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Emily Henderson

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by Velinda Hellen
Emily Henderson how much it really costs to work with a designer1

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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  1. Well-written post. Good information

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

    1. 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!

      1. 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

  3. 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 almost $75/hr. I know it’s unglamorous work, but I can’t bring myself to pay a housekeeper more than I get paid (I feel terrible saying that, but it’s true). I just find it all fascinating, and confusing, since it’s such a taboo topic. FYI, I live in New England, and our electrician’s rate is $75/hr and our handyman is $50/hr, both of which I feel are reasonable/affordable.

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

    2. 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 take home pay. You can say “I don’t pay my accountant to go to happy hour, I pay my accountant to do my taxes” but workplaces where no one ever does anything but billable client work are not workplaces which will last very long. So indirectly, yes, you pay for that in our hourly rate.

      Your housekeeper’s rate may seem high per hour, but you’re probably not factoring in the travel time it takes to get to your house, the cost of the cleaning supplies, the back-end cost of managing the business and employing people, all of which your company is already covering for you before they pay your hourly pay. I totally get the concept that “I can only make $X per hour at work, so it’s more worth my time to just clean my own house than work an extra hour at the office and pay someone to clean” but if you’re anything like me, it takes me a lot more time to clean my house than it takes a professional, and I hate every second of it. Money well spent, in my opinion. But if it’s not for you, then by all means, spend that money at a restaurant (also more expensive than eating at home) or do something else with the money. But we should remember that everyone has to make a living, and there’s no secret club of housekeepers laughing about how they have us all fooled – it costs that much for a reason, even if you don’t know what that reason is, otherwise someone would be doing it for cheaper. And a designer, architect, CPA, etc. is using a special talent/skill and education which the client just doesn’t have and could probably not replicate on their own, which makes their time all the more valuable.

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

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

    4. 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).

      1. 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 of income, too. Charging more would be a cushion in those times. I didn’t travel to one place of business like when I had an office job; I traveled to several houses every week–so that was folded into my price–just like an employee at an office job would get reimbursed for any travel.

        It is back-breaking work, too. It’s unskilled work, but it was tough on my body, tough on my feet, tough on my car, and tough on my vacuum. I was expected to bring all my own cleaning tools and supplies, which frankly, I preferred, since my vacuum was better than most clients’. I didn’t use the cheapest supplies because they often contained dangerous chemicals which could damage clients’ property–not to mention I didn’t want to be breathing in those fumes and exposing my skin to them, either.
        It’s a luxury to get someone else to clean your house when you are capable of doing it yourself, but just because the labor is unskilled doesn’t mean it has little value. Many of my clients were not well-to-do, but they prioritized other activities over cleaning their house. Some were disabled or elderly, or were otherwise physically incapable of bending down to scrub around their toilet or wrestle with a vacuum cleaner. Others resolved marital disputes over whose job it was to keep the house clean by hiring it out to someone else. They paid me for my time, my able body, and yes, my expertise in knowing the best and most efficient way to clean all the surfaces of their home. In return they got a clean residence all at once, on a regular schedule, having done a more thorough job than most would have done on their own, and one less thing they had to worry about.

        Time is the one thing you cannot make more of, but you *can* pay someone else to do all those menial tasks to free up more of your time, and those laborers are then trading their precious time in return. And of course, if you are physically incapable of cleaning your own home, than a housekeeper goes from being a luxury to being a necessity.

        1. 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.)

        2. Karly, thank you for such an open/thoughtful reply!

        3. 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!

      2. 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!

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

        1. 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

    5. 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 of time I can’t bill for.

      Also, I need feedback on a deliverable – let’s say that I have padded my time so I can handle 24 hours of waiting but let’s say the client doesn’t get back to me for 3 days. What do I do with 3 days of unbillable time?

      It was stuff like that which was difficult to handle and why the math of contracting isn’t straightforward.

      1. 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.

        1. Maria and Anilop, indeed, freelance is a gamble at times and there are so many waves to ride that salaried employees don’t have to be concerned about. And when economies crash, design and other housing-based industries are quick to suffer. There’s something to be said for the security of a salary. But it’s great to also see successful freelance tales.

    6. 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.

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

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

      1. 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

  5. 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.

    1. Great concept!

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. So glad that was a success! Was it an Edesign service or did you meet in person?

