Bringing in the Pros

How interior designers can simplify your game plan

Story by Randi Jo Gause

Somewhere between watching HGTV's household overhauls and Martha Stewart's home decorating tips, you find yourself succumbing to the do-it-yourself phenomenon. After all, how difficult can it be to redecorate the family room? A new coat of paint, a few throw pillows and voila!

But if you're a member of the majority, your interior design skills fall in alignment with Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor rather than Martha Stewart. So before you throw on the overalls and roll up your sleeves, consider bringing in an expert. Whether you're looking to reinvent a single room, or conduct a complete household renovation, an interior designer can be an invaluable resource throughout the entire process.

Keeping it simple

Don't let design shows like "Trading Spaces" scare you. Most interior designers are not sledgehammer-wielding maniacs who are prepared to destroy your favorite recliner and toss your precious family heirlooms. The reality? These experts are trained to work not only for you, but also with you, to achieve your desired look. After all, the homeowner is the one who lives in the house, not the designer.

As Charlene Steinman, from Steinman Interiors in Juneau, explains, "interior designers are trained to create a design based on your goals for the project. Each design is custom since all clients have different needs, space requirements and budgets."

But even with a clear vision, the challenge of creating a beautiful living space can be a daunting and stress-inducing endeavor for the average homeowner. Who knew that choosing from an endless array of paint palettes could be so difficult?

The other challenge is navigating not only where to turn next, but who to turn to. "The client knows what they want, and we know who and where to go to for the right answers regarding all aspects of a project," explains Jana Seda from One of A Kind Design in Anchorage. From construction and furnishings, to wallpapers and window tassels, designers can filter through the array of available resources to find what you need. Tamara Spaulding, from Spaulding Interiors in Fairbanks, adds: "What could take clients days, even weeks to do themselves, takes us only a few hours or a few days because we know where to look and what sources are best suited for a particular project."

Interior designers also serve as liaisons to building contractors and architects to ensure that your opinions are heard above the clamor of a construction crew's drills and hammers.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your masterpiece of a kitchen. However, with the guidance of an interior designer, the process can be expedited. From nailing down an initial vision for your renovation, to hammering out a timeline to achieve your goals, designers strategically plan and prioritize all aspects of the project. Ultimately, the goal is to design a space for the way you want to live – smoothly, on schedule, and within your budget.

In good company

So, where do you find an expert, and what do you need to know to make sure you're hiring the best?

Hiring a designer certified through the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) is almost a surefire guarantee that you won't end up with a circus-themed living room. Practicing interior designers who are allied members of ASID must have a total of at least six years of experience and education in interior design or architecture, says Steinman. The highest level of membership is reserved for those who have taken and passed the NCIDQ examination, a comprehensive test of design competency that includes technical drawings, schematics and contracts.

"Referrals are a great stepping stone," notes Jane Seda.

It's worth taking the extra time to find an interior designer who meets your budget, timeline and personality. After all, you'll be inviting them into your home for an extended period of time, and, much like dating, you will be forging an ongoing, intimate relationship. (Anyone going near your bed linens better have some good credentials.) Ask to see samples of their work, and hold a preliminary meeting to clarify both of your expectations for the project.

The money factor

So, what might your project cost? It's difficult to say without a consultation, agree experts. "Like many services, the more expertise required, the higher the fees tend to be," Seda explains. "It's important to find an interior designer or design firm that will provide the type of services you are looking for within your budget."

The average cost of an initial consultation runs between $50 to $150 per hour, says Steinman, which might include reviewing the goals for the project, the fee structure and the client's budget. It's also a great "meet and greet" time, says Betty Brady of Brady Design in Anchorage, and a good opportunity to see if you and the designer click. "It's a trust factor," she notes, adding that a compatible relationship will produce the best results.

Interior designers can charge by the hour, the job or even by a percentage of overall project costs. Many designers use a "cost plus" fee structure, meaning the designer buys materials, furnishings and even services (carpentry, electrical installation) at cost and sells them to you at cost plus an agreed-upon percentage, which varies depending on the project, says Brady.

Time is money, and in interior design, the less time spent on damage control due to poor planning means fewer costly mistakes.

"Coordination is key in design," Steinman explains, "and it's a lot easier (and cheaper) to catch mistakes on paper during the design stage than out in the field during construction."

The last thing any homeowner wants is to make a costly mistake and not realize it until the damage has already been done. In the long run, hiring a designer, even if it's just for a short consultation, to catch possible problems beforehand can be a good investment.

To find a qualified designer in Alaska, visit and check our list of Interior Designers in our online Resource Directory.