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Our Renovation Design Process

Inside The Design Process – Six Ways To Save Money When Working With A Designer (And Five Reasons You Want To Work With One)

Velinda here, with part II of our “Inside The Design Process” post. And apparently I’m supposed to tell you how you can get away with paying your designer less… 

Turns out, there’s no way of paying a designer less! The End.

Fiiiiineee. I get it, truly. I’ve never been able to afford a designer either, WHICH is sorta why I became one by default. As we discussed in the last post, full service interior design can be an unaffordable service for many and it is truly a luxury commodity. On the other hand, if you’re diving into a major makeover there are a few good reasons ($$$) why your budget could actually benefit from hiring a designer. But we’ll get to those in a little bit… 

Throwing back to Part I of this post, you’re easily looking at $4 – 6K for a single room makeover if you’re working with a designer. And that likely doesn’t cover any major renovations or the actual purchase of pieces. It can quickly add up to be what the pros call “a wad of cash,” but many designers are actually willing to find ways of working with you, if you seem like a lovely client. So let’s talk about what you can do to work with a pro while getting away with paying less (guys, are we sure this post is necessary? FINE).

Six Ways To Save Money When Working With A Designer

First, six money saving tips. Contracts with some designers may limit these options, but knowing they exist can help open a conversation!

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1. Make Your Own Purchases

Once the sourcing is done the time it takes to purchase all those items can add up quickly. If your designer can stop at sourcing (including determining sizing for something like a rug) and then hand the list off to you for purchasing you could save hundreds. If you want custom or to-the-trade, you may need your designer to handle the purchasing. But, unless a contract with your designer states that you must allow them to handle all of the purchasing, there’s nothing stopping you from doing the big box store ordering on your own time. There are a few limitations to this strategy, one of them being that you might loose out on any potential to-the-trade-only discounts your designer may be able to get you, even if they are charging a commission on purchasing. 

2. Cut Down On The Custom Pieces 

Besides being potentially expensive to build, anything custom takes time to design. Sometimes, a lot of time. If dollars are tight, ask your designer to work with already-fabricated pieces or big-box store items only. If there’s anyway to squeeze it though, let your designer get original somewhere. You’ve got a designer on hand, so why settle for builder-grade only?

3. Handle Your Own Install

Yes, ideally your designer is on sight making sure the spacing and heights of each piece is perfect and final styling touches are on point. But if you can’t afford that service, do your best on your own and call your designer if you get stuck. Sara’s been handling most of the install at her house on her own, sending me pictures along the way. Since we’re photographing the space for the blog I’ll plan on being there one day before the shoot for a final install where we’ll decide where art gets hung, make sure the rugs are in the right place, and finalize accessories. But to save money on my time (aka my hourly rate), Sara’s been handling the accepting of deliveries, unpacking, and install of the pieces on her own.

4. Serve As Your Own Project Manager

This really applies to bigger projects and renovations, but it’s not for the faint of heart. And you’d better be organized or it could be costly. You can take over more than purchasing and installing, if you’ve got the guts and the designer is willing to hand over the reigns. Serving as your own project manager goes beyond clicking “complete purchase” and unpacking a cabinet when it arrives. Keeping track of budgets and coordinating with vendors (like electricians or carpenters) can be time-guzzling. And if you’re paying for that time, costly. But before you pin on your “manager” name tag keep in mind that fumbles in project management can cause delay and frustration for all involved. Which is why paying someone experienced to handle it can be well worth the cost.

Imagine your bathroom tiles are delayed due to being backordered. That means the tile installer you booked can’t install them anymore, and they don’t have another opening in their schedule until the following month. Which also means that when the bathroom vanity that you already ordered arrives you have no where to store it while you wait on the tile install. Or maybe your sconces arrive in the wrong finish. Now the vendor needs to be notified, the sconces need to be sent back and reordered, and the electrician has to be rescheduled. It’s a small inconvenience on it’s own, but these little things add up. Not to mention managing all of these things while also working/parenting. So be real with yourself when considering whether or not you should take this on. It’s risky… enough so that some designers won’t be open to handing over the responsibility. But people do it all the time (I did it for my own house), and if you’re up for it and funds are tight then it’s worth asking about.