  7. 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 multiple requests, I could never get her to actually draw up any floorplans for furniture. She literally did not show up the day I was to place my lighting order – but billed me for the time. I had to correct or question her bills many times – when they finally arrived months later. I could not get this woman to even help me decide on a custom sofa she was so spacy. After asking for months, I told her that her services were no longer needed.
    I finally went to a high end furniture store in a fit of desperation and worked with an in house designer who helped me actually finish my project. There was no additional cost besides the furniture, which she really helped me get at competitive pricing. I used Calico Corner for curtains, ad they had the exact same fabrics I had seen in design centers. Again, the saleswoman was i valuable in helping me with sales pricing.
    In summary, I found that I do better and save money when I use design services in stores.

    1. 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.

      1. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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!

  10. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. You’re right, Talia, it’s as important for designers to weed out the wrong client as it for clients to weed out designers that aren’t a fit.

  11. 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!

    1. 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! 💗💗💗

    2. 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 any accounting.

      The typical residential designer gets none of that. The ones I know have spouses who make enough money to live on, or they live with their parents, or roommates in not-so-fancy places. Yes, there are designers out there with their own firms who are established and charge high rates, but most designers don’t . Those who work in commercial design fare better.

      1. 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.

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

    3. 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).

    4. 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.

      1. 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.

  12. 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 like Modsy and found the experience guided me to pull off the ideas in my head. Very thought provoking post!

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. 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!

    2. 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!

      1. 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!).

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  14. 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?)

    1. 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 of them would make a decent living, haha).

      I know it seems crazy that a new designer could charge $75/hour while someone with a PhD might never make that amount, but I think the industries are vastly different, and it’s likely that someone with a PhD wouldn’t be working freelance so much of the costs that a freelance hourly rate like $75 is covering would already be covered by a salary position. After taxes, software licenses, equipment, and possible rental space – not to mention all the hours that don’t get billed but are still spent working – the take home on $75/hr could be so much less.

      And then, as freelance, you’d also have to account for the times when you just don’t have work. Nothing is guaranteed, clients could back out, or there might be dry spells. And since design is a luxury item, during recessions there could be a severe lack of work. My bet is anyone working freelance is also putting away a percentage for times like that if they can. My dad has always worked as a freelance camera operator, and I remember a period during the writers strike back around 2008 where he didn’t work for close to 2 years!

      My moms salary teaching job kept them afloat during that time 🙂

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

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

  18. 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.

    1. 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!

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

    2. 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!

      1. 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!

    3. 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!

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

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

  20. 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. We design and renovate your entire space which clearly isn’t easy or you would have done it yourself. We lead the project management, construction management, do the bookkeeping, PR, HR, manage employees, coordinate vendors, and we’re your therapist. We run all over the freaking city and get phone calls, texts, emails, ect. at all hours of the day and night from clients.

    People in salaried positions getting paid $75/hr (hello, about $150K/year) with ONE dedicated job, no overhead to stress them out and manage, no skin in the game (if I don’t get paid, I can’t pay my employees or my mortgage), guaranteed paychecks, benefits provided, and consistency are doing just fine in my book. And I find it pretty disheartening to see how coveted (“I love your work! We have to hire you! We need so much help! Emily you are amazing!”) designers work is, only to repeatedly not be actually valued. All the comments are about how we shouldn’t be paid and aren’t equal to the work they do. It’s ridiculous and super disrespectful. It’s not like I did’t go to university and get a degree too. No, I don’t have a PHD or work in tech (talk about elitist viewpoints), but we deserve to make a living.

    Finally, interior design is not just picking pretty throw pillows! We work on building codes, and construction management, ect. We have to learn about thousands of different materials durability and sustainability. As LC said to knock what we’re paid (even though we aren’t paid your rate at all), “I manage projects that directly impact public health and the environment.” Well, so do I.

    Ok, I’ll step down from my soapbox now. Thanks for sharing this info, if only to start this conversation.

    1. 110% agree with every word you said.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

      1. Deepa, thanks so much for your ‘valuable’ input. Get it? But seriously, it’s lovely of you to respect creative expertise:)

    4. 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.

      1. 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 (including housekeepers), should be reimbursed with a fair wage.

        1. 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 right away. And you have to ask them and not looking at the clear pricing and available services on their websites.

