interior designer because one deems it not as important or complicated. Or that a hardworking housekeeper shouldn’t make a decent living because they didn’t get their masters degree. There were plenty of comments implying that. I don’t think I was misreading anything. (Though I re-read my comment and it’s full of typos, so maybe I did. 😉 ) Running a business is expensive and not easy at all. I’m in year 12 and I’m not living in any mansion. But I am providing good living wages to 2 other wonderful employees (not to mention all my tradespeople) and working hard to provide valuable assistance to our clients. These hourly rates are not money in your pocket as other commenters explained. And someone who takes on a lot of liability and has strong expertise a potential client is looking for… Read more »

Elin

What I don’t really get in designers is subtext like “if you’re nice client than we try to find a way of working with you”. I find this subtext really revealing of all interior design industry, their standards and common processes. I bet that any designer have never been rejected at their doctor’s office just becouse doctor thought they was problematic clients (cough is too loud from the corridor and bad perfume) . Ask for clear pricing like menu at a restaurant “Problematic client, red flags” = reject. Or very often designer gives a higher quote lol. I wish doing so in my own practice for many people. But it’s just not polite and very low but it’s very common practice along designers (just subscribe to any interior designers facebook group to see this mindset) that make all interior design industry look dishonest and shady! Why there is no any pricing on their websites?”Pricing varies” in not an answer becouse it varies in Uber too, but you can see the price range without even asking. Designers never write pricing on their websites and there’s a reason behind that for sure. In the same time they ask you about your budget… Read more »

Kristi

What I don’t really get in designers is subtext like “if you’re nice client than we try to find a way of working with you”. I find this subtext really revealing of all interior design industry, standards and common processes. I bet that any designer have never been rejected at their doctor’s office just becouse doctor thought they was problematic clients (cough is too loud from the corridor and bad perfume) . Ask for clear pricing like menu at a restaurant “Problematic client, red flags” = reject. Or very often designer gives a higher quote. I wish doing so in my own practice for many people. it’s just not polite and very low but it’s very common practice along designers (just subscribe to any interior designers facebook group to see this mindset, small business think big etc) that make all interior design industry look dishonest. Why there are no any pricing on designers websites?”Pricing varies” in not an answer becouse it varies in Uber too, but you can see the price range without even asking. Designers never write pricing on their websites. Though they ask you about your budget right away. And you have to ask them back and not… Read more »

Roberta Davis

Bravo. Spot on.

Liz

I was thinking the same thing! Why is being a designer any less valuable than being a psychologist or a tech engineer? There’s a lot involved in designing a space including things like obtaining permits or abiding by state building codes for example.

If I could give some advice to people who would like to hire a designer but don’t think they can afford one…look at the portfolios of a handful of local designers and hire one that you LOVE! Then….give them a budget AND the creative “green light” to create a beautiful space! So much time goes into sourcing what we THINK the client MIGHT like that your money will be better spent if you allow the designer creative freedom. If you can’t find a designer you can trust to do this then use amazing blogs (like this one!) to help steer you into creating your own space. It’s free for the taking!

Sarah

YES!! All of this!!

Fabiana

Totally, 100% accurate! Couldn’t say it better. There is a lot of work that is not seen or valued. I see this every single day. Thank you for your comment!

Azure

YES!! To everything you just said Jessica, so clearly and so well! Iah am also appalled at what people are saying above about the value of other people’s skills, and time, it’s hideous and elitist. And get this sh*t? I have a PhD and work in science 🙂 Really the level of ignorance on display from some of those ‘highly educated’ folks as to what a freelance rate actually is and what it costs to work freelance is mind boggling. You can’t just multiply it by 40 hrs/week by 52 weeks, not even close. I currently work as a freelance consultant, but have worked salaried positions in the past. My current rate is more than 3x what my salary would be if I divided it out over 40 hr and 52 weeks, but I don’t end up with that much more money. As an example, I have been sick with the flu for over a week and have billed 3 hours total in 2020, I don’t have sick leave, and luckily I hav understanding clients so guess what I’ll be able to pay my mortgage bc my billable rate is sufficient, thankfully, that I don’t HAVE to work every waking… Read more »

Karyn

❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎

Char

100% agree with you Jessica!! Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Many, many people commenting are missing the difference between billed hourly rate and take home pay which are two different things entirely . Luann Niagara just had a great podcast with a guest, first name Kim, about if one is charging enough as a freelancer. Using real numbers they worked backwards with the goal of paying oneself $75,000. For the sake of easy math they assumed working full time every week, 12 mo/yr (ie no vacation) one needs to charge $172/hr.

