10 Things Your Decorator Doesn't Want You to Know

She's got a killer portfolio, an amazing sense of style and some shocking trade secrets.

If you've ever walked into a room in your home and thought it could be more aesthetically pleasing, then you understand that decorating isn't for everyone. You wonder if there are any do-it-yourself projects you could manage to make it suit your tastes more, but you just don't have time to fuss with décor. Then, you begin to daydream about how beautiful and seamless your home would look if only you could hire a professional.

If you're planning to hire someone to help you with your décor, you may wonder whether you should go with an interior designer or a decorator. An interior designer can work on a design project from start to finish, including construction and architectural elements. This person has all of the expertise necessary to handle building codes and licensed contractors. He or she is certified under law as a professional interior designer. A decorator, on the other hand, is equipped to handle the selection of fabrics, furniture and color palettes. This pro is usually confined to working within interior spaces.


Hiring a professional isn't for everyone, but if you want to take that extra step and secure some help, there are some things you need to know. We'll share 10 trade secrets of the home decorating industry.

10: She Gets a Kickback

Some decorators have special relationships with flooring, fabric and paint vendors and get a discount for using their products. The key question to ask here is if your decorator is willing to pass along those savings to you!

A decorator could very well charge the full amount, if not more, on those items. This allows the decorator to turn a hefty profit just by using specific products, let alone the fees you're paying her. Some decorators will continually use their preferred vendors because they can make more money from them, not necessarily because the products are the best choice for the client. Be mindful of this and ask your decorator if she's willing to allow you to benefit from any savings that get passed to her. Or, provide her with a list of your own preferred vendors.


9: You Can Get a Similar Item at a Lower Cost

Can you find those curtains at a lower price point?

Little do you know, you can order those insanely expensive curtains from an online wholesaler at a much lower price. And that leather couch? Unless you're adamant about having the real thing, imitation leather looks just as nice and will help you cut down on your spending.

Talk to your decorator about your budget from the very beginning, and be very direct with how much you're willing to spend -- including taxes, fees and shipping charges. If you've fallen in love with an item that's way over your budget, talk to your decorator about finding a similar, less expensive counterpart. That's the beauty of hiring a pro; she'll know of something that fits your ideal décor scheme or lead you in an equally gorgeous but more attainable direction.


8: She's More Concerned With Her Style Than Yours

Most decorators have a certain style or taste that they like to work within, which sometimes means it can be difficult for them to break out of the norm if you're requesting a style that they aren't used to.

Before you hire a decorator, make sure to check out several candidates' portfolios to see what style parameters they're used to working within, and go with the decorator who best showcases what you want to see in your home. If you're after a cozy living room done in whites, be wary of choosing the designer who has color plastered all over her portfolio.


And if the decorator in question is absolutely sure that she can give you what you want -- even if her portfolio doesn't illustrate it -- ask for proof that she can get the job done to your satisfaction. Request references from previous clients, or insist that a clause be put in your contract to ensure that the job is done to your liking.

7: You Can Hire an Interior Design Student

She's eager for experience -- and eager to please. So what if she's 19?

Most design schools have programs where students put their skills to the test for class credit or experience in the field. Often, their services are much cheaper than someone who already has a degree.

Watch out, though, because this option does have some risk attached to it. You are, after all, taking a gamble on a student who may or may not fully understand the rules of design. However, you'll be saving a good chunk of money in the process, up to hundreds of dollars!


You can even hire the student to work with some parts of your room, while saving the more difficult tasks for someone with more experience. For example, having a student help you arrange furniture in your space is a great idea, but talk to a professional about what type of fabric you should get to recover your couch and loveseat.

If you're willing to take the risk of hiring a student, the reward could pay off big in the end -- it's possible that he or she could turn out to be the next big thing. In that case, you've had the Picasso of designers work on your room, which is a priceless perk!

6: She's Using Leftover Inventory

Sometimes, decorators have leftover inventory from previous clients that, for whatever reason, they couldn't return to the store or warehouse. They might try to use that inventory in your space in order to get it off their books. If that red chair that you absolutely despise keeps showing up in your living room, make sure to keep an open line of communication with your decorator about it.

At the end of the day, your decorator shouldn't include things in your space that you just aren't crazy about. You're paying her to create a space that you love, not to take furnishings off of her back.


