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How do you find a great decorator?

Someone has posted this question to comments twice now. Let's help.


Denise Smith said...

Communication. That is the whole problem with the previous story. Find someone you can talk to, who LISTENS.

In the "old days" before the recession, I could always book an appointment in one phone call. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. Clients are much more trigger shy. It takes a lot of talking before most make any move. This industry is changing, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Call up references. Ask to talk to the last three clients they had. Really TALK to them. Decorating can go on for a long time. See if the decorator wore out her/his welcome with the client, and how.

Anonymous said...

Visit the charity designer homes in your area. Keep your eye open for featured designers in your home and style section of the newspapers. Do you have a high end furniture and design center in your area? Often their services are free with purchases. Don't select one from the design blogs. Get references!

Anonymous said...

I have heard about so many decorating disasters lately!
I dont know how to find a good one, but I do know that if the designer doesn't respect the client's time, budget and taste its sure to be a disaster.

I know some decorators that take jobs with small budgets thinking that eventually they could milk some more out of the client... Others that stand clients up for appointments, and others that dont listen to the clients taste at all(on matters of comfort, not looks)...

I also know clients that disagree with everything the designer shows them, thinks everything is too expensive even if the budget hasnt even been dented yet, and polls everyone they know on every choice the decorator is making.

Both horrible. I think its obvious that this relationship is about much more than " Can you please make my house pretty." its about trusting someone with a lot of money and also, usually, spending a ton of time with that person.

Also, its about someones HOME, a place where they will live,eat,sleep breath... The designer has to respect the clients wishes, cause they aren't the one who has to live with the outcome.

I know this one decorator who hit his prime about 20 years ago, now he is pretty much recreating the same house for all of his clients (who happen to know each other). I think his work is lazy and gaudy. but his clients LOVE him because he is a dream to work with. Sweet, sensible, and respectful. Personality can make or break a career.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of decorator's with blogs. Read the blogs and see if you like their style and their voice. If your project isn't too significant (a full house renovation), doesn't seem too much of an issue where the decorator is located.

Tara Dillard said...

I recently hired Susanne Hudson. Friends say, "Don't do it, I love your house." Hmm, house is tired & I'm emotional about beloved pieces.

My specialty is designing fabulous landscapes. NOT INTERIORS.

Susanne is easy to communicate with & her own home seduces me. More importantly I've seen several interiors she's designed. Each is gorgeous & different.

Susanne's interiors reflect the owner, makes them, more them.

Does that make sense? It was the deal clincher for hiring her.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Shelley said...

I think home and garden tours are a great idea. that is how i found my
first builder-years ago. i was on a luxury home house and garden tour and i
adored this one particular house and luckily I noticed a
large flower arrangement with a card that said 'congratulations
on your new home signed blank-blank your builder'. i contacted him
and told him i loved the home i had been in that he built & i asked if he did smaller homes.
turns out he did. that builder knew some good designers but, at that time, i had no budget for
any design help. in my area every spring there are home and garden tours and just GARDEN tours. on the garden tours you can often glimpse interiors of fabulous homes and you can always ask those homeowners who helped them with their interiors.

Kyle Lynn said...

call Jamie from

Linda Leyble said...

Look at their website, their blog, if they have one - and make sure they have a portfolio of pictures of homes they have done in their hand when they come to meet with you. Check to see if their style jives with yours. Also - measure how you feel around them. What's their communication style - does it mesh with yours. Also their techno-communication style - (if you are an email person and love to communicate that way - but the designer is a fax only person).

Get references - that's important. Have their past clients experienced "too long" to complete timeline...did the designer's contractors do a great job (were they on time, reliable - professional?). Many times a designer can be great - but her contractors leave a lot to be desired.

Linda Leyble

MoreSkinnyDays said...

I have more of a question than a comment. Is there some sort of scale for how much you should spend on a decorator? A percentage of income or home value for example? If I am prepared to spend $2,000 on a sofa, $1000 on a coffee table, and $1,000 on drapes, what is a comparable fee for design?

Is a designer only for someone who can drop $20K or more on a room at one time?

