Interior Design Services Decoded!

Truth: We all want good design.

We see beautiful homes everywhere.  We get lost admiring homes dressed in mystifying prints and patterns, and arranged in inspiring new ways in throbbing colors and visceral textures.  We visit beautiful places, book the most entrancing guest rooms, and eat in the most stylish restaurants.  Whether we see them in person or vicariously through virtual reality, our appetites for good design have unleashed a flood of services that promise to enchant our wildest design dreams.

While the appetite for good design is a good thing, the trouble is that the options for attaining it are overwhelming, sometimes misleading, and frankly - confusing.

For the good-willed design seeker, how does one navigate the proliferation of design services vying for our attention?  

Here's the breakdown and a guide to understanding the differences between interior design services.

Free Design Services

Restoration Hardware, Room & Board, and West Elm are examples of retailers that offer free design services or design services for a low membership or low flat fee.  Generally, these consultations are arranged by appointment and vary widely in terms of designer talent.  Some are organized, timely, and helpful; others are not.  What these services are generally light on, is actual design advice and guidance.

It's really not design.  It's not really free.  It's sales.

RH Design Atelier - Free Design Services with $99 annual membership

Your retail designer is primarily motivated by selling a line of product.  They are not neccessarily motivated by what's in your best interest.

Here's what you can expect of free design services:

1. Limited options.

This is obvious, and fine if you know that the retailer you are receiving design services from is the specific catalogue look you want.  You are limited to what that retailer offers within their walls.  They're not going to take you shopping.  The result will be representative of their brand; it will not be tailored nor much of a representation of you.

2. Variable design talent.  

You probably won't be working with a professional designer.  You might be working with someone who may have a fair amount of design sense, and perhaps some education or experience, but you don't really know. A professional designer doesn't give their services away for free.  These designers are first and foremost salespeople.  They earn their way first on product, not first on service.

3. Varying tools and takeaways.  

Some retailers may ask you to come prepared with a floor plan, some may be equipped with digital tools and planners and send you off with swatches and product recommendations.  Some may be helpful, but you may not end up leaving with much real guidance or design advice.


To help crystallize the difference in services, let's think about design the way we think about how we shop our wardrobes.  This metaphor will help clear up the muddy messages about the world of design services.  

Service Level Illustrated: Retail + Free Design Services //

Interiors - Room & Board :: Fashion - Banana Republic

Free interior design services at Room & Board are similar to free styling at Banana Republic.  You go to Banana, you get head to toe, Banana.  You are limited to their design aesthetic, quality, and fit.  There's very little personal about it.  You may love Banana; there's nothing wrong with that.  But if you only own Banana, it's just not that interesting or unique.  Too much of the same is redundant.

"Retailers need to sell a high volume of goods, so they need to have mass appeal.  Our clients come to us for the exceptional." Pierre Frey, high-end custom French fabric house


Affordable Design Services

It's a common misconception that only the ultra-wealthy can afford an interior designer; it's simply not true. Design services are attainable and are always worth considering.  With the market's growing appetite for design, it makes sense that affordable design services are finding their niche, and it makes sense for some people looking for bite-sized design guidance.  It is not only affordable, but also convenient and accessible.  Affordable design and decorating services are for those who may not need the level of service, precision, or problem-solving for more complex design challenges to furnish and freshen up a room.

Bottom line: Anyone can hire a designer at any level of service.  It could just be a plan or a mini-consultation.  If you have a limited budget, don't cut yourself short.  Seek a little guidance from an experienced designer.


Service Level Illustrated: High-end Retail + Affordable Design Services //

Interiors - Gorman's Home Furnishings :: Fashion - Saks Fifth Avenue

Similar to a home furnishings store like Gorman's that carries multiple manufactuers, you can also receive affordable or sometimes "free" personal styling at a place like Saks for your wardrobe that is both better quality and more reflective of your personal style and character.  