5. Come In With Clarity & A Strong Inspiration

Use Pinterest to show your designer where you hope to go and what you love. Coming in with your own ideas and expressing the things you know you want will skim hours of guess-work off the process. Clear direction can cut down on a lot of back-and-forth time (which is all billable). Often clients come to designers because they don’t have this clarity and need help finding out what their style looks like, but if you have even a rough design direction it’ll save a penny.

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6. Pick & Choose What Projects You Bring A Designer On For

You might not need a designer for every step of the process. Maybe you feel confident when it comes to furniture shopping, but just want someone with a professional eye to help you choose paint colors for the house so it all feels cohesive. Or maybe you have ideas for your living room – lists of products you think would work, concepts for a floor plan layout, and a feeling that you’re this close to being able to pull it off by yourself – but you want someone to validate your ideas, help you choose the right rug size in the pattern you like, and help you decide which of the three coffee tables you’ve pinned would work best with your existing couch. Not all designers will take on these types of small projects, as they might not have the bandwidth when also working on larger, higher paying projects. But there are definitely designers out there willing to offer one-time consults, tackle smaller space projects like laundry rooms, or help come up with plans for trouble areas of a larger room (like a media center).

Five Reasons You Should Hire A Designer

And now, five financial favors your designer can do for you, and why it’s worth hiring a designer if it’s within your budget. Trust me – a designer 🙂

1. Save You From Making Expensive Mistakes

From impulse purchases to renovations that might decrease a home’s value, the list of mistakes a designer can help you avoid are endless. Here are a few: Picking textiles that quickly show wear, painting a color that doesn’t work in southern facing room, choosing surface materials that aren’t right for the space (marble is beautiful, but it stains FAST), purchasing an expensive sofa that isn’t the right scale for the room, installing junction boxes for lighting at the wrong height…. You get it. 

2. Save You Money On Purchases

Designers often receive a trade discount for custom, vintage, and wholesale pieces. Retail typically marks these items up significantly when selling to you. We’re talking 150% plus. Not all firms have the same access to discounts, and not every model includes sharing in the savings. But it’s common for designers that do to only mark product up by a small percentage. Meaning you can end up paying significantly less than you would in-store. These savings can really help offset your designer’s fee.

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3. Experience Only Time & Practice Can Bring

Sourcing carpenters, electricians, and other vendors takes time. Tradesmen have a tendency to be hard to pin down due to high demand. And finding someone who gets back to you quickly, can stay on budget and on time, AND does good work can make you want to pull your hair out. Designers often have trusted crew referrals, connections, and relationships that can eliminate this entire process while guaranteeing efficiency and quality. They’re also there to help make sure everything is on site in time to avoid delays or problem solve when something goes wrong. Plus, they can hold your hand when your contractor needs to know RIGHT NOW what color vent covers you want installed (and the thought of vent covers hadn’t even crossed your renovation addled brain). A designer will help you plow through to a vision that’s executable, with the wisened know-how that only experience can bring.  

4. Keep You On Track & Save You Time

If you’ve got years to slowly pull together a space truly your own, while also maintaining a work, social, and personal life, then a solo project is for you! But if you’re on any sort of timeline (say a new family addition or trying to have the house construction free by the holidays), a designer will help keep you on track. Are you ready to take on the full-time job of successfully creating a cohesive, functional and visually exciting space (not to mention managing all the orders, install, and vendors that come with a big design project)? Well, someone’s gotta.