Ariel

YES TO THIS 100%! As an educated interior designer working for a small business, super thankful to see this comment.

Emma

Design and creative work is EXTREMELY important and improves quality of life, but I think it reasonable to have some sense of perspective. Many of the Phds who have mentioned their pay have spent their entire 20’s studying and earning minimum wage, before they then earn $40 an hour, and their contributions will be of huge benefit to society. Both jobs are meaningful but this is not a winning comparison. I am neither a professional creative or scientist.

Sandra

BRAVO Jessica I agree with you 100%!
Thank you Emily and the team for talking about this touchy subject, I love this transparency you continuosly share here!
After all people, we live in capitalism, that’s all I have to say.

Talia

I second everything you said.

Nikki

Yes! I’m a designer with a master’s in architecture. I deal with people’s homes and their family dynamics. I have to build trust and act as a therapist all while managing the construction, knowing codes, getting their home to function again (not just pretty), and making it beautiful.

I cannot charge less than $100/hr or I would go negative. I have to have e&o insurance and pay for expensive drafting/design programs that take a hefty computer on top of the expenses others have stated.

There is so much that I do that I cannot bill for, and I do every position in the office.

Suzanne

Firstly, thank you for all this research and information. I know the costs seem crazy to many, but as someone who lives in the SF Bay Area, hourly rates are high in many professions. And all the cities Valinda mentions are higher cost of living locations. Also, I consider higher if a designer as a luxury service. Several years ago I worked with a landscape designer who had a wonderful model for clients who are more middle class. She charged a flat rate for 2 or 3 hours. I think it was $300-350. She requested we have our yard drawn out on 1/4” graph paper. She came into the appointment at our house (so she didn’t have the overhead of an office), and asked questions about our style and what we liked. We had magazine pictures to share (now that would be a Pinterest board). While she used tracing paper over our graph paper drawing to sketch out three possibilities, we went through a stack of laminated photos of plants making a stack of what we liked. Then she shared her ideas, we talked about what we liked and didn’t like, looked through the plants, then she drew up the… Read more »

Wendy

I am a Colour Consultant – working in interiors (rather than figuring out which colour of clothes suit you – am also ok at that, but I just do that for free for friends!). My reason for training as a Colour Consultant was to provide a service to people like me – someone not willing (or able) to pay $$$ for a full-service designer, but someone who needs a bit of help making some important decisions, such as hard finishes and paint colours. I believe that having the hard finishes and paint colours working harmoniously is the basic requirement to creating a home that feels “right” – add in vintage pieces, personal/sentimental pieces and art that means something to the client then it’s really turning a house into a home. I help them make decisions on the fixed elements and give them advice on what to look our for when choosing furniture, rugs, soft furnishings, etc. I tend to only spend 2-10 hours with a client so it’s really affordable to them and they most always comment that it was so easy and so much fun and recommend me to friends!

Susan

Thank you for this post, Velinda. It’s great to know the numbers!

Laura

This is all great information to share for designers and those of us hoping to hire designers in the near future! As a photo producer in the industry who writes estimates on a daily basis, I would add one note on the designer end when it comes to figuring out your pricing structure. If you price yourself low enough to undercut your competition, you’re weakening the entire design market in your area. Those of us in the freelance world need to help build each other up and validate each other’s pricing. We’re constantly up against clients trying to talk our numbers down, asking us to do more work in less days for less money. No need to add fuel to that fire by purposely undercutting your competition to land the job. Network with the other designers in your area and help build each other up so you can all charge a fair rate. Plus, who wants to be hired simply because they’re the cheapest option? It doesn’t do anything for your brand, and may mean your client doesn’t value the talent and expertise you’re bringing to the table. Try to fall in line with your fellow designers around you so… Read more »

Roberta Davis

YES!!! But as I say, society really does not value what designers do to pay them what I would consider to be a fair living.