        2. 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 looking at the clear pricing and available services on their websites. Sometimes they not even bothered to answer. Especially high end designers or even junior designers who worked for famous design firms like (Miles Redd, Mark D. Sikes etc). In this era of internet this shady approach is questionable!

    5. Bravo. Spot on.

    6. 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!

    7. YES!! All of this!!

    8. 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!

      1. 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 minute to stay a float financially.

        To be honest this stuff should be taught in school, even science school!

        I read once that people under 35 are nearing 50% working in freelance positions, which is great, if we’re smart and informed about what that means (freelance has lots of benefits AND lots of challenges) but if so many people are so uninformed and rude about it, were in for problems. we need to learn to take in the whole picture of how a business works when placing value on our own or another persons time.

        Also not all scientists are condescending meanies, but it IS a hard career path, with narrowing options (there are currently more phds than there are jobs for them).

        So maybe if we were more open to valuing all sorts of skills we’d all be better off. Also maybe there is a little jealousy thrown in there, cuz they clearly they ain’t reading science blogs at work, so there IS that 😉

        1. Thanks for sharing your freelance experience from another field! It should be taught in schools.

    9. ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎

    10. 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.

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

    12. 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.

    13. 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.

    14. I second everything you said.

    15. 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.

  21. 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 final plan. Yes it was on tracing paper, so nothing fancy, but it was at 1/4” scale, had all the plants listed, and she had standard instructions for the installer for soil prep and irrigation. We didn’t do lightning, but she would have done that, too. So for $300-350 we had a front yard design. She gave us some landscaper recommendations, and we spent $16000-17000 on plants, irrigation, hardscape, and installation. 12 years later, it still looks amazing. Probably one of the nicest yards in our upper middle class neighborhood. And her design was a big part of that. Granted, my neighbors worked with her after our success, and they were less impressed. But a design for $350 is a great deal. We also worked with her for our backyard, which included a pool, so took two sessions. We never installed that plan, because of cost of a pool. By the time we were ready to settle for a backyard without a pool, she had retired. She mentioned trying to train other designers to use her method, because she had so many clients and stayed very busy. I could see the same model working with one room designs. The key is that the designer has to have the experience to draw on the spot a few layouts. And perhaps the laminated cards are favorite sofas, chairs, tables, etc. I think for clients who aren’t as picky, but really want a designers eye, this works. And the designer is still in the hourly rate they deserve to be in. Obviously, this is not a full design service, but again, some clients just want a designer’s eye, and a fee that is a few hundred dollars is more manageable.

  22. 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!

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

  24. 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 you’re hired for what matters – your skill.

    1. 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.

      1. Roberta, you make a great point. It’s why many designers opt to go into commercial design, where not every dollar spent is stressful to an individual/sometimes overly-questioned.

    2. 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

  25. 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!👏🏼👏🏼

  26. 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

  27. 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!!

  28. 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, it is SO similar to that.

    Finally, here is how billing works in commercial design at the firms I’ve worked for: generally, our projects are really large and the client pays a percentage of the estimated project costs up front as part of the firm’s fee. Then, my time is billed against what they’ve already paid. As mentioned in the post, this can sometimes get tricky if a client is hard to please or a project is never-ending or more complicated than it seemed. Technically, the firm can end up “upside down” on a project, where designers and architects have billed more money against the fee than we actually charged.

    It’s common in residential design to mark up for furniture and pocket that money, especially since we would under-report our time a lot. It helped bridge the gap. But that arrangement is pretty rare in commercial design. Generally, I’ll provide creative direction and make selections of the furniture, then the client will work with a furniture dealer who is able to purchase from a lot of lines, store pieces off-site as they come in, and do install. The client has their own contract with the dealer and just pay for my time to do furniture selections and coordination (this is most often a separate fee). These projects are all just BIGGER, and fees are often hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, with projects stretching on for years.

    But long story short: the design industry is more complicated than it looks on the surface!

  29. 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!

    1. Thanks for your feedback and encouragment, Roberta!

  30. 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 electrical). My husband and I are both very capable DIY’ers; if we are even considered DIY’ers since we own a construction company? I have lots of experience myself laying tile, flooring, paint, trim and sourcing/choosing materials. For us to make this our new home we will need to expand the home and take over the entire pole barn as a living space. For reference the current living space is about 800 sq ft., two bedroom, one bath with one very small living space and small kitchen. The expansion would include an attic bedroom, master bedroom with closet and en suite a living room space, small hall closet and a 1/2 bath making the home roughly 1400-1500 sq ft. We’ve come up with a rough plan for the new expansion layout but I am nervous about missing a better layout or spacial details that a designer/architect? might be better at. I just want to run my ideas by a professional and talk additionally about window placement, ceiling heights and bathroom layouts. So who do I reach out to a designer or an architect??

