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Find an Interior Designer for projects of any size to develop residential, commercial or industrial solutions. Whether you are planning an interior renovation or fitout, or preparing for a new construction, an ideal Interior Designer for any location across Australia can be found here. All your questions about choosing, hiring and working with Interior Designers and the complete design and building process are answered below. +
Published by Martyn Sanjay
An interior designer is responsible for preparing and implementing the plans for building interiors, including the physical structure as well as furniture, surfaces and finishes. They differ from interior decorators in that they have more extensive technical knowledge, and are involved in the construction and modification of building interiors as well as their decoration.
Interior designers are used by people who are building, renovating or decorating. You might want to consider employing an interior designer for a number of reasons:
Note that if you are considering major structural changes to your building, you might also choose to hire an architect.
This will depend upon 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 deal primarily with aesthetic decisions like finishes and furnishings.
You can hire a designer at any stage, but the earlier you hire them, the easier it will be, for a number of reasons. Hiring them early in the process will give you more flexibility as you will not yet be committed to any firm outcomes. It will therefore allow your designer to respond more effectively to your needs.
As with all design professionals, the cost of an interior designer varies significantly depending on their experience, education and how well-regarded they are in the industry.
Interior designers 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 designer 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 designers use a combination of these methods of calculating fees, and you should determine in advance how your designer will calculate their fees.
Interior designers 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 MDIA may be elected Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia (FDIA) or Life Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia (LFDIA).
In Victoria, interior designers should be listed as a Registered Building Practitioner in the category of Draftsperson Building Design — Interior.
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.
In Victoria, Registered Building Practitioners can be identified through the Building Commission. You can access the Building Commission’s database of Registered Building Practitioners online or over the phone, in order to determine whether your designer is listed with them.
An interior designer usually has some form of post-secondary education. This may include a diploma, an advanced diploma, or a degree in interior design.
The Trade Practices Act covers fair trading and consumer protection in Australia. Interior designers, like any individual or company trading its services, are bound by this act.
Depending on the nature of the work, interior designers may also be required to abide by the various pieces of legislation governing building regulations in each state. This may include the Building Act in Victoria or Queensland, the Home Building Act in New South Wales, and a number of other acts relating to issues such as disability access, heritage, environmental issues and safety.
The peak body (main representative body) covering interior designers 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 designers. In Victoria, the Building Commission, which is responsible for regulating the building industry, deals with disputes involving registered interior designers.
Specifier.com.au provides a database of interior designers. Some architects, however, also employ in-house interior designers, so if you are currently using an architect, you should check with them first.
No, you have a right to request your own interior designer, but you should discuss this with your architect as early as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings and ensure the process runs smoothly. Before rebuffing your architect’s selection, however, you should consider that choosing your architect’s preferred interior designer may help them to work together more closely and produce a well-integrated final result. Architects also have experience in the industry and their advice should be taken into account. However, if you are genuinely displeased with the recommendation, you should not feel any obligation to follow it.
Ask people you know who have used an interior designer in the past about who they shortlisted, who they selected, and what their experience was like.
Ask architects, contractors and suppliers – particularly those whose taste you know and like. All these building professionals often work closely with interior designers and may be able to direct you towards a designer whose work they like and respect. Contractors and suppliers can also identify designers who are organized, efficient and clear about what they need, which could save you time and money.
The Design Institute of Australia’s referral service can recommend up to three qualified interior designers based on their area of expertise and location.
Magazines like Specifier, and many others available from newsagents and large bookstores, review interior projects on the basis that they’ve won an award, or have otherwise come to public prominence. That’s usually an indication of a good designer, if not necessarily an affordable one for your project (but you can always check). Many house design books, like Phaidon’s very pretty Modern House series, will have only a handful of Australian designers in them, but there are plenty of smaller titles on a range of residential elements and styles.
There are a number of awards granted for excellence in interior design, which can provide a good indicator of high-quality professionals in this area. The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) administers the annual Interior Design Awards, the major industry award for interior designers. The South Australian, Western Australian and Queensland branches of the DIA also offer state-specific design excellence awards, all of which have categories for interior design. There are also more specific industry awards, such as the Timber Design Awards or the Dulux Colour Awards, which are often offered in order to promote specific industries or companies as well as to recognise excellence in design. In Victoria, interior designers are also eligible to enter the Premier’s Design Awards.
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.
Yes, unless you have had a previous association with an interior designer that worked well. Don’t feel embarrassed about checking a number of options. It’s expected.
It’s generally recommended to look at three to five in depth.
Many interior designers, 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 designer’s work, but remember that these websites often feature the designer’s most extravagant and expensive projects.
For this reason, you should also get in touch with the designer 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.
Remember that working with an interior designer is as much about your taste as it is about their vision, so look for a designer 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 their own appraisal.
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 design process. Use magazines to get an idea of your preferred aesthetic.
It is important to have a good personal rapport with an architect. You may well be ringing each other at all times of day and night about door handles and gyprock.
Use the preliminary interview to get a feel for how the interior designer 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 designer 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.
