Dear PoP – Interior decorator recommendations?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

I’m looking for an interior decorator/designer to help me with my first home. As most everyone, I’m on a budget — under $5k. I’m looking for someone that works with small potatoes clients like me who want to come up with a design “plan” and implement it on my own. Unfortunately, most of my internet searching has come up with major design firms I can’t afford. The American Society of Interior Designers web site came back with pages and pages of results, and I just don’t know where to start. I’m hoping some of your readers can recommend decorators they’ve worked with in the past. Also, I’m wondering if I can get some pricing info from your readers — I don’t have a clue what a decorator’s services should cost!”

You can check in with occasional PoP contributor Jessica Bonness Anyone else have some suggestions? Rough cost estimates, etc.?

27 Comment

  • Original photo is here, in case anyone wants to see the larger size:

  • I worked with Allison at New Living by Design, Her speciality is small and budget-conscious clients. I thought she was great.

  • I like looking at WaPo’s “House Calls” column. They always select a local decorator to do the room make overs (usually within a budget of a few thousand) and provide links to their sites.

    You might peruse some of the past columns to find some sample work to your liking. Maybe even find a way to volunteer your home for a makeover

  • We’re in a similar position of wanting a little help on a small budget. While we’re not quite at the point to call someone in, I’ve done a lot of on-line searching and came up with Moonlight Interiors: I can’t vouch for them but they seem to cater to exactly what you’re looking for.

  • Check out the amazing Julie at Anderson ReDesign. She’s exactly what you’re looking for!! She worked with my sister and was so great! Super talented and price is right!

  • I like to use for staging houses and condos for sale. They also offer interior design services. In some cases, they’ve used the client’s existing furniture for a very reasonable cost.

  • Hi There. I’m occasional-contributor Jessica from JGB Interiors with a little advice. Your needs are pretty typical, and I’m sure you’ll find someone to work with in no time!

    While you’re still looking, a few things to consider are as follows:

    Is the designer comfortable working with a smaller budget? Many designers or small firms that are higher-end tend to specify very expensive products and may not be as comfortable with catalog companies or local mid-priced retailers. An impressive portfolio is great, but make sure it resembles your budget as well as your taste.

    Credentials: In DC, interior design is a regulated industry — you have to meet certain requirements to be called an “interior designer.” You are likely looking for a decorator or just a good old plain “designer.” Anyone can hang their shingle as a decorator, and though some have impeccable taste it’s good to see things like education, ASID membership, or at least a sense of style that closely matches your own.

    Be wary of e-design. There are lots of great designers here, in the flesh, and you want someone to come out to your house and get to know you and your space. Maybe even take you shopping!

    And finally, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready to bite the bullet and hire someone, think about stopping by one of your favorite furniture stores and speaking with one of their free designers. Yes, they’ll push their own products on you, but they are knowledgeable and may teach you something valuable or give you a few extra tools to work with when you eventually hire your own designer down the road.

    Happy Decorating! It’s such a fun process, and I know it’s important to get it right!

    • Good advice from Jessica – but I would temper her last sentence “I know it’s important to get it right!” a bit.

      It’s more important to remember that a can of paint is only $30.00, curtains etc. not that much either. You don’t have to get everything right right away. You and your new home may take a while to get to know each other. Find a general style that makes you feel good and buy quality “core” pieces – a really good comfortable sofa – that you love and build from there.

      • Agreed that it’s wise to take your time with the whole process AND the core pieces. Paint can change, and many people change it over and over. A little frustrating, but not the end of the world.

    • It sounds like you are looking for an interior decorator, but if your looking for a certified “interior designer” then you need to check if they have passed the NICDQ exam (National Council for Interior Design Qualification). Designers who have passed the exam have attened CIDA-accredited college program and have at least 2 years of professional experience. Any designer can be a member of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers)if you pay for membership. IIDA (International Interior Design Association) I believe requires NICDQ to be a professional member. If a designer says they are LEED AP, it means they have passed the “Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design” certification exam.

      • Sorry, I made a typo it’s “NCIDQ”

      • What exactly is on an interior design exam? I really have no idea! Is it technical stuff like the difference between roman shades and balloon shades and valances and swags or Eastlake vs. Chippandale? Do you get a little room to decorate? Something I never thought about. (Except for that Bravo competition show – is it still on?)