    1. 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.

      1. 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

      2. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

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

  31. 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!

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

  33. 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.

    1. Betty, thank YOU…. you bring up an excellent point. A designer is carrying risk throughout a project and has to financially plan to eventually correct something that might go wrong. A freelancer only covering their bills/insurance who isn’t prepared to help right a wrong when something (hopefully rarely) gets dropped or missed end up being a less reliable designer.

  34. 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?

    1. 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 the construction industry in Australia is really expensive) was always a chore.

    2. 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?

  35. 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 worth and playing in a sandbox I don’t feel like I belong in. Most designers do not live the same lifestyle as their clients.

    Another thing to note is that 20% is design time and 80% is business, logistics of completing a project and putting out fires. It’s a very personal process with many trades involved and client issues have to be navigated carefully. It’s one of the most complicated industries there is, with still a lot of confusion and taboo around it! Managing client expectations from the beginning is the most important thing!

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

  36. 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 benefit of some professional expertise in discrete areas where I really needed some help.

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

  38. 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 update quality purchases as they are able when they have the resources.
    I also offer estimates for projects like full bathroom or kitchen reno’s for someone who CAN easily afford a designer, but like a lower cost and are willing to do some more of the work themselves (coordination of tradesmen, product ordering etc) or I work with companies that are the dealers and they sell direct to my client and offer installation and manage the order. I don’t get into the purchase of furniture and products because that requires a lot more capacity from my business i.e. possibly more employees or higher costs in general. That’s a domino affect. I have a few reliable high quality tradesmen I partner with and trust.

    Basically I remain strictly a service (not products) and it really streamlines everything, which allows me to reduce time per project and therefore cost. It makes the “common man” able to afford a designer (one of my biggest goals) and I work through projects more quickly and therefore I have more projects in a year. If I had 30 projects @ 40 hours per project x $40 rate, I have made $48,000. Post taxes for my small business, that is plenty to live on in the Midwest if you live fairly modestly.

    As a random side note, I also have found that billing my time to the client biweekly helps them value time, decision making and the process more. It also helps them be just as invested in moving the project along at a reasonable rate. It also helps me to ask my clients to have a slew of images/inspiration that they are attracted to and love the first day we meet. It helps me to understand them better, and they me, and it really saves a lot of revisions along the way.

    For me, I had to recognize my goal was not to reach Luxe clients – there are plently of Luxe designers that are amazing at what they do already. I don’t need to compete with that. 🙂 I also appreciate Emily’s comment below about other industry rates of plumbers, electricians, web designers etc.

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

  39. 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 look great!

    Anyway the point is I think this is an excellent model, particularly for clients for have ideas but need help finalising their plans and I think it would totally work for interiors as well.

    The designer I worked with also offers full service but I know she is swamped with work on design consultants months in advance because it is an affordable service that gives customers just what they need to successfully complete themselves- something to think about for sure!

    PS – I studied interior design myself many years ago but could never the numbers work (all the designers I knew had spouses that had really well paid corporate jobs to keep them afloat) so I ended up keeping my corporate job and just help out family and friends with ideas/mood boards etc for fun when I can.

  40. 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 great!

    Anyway the point is I think this is an excellent model, particularly for clients for have ideas but need help finalising their plans and I think it would totally work for interiors as well.

    The designers offers full service as well but I know she is swamped with work on design consultants months in advance because it is an affordable service that gives customers just what they need to successfully complete themselves- something to think about for sure!

    PS – I studied interior design myself many years ago but could never the numbers work (all the designers I knew had spouses that had really well paid corporate jobs to keep them afloat) so I ended up keeping my corporate job and just help out family and friends with ideas/mood boards etc for fun when I can.

  41. 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. 🙂

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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 to 2 years or more depending on the size of the building, so not a crazy number when you think of it that way. For specific fees, I billed out $85/hr as a senior designer and my boss would typically bill out at $165/hr as the principal architect.