Brilliant Asylum said...

Get someone young and hungry. Let them do the grunt work, while you control the design choices. Everyone wins!

Anonymous said...

"Check to see if their style jives with yours"

Theoretically, can't a decorator execute any style? Or is eclectic out of the realm of the traditional-style decorator?

Linda Leyble said...

To More Skinny Days

A designer should know your budget - and should work within it. A designer worth their weight in gold can bring a whole new look to your home without breaking your budget. Some designers have a starting point money-wise - but I think that these days - those numbers are lower than they used to be.

But - if you want Architectural Digest on a Family Circle budget - that won't be possible. Some items (like silk draperies, antiques, gorgeous carpets, custom made sofas - Venetian Plaster - and custom mural work) - have a price tag that's pretty much "non-negotiable"

I think that if a designer can create a beautiful room in much less time...without any design mistakes (which homeowners can make - if they are not careful and knowledgeable) and for less money than buying retail - then they bring tremendous value to a homeowner.

Linda Leyble

Linda Leyble said...

To Anonymous - yes a decorator should be able to work in any style. Some, however, try to impose their style on a client. Hopefully - that happens less and less now that there's a recession!

Shelley said...

i met a great interior designer through calico corners. of all places-! i had moved in here --to my fire rebuild-- 3 months prior and - had already
chosen my color scheme and my living room and dining room were all done. the
master bedroom was part way done. i had selected the drapery rods & rings for my master and guest bedrooms---the den and my office
already had custom shutters installed. so i just needed some custom draperies for one set of french doors-- in the master
and for another set in the guest. plus i knew wanted some roman shades in the
master bath and guest bath too. calico sent me out this older german woman
[ i'll call her 'gretchen' ]. she first called me and on the phone i said i am a simple woman-- i want simple, not fussy--UNDERstated but elegant.
i said i have a neutral color scheme with emphasis on pinks and browns. she came here and met with me--but brought all kinds of fussy and foo-foo
fabrics and trims and braids and what nots for draperies. i said no no this is just not ME!
i detested everything she brought! i walked her through my whole house and told her i am simple-- i want simple, not fussy--UNDERstated but elegant. she asked if she could have
my color palette. I gave her a take away sheet with all the color chips of my
8 colors thinking oh my god this is never going to work. and i lamented to my poor husband that i am not selecting drapery fabrics if i don't like any of the choices. i was prepared to
'dismiss' gretchen on her return visit and i was dreading it. a week later she returned and she
brought me like 15 fabric choices and i loved every single one of them. we had a good laugh because i
said gretchen i did not like any of the first fabrics you brought me but of these--i can not decide-!!
because i LOVE them all! she then went to work and told me what SHE thought might be best and she nailed it. we went with her decisions and i am forever grateful. i then learned that she had had her own interior design business but had been ill and just recently resumer working--part time--
for calico corners. so do not rule out trying calico corners! "gretchen" totally GOT me
and i wish i had met her before i actually did - she could have helped me with many decisions. the drapery and roman shade fabrics she
chose for me are silk and some are big striped and some are small and they are completely
beautiful& elegant but understated - just what i wanted!!!! gretchen had some family issues and
she moved -otherwise i would have asked her to help me with the rest of my house. i felt like she
GOT me--we really clicked - BUT not the FIRST time. so what i am saying is give a person a chance.

coco said...

as a designer, I think the most important thing is the chemistry and relationship I build with new clients. one can look page after page of photos and whatnots, but the success of a project always depends on the relationship and how well that's been going. and by relationship, I mean communication, listening, trust, chemistry, being on the same wavelength, and everything in between.

it makes me work extra hard when I know my efforts are being appreciated by clients. mistakes happen, or clients change their minds, but as long as I know we are on the same page, I've no doubt that I can find a solution to whatever impasse there may be.

referrals can work as a trap in and of itself. I've done some fantastic jobs for certain clients but that was because we connected well. however it doesn't mean that when I'm referred to a new client that I could deliver the same great result if chemistry wasn't there. designing is such a personal relationship that I wished more people would focus on getting that right instead of relying solely on design merits.

about the NYT article, there clearly was a big divide between designer and client. designer thought the job would be a picnic in the park because his client was so used to live in turbulent and war torn locations, he didn't take time to actually listen or he would have heard his client professed to being a total neat freak. messy unfinished apt combined with neat freakiness became a recipe for arrogance, embarrassment, frustration and disappointment.

to find a great decorator, one must invest time to get a feel for the chemistry and relationship with the designer. someone who less talented but gets on well will prove to be a better match and better outcome than someone of mega talent but whom you can't relate to or with.

red ticking said...

bravo coco... could not have said it better myself!

doug said...