However, it is still a brick and mortar department store model.  Of course, you have more collections and lines to work with at Saks than you would at J.Crew, but you are still limited to the lines that department store carries.


Web-Based Design Services

A subset of affordable design services are entirely digital.  Web-based design services like Havenly, Homepolish and Laurel & Wolf, match designers to a consumer's design aesthetic and budget.  There are generally no on-site consultations or installations.  They design and you implement.  Purchasing options vary and are somewhat limited.  Some only recommend items that consumers can purchase on their own.  Others pass on discounts on items that are available only to the trade and purchased through the design service.  These can be good entry-level services if you have a limited budget and the ability to manage implementation and installations yourself.  If you're just looking for a bit of vision and a kick-start, and you have some reasonable ability to do some of the legwork, there's not a lot to loose by trying it out., from the portfolio of Havenly designer Amy Fasnacht


Service Level Illustrated: Web-based + Affordable Design Services //

Interiors - Havenly :: Fashion - Stitch Fix

Havenly is bit like a self-assembly design delivery service.  You set your criteria and paired with their data and resources, you get an affordable, somewhat personalized "box" of goods to sort through and put together.  Stitch Fix does some of the work, you do the rest.  You do lose proximity, human connection, and are limited to the brands they have established business with (ie: Trunk Club is a Nordstrom company).  There are no alterations.  It's entry-level custom styling with an average, lower price point.

It's several notches down from getting fitted for a custom tailored suit.  There's a degree of disconnect, there's greater room for error. They provide recommendations, but you still manage setting parameters, sorting, fitting, selecting, assembling and shipping.


High-End Full-Service Interior Design

This is our niche.  While there may be a time and a place for the design services we've mentioned, high-end full-service interior designers provide a whole different caliber of service.  We offer more personal connection, greater proximity, complete service from recommendations to installations, far wider access to lines and collections, professional expertise, higher quality and experience.

"The trade is leading the world right now in terms of design, quality and craftsmanship." Eric Chang, Hellman-Chang luxury furniture maker

The to-the-trade interior design service industry is unparalleled.  It isn't for everyone.  However, if you are looking for a high level of service, you do get what you pay for.


Service Level Illustrated: Personal Professional Design Services //

Interiors - Luxury Full-Service Interior Designer :: Fashion - Independent Personal Stylist

An independent personal stylist knows and understands you at a truer more personal level.  They have spoken with you, interacted with you in person, they know your kids names, they've walked your streets, they know when and where you're flying next.  There is a whole separate level of understanding that happens when people meet in the flesh, face to face.  You relate to one another contextually on a much deeper more personal level.  This gives a stylist a fuller and more nuanced picture of your lifestyle so they can offer you solutions that are best representative of your personal style.

An independent stylist, not only understands you better, they are a free agent.  They can take you shopping at Saks and Bergdorf Goodman, Leighs, Shopbop and Anthropolgie.  They have a wider breadth of knowledge and access.  You can mix high and low, make custom alterations, and put money where it's important.

A true personal stylist or designer manages all the details.  You don't measure yourself for a custom suit, or calculate the yardage required for a custom upholstered sofa.  We do that for you and we do it with much greater perspective, personal touch, and accuracy.  We establish a relationship with a couturier or work room, place orders, and coordinate delivery.  We help you get in the dress and we make sure the oversized lounge chair will fit through the door and up the stairs without damaging the walls or the furniture.  We deliver a highly tailored product, service and experience that represents and suits our clientele best.


Need some help getting your interior design project going? Hiring a professional like the interior designers at Jennifer Butler Interior Design is a great place to start. We can help bring definition to your ideas for your home, office, business, new construction, renovation or remodel.  This frees you to focus on your family, your work, your travel and recreation while our experts take care of the design and implementation.  Rest assured that our designers will create interiors that realize your vision for spaces that meet your luxury lifestyle and 21st century work style needs and visually reflect your unique design style.

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