    As others have said though, I didn’t get paid the same as my billing rate. My salary at the time was $25/hr with health insurance. Luckily my last firm did pay overtime if I went over the 40 hr work week, but other firms did not and being young and “ambitious” I typically worked 50 hours or more a week with no extra compensation.

    This past year, I’ve left my full time job and am working freelance. I charge $60/hr which I technically pocket. However, some of this income goes into my health insurance which I now have to pay, computer programs which run around $600 +/- a year, printing expenses, and travel expenses for client meetings. I’m also probably going to have to hire an accountant at some point, because the estimated quarterly taxes are confusing! So… it’s a balance and that fee total means a lot of things no matter what the field.

    1. Rebecca, thanks so much for sharing your numbers! So generous.

  45. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. Thanks for your insight, Stacey!

  46. I am amazed that no-one has mentioned that there are at least two amazing women doing podcasts which cover exactly these issues and all the other ones which arise in running an interior design business! Luann Nigara’s A Well Designed Business and Kimberley Seldon’s Business of Design.

    1. Shenley, I just started Kimberley Seldon’s podcast! I’d never heard of it until designer Carly Waters turned me onto it. I’m obsessed.

  47. Can you do an update post on how much Sara’s design update costs when you add in price of furniture, construction and labor, etc? It would be great to get the full picture of what we should budget for if we are doing a remodeling project.

    1. Wow, I almost skipped this post but found it and the comments so interesting. I know we’d never really be able to afford a designer for decorating purposes (can barely afford the new couch as is without paying someone to source it!) but my SIL is an interior designer and it is super valuable to run things like lighting plans or outlet placement by her. That’s where I could see not consulting an expert leading to regrets or increased costs in the long run. And for a basic remodel it is cheaper to hire her than an architect to create plans.

  48. AWESOME POST and I’m also loving all these comments with people sharing they’re own experiences.

    I’ve done part time design in Utah for the past 3 years and had no idea how to make money doing it. I only received an associates degree in Interior Design but already had a bachelors in fine arts and lots of experience set designing, merchandising etc.
    I thought freelance designing could earn me some extra money while keeping my full time job in retail merchandising (at a furniture company no less).

    I charged $25 fresh out of school and had around 4 clients I was working with at any given time. It ended up being a pretty difficult experience for both me and my clients because I wasn’t always available (given my other full time job) and my clients tended to really waffle on design decisions (probably because at $25 an hour they didn’t mind having me redo stuff over and over again.) I didn’t charge for travel time (which I should’ve) and basically just undervalued myself to The point of giving work away.

    Reading these comments I wish I had run it more as a consulting fee, something flat per session or just charged more for my time. I didn’t understand how much time and cost to myself having even the tiniest of design businesses would be.

    I’ve talked to lots of other aspiring designers and most of them seem afraid to charge more than $40/hr freelance (at least starting out) because of Utahns DIY attitude and somewhat extreme frugality. (What can I say, I have it too!) OR they really try to find a firm to work with that will guarantee them a steady wage.

    In comparison I make $21/hr (Gross, not take home) with benefits as a Visual merchandiser/manager at a major furniture store and am constantly gunning for a raise. I’ve dropped off most side design work in favor of enjoying my evenings after work but will pick up a small project here or there if it fits my schedule.

  49. Thank you for this post. I have wanted to find a designer for my living room/dining area for some time. I appreciate the breakdown of how much time was spent on each task. I am kind of sad that I won’t ever be able to afford a designer to work with me on the whole process, but I would never want anyone to design a whole room for me. I hope you will offer some suggestions on ways to possibly have a designer visit my home and see the actual room and give me ideas on the tasks I have the most trouble with: layout, limited color scheme, sources for carpentry (bookshelves), and sources for quality furniture. I don’t need to have items sourced for me I think. From the times I looked at online designer websites, I can’t see that process working.

  50. It sounds like the only way EHD is able to be employed as a designer is the backend funding. If you don’t have that, it makes sense that Interior design work wouldn’t work for the average design school grad (at least not for middle class “customers”). Good piece, thank you.