5: You Can Use an Online Decorator

With online decorating sites, you can get expert input from the comfort of your couch.

Submit pictures of your room to certain Web sites, and, for just a few hundred dollars, get feedback on things you can do to make it more design-friendly. This can include anything from furnishings to wall coverings. Some online decorators even give you a mood board complete with options galore on how to make your room as style-savvy as possible.

Mannington.com has a virtual decorator where you can change the floors and walls of their existing room examples, and you can also upload your own photo with their free online software download. You can also upload pictures of your room on Benjaminmoore.com to see which paint colors match your décor best.


Online decorators also specialize in helping you come up with solutions that include things you already own, so you end up saving even more money. Another great benefit? You don't have to feel badly for not using some of their suggestions if you don't like them!

4: You Can Hire Her by the Hour

This is a little known fact, but you don't have to bring in a designer to complete an entire job if you don't want to. You may be the type that spends most of your time at Home Depot and wants to do things yourself, which is great! If you get stuck on part of your project, like what color tile to put in your bathroom, you can bring in reinforcements to help you with the things you need a professional eye for. Having a designer help you only on big design elements leaves plenty of room for you to incorporate your own personality and design inspiration into the space.


3: You Can Get Free Advice

An in-house consultation can be invaluable if you've got a room that needs a boost.

Your local design center or furniture store is likely to have designers on call who can help you with almost any decorating issues you may have. Take advantage of the knowledgeable professionals who are standing by to help you with one small piece of your project or with the overall atmosphere of your space. From fabric choices to sofa styles, these designers know what they're talking about!

Some in-store designers, such as those at Pottery Barn, will actually visit your home in order to give you complimentary design advice that best fits your personality and space. Although it would be a nice gesture to buy their merchandise in exchange for their design services, there are no strings attached and you aren't required to purchase anything. It's a fabulous way to get pointed guidance for free with no commitments. What could be better than that?


2: She Might Have More Important Clients

Most decorators have more than one client at a time, so don't expect for them to give you their full, undivided attention. Some decorators also have clients that they work with on a regular basis. Although it's important for them to establish a good rapport with all of their clients, those lasting and consistent relationships are of huge value to them. This may mean that you get pushed under the rug sometimes because of a higher priority client.

It may seem like a silly question to ask, but find out if your decorator has time for you. Be clear about when you want to see your project completed, and make sure that she has the available hours to put into it.


1: You Could Pay Hidden Referral Fees

Is this contractor worth what you're paying him?

It's time to paint your living room and build those custom bookcases that you just can't live without, and you're so excited. You need to hire a contractor who can get the job done, and your decorator wants to hire someone off of her preferred list of service providers. But beware -- sometimes using your decorator's favorite contactors can be pricier than finding a contractor on your own. You might get charged more, only for the markup to be given back to the decorator as a referral fee.

For example, if a contractor normally charges $400 to build out a custom bookcase, he might charge you $500 only to pass along the extra $100 to your designer as a referral fee for hiring him. However, don't automatically become suspicious if your decorator wants you to use people he or she has worked with in the past. Chances are, those contractors are ones that the decorator trusts and can rely on.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • California Council for Interior Design Certification. "The Difference Between a Decorator and an Interior Designer." (Nov. 8, 2010). http://www.ccidc.org/interior_decorators.html
  • California Council for Interior Design Certification. "The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Hiring an Interior Designer." (Nov. 9, 2010). http://www.ccidc.org/pdf/common-mistakes-hiring-interior-designer.pdf
  • Designer Previews. "What You Should Know Before You Hire an Interior Designer." (Nov. 9, 2010). http://www.designerpreviews.com/everything-you-should-know-before-you-hire-an-interior-designer.php
  • Rasmussen, Erika and Lisa Scherzer. "10 Things Interior Designers Won't Say." Smart Money. (Nov. 8, 2010). http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/for-the-home/10-things-your-interior-designer-wont-tell-you-14881/
  • Reynolds, P. "Design Dilemma: Hiring a Decorator and Staying in Control." Home Design Find. July 28, 2009. (Nov. 9, 2010). http://www.homedesignfind.com/how-to-tips-advice/design-dilemma-hiring-a-decorator-and-staying-in-control/