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Colour ConsultationOne bad decision pays for the designer

Vancouver Colour Designer asks: Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity?

By 12/10/2008May 25th, 202015 Comments

Is hiring a designer a luxury or necessity? When my installer handed me his invoice of $210.00 for an installation that lasted approximately 1 1/2 hours, I got to thinking; why is it that a home-owner seems to have no real issues with paying for labour? The painter, plumber, electrician, tile layer, carpenter, and so on.

But hiring the DESIGNER or COLOUR CONSULTANT–even if it’s just for a 2 hour consultation–to pull it all together, to make it all beautiful and fabulous, seems to fall into the category of LUXURY?

Wood paneled room

I have watched many a box of finishes for an entire brand new house; tile, granite, wood flooring, and fabrics, schlepped into a Benjamin Moore paint store in the hopes of getting ‘a free colour consultation’. For an entire house. COLOUR. Which will occupy the largest amount of square footage in your house. COLOUR. Which creates a feeling and is VERY upsetting when it is wrong. COLOUR.

Which will most assuredly change from the lighting in the paint store (where the colours then get selected) to the lighting in your house, once your finishes are installed.

The reason I hire an accountant to do my taxes is so that he/she will SAVE me money! Whatever I pay him/her doesn’t matter in the end because I’m saving that money, many times over by having a professional prepare my taxes!

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity

I have a friend in West Vancouver who wanted to hire a local, high-end, interior designer when they started their kitchen renovation. She loved the contemporary style of kitchen this designer was known for and it was exactly what she wanted. When the husband heard how much this designer charged for the first consultation, he said NO WAY. They ended up going through THREE designers before they got the kitchen they wanted. And do you know how much this renovation ended up costing them? I can’t tell you it upset me so much, but I’ll tell you this—A lot more than they would have if they hired the designer they originally wanted in the first place.

A few years ago, Robert Allen had an event featuring their designer fabrics for spring. Their guest speaker  asked “Who here charges less than $100 per hour?”. To the few who raised their hand, she said “Shame on you, do you think you have less responsibility than a plumber?”. This statement, by the way, confirms the first point I made earlier.

I once walked into a house that had freshly installed laminate flooring throughout. However, the big mistake the homeowner had made was they had picked a different colour of laminate for each bedroom. They obviously thought they had to define each room in some way like you might do with a colour. What they did not know was that the days of defining spaces with flooring are gone.

Today we are installing hardwood flooring in powder rooms as well as kitchens. Oh, and one more thing; this flooring had been installed to ‘flip’ the house as it was for sale; however, what they did actually devalued the house to a potential buyer.

So here’s what I’m trying to say: When we are learning something new or making decisions in an area that we are not an expert, we usually make it harder than it has to be. I notice this with my students.

The answer is totally obvious and even very EASY. But we think to ourselves [It can’t be that easy, it has to be harder than that, so we keep looking and that’s when things usually go wrong]. When the designer shows up with 1 – 3 choices, we make it look easy. But what you don’t know is that we have already waded through hundreds, sometimes thousands of possibilities to come up with the palette that is going to work for YOU, for the style of YOUR home, the lifestyle of YOUR family.

The professional (in any field) and in this case an experienced designer makes everything look easy. I was standing in front of an exterior with a client who was asking about accenting this area and that on the front of the house. However, my suggestions for colour were based on the STYLE of the home, including the existing, fixed elements of the house, which dictated using more of the body colour and less of the ACCENT colours the client was talking about. At one point he looked at me and I KNEW he was thinking “But I could have done that myself?”.

The reason why he could not; however, was that he could not explain to anyone why his choices were the right ones.

Designer color swatches
When you hire a designer for a consultation or for the entire job, you are looking for the WHY?

You have a bunch of ideas, after all, you are the one that has been staring at your house for years! Fundamentally though, you want to know IF your ideas are right and if they are not, you want to know WHY! It’s a great marriage saver because the designer gives you objective opinions based on what’s current, the products that are available, how to mix your new renovations/colours with the old, and so on. Left to their own devices, most couples make decisions based mostly on their likes and dislikes without taking into consideration what works for the space or why.

