Custom Design For Dummies (Hiring A Designer Basic Primer)


Custom design is a fabulously high reward world. It’s also a high risk world if you hire poorly.  Yet if you hire your perfect-fit designer who will work for you and with you to make those Pinterest-board-Houzz-Idea Book dreams come true – it’s true magic.

Before you dip a toe into these possibly new waters, here’s a quick primer on what you need and what you need to know:

Your SOW: Scope of Work:

Your SOW is a detailed description of what is to be done in your project, by whom, at what fee and when. Basically, the SOW lists your deliverables. DO NOT proceed with anyone who doesn’t provide you with a detailed SOW. Creatives can be exasperating to work with if they’re not organized creatives.

Contract/Letter of Agreement

We call them Agreements in our company because they sound less intimidating to clients, but let’s face it…it’s a contract. You want one. Never hand a red cent to anyone who doesn’t have a professionally written LOA/Contract.

Don’t accept the “I don’t work that formally” argument. Contracts are your protection as well as your designer’s. They list your designer’s many roles and responsibilities and they also list yours. Yes, you have responsibilities in this game, which include: showing up to your meetings, making decisions and paying your invoices.

A Budget.

NEVER, ever tell a designer (or builder) “I don’t have a budget.” Kiss of death move for the both of you. It’s perfectly ok to ask, “Can you help me drill down to figure out a realistic budget to support my objectives?” It’s smart to provide a range – “more than X, less than Y” so you are both on the same page.

But when you tell a designer or builder that you have no budget, it leads them to conclude one of the following about you:

  • You’re full of crap and are really just out kicking tires.
  • You’re about to get a huge case of sticker shock because after the designer plays Marco Polo with you for a while and starts naming numbers, you’re going to faint.
  • You’re testing the designer because you don’t trust them, fearing if you say your budget is $40,000, they’ll take that as the Go-Sign to take you to $50,000.

Do yourself a favor: Have a budget, or budget range. You’ll be taken seriously and treated respectfully.

A Good Attitude and Your Big Girl Panties

There’s an old saying: There is no whining in designing.

Actually it’s not an old saying: I made it up. But it’s true!

Design is wonderful, yes. Thrilling, you-betcha. Design is life enhancing and happiness-infusing.   But it’s also a Godzilla of details, and quicksand is everywhere: unrelenting budgets, rising furniture costs, long fabrication times – and that’s the good list.

Even the best designer needs you to show up with a savvy head, a wise heart and yes…wearing your big girl panties (or big boy briefs.) Sometimes, things will not go as you hope: things get back ordered, they are discontinued, they get damaged in transit or they’re out of your price range. And that’s the fun stuff.

Find the right designer – show up to the party with the right attitude and get ready for some magic. If you hire right, you’re about to head out into a thrilling process that is made pale ONLY by the soul lifting effects that come when you see your end result and get to live in it day, after day, after day.