When following up a reference, you want to establish how easy and enjoyable the referee found working with this designer. Ask whether the project came in on time and on budget, whether the designer was responsive to questions and concerns, whether their fees proved to be higher than expected, how easy it was to get in touch with the designer, whether they returned their calls promptly and how enjoyable they found the experience overall.
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 designer 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 designs.
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.
The contract should clearly specify:
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 designer now and ensure that you agree upon an outcome and get it in writing.
Your interior designer should have professional indemnity insurance to cover any cases of error or negligence on their part. If you are unsure whether your designer has this insurance, you should check with them.
If you are undertaking any building work, your builder will also be required to have some form of home warranty insurance (also called builder’s insurance or home indemnity insurance). However, unless you live in Queensland, you should be aware that this insurance will probably pay out only if the builder dies, disappears or becomes insolvent – not if they fail to complete the job or if they produce substandard (or even dangerous) work.
The designer needs to collect basic information about the interior that they will work on. They will probably inspect the site and ask questions about how the space is used, with a view to documenting the existing space, traffic flow and any other relevant needs. At this stage, the designer will also identify safety issues and legal requirements that may need to be taken into account.
The laws and regulations that an interior design project must adhere to will vary depending on state and local council regulations, and the nature of your project. You may have to consider disabled access, environmental regulations, safety issues (both during construction and long-term), heritage concerns, privacy issues for neighbours (if, for instance, you are adding additional windows) and noise restrictions during construction.
The requirements vary between states and, sometimes, between local council areas. You are likely to need the relevant state or local council approval if you intend to make structural changes to your building. If your building is heritage listed, additional restrictions may apply. Your interior designer, local council, or appropriate statutory authority (such as the Building Commission) should be able to guide you through this process.
If you are working with an architect, they can assemble the drawings and forms and submit them on your behalf. Otherwise, your interior designer can manage this process.
After inspecting your site and identifying your needs and desires and any other relevant limitations or requirements, the designer will develop some initial plans and ideas, known as the schematic or conceptual design. Once you have approved these designs, the designer will develop these rough ideas into a detailed set of plans and specifications that will enable them to clarify finer details. This initial design will eventually be refined into a set of detailed specifications that the designer can provide to suppliers and sub-contractors. Once the design has been finalised, the designer will be responsible for organizing and overseeing the supply of materials and any contracting work.
You should maintain contact with the interior designer 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 designer, 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.
Schematic designs are preliminary drawings that set out a range of alternative ways to meet the requirements of your brief. They should include preliminary floor plans and estimated budgets. They probably won’t include detailed information about specific products or finishes that the designer intends to use, although they may give broad indications of what these will be like.
Tell your designer! As their client, you have the right to expect to be happy with their designs. You should highlight any reservations that you have as early as possible to avoid wasting time and money unnecessarily. Be polite, but ensure that they clearly understand which aspects of the design you didn’t like and why, so that they will be able to address your concerns when they modify the designs.
You and your designer 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.
Subcontractors are people or companies that the designer contracts to perform specialised jobs. They include builders, tillers, carpenters, masons, electricians and plumbers. Your designer will instruct you if you need to employ a subcontractor of any kind.
This will depend upon what you and your designer have agreed in advance. You may decide to put a contract out to bid, you may choose to hire a contractor that the designer has worked with in the past, or you may hire a contractor of your choice.
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 designer 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 of asking for 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 designer’s fees (particularly if they are charging by the hour).
A tender is the procedure by which the designer asks for bids for 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 suppliers who are invited to tender for the project are usually known to the designer or architect. They are usually all high-quality subcontractors with whom the designer has a good relationship. Generally, an invited tender will ask for bids from five or six subcontractors. These tenders will not be publicly adversited.
When evaluating bids, your designer 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 they 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.
During construction, the interior designer 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 developing according to plan.
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 designer is charging ‘cost plus’ or as a percentage of the total expenditure, these excess costs may also add to design fees.
Changes, particularly later in the design process, will also increase costs by adding to the time that a designer devotes to the process. They may also make previous purchases and designs redundant. Remember that, as the plans become more specific, one small change can require a whole range of other alterations, which may add to the time and material costs of the project.
You should discuss your options with your designer, as they are trained to help you juggle financial, aesthetic and technical 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.
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 designer, 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.
Because there is no formal accreditation or licensing system for interior designers in Australia, you should always check the qualifications, experience and reputation of your interior designer carefully before work commences and money changes hands. Look for someone with substantial experience and reputable qualifications who is a member of the Design Institute of Australia. Choosing a member of the DIA also means that your designer is bound by a code of ethics. If they violate this code (which covers fees and their responsibilities to you and to other designers), they risk losing their membership.
To prevent unpleasant surprises, you should also agree upon a fee structure and get it in writing before the designer begins work. Make sure that you set out all fees and charges, including what mark-up the designer will charge on materials and furniture, and any extra costs that you are likely to incur.
When awarding contracts and purchasing materials, you should also be alert to possible conflicts of interest. If your designer 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 designer 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, but it will also clarify the expectations of both parties and therefore help to avert conflict. 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.
There are a number of ways of seeking redress if you feel that your interior designer has not fulfilled the terms of the contract or has otherwise short-changed you.