It’s the same when it’s time to specify colours for my clients. When I first started specifying colour, I thought it was my JOB to pick a new colour for every room. Now I don’t pick a new colour unless there’s a really good reason to do so. Otherwise the house becomes a kaleidoscope of colours without any real flow.

If the home-owner makes ONE bad purchase decision – that would have already paid for the designer. And if you are on a budget, you have no budget to waste on mistakes!!

When is hiring a designer a luxury or necessity? Well, if you hire one to custom design every piece of your house down to the tassel on your $1,200 toss cushions, then yes, that’s when a designer becomes a luxury.

Jeffrey Bilhuber’s new book “Defining Luxury” says it best:

Defining luxury book

“Decorators can guide clients and their families to an elevated standard of living. At it’s best, the process is similar to discovering a brilliant museum, one you had never entered before or even knew existed. Once you pass through it’s doors, your world is forever changed. You may never revisit your old world again. If you do, you’ll never see it quite the same way.”

Happiness is hiring the designer you already know can give you the high end kitchen you want, because you’ve seen their work and you love it.

Happiness can be restored where there is disagreement very quickly, by hiring a designer for—at the very minimum—a CONSULTATION before you make the mistakes you can’t afford to make anyways. That is an absolute NECESSITY!

Need help choosing the right neutral or colour?  My How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s all in the Undertones ebook takes the hundreds of choices down to 9 neutral undertones along with list of all my other go-to best grays, broken down into 3 undertones, green, blue and purple. The beige undertones of pink, yellow, green, gold, orange and taupe along with the best greens and blues. 

My bonus book of  colours is worth the price of the ebook alone but you will also get my system of understanding undertones so you can stop making mistakes when sourcing tile, carpet, countertops, etc.

Need help choosing the right white? My White is Complicated: A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White eBook will help you get your whites right for your cabinets, trim, ceilings, and walls. This eBook also includes my Bonus book of Whites which will take the guesswork out of your decisions.

You’ll need them both if you have an entire house of whites and neutrals/colours to choose, get them here.

We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous email consultation packages here.

If you would like help creating a beautiful and classic exterior, we have exterior consultation packages available here.

The only way to choose the right colour every time is to combine my system of understanding undertones with the most indispensable colour tool available. You can purchase your own set of my curated large colour board collections here.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.


Related post:
The 3 Most Important Words in a Colour Consultation
The Difference Between an Experienced Colourist and a Novice
Have you made these Decorating Mistakes?
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  • michelle says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with you Maria. I no longer try to validate what I charge what I do.

    After attending Kimberly’s seminar, I state to the client what I do and what I charge, and that’s it. I can’t get into- the “I’ll do it for practically nothing” game. I need them to see my importance in the project.

    Plumbers and Electricians should not make more than the Designer…are we not the ones giving them direction, with our asses on the line?

    I have bills to pay like my trades…insurance, advertising, marketing, ongoing eductation, utilities.

    This post was right on key 🙂 Luxury is relative.


    • Monica says:

      Totally disagree! An electrical and / or plumbing disaster is a lot harder to live with than a bad paint color.

  • brillante home decor says:

    I can’t agree more with what you said. Not just because I am a decorator myself but because I have seen so many mistakes done by people trying to save money and having to pay much more to fix the problems or having to live with them every day.
    Hire a professional for everything you can’t do professionally yourself.
    Great Post.

  • Patricia Gray says:

    I think there are 2 reasons that people do not hire a Professional Interior Designer: 1. ignorance 2. they think they can save money by doing it themselves. At the end of the process they are maybe a little more educated and more than likely frazzled and have made some costly mistakes that could have paid for the Designer in the first place. But having said that there are many enlightened people out there who recognize the value that an Interior Designer can add to the quality of their life. I know because I am blessed by having the opportunity to serve many of these people.
    Good post Maria
    PS I love the quote by Bilhuber!