5. Save Your Sanity  

I’m currently working with a client who picked the brick for her porch on her own. After installation she called me saying, “that’s it – they just finished installing it and I already hate it. I’m not making a single choice without you ever again. I either pay you now, or pay my therapist later.” Or paying to have it replaced down the line… And even though Sara’s house is almost totally pulled together she still routinely texts me design questions at 9pm – like if she should buy a brass or wood floating shelf for under the TV, or if I think the lamp she bought for the bar cart is too short. Design paralysis is real. Surely it’s in the DSM by now? And sometimes you just need a professional to stop you from hitting “complete purchase” on a rug that’s not actually “you” or to validate your paint choice so you can move forward with confidence.

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The right designer is 100% on your side. Not only as a collaborator, but as someone rooting to keep your project on time (saving you money), on budget (saving you money) and on vision (saving you money). Who needs to go out when you love being HOME? Plus, a happy customer is a future referral, and a referral is work down the line that lets us designers keep doing what we love. If all you can afford is a few consultations or a basic design concept, consider the “splurge.” The service just might pay for itself (in happiness).

Speaking of seeking a design concept, we’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has experience with E-Design services (perhaps another way to save). Leave your wisdom in the comments! And if you didn’t read yesterday’s post yet, then head over to read all about how much it really costs to work with a designer.

Finally, catch up on all the design work I’ve been doing over at Sara’s house: Sara Buys A House Part I: Six Tips For First Time Home Buyers | Sara Buys A House Part II: The Renovation | The Designing Begins: A Floorplan Design Agony | The Designing Continues: Time To Pick Furniture | The Final Design Plan | A Fireplace Design Agony | Sara’s Moody TV Room Plan

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4 years ago

This is a great follow-up to yesterday’s post. Thanks for this wisdom, Velinda!

4 years ago

Such great insight! When building a new constriction home I worked with a designer via Homepolish – I contracted through them to have him help with with all the permanent finishes. I had a strong idea of what I wanted but an entire house worth of finishes is daunting and I wanted to make sure it would pan out. I loved him so much I separately worked with him on furnishing key rooms once the house was done. The value in custom furniture and discounts made it SO worth it! And there are some pieces I never would have found or picked on my own but it still feels like us. Recently we redid a bedroom to be a playroom for our twins and I worked with Modsy to envision the space. I did it in advance of holiday sales so I knew my purchases on Black Friday and could pounce with confidence. It was helpful to move furniture and play around and go forward with confidence on a few thousand dollars worht of furniture in one swoop! Both great experiences. For me, I really need validation in my ideas so it just helps me breathe a bit easier to… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  Emily

Hey Emily – would you be willing to share your designer’s name and location? You can email me if you’d prefer – Thanks! Sam

Stephen Lilly @ Hardwood Revival
4 years ago

Thanks for the great tips. A true designer must find the best compromise between the client’s desires, his financial capabilities, and his own design ideas.


Paige Cassandra Flamm
4 years ago

These are all awesome tips! I think it’s so important to have someone working on things with you that has an outside perspective and it’s attached to a space or pieces the same way you are!


4 years ago

This is the best, love this series. Thank you Velinda!!!

Cf Betcher
4 years ago

Designer here!
I LOVE this! My business started word of mouth, so my clients were “normal” people like me. I decided to not do any purchasing— so my clients could put their money into the house instead of my wallet. It frees me up to do the “fun” part of designing a space and keeps paperwork off my desk. Win-win!!! It also allows my clients to go at their pace. I hand them shopping lists and some take months, others text me from the store the next day. It’s so freeing!

Monique Wright Interior Design
4 years ago
Reply to  Cf Betcher

I do the same! I have my clients buy their own products and services using my discount. I give them “shopping lists” with links to buy.

4 years ago
Reply to  Cf Betcher

hi CF! I’d love to know your website and location! I’m sort of looking for a designer in SF.

4 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

This is EXACTLY how I’d want to work with an interior designer – and I had no idea y’all were out here working this way! The flexibility of when I could make furniture purchases (and spread it out over some months) but still have a firm plan for the room would be so wonderful. I feel like I’m stuck and can’t make any purchases, but I also am struggling to make all the decisions at once.

