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Find an Interior Decorator for projects of any size to develop residential, commercial or industrial solutions. Whether you are planning a renovation or fitout, require selection of interior fititngs or preparing for an entirely new construction, an ideal Interior Decorator for any location across Australia can be found here. All your questions about choosing, hiring and working with Interior Decorators and the complete design and building process are answered below. +
Published by Martyn Sanjay
- What does an interior decorator do?
- When should I consider hiring an interior decorator?
- Should I choose an interior designer or an interior decorator?
- At what stage in the process should I consider hiring an interior decorator?
- How much do interior decorators cost?
- How are interior decorator fees calculated?
- How are interior decorators accredited in Australia?
- What is the relevant legislation covering interior decoration?
- What are the relevant peak bodies and consumer watchdogs overseeing interior decorators?
Finding an interior decorator
- How do I find an interior decorator?
- Who can tell me about good interior decorators?
- How do I narrow down a shortlist of interior decorators?
- Should I investigate more than one firm?
- How many firms should I consider in depth?
- How can I learn more about an interior decorator?
- How can I check if my interior decorator is registered or accredited?
- What sort of qualifications should I expect an interior decorator to hold?
- What should I know about my project before I visit an interior decorator or other professional?
- Why are interviews important?
- What should I ask the decorator at a preliminary interview?
- What should I ask when following up references or testimonials?
Working with an interior decorator
- What should I include in a brief for an interior decorator?
- Do I need to sign a contract?
- What should the contract include?
Interior decorators and the building process
- What needs to be done before decoration work begins?
- What is involved in the decorating process?
- Will I get to see any plans?
- What are my responsibilities during the process?
- How much involvement can I expect to have in choosing finishes and furnishings?
- What is a subcontractor and do I need one?
- How are subcontractors chosen?
- Should I ask my interior decorator to get bids on a contracting job?
- What is the process of putting a decoratoring job out to tender?
- How are tenders decided?
- What is the interior decorator’s role during the subcontracting work?
- What factors might cause my project to run over budget?
- I can’t afford to spend the money required to complete (or begin) my project. What are my options?
- What factors might cause my project to take longer than expected to complete?
Defects, disputes and redress
What does an interior decorator do?
An interior decorator selects and coordinates the finishes, furnishings, carpets, curtains and related hardware of a room, house or office. They are experts in the aesthetics of a room, and can help to coordinate a colour scheme, purchase and arrange furniture and ensure that the room works as an aesthetically pleasing whole.
When should I consider hiring an interior decorator?
You might want to consider employing an interior decorator for a number of reasons:
- Interior decorators can help if you want or need a specific ‘look’ but feel unsure of how to go about achieving it.
- Interior decorators have access to discounts and exclusive ‘industry only’ products, which may save you money on furnishings or other products.
- Interior decorators can also help if you do not have enough time to design or develop your interior yourself, or if you simply lack the skills or confidence to do so.
Should I choose an interior designer or an interior decorator?
This will depend on the project that you have in mind. An interior designer can draw plans, remodel and supervise contractors, as well as decorating interiors. If you want to make significant changes to your interior, an interior designer will be a better option. Interior decorators do not have the technical expertise of interior designer but instead deal with aesthetic decisions, such as finishes and furnishings. They are experts in creating an integrated, attractive room.
At what stage in the process should I consider hiring an interior decorator?
Generally, an interior decorator will be hired at the end of the construction process or any time after construction is complete. They work with interiors that have already been built and, unlike interior designers, are rarely involved in construction.
How much do interior decorators cost?
As with all design professionals, the cost of an interior decorator varies significantly depending on their experience, education and how well-regarded they are in the industry.
How are interior decorator fees calculated?
Interior decorators calculate fees in a range of ways. They may charge an hourly rate, a flat fee, a percentage of purchases or ‘cost plus’. Cost plus means that the decorator buys products at a discounted ‘trade’ rate and then marks them up to around retail price, so that the mark-up functions as a design fee. Many interior decorators use a combination of these methods of calculating fees, and you should determine in advance how your decorator will charge you.
How are interior decorators accredited in Australia?
Interior decorators can practice without accreditation in Australia. However, accreditation is available through the Design Institute of Australia (DIA), which offers the title of Accredited Designer™ to members of the DIA who participate in their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program.
Membership of the DIA involves adherence to a code of ethics and at least six years combined education and professional experience, including at least three years of professional experience relevant to their specialisation. Members may display the initials MDIA after their name. A particularly distinguished MDIAs may be elected Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia (FDIA) or Life Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia (LFDIA).
What is the relevant legislation covering interior decoration?