It comes down to- who is actually paying for this? When it’s an individual, it’s a lot harder sell than when a corporation is paying for it.

Kd

Laura, what you are suggesting is actually ILLEGAL. Competitors cannot meet and agree to a “floor” for pricing. Please read this basic info from the US Department of Justice: https://www.justice.gov/atr/price-fixing-bid-rigging-and-market-allocation-schemes

Laura

Hi KD – I am not saying everyone in the industry should agree to a fixed pricing model, and I’m also not speaking to giant corporations. I am talking about freelancers, people who set their own rates and often struggle to increase pricing over time and are typically bullied into lowering their rates in exchange for experience or portfolio work.

For example, if all the designers in your city are typically in the $150-200/hour range, don’t charge $75/hour because you’re nervous to increase your rates, want to undercut the competition out of desperation, or are being strong-armed by your client to come down in price. It makes it harder for the designers at $150-200/hour to justify their rates to potential clients down the road, even though they’ve developed those numbers based on their overhead, experience, and talent. Don’t dilute the strength of your industry. Part of being a freelancer is being aware of your peers in the industry and charging accordingly. The freelance world is made better with transparency, awareness, and strength in numbers between people in like professions and regions.

Alyssa Wine

Thank you thank you for writing this!! It’s so hard to find actual numbers of what to charge:/ As a self taught stylist I know I can’t charge what a design school grad can, so it’s nice to hear from both perspectives!????

Paige Cassandra Flamm

Wow I love how transparent this is and it really shed some light on all the important work that a designer actually does!

Paige
http://thehapyflammily.com

Cat

Long time reader, first time commenter.
THIS WAS A GREAT POST!
I am a freelance junior designer in LA, and all this info is so helpful. I’ve realized that with mint the design industry there is so much financial info shrouded in mystery even within the firms that I’ve worked for. It’s made it difficult to learn and understand the costs of running a design business. I think it might be a generational difference, millennials seem to be way more open in sharing their finances with peers in order to compare and help each other out, whereas back in the day you kept all of that private.
Thank you thank you for sharing!!

Alyssa

I think a lot of commenters aren’t quite understanding that what a designer charges for their time is not actually what they take home in pay (even before taxes). No interior designer fresh out of school is making $150,000! I have 4 years of out-of school experience, and I’ve worked in both residential and commercial design. I currently work as a commercial interior designer (offices, hospitality, restaurants, fitness centers, etc) in Atlanta, and my firm bills $150/hour for my time. But my take home pay (pre-tax) is about $30/hour, but I’m a salaried employee ($58,000/year). The trade-off in working for a firm is that they make more profit on my time, but I have no overhead. They market to clients to get new projects, write the contracts, bill the clients, pay for IT services, pay for design software (several hundred dollars per month), rent the office space, pay for my parking, paid vacation, health insurance, pay for my certification renewals, etc. Running a business costs a lot of money, which is why I haven’t chosen to do my own thing (yet). For commenters chiming in about how billable time works as a CPA or a lawyer: YES! In a firm,… Read more »

Roberta Davis

I have done commercial interior design work, never had my own residential business, but this all rings true. I have several friends who own their own residential design businesses. Each has their own model of how she runs her business. In spite of the fact that it is very expensive to hire a full-service designer, designers are not getting rich off their fees! At least most of them are not. It’s kind of a hard problem for designers and it’s why I didn’t take the plunge myself into owning a design business.

Good luck in your new ventures, Velinda!