  51. OMG! I’m here all day, everyday for posts like these! Thank you

    1. Thank you, Brandie!

  52. I’m a freelance musician and a lot of the same logistics apply to my line of work. It’s not just the performance you’re paying for. It’s hours of practice/rehearsal time, sometimes sourcing/selecting music, the time spent emailing back and forth, travel expenses, book keeping, self marketing and of course as a freelancer you don’t get benefits or retirement or anything so that has to be taken into consideration too. And depending on the instrument you might have to charge extra for carting it around (which is why harpists are more expensive than violinists), and if you want a string quartet you’d better expect to pay all four of them haha.
    It seems like an elitist privilege to be able to hire musicians for your wedding, etc. for the same reason designers seem like an elitist thing.
    It’s ironic that people think of going to an orchestra concert as a posh thing, while the musicians themselves are usually down to earth people and probably make a lower salary than half the people in the audience. Many performers end up teaching on the side or have some sort of side hustle because #starvingartist haha

    1. My dad has been a jazz musician for over 30 years, can make $300/hr depending on the gig, and is still broke AF. There’s only so many hours in the day and days of the week that people want to listen to jazz music! In some occupations there is absolutely no way to fill a up a 40/hr week, because the need is just not there. If the people want jazz music, they have to PAY for jazz music or else there’s no jazz music!

  53. We are working with an interior designer at the moment in Australia. All up, her fee should be $7000 to select furniture for living room, upper and lower decks, study plus hallway study, master bedroom and rumpus room (where we will repurpose some old furniture and buy some new). She is passing on all her trade discount so the cost of using her should be significantly offset (if not eliminated) by the discounts she is passing on. That said, I suspect that she will pick furniture more high end than we would have – but also think the rooms she will create will be exponentially better than what my husband and I would have come up with (and we don’t really have the time to pull it off ourselves).

  54. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I’m a UK based designer where this conversation is not happening enough!
    I like to charge a day rate, but do think an hourly rate is where I’ll go next.
    It’s breaking down sourcing time that that is always difficult. Clients often don’t understand the hours that go into finding that perfect budget friendly rug!

    1. Vicky, you’re right! It can be unfathomable how much time is needed for sourcing… but just imagine how much MORE time used to be involved in that process pre-internet! Makes those seemingly-endless hours not look to shabby.

  55. Teacher, here — so in a career path historically dominated by women/chronically undervalued & underpaid as well! I get why you charge what you do, since I have a design background & know I could never handle the pressures of financing a freelance life. That being said, I do sometimes get sad that I’ll never be able to scrape together the funds for a designer. I appreciate that the few times I have asked a designer a question via Instagram (reath designs & Tyler Karu) they were prompt & transparent & shared a fabric/rug source with me. That was very kind of them. I hope some day I can afford an e-design because I find fabric selection and planning very overwhelming. Future goals!

    1. Angela, don’t even get me started on how underpaid/valued teachers are in this backward, capitalist society! Of anyone, teachers shoooould be able to pay a designer. I’ve seen successful comments about Modsy, which seems as affordable as it comes. Have you checked them out? Also, I got to chat w/ Tyler Karu during production for Book Two and I LOVE her. Very generous.

  56. I really love this series!

    This amazing ever evolving team deserves heap loads of thanks! I am one of those people who probably can’t afford a designer, I like traveling too much ;p, which is why I am forever grateful for all the tools this blog has provided ( for free!!) so that I am able to live in a space that represents me. As a designer working in print, I have delighted in learning how much of the same ideas & principals, gut feelings, client needs and tactile experiences cross over into interior design. My job is stressful, and design can burn you out fast, but this blog has encouraged me to be creative at home again which brings me so much pleasure. In awe of all the love and work this team puts into the projects on the blog and grateful to have a better understanding of how y’all make it happen!

    When I decided to go to design school everyone and their mom wanted to know how I expected to make money and support myself. Fast forward 12 years into my career and people still think I get paid to sit at a desk and draw all day. If I got a dollar for every time someone said, “your job must be sooooo fun” I could for sure afford an interior designer ;p Design IS fun. But, like most jobs, it’s also incredibly specialized, exhausting, full of annoying meetings and your work constantly follows you home. Somedays I find myself envious of friends who work 8 hour days and can check off a to-do list. Yes their jobs are exhausting too, but constant innovation and idea generating is a different type of draining that a lot of people in creative’s lives have a hard time understanding. If you love it, you love it, but its not as glamorous as it looks 🙂