4 years ago

Love this series of posts! A designer in my area (whose aesthetic I love!!) recently opened a brick and mortar shop and now offers in shop design service as well as smaller consultations in home for planning or finishing touches. I love this design model and hope to try it soon. I think it offers a more affordable way to see what a pro can offer.

4 years ago

Love this series of posts! So helpful! Love the insight Velinda!
A designer in my area (whose aesthetic I love!!) recently opened a brick and mortar shop and now offers in shop design service as well as smaller consultations in home for planning or finishing touches. I love this design model and hope to try it soon. I think it offers a more affordable way to see what a pro can offer. I can’t wait to try it.

4 years ago
Reply to  Joanie

Are you by chance in Kansas City? Tamara Day from the Bargain Mansions TV show on DIY and HGTV just opened up a shop here with exactly that model called Growing Days Home. I also feel like that might be a nice bridge between the “hire a full designer” concept and the “I just want an opinion on the best light fixture.” I’m really excited for our hometown TV star too! What fun it has been to watch her success!

Roberta Davis
4 years ago

Great tips, Velinda.

I know at least one high-end residential design firm in Seattle that provides clients with an option to purchase their own furniture (I have a friend who worked there and told me).

I had an offer from Modsy (which I didn’t accept) and my takeaway is that the designers are somewhat like a designer in a store. They are picking products from a set of vendors and putting them together for the client. They told me that $15 per hour is what they paid all designers (don’t know if that has changed in the last couple of years). I believe the company also makes a commission on the items the customers buy. So, that can be helpful if what is needed is help picking out furniture, rugs, art and accessories that will work together.

4 years ago

I worked with a designer on one of the online interior design companies and it was not good. I asked for light, bright and spa-like and she led me down a confusing path that I ended up hating. Not to mention that one of the products she had on the shopping list was WRONG…she had a plug-in sconce where a hard-wired one was needed. And it was hard for me to push back on the confusing direction because I have design paralysis and she was the expert after all!!

Nicole Roe
4 years ago

I offer an E design option that is very affordable but I always highly recommend a in home consultation that is like a “walk and talk”. They gain so much valuable information that they couldn’t get through an online design. I also offer a style session that includes tweaking furniture placement. I just suggest to the client to be very open with what they want and What they want from me. FaceTiming me when they are styling their shelves or dozens of texts when they are shopping doesn’t benefit anyone long term.

4 years ago

I actually used Homepolish the first time I used a designer because I just didn’t know how to find a designer I liked, would do a good job, etc. It was a fantastic experience. I ordered some pieces on my own, but she helped source the coolest ever pendant light over our kitchen island as well as other lighting and furniture and helped with paint colors and a great area rug. She was able to order pieces off of trade only sights and charged me her cost. With the discounts on furniture she was able to get me, it ended up paying for her services. It ended up being a win win for her because she loved my general contractor so much she started using him on other jobs. When it came time for a full master bath remodel I brought back the same designer and contractor. We were so used to how we all worked, the process was amazing, fast and professional. I included in my budget her fees. I would highly recommend using a designer for large design jobs. It was so worth the extra insight and access.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Should probably research carefully when recommending or using online design services: Homepolish has gone belly up and left many designers and clients in a bad spot.

4 years ago

I am extra fortunate and a dear friend of mine is an interior designer and she did my entire house for a full renovation last year. My house looks AMAZING and I would absolutely insist on using a designer in the future! Everything looks so cohesive and she did a fantastic job of helping us choose where to splurge and where to save.
I love this blog series and I think it is so helpful to see real dollars as well as the real time it takes to do this. Sure, I can “decorate” my house, but when a professional helps you everything looks a million times better!

