Are you design-challenged? Maybe you need a designer's help!
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Most of us want to create a home that is a reflection of our likes, our passions, and our personality. Unfortunately, how to get there may be something of a mystery.

Hey, there's no shame in asking for help! Not all of us were born knowing how to develop color schemes and coordinate fabrics - and frankly, many of us just don't have the time. Hiring an interior designer can help you transform your favorite things into the home you've always wanted.

While you could go with an independent designer (who owns his/her own business), many of today's home furnishings stores offer design assistance to their customers, often free of charge. These services can range from a home furnishings salesperson who is trained in basic design techniques to a licensed interior designer who works full-time for the home furnishings store.

Regardless of the route you choose, it's definitely a service worth checking out, especially since getting a little help from someone trained in interior design can help you feel confident about your purchases and create a home that you are really proud to show off.

What can design services do for me?
Working with a designer can help you simply coordinate new furniture with your existing pieces, or they can help you design your home from the ground up. Having a designer's assistance not only can help you choose the right piece of furniture for your space, but he or she can help you with space planning, traffic flow, color schemes, and coordinating fabrics.

Designers also can help you find unique solutions to any unusual room layouts or space challenges you may be facing. They also have access to hundreds of catalogs of furnishings that are not on the store's showroom floor, giving you options that you may never have considered otherwise. In other words, they can take your room (and your home) from looking like a mish-mash of items to a complete "look" that is a reflection of your unique personality.

Are all designers the same?
No. The terms "interior designer" and "interior decorator" are often used interchangeably, as if they were identical professions. And while both may have the ability and talent to create beautiful rooms, the two are not synonymous.

Interior decorators are primarily concerned with surface decoration - paint, fabric, furnishings, lighting and other materials. Decoration is often characterized as the furnishing or adorning of a space with appropriate (often fashionable or attractive) things.

An "interior designer" (in addition to the decorator jobs), also works with space planning, remodeling, choosing and designing built-ins, working with the systems and infrastructure of a room or building. Thus, a designer is in need of more specialized education. According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), an interior designer is one who "is professionally trained to create a functional and quality interior environment. Qualified through education, experience and examination, a professional designer can identify, research and creatively resolve issues and lead to a healthy, safe and comfortable physical environment." Interior design goes beyond decorating to understand people's behavior in order to create functional spaces. Additionally, most states require interior designers to hold a license, while decorators do not need a license to practice.

How does it work, and how much does it cost?
After a private consultation, an interior designer can prepare a series of design boards based on your individual taste and requirements - illustrating a combination of paint colors, fabrics, wallpapers, furnishings, pillows, rugs, carpets, lighting and accessories - to give you a completely customized service. Even if you use an interior designer from a home furnishings store, many will offer in-home consultations, take measurements of wall and floor space, and help you plan all the furnishings perfectly for your home. Most home furnishings in-store designer services are complimentary, which can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when you consider the cost of hiring your own interior designer. Some stores offer a complimentary consultation, then more involved design services with a "suggested minimum purchase" amount. That doesn't mean the store will force you to buy something from them, but it does makes sense that if you are using the store designers' services, time, and expertise, that you would return the courtesy and make your purchases from them.

Other furniture stores may offer a combination of complimentary design services for furniture and accessories, but if you want assistance with carpet, tile, paint, and so on, they charge an hourly rate of an average of $100.

Independent designers and decorators charge for their services usually through one of two ways - either an hourly rate or a flat fee. They typically will calculate how much time they feel it will take them to research and coordinate all the details of your project and will give you an estimate. If they are charging an hourly rate, expect to be charged for the time the designer spends in the office preparing, making phone calls to contractors and the supervision of deliveries and installations. Do not assume you are being charged only when the designer is at the design site, but for the entire scope of work for the project. If the designer is charging a fixed rate, he or she has estimated the amount of time the project will take and will require a retainer. You should also expect a schedule for additional payments with the final payment due at completion.

In addition to paying either an hourly or fixed rate for the design fees, also expect to pay commissions on the purchased goods for the space. Designers can get reduced pricing from wholesalers and showrooms and will sell those pieces to you at a percentage above their purchase price.

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