MelissaB

I have a question; So I was considering reaching out to Velinda and the only way we could possibly afford it would be with the friends and family discount but what holds me back is that I’m not sure I actually need a designer or an architect. We bought a VERY derelict property that my husband and I (we own a construction company) have been remodeling the past year. Our initial plan was to have my parents live in it. However plans change in life and they decided that the .5 acre surrounding it is too much for them to care for so we regrouped and decided that our expanding family (I have a second little one due in a month) will live there and we will rent our our current home. That means that in order for us to make this space work for us long term we will need to expand the scope of the remodel. This is an ODD house, it was originally a very small living space that was built inside a portion of a pole barn. We’ve reconfigured some and definitely rebuilt EVERYTHING in the entire home ourselves with a few small exceptions (drywall, new… Read more »

Kelly

good question! i think you could reach out to either – some designers are great and experienced at spacial layouts and construction details – it really just depends on the person. my advice would be to ask around and get personal recommendations or research online until you find someone whose taste (based on portfolio pictures) and project experience matches your needs.

unless you need architectural plans for permitting, then you need a licensed architect, but assuming you know about that aspect given your construction background.

Stacey

As an architect, I agree. It definitely sounds like you need a permit so you need to hire someone who knows what the building department in your area is looking for

Shaun

Definitely Kelly, some designers will offer stand-alone consultations to help make these decisions. To MelissaB, just be sure to look for the evidence in the designer’s portfolio and education that they’ll be able to confidently help you. I’m an interior designer, and instead of clients paying the high costs for an architect, we can often partner with a draftsman and engineer to finalize the drawings they need for projects like you’re describing.

Maggie S

I would look for a designer with experience in construction. Or a designer that does “design and build” I used someone like that to redesign 2 bathrooms where walls had to be moved. She did the design work and I had my builder do the work. But since her firm could have done the work I knew that she would know all about the construction part. Some designers don’t have degrees in Interior Design but are more about the “decoration” of a space.

Christina

I would seek out an architect who specializes in interiors! and even if they aren’t exactly what you need, i’m sure they have suggestions of what type of person you should be reaching out to instead of them.

MelissaB

I just want to say thank you for all the thoughtful comments to my question!

Monique Wright Interior Design

GREAT post. Sometimes with clients I ask them to give me their overall budget for my time to start – vs. me putting one together, so I know what we’re working with. I admittedly have a hard time saying no to smaller projects because I want to help and love design so much. I love the creative control you have in your model. It sounds ideal!

Elizabeth

Wow Emily! This was so super helpful! Thanks for sharing all of this. You are the best! XO

Betty

Very informative and professionally written. Thank you!
I am sure – aside from the hourly charges and designs – there are many other pitfalls a
designer is confronted with. The ever changing ideas of indecisive clients, contractor and
install problems and ultimately the “I want a discount” negotiations with clients where
you need to be firm but don’t want to burn bridges. Perhaps this could be in a part 2 blogpost
to illustrate the people skills you need to bring along too.

AR

Interested to know how this compares to the other costs for implementing this design. Total cost of products (rugs, furniture, light fixtures, etc) vs design costs. If V’s design services on this project cost $6.7k to $16k depending on hourly rate, how did this compare to the actual cost for products?
One of your other designer sources mentioned charging a percentage of costs for projects with a budget over $100-200k. What is that percentage? Because if that percentage is 15% then those projects’ design services costs may be equivalent to what I presume is a lower budget one. I even suspect that the design services for Sarah’s project may be equal to the product costs, if we go with the 16k figure?

Alix

Agree. It seems like total over capitalising to me – to spend $16k on design fees for a room where furniture is probably going to cost around that much. We are currently working with an architect and interior designer to turn a derelict old bakery into a one-bedroom apartment with courtyard garden – it’s about a lot more than furniture placement and selection and so I can really see the value of it. We are spending about $40k on design and documentation (need council approvals also), construction costs will be around $200k and then furniture on top of that. However, I cannot see the value of spending $16k (or even the reduced rate) on choosing furniture for a single room. Pls note I have an architecture degree (do not work as an architect) and work in a creative field where I bill by the hour so am well aware of the value of creative work, I just don’t see it in this instance. Such an interesting conversation about salaries and rates in general though. My husband was a contractor and explaining to people that the hourly rate didn’t go straight into his pocket (we had 10 employees and insurance in… Read more »

AF

I am also interested in this. If $6k is the budget for this design work, what’s the actual budget that people are working with? For a kitchen? For a living room? Are average clients spending $75-100k on rugs and seating and window treatments per room?

