What to Know Before Starting an Interior Design Project

Our team shares 8 things to understand about the interior design process before getting started.

Starting an interior design project can feel like starting a new relationship. You may feel a swell of different emotions — that excitement when you start the project, the rush of exhilaration when you find the perfect wallpaper, and the thrill as you await delivery. You may even fill a twinge of nervousness. Is this the right color? Will it last? Is it me

At SSID, we’ve guided many clients through the ups and downs and twists and turns of interior design projects. With over 10 years of being in business, we’ve learned how to avoid headache-inducing missteps and ensure the process is smooth, successful, and enjoyable. Here are 8 things to know about the interior design process before kicking off your project: 

1. Enjoy the journey. 

As we are fond of reminding clients, interior design is not only a destination, but also a journey. Exceptional interior design takes time, so sit back and enjoy the ride. 

When executed correctly, interior design will last for years. That’s why it’s important to invest time and thoughtfulness into every decision. At SSID, we follow an in-depth, six-step process that begins with an initial consultation to develop the concept and ends with your space styled out to the last light fixture and accessory.  Depending on the magnitude of the project, our process can take anywhere from three to 12 months. 

2. Prioritize progress over perfection. 

When it comes to our living spaces, humans tend to want everything to fall perfectly into place — that might be part of the reason you hired a professional. But in our experience as designers, we’ve found it’s much more productive to prioritize progress over perfection. 

As interior designers, we are creating a living environment that tells your story. We are striving to create a space that is functional and comfortable as well as beautiful, balanced, and full of character. We’re crafting a unique design that reflects your style, and not a picture-perfect room found on Instagram  — though the end result will definitely be Instagram-worthy 

3. Communication is key. 

Interior design is a collaborative art. It’s our job (and passion!) as designers to turn your vision into a reality. To do so, we need to work closely with you, our client, to understand, develop, and define what that vision is. That’s why effective communication is one of the most important elements of successful interior design.

Throughout the SSID design process, there will be plenty of back and forth communication between you and our team. As designers, we’ll do our best to go into each conversation prepared with information and thoughtful questions. Before moving forward on any decisions, we’ll take the time to listen to your input and questions. Throughout the project, we’ll check in with updates from manufacturers, suppliers, and workrooms to ensure your project is on track. 

During the design process, you should share your honest opinions, ideas, and concerns with your design team. Whenever a reply is required, you’re encouraged to share your response as quickly as possible to keep up things moving. Timely feedback is essential to the momentum of a design project. 

4. Remember Murphy’s Law. 

As Murphy’s law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. This old proverb is just as true in interior design as in any industry. 

The good news is, as experienced designers, we’ve encountered virtually every obstacle and we know what steps are needed to fix them. In most cases, (because that’s part of our job) you might not even notice anything went wrong before the issue is solved 

Throughout a design project, there are several opportunities mishaps. Common ones include: 

  • Delayed shipments. It happens: sometimes shipments get delayed. To be safe, we always count on delays and plan our timeline with plenty of wiggle room accordingly. 
  • Discontinuations. Discontinuations are a disappointing but frequent occurrence in the design world. In some cases, you may find that an item is no longer available even after you placed an order or reservation. Don’t sweat it — your design team is there to find a replacement that you’ll love just as much (if not more) than the original. 
  • Installation conflicts. We coordinate schedules with our trade partners so we can always be at your home to oversee installations and deliveries. That said, conflicts do happen, and installation times may sometimes have to be rescheduled. 

5. Understand how designers charge.

To establish realistic expectations, it’s important to understand how your designer charges before starting your project. Here are some of the common interior design fees we charge at SSID:

  • Design retainer.  In the design world, retainers are the industry standard and considered a best practice. A design retainer is a fee paid upfront for the estimated total cost of the design project. A retainer lets your designer know you are invested in your project and makes sure they are paid throughout the process. 
  • Freight charges. On your invoice, you may spot something called “freight charges” in addition to local delivery charges. Freight charges cover the transportation of items from a manufacturer to a local receiver. Freight is typically the safest and most economical method of transporting purchases like upholstery and case goods over long distances. 
  • Markup. In addition to an hourly or flat fee, designers generally rely on product markup to keep business running. Designers may also charge a markup to cover things like damages and loss — just like any retail store. 

At SSID, we spent the last 10 years building relationships with manufacturers, antique shops, and other trade partners in Austin and the surrounding area. As our partners, these trade professionals hook us up with outstanding service at discounted prices. We always share a portion of this discount so you never pay more than retail price. 

6. Resist the urge to flip-flop. 

Though it’s natural to change your mind, however we suggest you limit changes once your project has started.

To minimize changes, always take a day or two to make major decisions. If you do decide to make a switch, think it through and make sure it’s your final change. 

Keep in mind that you typically can’t make changes to a custom or special order. Once a custom order is submitted, the product is yours and cannot be canceled or returned.Resist the temptation to seek outside opinions. 

7. Resist the temptation to seek the opinion of your friends and family on your future interior design.

While well-meaning, these outside parties aren’t involved in the process and haven’t visualized the complete design like we have. 

Instead, we recommended seeking opinions and advice from your design team — that’s why you hired us, after all! We let you know when it makes sense to splurge on quality or when choosing something more affordable is the better way to go. We can talk for hours about the advantages and disadvantages of different fabrics, flooring, and lighting. Designers love to share advice and opinions, so make sure you take advantage of your team’s expertise. 

8. Trust the process

Your designer at SSID has your best interest at heart. Trust the advice we share, the furniture we select, and the choices we make are done with you at the front of our mind. Seemingly small steps — like creating visual aids and ordering samples — are necessary steps that can’t be skipped because they ensure all elements are taken into account. 

Sometimes, we nail the design on the first try. Other times, we have to go back and tweak things. Rest assured we have thought long and hard about our decisions and considered everything, from your preferred textures and color schemes to your budget and lifestyle needs. 

Final thoughts 

Perhaps the most fundamental advice we could give our clients before starting an interior design project would be to keep an open mind and positive attitude.

As your design team, we’ve got your back — trust us to provide thoughtful guidance, make informed choices, and take care of hiccups and setbacks. To get the most out of our partnership and your overall interior design experience, good communication, flexibility, and a little patience will go a long way.

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