I disagree that all designers should be able to do all things...if you loved super modern you probably wouldn't hire Bunny Williams (though she is a more than capable professional). I think there does need to be a certain level of similarity--in style, personality and expectations. Showhouses, local design publications, etc are a great first step, but do some homework on the designer's website, blog, too. Talk to references and past clients if you are unsure. Past that, the initial meeting is crucial--it's very much like a first date. We don't charge or expect anything from that first chat (and I think most designers are the same). Decorating a home for someone is such an intimate and involved task, if there's not a mutual level of respect and just plain old hitting it off from the start, it's going to a be long road from there.

Penelope Bianchi said...

My Goodness! So far 18 comments.......and only ONE answered YOUR question!

They were all answering :"How do you choose a decorator? Or how do you hire a decorator!"

Interesting. The only one I thought answered your question.......(a very good one, by the way) Was Kyle Lynn with a website!

I have on opinion on how to FIND a decorator. All the rest...interviewing.....looking at stuff.....comes LATER.

At the risk of more riducule......(I can take it) For those who may not know.....I have been a decorator with a full plate for 40 years.

My business has an unlisted number. Referrals only.

That is how to FIND a decorator!

Go ask your friends.....go on tours of Christmas decorations.....or garden tours.......or to people's houses....even houses for sale. See something you really love??? Ask for the name of the decorator.

Not one person I have worked for in all these years didn't see something I decorated one way or another.

In later years......I was published in National magazines.......(and much better for me; local magazines) ie Santa Barbara Magazine.

Referrals; in my view...are the best way to FIND a decorator. Ask people you know....whose houses you like....or whose friends' houses they like.

That is the way to FIND!!

Then follow all the correct instructions above to SELECT a decorator! Right on everyone!


maison21 said...

google "decorator", and then start going through portfolios.

or email a local design blogger for recommendations in your area. (for unbiased references, ask non-decorator bloggers. if you were to ask me for instance, i'm not to recommend kelly wearstler, if you get my drift).

interview more then one designer- you have to find someone whose body of work you like, and whose bedside manner works well with your own. as in any relationship, not everyone is compatible with everyone else.

remember, some designers are comfortable working in different styles, some are not. their portfolio should tell you if they are a one trick pony. (if you *like* the one trick, by all means go with them, but don't hire them thinking you will get something different. you won't).

and more skinny days, many decorators work in every budget, so don't be afraid to talk to one. we know perfectly well not everyone can pour 50k into a room- if your budget is too low, they'll tell ya! and possibly recommend someone who would be delighted to take on a low budget job.

Anonymous said...

"My business has an unlisted number. Referrals only."

What if your income was the only money coming in to your household, Penelope? Would you still do no marketing? Would you still have an unlisted number?

Laurie Jones said...

Hiring a designer is hard its not like hiring a plumber or electrician, etc., because you really do have to like that person, you have to be able to tell them what you like and what you don't like and you can't let them bully you around. I don't think there is a cookie cutter answer for this, you have to just fit with one another, just the same way you do with a friend!

Anonymous said...

Penelope: well-said but requires lots of patience (and luck) to keep the business afloat with referrals only. What's your secret? Not that I don't believe you but I'm always skeptical about business owners who say they never seek out clients.

I agree, chemistry is key but careful of choosing a future ex-best friend just because you click. The project needs to be managed professionally, after all.

Anonymous said...