The Trade Practices Act covers fair trading and consumer protection in Australia. Interior decorators are bound by this act. Building Acts and their equivalents do not cover interior decoration in most states.
What are the relevant peak bodies and consumer watchdogs?
The peak body (main representative body) covering interior decorators is the Design Institute of Australia. Members agree to adhere to a code of ethics and may have their membership revoked if they breach this code.
The Office of Fair Trading in each state is the consumer watchdog responsible for most disputes involving interior decorators.
How do I find an interior decorator?
Specifier.com.au provides a database of interior decorator. Some interior decorators may also be employed by retail outlets or major department stores such as David Jones. Depending on how much you spend at these stores, these services may come free, but keep in mind that these decorators have a vested interest in encouraging you to buy products from their store.
Who can tell me about good interior decorators?
Ask people you know who have used an interior decorator in the past about who they shortlisted, who they selected, and what their experience was like.
– particularly those whose taste you know and like. These people often work closely with interior decorators and may be able to direct you towards a decorator whose work they like and respect. They can also identify decorators who are organized, efficient and clear about what they need, which could save you time and money.
can recommend up to three qualified interior decorators based on their area of expertise and location.
like Specifier, and many others available from newsagents and large bookstores, review design and decorating projects on the basis that they’ve won an award, or have otherwise have come to public prominence. That’s usually an indication of a good decorator, if not necessarily an affordable one for your project (but you can always check). You could try Vouge Living, House Beautiful, Australian Country Style, Houses, INSIDEout, Australian House & Garden, or Great Decorating Ideas.
There are some awards granted for excellence in interior decoration, which can provide a good indicator of high-quality professionals in this area. Most significantly, the Design Institute of Australia’s annual Interior Design Awards includes categories for interior decoration. There are also more specific industry awards, such as the Dulux Colour Awards, which are often offered in order to promote specific industries or companies as well as to recognise excellence in design.
How do I narrow down a shortlist of interior decorators?
Narrow a list of possibles with a few phone calls. Ask some easy preliminary questions: if they’re available, or if they’re interested in a project of that size. Have some idea of what it is you want, and try to sum it up in a couple of sentences.
Should I investigate more than one firm?
Yes, unless you have had a previous association with an architect that worked well. Don’t feel embarrassed about checking a number of options. It’s expected.
How many firms should I consider in depth?
It’s generally recommended to look at three to five in depth.
How can I learn more about an interior decorator?
Many interior decorators, particularly those who are more established, have well-designed websites that include photographs and descriptions of past work. These online portfolios can provide a useful way of getting a feel for the decorator’s work, but remember that these websites often feature the decorator’s most extravagant and expensive projects.
For this reason, you should also get in touch with the decorator and ask to see examples of projects that are similar in scope and budget to the work that you want done. Make sure that you are as happy with this work as you are with their more upscale projects.
You might also want to arrange a face-to-face interview with your shortlisted decorators. Remember that working with an interior decorator is as much about your taste as it is about their vision, so look for a decorator who seems responsive to their clients. Ask them to explain how their work responded to the client’s situation, needs and desires, and then ask for and follow up references or testimonials to see whether past clients agree with the decorator’s appraisal.
How can I check if my interior decorator is registered or accredited?
DIA members or fellows may list the appropriate post-nominal after their name (MDIA, FDIA, LFDIA). They are also entitled to display a certificate attesting to their membership.
What sort of qualifications should I expect an interior decorator to hold?
Interior decorators do not need any formal qualifications to work in Australia. Some may hold diploma or certificate qualifications in interior decoration, while others may have been trained primarily on the job.
What should I know about my project before I visit an interior decorator or other professional?
Before you visit anyone, you should be clear on the details of your project. Know how much you can afford to spend, what you want done and how you want it to look. Consider how people use the space and what practical details will need to be taken into account in the decoration process – whether children live in or frequently visit the building, for example. Use magazines to get an idea of your preferred aesthetic.
Why are interviews important?
It is important to have a good personal rapport with a decorator. You may well be ringing each other at all times of the day and night about door handles.
What should I ask the decorator at a preliminary interview?
Use the preliminary interview to get a feel for how the interior decorator would work with you and what their priorities are likely to be. Be clear and honest about what you want to do, how much you want to spend and what sorts of effects you want to achieve, and ask their advice on how they would go about achieving this. Look for a decorator who is realistic about what can be accomplished for the price, without ignoring your input or dismissing your ideas. You want someone whose taste, judgments and priorities are compatible with your own, so it is often helpful to take a collection of images from magazines to illustrate what style you have in mind. Above all, look for someone with whom you have a good rapport, who listens to your opinions and seems responsive to your concerns.
