Courtney Thomas
May 18, 2018

What To Look For When Hiring A Designer

You want to build a house that better reflects and works for you and your families needs. You know the process will be a lengthy one and requires a huge number of decisions be made in quick succession. Just thinking about it gives you a mild migraine. It often gives me one. If you are considering a designer and you’ve gotten this far, congratulations. I think it’s a huge step and one that is often overlooked. Clearly, as a designer, I’m biased.  But knowing what I do about the “new build, remodel and interior design” process, I can see how anyone would want to lock themselves in a closet and rock themselves gently within the first 2 weeks of committing to a remodel. Without someone guiding you through all the decisions and keeping the end vision in mind, it gets overwhelming fast. I still get overwhelmed and I’m used to making design decisions every day. So, if you’re reading this, my hat is off to you. It’s not always a financially easy decision, but it is a proactive, solution-oriented one. A good designer will walk you through the fires, explaining and streamlining decisions and keeping the overwhelm at bay. Here are some considerations, in no particular order, that  I believe any prospective client should look for when hiring a designer:   

1. What is the designer’s personal design preference?

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Most, if not all, designers have a personal design style preference. It may change over time, but you should know what it is and if it aligns with your own. Most designers can adjust to suit a style that is not their own, but final decisions are a blend of both client and designer preferences. You should feel comfortable with the designer variable of that equation. Look at their portfolio of work. What styles have they covered? What styles don’t they portray? Maybe they only design in one style. Is it one you like? Are the common design ideas in their work ones you like because those ideas are often the designer’s influence.

2. Is she/he relatable?

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This is a must. That first meeting tells a lot. Like any relationship, you’re looking for personality chemistry. Can you speak freely and honestly with your designer? Do you feel judged? Do you feel heard? Do they understand your family and lifestyle needs?  If you don’t feel comfortable in the initial meeting, chances are the process will suffer along the way. This is a relationship you are forging and not a quick service call. As designers, we are implementing many decisions that affect how you interact with your space and environment. Make sure the person you choose for the task is one whose company you enjoy and whose opinion you value.

3. Do they listen to you and can they be forthright when clarification is needed?

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The only way to make sure your home is a reflection of you is to make sure your preferences are heard. Now, not all your wishes can be granted and not all of your preferences can be gleaned from several meetings. Miscommunication will happen and often compromises are required, so please expect that a conversation about making your dreams a reality will include some less exciting discussions about budgetary limitations, whose version of blue is the right one or if your antique dining set is out of character with the modern style you claim to want. We will always circle back to your wishlist priorities and re-confirm direction with you when the airwaves get muddled. Sometimes we may suggest that the man-chair you’ve owned since college be more “at home” in the man-cave we have yet to build:) To find out if the designer you’re considering can listen, call the designer’s references and ask. They’ll tell you if they feel their home reflects who they are more than it does who the designer is.

4. Are they accountable to a process?

Step By Step

If you’ve been through a remodel or a new build, you know just how many decisions have to be made. If you are tackling interior design on top of that, you need a good therapist or a really good process. We have learned to have and be both. Without someone or something to guide you, the sheer number of choices can send you into a tailspin. I like process. I don’t often get to implement one in my own home, but it appeals to my desire for order and organization where so little seems to exist. In my company, it’s essential. It’s how we know what comes next when, where and how. It’s how we track all the moving parts and make sense of all the over-lapping questions. It’s how we walk our clients through decisions with most of their hair intact. (Our process is an entire other blog coming soon.)

5. Are they good communicators?


Communicative does not just mean responsive. Yes, you want a designer who gets back to you promptly during business hours or within a day if it’s outside of business hours, but those calls for information would be fewer if they got in touch with you first.  Do they send progress reports? Do they keep you informed (as much or little as you like) about what they’ve been working on and what they’re planning next? I will admit we don’t always get our progress emails out each week (often because we’ve touched base with clients in person), but you want to feel as though your project isn’t getting back-burnered. You want to feel as though this matters as much to them as it does to you. Constant communication is key. So, expect someone who is responsive but aim for someone who is proactive.

Courtney Thomas Interior Design Office

Hiring a designer can be a daunting quest. Many people tell us how scared they are to pick up a phone and call. I think they worry about feeling inept for not knowing how to speak “designer lingo” or feeling judged for having a home that is “beyond design help”. If you are thinking about working with a designer, but feel intimidated to pick up a phone, do some initial research.  Check out their website, their social media presence and see if their content resonates with you. Then, pick up a phone. If you feel patronized or belittled, hang up. It’s not a good fit…unless you like feeling patronized and belittled. Ask the questions, do the research, call the references. This is an important decision because it can be a long journey you embark on with someone you should like, respect and trust. We are the first to admit that we won’t be a fit for everyone. Sarcasm and playfulness isn’t everyone’s cup of tea:) I would hope you can find someone who speaks your design style language, who listens to how you use your space, who alleviates the angst of unforeseen challenges (because there will be some and this is not an over-night HGTV project) and who delivers a product that creatively inspires you and functionally supports you every day. Good luck! May the Design Force be with you. 

Courtney Thomas Luxury Interior Design Services

Courtney Thomas, ASID

Principal & Lead Designer

My job is to make spaces functional in their layout, comfortable in their use, inspirational in their style and luxurious in their appointment. In that order. For that one moment after installation, the pictures are perfect.

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