Maybe your powder room has a case of The Sads, with dowdy wallpaper and a timeworn faucet. Or the guest room you revamped 20 years ago is now looking more dated than your wall calendar. It’s time to call a decorator...or is it? When exactly is a project too small for a professional designer to take on?
The answer, as you might have guessed, depends on a bajillion factors—including the business policies of each firm. Birmingham, Alabama-area designer Dana Wolter requires a minimum of four rooms, and won’t take on anything less; Long Island, New York designer Marlaina Teich will turn down smaller asks, like accessorizing shelving or picking window treatments, to free up time in her firm’s schedule for commercial projects, like spas and salons.
These barometers are nothing personal, something many designers try to clarify to potential clients—and they also often include exceptions. “If someone new calls us for a project that's outside our normal scope, we explain why we're not a good fit,” says Washington, D.C.-based designer Annie Elliott. “It's not cost-effective to hire a full-service interior design firm to decorate a guest bedroom with off-the-shelf furniture, for example. But if we've done a project with you and you call us a year later for family room pillows, we'll be delighted to help you! Once a client, always a client.”
With some design firms, there may also be the option of having a lower-level designer take on your smaller project. A client recently approached Newark, New Jersey designer KD Reid for a revamp of their bland, white-walled home office (no surprise in the COVID-19-era). “It was very unorganized and had a lot of paperwork and books everywhere, with no design direction,” he recalls. He tasked his design assistant with the gig, and they zhushed the space with a blue-gray ceiling, acrylic organization boxes and a jute rug, all while getting their feet wet creatively. “I remember when I got my first internship, no task was beneath me,” Reid says. “I was eager to learn any and everything, and those small projects gave me exposure, skills, and tools to execute large projects.”
Lance Thomas, principal designer at Lake Charles, Louisiana-based firm Thomas Guy Interiors, now uses that exact tactic to develop client relationships, so they cement their bond and reach out with more major overhauls and projects in the future. “I was booked solid on new builds and waitlisting large remodel jobs, so we just didn't have the time to take on the single dining room or entry project,” Thomas says. “These jobs are very important because they typically end up being future new build clients, so we recently hired a junior designer and a design assistant to remedy the problem. Our junior designer now takes the lead on these smaller jobs, passing everything through me for a final stamp of approval, and our design assistant takes care of important tasks like floorplanning that used to consume hours of my time. This way, we are able to take on more jobs without sacrificing quality. It's a true team effort.”
If your project is too teensy to hire out completely, consider a booming trend instead: e-design. Sites like Decorist and The Expert can lend a professional’s eye for a flat fee (for example: for $299 per room with Decorist, you’ll get two initial design concepts, a final room design, plus an online shopping list from a ‘rising star’ designer).
Independent designers are coming up with online solutions for bitsy projects, too—especially in the era of COVID. “We hated not being able to help everyone who reached out to us [with smaller projects], so we created an e-design service,” says Kirsten Krason of Salt Lake City’s House of Jade Interiors. “Our e-design service still utilizes our amazing designers, but on a much smaller and more affordable scale—the whole process is done remotely, and our e-design packages are all flat rates, with prices that depend on the room type.”
One example: they recently put together a design for an e-client’s two story great room—including art placement, a floor plan and quality furniture choices that look straight out of Nancy Meyers movie—for just $1,125, the very definition of win-win.
Bottom line? If you're wondering if your project is too small, it never hurts to ask (and be prepared for an honest conversation about price and budget). There just may be a creative solution; after all, designers are always good with those.
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