    It’s pretty incredible when you think about how almost everything you interact with on a daily basis has been crafted by a team of people, including designers. I love explaining to friends and family how a book I designed was developed and why certain decisions were made. How everything from the format, font choice, layout, color and finishes were all carefully and deliberately chosen to enhance the way they experience that particular book. Its charming, if not a bit eye-rolly, to see them go, “oh, I kinda just thought the computer made it”. There is so much we can learn from each other by being curious and asking questions 🙂

    1. Fellow print designer here just giving you a virtual high five! Continues to blow my mind how many people think that books are just magically created on computers 🙂

  57. I’m starting to work with a designer on my kitchen and (maybe) bathroom, which is what she specializes in. Unless someone really wants white glove service, she is not charging hourly, but she does charge a fee for each phase of the work she does. 1-2 consult is paid, plans are paid (base price listed on website), cabinet purchasing assistance is paid, or you can pay an all-in-one turn-key fee. I so appreciate this, because I know what’s coming up for each step and I have the option of taking the work she’s done and DIYing things or handing them over to a contractor and no one feels slighted.

  58. I love design,
    This nice idea

  59. Whew, some of these comments – yikes.

    Everyone’s labor matter and should be compensated fairly.

  60. So,

    Not a designer but a “non-luxe” customer.

    I would totally LOVE if someone offered an e-design just to help with basic furniture/rug sizing or furniture placement.

    Like, I can totally source things myself but I’d love to be able to get a designers input on more general things that I’m stuck on or maybe haven’t thought about.

    I feel like something like that would help appeal to a lot more working class/middle class folks.

  61. Huh. Interesting. I’m a physician in a fairly specialized field, and I make about $200/hour. It seems straight insane to me that a designer (with presumably a BA?) would charge that. I TOTALLY understand how designers at the top of their field would, but like, a regular designer in my city?

    1. your salary per hour is very different than an hourly charge rate for a designer. They are not taking home $200/hr. Trust me you still make plenty more than a designer.

  62. Love this blog, and I just went down the rabbit hole of comments for the first time. (Thanks, CLJ.)

    My favorite thing I have ever heard about pricing is this:

    I was in an art gallery in Jackson Hole. Just appreciating. One of the artists was in the gallery showing some customers their work, including a beautiful landscape of a wooded road.

    Customer: “how long did it take you to paint this?”
    Artist: “about 20 minutes.”
    Customer: “and you are charging $XXXX???” (I can’t remember how much it was, but in the single digit thousands.)
    Artist: “You aren’t just paying for those 20 minutes. You are paying for a lifetime of experience.”

  63. OMG!!! i’m an architect with 15 years of experience living in Italy and my hourly wage is 20€!! are these numbers even real???

  64. how much do you make monthly? these numbers are crazy high! i’m an architect in europe and earn 10-15€ net per hour

  65. As a small biz owner myself I firmly believe in paying people for their time and expertise. That said, as a homeowner I also have budget constraints. So I try to find knowledgeable professionals I can trust to approach like this: “Time is money and I want to make the most of yours on a project if you’re interested. I have XX dollars to redo XX space and this is what I need done. I’d love to have you take look at them (paying for that time regardless of what happens after) and have you tell me where you think you can make the greatest contribution to my project given my budget.”

    In some cases, designers or architects have passed because they prefer to take on the total project on their terms. I get that. In other cases, I’ve been able to form a creative collaboration that has been wildly rewarding as the designer and/or architect jumps in and out at different stages of the project, contributing their visual sense and overall expertise in concentrated doses. In general, I’ve gotten the most when paying the least by coming with mood boards already developed, specific questions where I seek guidance, and sourcing finishes and furniture possibilities on my own … tapping into the designer’s or architect’s judgment to help me select from a range of options with which I am comfortable.

  66. When I had such a need, I had no doubt to hire a professional designer for my home project. I am not an expert in many industries and took this step because, due to the lack of special experience, I could have missed something important, and I would have had to redo it on an already completed project. In addition to interior design, he drew plans for lighting, water, heating, tile layouts and much more. The contractors who worked according to the prepared plan asked me only a minimum of questions, and the work was done perfectly well.

    Respectfully,
    Ronald | https://www.hardwoodrevival.com

  67. My father was a famous architect and interior designer and my step-mother is an interior designer. I’ve never heard of designers charging by the hour. It’s always a percentage of what the client spends on materials. This was very interesting. I really enjoyed this article!

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