I am a designer, and I definitely agree with others about the initial interview and references. SO important to 'click' with the designer! Also, open communication is important too. Recently we have had a lot of clients who won't divulge their budget, which only wastes their time and money and ours; we look for a $2,000 sofa when they want higher quality, or vice versa. Also insist that the designer be honest with you: we have a very open-book policy regarding all billing and pricing, as I think all designers should, though many are not always forthcoming or even honest. Our rationalization is this: we have nothing to hide, as we deserve our compensation, and if you do not share that view, you should not be our client.

Regarding initially finding a designer, references are great, shelter magazines, and if you are in the right market, I can't recommend enough The Franklin Report, a book that impartially rates designers in large cities. And remember, many designers will travel (we have clients in 6 different states and 2 other countries!) and some (like us) will do so at no charge. When we take the job, we just figure it is the cost of doing business and decide on the job accordingly. So if you find someone whose look you love, certainly pursue it no matter where they are.

Good luck, and thank you! Hopefully the awful pessimism that recently stopped people from spending on their homes is finally lifting, which helps us all!

Anonymous said...

p.s. I also recommend asking to meet Senior and Junior designers, and anyone else with whom you may be working, to make sure that is a good fit as well. At our office, while our Principal guides the direction of the project and certainly meets with the clients, Junior Designers have the most communication day-to-day with the client to save money and make the whole project most efficient. If you don't like them, it will be a problem!

Anonymous said...

Another good source is local (or regional) showrooms or stores that you like and trust. Ask them which designers they like best. If they like working with the designer, then the designer is probably professional, organized, and personable, so chances are you will like them too!

Kristin@Boulevard Interior Design said...

Decorati provides a matching service to those looking for a designer. Go to their website and fill out the info. Decorati sends the info to the Designers that meet the criteria. Up to four designers can purchase the lead (it costs $10) and their info is forwarded to the potential client. They can look at the designer's portfolios on Decorati and determine who might be the best fit. Other professional organiztions provide matching services too. I agree with PB, getting a referral from friends etc. is probably the best way locate a designer, but sometimes people don't have friends and associates that use designers.

Penelope Bianchi said...

Two anonymous's questions are honest and interesting!

I have answers!

#1) I was, actually , for a time, the only breadwinner.....and the mother of my daughter! She was born in 1970. She was 7 when I found myself single.

And , yes.....I marketed! I donated my house for tours....I talked up everyone I liked.........I invited people to lunch and dinner. I "marketed" ( I never said I didn't "market"..I only said I had an unlisted number as a business) ! BIG DIFFERENCE!!!

#2Anonymous again......I never said I didn't "market"! There were not many decorators in Southern California in 1970! I did my mother's house; my aunt's house...and then got them on the Pasadena symphony Christmas fund raising tours!
...etc.......Market? YES!!! I would market at the market!!
Promote myself to people I thought would like my style! .

Just not a listed phone number as a business. My home phone number is still listed! For me that has worked. But I am out there flogging for my business....and meeting people and looking for like-minded people every single day!

Referral just means......that my business was never in the yellow pages. Someone had to see something I did; or meet me to find me.

It worked for me....and still does. I am not saying anything about anyone else.

I am very lucky....and I have worked very hard.....and have loved almost every minute of it. I was at the right place at the right time......many times....and am very grateful.

I don't have a website; but if someone "Googles" me: "Penny Bianchi" (in quotes) you find!
There is my house, my animals, even a baby chick!
Many people who have met me, decided to hire me because of the New York Social Diary article.(NYSD 8/16/02) and a "Topsy Turvy" blog on a book I am in....Santa Barbara Stlyle. That is a form of referral.

Definitely "seeking business" is important!

Anonymous said...

check out

Anonymous said...

Kristin: Have you ever had any luck with Decorati? Both referrals I paid for (the last one was $38 because i think the larger ones scale up) turned out to be BOGUS email addresses and phones. I tried contacting Decorati but not a peep - typical uselessness of these sites.

Or perhaps them posing as potential clients just to make $ Either way, beware!

Penelope Bianchi said...

OH dear! referrals you paid for!

so sorry that happened to you! Just awful.

The referrals I refer to are free!


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