  • chanteusevca says:

    You wonderful designers have my vote and I am more than convinced that I need your expertise. It’s convincing my dear husband that we cannot always do it ourselves and get it right without the dreaded, time consuming research and trial and error. We’re both going bonkers over a color for a small hall bath. I would have loved to have been able to hire a designer for this simple project that is becoming not as simple as someone initially thought. Thanks for this post. I am sharing it with my do-it-yourself husband.

  • Painting Your Kitchen says:

    Very creative colors and eye catching indeed!

    – Carol

  • Eliana Tomás says:

    Maria, I keep debating myself with questions like these and keep "educate" people why an interior consultant, personal shopper or interior designer is worth money and time. I know you post this article a year ago, but it's worth to be posted again and again 🙂

    (i keep having people coming to me and say "you have to go for dinner one of these days to GIVE ME some ideas for my living room… grrrrrr)

  • 2 Hounds Design says:

    LOL, I've been grumbling to myself this whole past week…why people will not bat an eye at a painter's quote and then hires them but wouldn't consider getting a colour consultation.


    All seriousness though, your post is perfect because it educates consumers to the benefit to hiring us and the related cost savings. Great post…I'm going to RT in Twitter!

  • pve design says:

    Have you heard that some people are doing their own
    "botox" injections….now that is akin to trying to be one's own interior designer….right!
    You are right on all counts, hiring one who does best is the best investment.

  • JoAnna says:

    This post was very encouraging to me. However as a brand new business trying to build a clientele in a small town in Ga. I don’t know how I can charge $100+ per hour. However I am much more confident in charging my $50 per hour fee after reading this.
    Thanks for the encouragement.

  • I found your blog today & cannot begin to tell you how informative & helpful your advice is! I am a designer for a remodeler/contractor and have been doing more & more color consultations for them lately. I stumbled upon your site looking for ways to improve the service for these clients and have found a wealth of knowledge.

    Thank you for sharing all of your insight, ideas, and stories.

  • Gloria Hansen says:

    No one needs to convince me to hire a designer….been there, done that and loved the look and flow. Now we are in a new home….20 years old but new to us. It is beautiful with many wonderful architectural features….lots of colour…with previous owners furniture there was a flow….but not with mine. My question is how to I find the right designer?

  • Sylvia says:

    I am a little mystefied by this article and the comments questioning why clients seem willing to pay plumbers/electricians $100+ per hour but not designers. Surely the answer isn’t a surprise, is it? I would hazard a guess and say homeowners are not happy about the bill from their plumber either. The differences is that design is grounded more in perception and is viewed as an extravagance based on wants and not needs. A plumber’s results are tangible, easily understood, and usually the result of a more urgent need than that of decor. If your toilet is overflowing, hiring a plumber is a pretty clear and necessary expense. The decision to improve the aesthetics of a home, though desirable, is not a necessity. It may be wise, uplifting, it may improve a home’s value, save money in the long run – all that and more – but it is still not a necessity. For that reason alone, designers will always face more resistance regarding their fees than certain other professionals. Additionally, a designer’s suggestions may be regarded by clients as opinion rather than the voice of experience, training, and talent. Truth be told, not every designer is worth the fees they charge. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not trying to minimize or dismiss the contribution of a designer or to debate their worth. Truly, I’m convinced of the value a gifted designer can provide. I think beauty for its own sake is grossly under appreciated. But a client must be educated regarding the worth of your services, they must have the financial means to afford you, and likely most of all, they must develop a trust in you that the fees you charge are justified.

  • Great post Maria! I know I’ve read it before and I think the topic is one that all interior design bloggers should write an article about and link to on their services page. As my career evolves I have learnt that there are many people who completely value our services and happy to invest in them. I have found that the more I charge, the better clients I attract because they just get it. They are busy people and haven’t got time to go back and forth returning items to stores or redoing projects. Initially I thought I could help everybody and that by charging less I could reach more people with all my fabulous advice. But the fact is, some people will simply never pay or see the value…or only see it AFTER they’ve made mistakes and live in a house they never feel at home in because they cannot afford to redo it. Anyway, I could go on and on but I’ve got to get to work, saving people time and money!! xo

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