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Advice for DesignersOne bad decision pays for the designerSelling Design

Vancouver Interior Designer: What Should You Charge for the First Consultation? (For Designers Only)

By 11/22/2011January 28th, 201711 Comments

When you complete my True Colour Expert Workshop you get access to a Private Facebook page for graduates only. This page has truly taken on a life of its own. It’s completely optional, it’s free (so far) and to date we have 50 members. This page has become a great place to not only get advice about projects you are working on but to brag, vent, and everything in between. “It’s like having your very own Design Sorority!” Ellen Rhett

Desde my Ventana

Membership alone is almost worth the price of admission to one of my workshops. Here’s what Linda Holt said: “I LOVE this page. For me it is continuing education; not only about color but for other design related questions and issues. The members are so supportive and willing to share their collective knowledge and experience. This is the BEST page on Facebook and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.”

Lately the question of how to charge was posted so I thought I’d answer it in more detail here:

I recently had dinner with a designer who does product development and design for the outdoor industry. She says when she is talking to a new client she’ll tell them straight: “Because of all my years of experience, I’ve already made all the rookie, learning mistakes that I won’t be making with you!” This sentence alone is the reason you should be prepared to pay for experience. You are making expensive purchases in a home renovation or redecoration so hiring a designer with a lot of experience will come with a higher price tag.


And like my friend Liz said “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur!”

So when someone calls and asks me what I charge for a colour consultation, because they just need me to “Choose a colour for their living room and that’s it,” I let them know I’ll probably be too expensive if that’s all they need. My responsibility is to create a look and feel for your style of home, and what works for you and your aesthetic.

I recently consulted with a couple who were about to install gray cork in their kitchen. Their house had honey oak floors throughout and they had couriered me three samples in advance. Light to dark gray.  My advice was to nix that floor and take the oak floor through instead.

Why did I say that? Because I toured their house (on-line) first and it was colourful, eclectic, personal and not a single thing was gray. No linen, no gray  lime-washed distressed wood. Nada. My advice was based on creating flow, based on their personal aesthetic and their style of home. Their kitchen would otherwise have screamed, “We renovated during the gray trend,” because nothing in their house repeated that colour scheme nor did they intend to introduce it anytime soon.

What was the value of creating a timeless kitchen?

Only they or you can say. But when they sell their house 15 years from now (when the gray trend is long gone), you might be able to put a number on it.  However, had they hired someone to simply  “pick a colour,” that’s what they would have received. A colour on the walls, gray or who knows it could have been anything except the most important advice, “Do not install those floors, because here’s the look that you will end up with.”

Clients often expect designers to show up at their house for a free consultation. They want to make sure they like ‘your look,’ etc. I totally disagree with this strategy for getting new clients.

My advice to the designers and decorators who attend my courses is to charge a minimum of two hours (okay start with at least 1 1/2) and whatever that is, add an additional $50 for the first consultation. On-line pricing is different as we don’t need to leave the house.

The first consultation is when I choose not just wall colours for a client’s home, but create flow, transition colours from room to room taking all existing and new finishes into consideration.  I give advice on flooring colour, countertops, furniture style, colour and layout including everything in between. Which order to do your renovations and where to spend your money first to get the best bang for the buck.  The next story (below) illustrates this perfectly:



Recently I was hired to consult with a couple who had hired three designers before they called me. I was their fourth designer and it was my advice they followed because they had read my blog enough to know they would like my aesthetic because it resonated with theirs.

This couple had a new baby and a big house to decorate and renovate.  After I consulted with them on which flooring to take throughout, countertops and kitchen cabinet colours, which furniture to buy in the great room down to the coffee tables and drapes, chose lighting (on-line) for the entry, kitchen and dining room, I was standing at the door about to leave. . .


My client said, “I really don’t like the way the walls slant here towards the doorway to the laundry room, it just bugs me and I want to fix it.” This was my advice:

“You are a new mom, with a currently dated house and not one room that looks the way you want it to right now. Not one space where you can sit with your new baby and say ‘Ahhhh, I love this room’, so do NOT spend your money on doorways to the laundry room, spend it instead on some great furniture (that we picked out) from IKEA, that slipcover from Bemz and the white drapery we talked about.’

And then you will have a space that will fill you with happiness when you walk in the door (right past the laundry room).

What’s the best money-saving advice you give your clients?

Download my eBook, It’s All in the Undertones. If you have a computer, you can download my book!

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

Why your Designer should be a Blogger

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity?

The 3 Most Important Words in a Consultation

10 Ways to Save Money NOW by Creating a Focal Point

50 pins


  • I so agree, that a True Color expert, and an experienced designer is well worth every penny they charge. Can you put a price on the benefit of happiness? A mistake is one that can itch forever. Knowing how and what to spend on, is priceless.

  • Great post Maria! I love the advice about being too expensive for the color pick on the floor. People don’t realize all the things you mentioned and advised them about. That lack of understanding our business is what gives us the “too expensive” and “anyone can do it ” occassional bad wrap. Great, great post.

  • Maria,
    This was an excellent post filled with truths. Thank you for caring enough about the rest of the design community to take the time to put it together.
    I loved the images by the way.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Robin says:

    Great post: you can never go wrong with an expert. I know several people who hired a designer, didn’t agree with them and did their own thing anyway. THEN they regretted their choice and knew they should have paid attention to their designer.

  • Thank you for this post! I have been struggling with this myself. You also gave a great tip on how to explain why you don’t give free consultations. People don’t seem to realize that a designer is on the clock while they are in your home. This is how we make money. Generic advice is free, specific advice is what the client is looking for and if they aren’t willing to pay, then they are actually only wanting the generic.

  • designospire says:

    Maria, I enjoyed reading this post its very thoughtful and practical. In my profession practice I came across several clients and people who think they know everything about design, I have the same answer for them – SORRY I AM EXPENSIVE FOR YOU. This works, they realize and come back!

  • Joan says:

    What a great contribution to a new mom, to focus on creating a space she would love to be in with her baby and ignoring the laundry room door. Focus on the love. Great advice, Maria!

  • Linda Beam says:

    I so agree with your advice, Maria! I am a home stager. Other stagers are trained to say “I can do as little or as much as you like!” I say B*LLSH*T! I only stage a house when the sellers agree with me that the overall appearance must sing to attract buyers. I’ve walked away from many jobs because I wasn’t will to do mediocre work for the money. Experience provides the expertise to do excellence work. Many thanks for your great blog.

  • Robin says:

    This is a fantastic web-site. I am a new decorator and have yet to make my beginner mistakes. Hopefully, by following your suggestions, many potential pitfalls will be eliminated. How do I sign up to join?

  • Tara Dillard says:

    A new client, successful money manager, called while I was driving to her home. She was bullying me about my fee for the 1st consultation.

    I pulled into a church parking lot to speak with her.

    Have never been so bullied in my life. Finally, I told her I wasn’t the Landscape Designer for her and would not come. She bullied more.

    Then I said my fee includes follow-up questions for free, within reason. Ha, bullied her back and asked her if she allowed follow-up questions, within reason, for free. Huge gaping silence.

    I designed her landscape, installed her landscape.

    I don’t work for free. My education & experience improve property value, sense of joy living in the home, reduced HVAC, reduced water bills & maintenance costs.

    No, not free.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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