Eleni Karas
4 years ago

This is great! I’d love to know when a project is a better fit for an architect vs designer or if both need to be involved. I’ve got a good enough design sense but I need someone to take a look at some closet space and determine if a quarter bath can be carved out, how to rearrange our current kitchen and bathrooms, etc. And it’s a historic property so even more hoops to jump through

4 years ago

Found Monthly design service that helps you with any of your needs. Full service and then some I.e. party planning decor

4 years ago

When we moved into our current house, I was never able to recapture the same cozy feel in my oldest daughter’s room that we had in our first house. The configuration was bad. The light was bad. She had some health issues the made sleeping hard, and the whole room had a sad vibe.

After a few failed attempts on my own, I worked with Modsy to redesign my teen daughter’s room, and I loved the experience. I really liked their visualization tool, and the ability to sort through their vendors for similar products to the one the designer chose. I was able to find a few things that were cheaper but with a similar look. The ability to “try” them out in the visualization tool was huge for both my daughter and I.
Our designer came up with a layout option that really worked well – and I hadn’t thought of.
Her room is a happy haven now. It feels like a huge win every time I walk in that room. I probably spent about $6K on new furniture, lighting, paint & carpet, but I only spent about 1% of that on the design fees.

4 years ago

I’d love to hear from the designers who work for Modsy and HomePolish. It’s wonderful to hear people’s experiences but my understanding from designers is that in the end they’re not even making minimum wage for what they’re paid from Modsy. Can anyone from the design side chime in?

Leslie L.
4 years ago

Thanks for this post! Do you have any recommendations on how to locate good local designers? For example, I am in Seattle and while I know that there are a ton of options they can be hard to sort through.

CS Kyle
4 years ago

I used Houzz to find a designer in Maryland, and couldn’t be happier with my decision. I used this blog and Houzz to make the design choices on my last house in Seattle, but a cross-country move for new jobs meant that our time was tight to update the new house we bought. Wesley helped connect us to a trustworthy contractor, first and foremost, along with other vendors and service people who finished out the work. She looked through my Houzz ideabooks and helped confirm some of my inclinations, and shared really great ideas about what was possible and what the cost implications were. It was only a couple thousand bucks to establish this relationship, and while she came and saw and cheered what I had set up, I didn’t take the further step of having her choose and arrange furniture and decor. I will go back to Wesley with other projects and warmly recommended her on Houzz.

So, long story short: I didn’t think I could afford a designer, but it was absolutely the right way to go for us!

4 years ago

Very good insight! What are your feelings about online design services like modsy?


4 years ago

Love these posts! We used a local interior designer to finish out some spaces but were very upfront that we probably couldn’t afford her whole services so she came in and did a consult and put together some moodboards and ideas for us to finish our spaces. Nothing was a complete overhaul since we’re living with certain pieces of furniture until we save but we’ve been able to take our time with purchasing and painting. To me it was a much better experience than Modsy and I really hope I can hire her again for when we finish our basement.

4 years ago

I would love a post about how to find interior designers!! Is there a database somewhere? Do I really just need to deep dive on instagram? Are there professional organizations I could search a database? Should I just wear a sandwich board on a street corner?? haha This post has me really wanting to work with one – but I’m not sure where to start from the very beginning.

Jeffrey C
4 years ago

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… Read more »

4 years ago

I used a national e-design service (to remain nameless) once for a home office. It was a horrible experience. We agreed on a budget for the room on the very first meeting but the designer continued to source items that were way beyond that budget and then was insulted when I suggested similar but more affordable options. We were not on the same page at all and several unpleasant e-mail exchanges later, I was pulling the room together myself. I think meeting someone in person is a much better way to judge the potential success of the working relationship. In addition to this, the beautiful instagram and website photos utilized by these services are typically styled with a budget much greater than most average (or even many financially secure) Americans are prepared to spend.

4 years ago

This is so informative thank you for posting! I was wondering, do you see working with a designer as a one time investment in a space or do clients often hire designers again for redecorating?