Homeowners How To: Hiring an Interior Designer or Architect


When should you hire an interior designer? What is an interior designer? How are they different from architects or kitchen and bath designers? When do you need to hire an architect?

Print Email

When should you hire an interior designer? What is an interior designer? How are they different from architects or kitchen and bath designers? When do you need to hire an architect?

Interior designers vary quite widely across the realm of interior design work. Generally, interior design includes floor plan layouts, selecting colors, finishes like flooring, walls, moldings and trim, cabinetry, countertops, fixtures, light fixtures, furniture, fabrics, accessories and window treatments. Most designers are specialists at space planning and furniture layouts, while others are fantastic at coordinating colors, accessories, window treatments and flooring selections. Some deal mainly with architectural details, interior selections for major home renovations, custom cabinetry or lighting design of the home’s interior and exterior.

Depending on your needs, hiring the right designer for the job is critical. To get a better idea of the type of work they specialize in, take a look at their website, facebook page or other social media. You can learn a lot about their style, the type of jobs they do and what kind of work they are good at by looking at their photos and recommendations. Interior Designers can be associated with the ASID, IIDA, enrolled in local college programs for Interior Design, be a Registered Interior Designer or be a NCIDQ Certificate holder.  To become a Certified Interior Designer you must complete a bachelor’s degree, have at least 2 years of industry experience and pass the rigorous NCIDQ exam.  However, merely finishing the education requirements and passing the test does not guarantee that they are the right designer for you or that you will like their style.  So be sure that you feel that they can communicate effectively, that you feel that the designer is working to provide you what you want, and that they are experienced in the type of work you need to have completed.  Many very good designers who have excellent reputations and a high caliber of skill are not certified. Working knowledge and being able to effectively listen and communicate is essential to creating good designs that are aimed at making their client happy. Happy clients and timeless designs are the greatest testament to a good designer.

Always interview the designer you want to hire to make sure they are the right person for the work you need, find out about cost, payment schedules or how they charge for their services. Some designers work from a showroom displaying a variety of room ideas, artwork and furniture.  Not all designers have showrooms and simply having a showroom doesn’t mean they are better or worse than a designer without one. Always be sure to ask for recommendations and client references and take a look at their portfolio to see the type of work they do and the variety of services they offer.

Kitchen and bath designers specialize in designing rooms that require cabinetry in combination with multiple tradespersons, such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, tile installers, cabinet installers and painters or finishers. These rooms can include laundry areas, kitchens, baths, built in furniture, custom bars, shelving and media units among others. In addition to finding the best possible layout for your home, kitchen and bath designers will help you select the right tile, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, countertops, wall finishes or appliances for your home and budget. They will outline a budget for the project, estimate lead times and scheduling, help you correctly order your various components and obtain estimates from the various trades. They will walk you through your options, explain the pros and cons of those choices and help you make the right selections for your home and style.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) has developed a certification program that requires these designers to have many years of on the job experience completing kitchen and bath design, up to 60 hours of specific coursework, comprehensive knowledge of home construction, plumbing and electrical, as well as passing a grueling set of board exams. Designers who have completed this program earn their ACKD (Associate Certified Kitchen Design), CKD (Certified Kitchen Design), CBD (Certified Bathroom Design) or any combination of those. A CMKBD (Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer) is someone who holds their CKD/CBD, has a record of excellence and at least 17 years of experience as well as numerous documented and published projects.  This designation recognizes an extraordinary level of expertise, and there are only a few in the USA. As well as these designations, the NKBA also provides certifications for established kitchen and bath educators. Any of these designations shows an advanced level of knowledge and experience and is a testament to the designers’ ongoing devotion to excellence.

Architects specialize in planning, designing and issuing documents to obtain permits to complete a variety of construction projects. If you desire to extend or add to your existing home, re-configure interior walls or exterior elements, install exterior decking, porticos, a detached garage, or even knock down your home and rebuild it, or build a home from scratch, an architect is the right person for the job. They know the local town and building codes and will help you achieve the best possible design for your property that will meet the town and local zoning requirements. Architects must complete extensive coursework and a bachelor’s degree, and be certified to complete work in the state you live in. Some architects specialize in residential and commercial buildings, while others deal mainly with larger commercial jobs (community buildings, restaurants, hotels or other large scale projects).

To select the right architectural firm to complete your project, you should review the type of projects they have completed, ask how many years they have been in business and interview them with regard to the scope of your project. Ask specifically what architect will be working with you on the project and if someone else will be drawing the plans or not. Always ask for their license and insurance information and a few client references to call whom they have completed similar work for. Generally, they will come to your home and go over what you are looking for in advance of issuing you a retainer to contract them. Use this opportunity to interview them and make sure they listen to you, understand what you need and can communicate effectively and clearly. If you are still unsure after meeting with them, look their company up online and see if they are affiliated with any local industry groups or the Better Business Bureau. Interviewing multiple architects is generally a good idea so you can compare the type of firm, costs associated with the work you need, years of experience and the quality of the firm.