What should I ask when following up references or testimonials?
When following up a reference, you want to establish how easy and enjoyable the referee found working with this decorator. Ask whether the project came in on time and on budget, whether the decorator was responsive to questions and concerns, whether their fees proved to be higher than expected, how easy they found it to get in touch with the decorator, whether their calls were returned promptly and how enjoyable they found the experience overall.
What should I include in a brief for an interior decorator?
The brief needs to set out clearly what you want done and how much you are prepared to spend. It should detail your budget, the time frame for completion, the extent of work (and how much the decorator will be responsible for), the style that you are aiming for, your likes and dislikes, and any specific information that you have about preferred finishes, materials, furnishings or colour schemes.
Do I need to sign a contract?
Yes, a contract is an important way to ensure that you will be satisfied with the outcome, and to establish the ‘ground rules’, in order to prevent disappointment or misunderstandings down the track. Often a clear design brief can form the basis of a contract.
What should the contract include?
The contract should clearly specify:
- The overall budget of the project
- How the decorator’s fee will be calculated and how much it is likely to be
- How and when fees are to be paid
- How long the project will take to complete (but keep in mind that product availability will be a significant factor in this, and you can’t always be sure that the curtains or paint you want will be in stock at all times)
- The scope of the work to be done by the interior decorator – and what they are not responsible for
- How any disputes can be resolved
At this stage, you should also discuss any other specific requirements that you have. If you have a preferred supplier that you would like to use, or if you are working to a tight schedule, you should tell your decorator now and ensure that you agree upon an outcome and get it in writing.
What needs to be done before decoration work begins?
The decorator needs to collect basic information about the interior that they will work on. They will probably inspect the building and ask questions about how the space is used, your budget and the style or ‘look’ that you want to achieve.
What is involved in the decorating process?
The interior decorator will use the information gathered during interviews and inspections to begin planning your interior. They will shop for furniture, finishes and materials to get the best price and seek subcontractors to do any necessary painting, carpentry or carpeting work.
Will I get to see any plans?
Because interior decorating does not involve building work, interior decorators will not produce the kind of detailed technical plans that you may expect from an architect or interior designer. However, many interior decorators can provide sketches of how they want the room to look and plans of how the furniture will be arranged.
What are my responsibilities during the process?
You should maintain contact with the interior decorator throughout the process and notify them as soon as possible of any changes to your time frame, budget or needs. If you are unhappy with any decisions made by the decorator, you should discuss your objections with them and ensure that they clearly understand what you want them to do and why you were unhappy with the initial plan or purchase. To save time and money, you should always inform the decorator as early as possible, and ask to approve any large purchases in advance.
How much involvement can I expect to have in choosing finishes and furnishings?
You and your decorator should decide in advance on your level of involvement in the finer details of the project. You can ask to personally approve as much as you like – but remember that the more involvement you have, the more it will cost you (in both time and money) and the slower the process will be.
What is a subcontractor and do I need one?
Subcontractors are people or companies that the decorator contracts to perform specialised jobs. For interior decorating work, subcontractors may include painters, tilers and carpenters, among others. Your decorator will instruct you if you need to employ a subcontractor of any kind.
How are subcontractors chosen?
There are a number of ways of choosing a subcontractor, and you should agree upon one with your decorator in advance. You may decide to put a contract out to bid, you may choose to hire a contractor that the decorator has worked with in the past, or you may hire a contractor of your choice.
Should I ask my interior decorator to get bids on a contracting job?
As a general rule, asking for bids from multiple subcontractors is the best way to guarantee value for money on each individual job. In the absence of other concerns, it is usually advisable to ask for bids on a contract.
If you or your decorator has a preferred subcontractor, you might prefer to offer them the job first. In this case, you would need to weigh the advantages of choosing a subcontractor with whom you are familiar and comfortable, against the possible savings generated by inviting a range of bids. You may feel safer with a known subcontractor and you may find them easier to work with.
You should also remember that bidding takes time and therefore money. If the job is very small, the savings that you attract may not be worth the cost in decorator’s fees (particularly if they are charging by the hour).
What is the process of putting a job out to tender?
A tender is the procedure by which the decorator asks for bids on a project. This may be conducted in one of two ways.
An open tender is open to all qualified and interested parties – that is, anyone who can and wants to perform the work you need done. Generally, an open tender is conducted by placing advertisements in newspapers or industry publications.