Sarah Montgomery

Thanks so much for this informative post! I’m a self-taught residential designer in Chicago who has been living and breathing the business of design for the past 3 years now. Some things to consider when thinking about designers charging $150-$200 is that only about 1/3 of that would be part of a designer’s salary, taxes are around 30% and as a principal you are really only billable 50% of the time. The rest of the time is spent marketing and working on the business. Making a commission on furniture is something designers should be doing, but it can’t be projected into sales goals because it is not predictable. My sales goals are $13,000/month in billable hours (24 hours/week) and that is to take home $75,000 before taxes. As a business owner with lots of responsibility and risk, that is not unreasonable. It’s also true that hiring a designer isn’t for everyone, it’s a luxury not a commodity. The industry is changing and it’s more accessible than ever, which is great for those who can’t/won’t pay for full service design. Coming from a humble upbringing, I have had to spend a lot of time in coaching on money mindset, charging my… Read more »

Kira

Preach friend 😉 Also I need to be sling cues from your monthly sales goals! Get it girl!

Deepa

This was such an interesting post. Velinda, I know you posed the question to designers (which I am not) about how they make themselves accessible, if at all, to “non-luxe” clients, but I can offer a client / customer perspective. We built a house from scratch last year, and we decided not to use a designer for the overall project. The reasons for this were that it was out of our budget, and, being an avid reader of this and other design blogs, I already had a pretty defined vision of what I wanted. That said, we did hire a designer for one or two discrete projects during the process for things I felt I couldn’t handle on my own, or where I just wanted another set of experienced eyes. First, we had a designer help with the kitchen, coming up with a plan for how to lay out all of our prefab cabinets in the most visually pleasing and space-efficient way possible. Secondly, we used the same designer for color consulting services, to help choose the paint colors for the whole house. I found this to be affordable approach for us, but one that still allowed me to the… Read more »

[…] Design nerds, this post is for you. Velinda here, and today I’m talking spreadsheets, budgets, and survey data – all the good stuff that comes with the design process for an interior. Non-design nerds, I apologize. No eye candy today. Just dense, leafy-green style information. But I promise that if you just give this post… Read More … The post Inside The Design Process – How Much It Really Costs To Work With A Designer appeared first on Emily Henderson. Read More […]

Jennifer

This perspective is very valuable. Thanks for bravely pulling the covers off the taboo topic!

Sarah - Mossvale Design Studio

Thanks for sharing this! It’s really interesting to read actual numbers and the thought behind the numbers! I understand that there is a reason that some designer charge prices in the $100’s and beyond – it speaks to the clientele they are trying to reach and the type/amount of services they provide, especially on the coasts where the cost of living makes a difference. I am a one person, residential design business in the Midwest. I worked in commercial design for 5 years and graduated with a BS in Interior Design at Kansas State University (still in the top 5 nationally!). Whoop, whoop!! I currently charge $40/hr. I particularly set up my business to operate in a way that is able of value to clients who would typically not be able to afford design as well as those who could. I offer both hourly and packaged estimates with contingencies. I can come over for an hour or two and make some paint suggestions and throw furniture around in the moment for a fresh new layout and give basic feedback on how to make decor updates with what they already have OR give insight into sources they could go to for… Read more »

Sarah - Mossvale Design Studio

Forgot to mention that my business expenses are basically travel, any material samples, my drafting program and printing. Pretty straightforward.