  • If you’re on a really tight budget I’d recommend hiring a graduate student from the Interior Design department at the Corcoran. It’s one of the school’s best programs.

    • i disagree.
      if you want professional help, hire a pro.
      if you just want help from someone that is studying, you’d be better off asking among your pool of friends.

  • Thanks Mr. T!! Excellent photo!!

  • Sounds like Annie Elliott’s “bossy basic” (at bossy color)could be what you’re after – a consultation with a flat fee but maybe not a full-scale decorating job (which she also does). She’s fantastic – pretty much read my mind with what I wanted to do with my apartment’s paint color.

  • i like Kreative Ways

    they have some pretty inexpensive services.

  • Life safety (flammability of materials, exiting, slip resistance, etc) is emphasized on the exam, but designers must also demonstrate a thorough knowledge of lighting principles, electrical wiring, the property of all kinds of materials (fabric, stone, wood, glass, composite materials), behavioral psychology, contracts and legal matters, and professional ethics. Being NCIDQ certified demonstrates that a designer is no longer a novice at their profession.

    But as JBG says, if all you’re looking for is someone to pick curtains and furniture and paint colors, you want an interior DECORATOR. The time to call an interior DESIGNER is when you want to move plumbing, add electrical wiring, add or remove walls, etc.

    • A few other things I should add:

      There’s really no such thing as “what a designer should cost”. Every designer charges whatever they feel a client is willing to pay. That one designer charges $75/hr and another charges $200 does not mean that the latter is overcharging. The most important thing is finding a designer that charges what YOU are willing to pay, and offers the services that YOU want.

      Also, many residential decorators do not charge separate design fees. Their design fee is covered in the purchase price of the materials and furniture you buy from them. Again, neither is right or wrong. It’s simply a matter of preference and the designer’s choice in structuring their business. Another option you might consider is talking with an in-house designer at a furniture company. Their services are usually free. You might not like what they come up with but if that happens you haven’t lost any money in the process.

      Another thing to note, as JBG says, interior DESIGNERS are licensed in the District of Columbia. That means they can’t call themselves that unless they have passed professional licensing requirements. However Virginia and Maryland have looser laws so you may encounter someone calling themselves a designer who in fact has no training whatsoever. Be sure to ask for credentials.

      And finally, be sure to read your contract. If you don’t understand something, ask. Too often consumers think that they will get unlimited redesigns for a fixed bargain fee. And then they get a big fat invoice in the mail. Also consumers often think that the designer is supposed to serve as the ‘owner’s rep’–representing the client with brokers and banks and repairmen etc. ASID has some guides on their website to help consumers navigate the contract process.

      • I agree 100% with everything you say, Ogden. I’ll add that the NCIDQ and ASID etc… labels can be confusing to an outsider. I speculate that in the future, NCIDQ (which is relatively new and ever-changing) will be of more significance to interior designers working with architecture firms or doing more structural work, as the certification has largely to do with things that are involved with more invasive projects. That said, training and experience can vary with decorators and designers (minus the “interior-“) and it’s prudent to always hire someone who will think about and know about safety/regulations/flammability/systems/aging in place and all that fun stuff. This can be acquired many ways, and education — both collegiate and continuing — is a major one.

        As a “designer” myself, I see the importance of licensing exams both in their quality-control aspects and in the way that they help regulate entry into the ID profession, while I sometimes question whether or not they are relevant to my own practice as it exists today.

        All good points! Hope it doesn’t confuse the question-asker!

  • Nest-DC is amazing. They did my space for about 5k and i love it.

  • I say go with a grad student. Put an ad on craigslist, describing your style and your expectations, and ask people to submit online portfolios. I’m sure a grad student would love a job like that. Or even google DC art schools, and get in touch with a professor or two describing your needs. They may be able to recommend people.

    • I’m a second year student in Corcoran’s graduate interior design program, while certainly not qualified for adjusting walls/plumbing/interior architecture yet in my career, I or any of the other students in the program could easily provide floor plans, renderings, color, furniture and materials selections, which from what I gather in your post, is what you are looking for. The only downside to hiring a student for decorating is that we don’t (typically) have the ability to acquire discounts that are otherwise available to those within the trade. That said, if you are looking for someone to go shopping with and offer advice I would say you could get some great input for very little money by hiring a student.

  • I highly recommend Matt Morgan of Morgan Bradley Design in DC. He works on big and small projects and has an amazing eye and ability to meet limited budgets. Website is:

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