An invited tender or limited tender asks for bids from a pre-selected group of suppliers. This is a good ‘middle road’ between an open tender and simply nominating a subcontractor, because the tradespeople and suppliers who are invited to tender for the project are usually known to the decorator or architect. They are usually all high-quality subcontractors with whom the decorator has a good relationship. Generally, an invited tender will ask for bids from five or six subcontractors. These tenders will not be publicly advertised.
How are tenders decided?
When evaluating bids, your decorator is looking for the best value for money. This does not necessarily mean the lowest bidder. In an open tender, they will consider cost, reputation, the quality of past work by the subcontractor, time frame and the methods and plans that the bidders propose for completing the job. In an invited tender, it is usually understood that the quality of all bidders will be satisfactory, and tenders are usually awarded to the lowest bidder. In an invited tender, however, the ability of the subcontractor to complete the job within the time frame may also be a factor.
What is the interior decorator’s role during the subcontracting work?
As the subcontractors are doing their work, the interior decorator will function as your agent. They will purchase materials on your behalf, award contracts with your approval, and perform regular inspections of the premises to ensure that your project is coming along according to plan.
What factors might cause my project to run over budget?
A large proportion of an interior design budget is spent on products such as furnishings, paint, carpeting, tiles, curtains and so on, so unexpected increases in the cost of these products can have a significant impact on your budget. Similarly, if a product included in initial plans proves to be unavailable, you may be forced to use more expensive alternatives. If your decorator is charging ‘cost plus’ or as a percentage of the total expenditure, these excess costs may also add to decorating fees.
Changes to the initial brief may also increase costs by adding to the time that a decorator devotes to the process and potentially making previous purchases and ideas redundant. Remember that, as the colour schemes and furniture arrangements become more developed and specific, one small change can require a whole range of other alterations, which may add to the time and material costs of the project.
I can’t afford to spend the money required to complete (or begin) my project. What are my options?
You should discuss your options with your decorator, as they are trained to help you juggle financial, aesthetic and practical considerations. You might consider spreading your project out over a longer time frame, working on a single room instead of the whole house or making more use of furniture that you already own.
What factors might cause my project to take longer than expected to complete?
Aside from changes to the brief, the availability of products and contractors is likely to influence the expected completion time of the project. If your contractor is especially busy, you may have to wait weeks or months for their services. Similarly, if a key product is out of stock or needs to be custom built, your project may be held up while you await its arrival.
Your level of involvement will also impact on the time required to complete the project. If you expect to approve every decision made by your interior decorator, you should allow for the extra time that this will take – particularly if you are slow to make decisions or difficult to get in touch with.
How can I protect myself against scams and unethical practices?
Because there is no formal accreditation or licensing system for interior decorators in Australia, you should always check the experience and reputation of your interior decorator carefully before work commences and money changes hands. Look for someone with substantial experience who is a member of the Design Institute of Australia. Choosing a member of the DIA also means that your decorator is bound by a code of ethics. If they violate this code (which covers fees and their responsibilities to you and to other decorators, among other things), they risk losing their membership
To prevent unpleasant surprises, you should also agree upon a fee structure and get it in writing before the decorator begins work. Make sure that you set out all fees and charges, including what mark-up the decorator will charge on materials and furniture, and any extra costs that you may incur.
When awarding contracts and purchasing materials, you should also be alert to possible conflicts of interest. If your decorator is influenced by financial concerns or personal attachments, they may not be acting in your best interest. If you think this is a possibility, ask for all contracts to be put out to tender and request to see different bids or prices so that you can compare for yourself – but remember that the cheapest deal does not always represent the best value and that your decorator may be doing you a favour by choosing a more expensive but more reputable product or subcontractor.
Above all, you should set out a clear and comprehensive contract before you begin. Getting your agreement in writing will give you a better chance of achieving redress if anything goes wrong. It will also clarify the expectations of both parties and therefore help to avert conflict in the first place. Ensure that your contract has a dispute resolution clause. If you are uncertain or if your project is expensive, it is probably worthwhile asking a lawyer to look over it to ensure that it will hold up if challenged.
Where can I get redress?
There are a number of ways of seeking redress if you feel that your interior decorator has not fulfilled the terms of the contract or has otherwise short-changed you.
- Talk to the decorator first. Interior decorators rely heavily upon word of mouth, so many will be eager to address your concerns before you start telling your friends and neighbours about your less-than-perfect experience. Calmly and courteously explain why you are unhappy with the standard of work and try to negotiate an appropriate form of redress.
- Check your contract. If it details how disputes should be resolved, you should follow this procedure.
- Approach the relevant consumer watchdog in your state. The nature and organization of the relevant body varies from state to state but it is usually affiliated with the Office of Fair Trading.