Rachel

This has been SO interesting! I worked with a garden designer a few years ago who has a very interesting model I’m seeing pop up more and more where I live – flat rate, on site “planning”. Before the consult I sent her my site plans (which I drew myself but not in any fancy software), photos of my garden, answered a questionnaire about my goals and sent her a link to a paired down Pinterest board of what I liked. She then came on site, looked at my garden and sat with me and drew the design (literally on the printed paper plans – we had many copies) as we talked through my ideas. At the end of the consult I had her hand drawn plans, suggested finishes, suggested plants, recommended retailers and a mood board she made for each space. This cost about $600 and she was with me for around 2.5 hrs. I was extremely happy with the service and gave me what I needed to go ahead with confidence. With a “master plan” I’ve been able to do bits of my garden as I can afford it (some with help, some myself) and it’s starting to… Read more »

Rachel

This has been SO interesting! I worked with a garden designer a few years ago who has a very interesting model I’m seeing pop up more and more where I live – flat rate, on site “planning”. Before the consult I sent her my site plans (which I drew myself but not in any fancy software), photos of my house and answered a questionnaire about my goals and sent her a link to a paired down Pinterest board of what I liked. She then came on site, looked at my garden and sat with me and drew the design (literally on the plans – we had many copies) as we talked through my ideas. At the end of the consult I had her hand draws plans, suggested finishes, suggested plants, recommended retailers and a mood board she made for each space. This cost about $600 and she was with me for around 2.5 hrs. I was extremely happy with the service and gave me what I needed to go ahead with confidence. With a “master plan” I’ve been able to do bits of my garden as I can afford it (some with help, some myself) and it’s starting to look… Read more »

Courtney

Great post. Thank you, Velinda! I think you can see from the comments that we’re all VERRRYY excited to see what your next post says about being able to afford a designer’s services without the $150/hr price tag. 🙂

Kelly

such a great post – at the end of the day – CUSTOM IS EXPENSIVE. imagine if you went out to have a high end, beautiful car or outfit built just for you!

if you want to work with a designer but these rates are out of reach, many home stores offer free design advice, often with experienced professionals who don’t want the risk of working for themselves. Alternatively you can look for a designer just starting out who will charge a lower rate.

Jan Jessup

One way to save money AND work with a qualified interior designer is to call for an in-home appointment with a Calico designer. THERE IS NO CHARGE FOR THEIR SERVICES. The designers focus on all types of window treatments, furniture arrangement, reupholstery or new custom furniture, pillows, cushions and bedding. Wallcovering now too. The Calico stores also are a top dealer in Hunter Douglas blinds and shades. There are 60+ Calico stores across the country (formerly known as Calico Corners) and they also can work remotely with long-distance clients. Full disclosure: I work at the Calico headquarters. It’s a great company! And we have worked with Emily Henderson on window treatments for her home.

Rebecca

This is such a great topic as I find the costs and time of actual design work are glossed over so broadly in the tv and social media world. I’ve worked in architecture for 13 years in two different states and the longer I work in the field the more I’m finding clients are either shocked by our fees or upset by how long it takes to do a complete design. It takes more than 2 months to design a new construction 4,000+ square foot house!? Impossible! Anyway… every firm I have worked with typically bills hourly for work, invoicing monthly and only providing an hourly estimate based on how long we thought the project might take. One of my bosses used to say that the architectural fee should be around 10% of the overall construction cost – for a $500,000 new construction build our fees would be an additional $50,000. This would cover the design development with the client, putting together the construction documents set including selecting paint, plumbing and finishes, doing any permitting and code reports, and working with the contractor and any other subcontractors to make sure it was built correctly. All this work would span up… Read more »

CG

This is a very interesting post! I have a related question–if you are looking at homes to buy and are focusing on ones that are fixers, who should you be bringing with you to help you know what can be done and whether it is a true money pit or not? Is it a designer? An architect? A contractor? I can see from the photos and open houses that many of these places have so much potential, but who is best to help you realize that before you spend all your money?

Stacey

Someone you trust! As an architect, I alway tell friends and family to bring me or show me lots of pictures of what they are looking at and what they would want to change. I can then let them know roughly what work needs to be done and what they can expect to spend. It usually takes about an hour of my time. Ask friends/family who they have used in the past. I probably wouldn’t hire a designer just because most of the budget will not be going to finishes.

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