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Interior designers offer tips on approaching home renovations realistically

Three interior designers offer advice on how homeowners can realistically approach renovations

Jamie House sees it all the time. The Houston interior designer will sit down with a new client and the client will blurt out, “I watch HGTV all the time! This is going to be so fun!”

Not so fast, House says. HGTV and design reality shows have made us all a little overeager and unrealistic about remodeling, whether it’s re-tiling the bathroom or sprucing up the deck. We want easy DIY projects and designers who swoop in and transform a house overnight.

In real life, renovating or redecorating takes time. It costs more than you expect it to. And it’s easy to get in over your head.

Do you need a professional designer? Can you afford it? What’s going to happen once you get started?

House, the owner of Jamie House Design, will be answering those questions (and more) with a public lecture Friday at the Houston Design Center during the center’s annual Designer Sample Sale. We asked her – along with two other Houston designers, Ben Johnston of Avondale Design Studio and Nicole Domercq Zarr of Triangle Interiors – to help us approach renovation the smart way.

Deciding whether you can afford it

How much work does your house need? If you’d be happy applying a fresh coat of paint and rearranging the furniture, you might not need to hire a professional. But if you’re sick of the whole first floor – or you want to update your kitchen or bathroom – then you’re looking at a project that can get expensive and difficult, fast.

Know what it’s going to cost. Find out how your designer charges for services – is it an hourly fee, a flat rate, a percentage of the total, a fee based on square footage? No method is necessarily better. But no matter what, you shouldn’t be surprised, Johnston said. Before the project starts, your designer should be able to give you a solid idea of what it’s going to cost – and keep you updated every step of the way.

If you have limited funds, House said, you might be better off devoting all your money to furniture and fixtures: “If you only have $5,000 to spend, you won’t want 20 percent of it to go to somebody else.” But consider this: If you plan to buy a lot of new furniture, décor and materials, working with a designer might give you more options at a lower cost. “We have access to so many more sources, which many times we can get at better prices,” Zarr said.

You don’t have to do everything at once. It’s common for clients to break up a redesign into several phases, paying to remodel just a room or two at a time, Johnston said. “A lot of times, when they’ve reviewed the preliminary budget, they’ll say, ‘OK, I can afford to do the following spaces.’ ”

If you can’t afford one designer, you might be able to afford another. “Our industry is so large that there’s going to be a range of different designers offering services at a range of costs,” Johnston said. If you can’t pay to work with the big-name designer, look for one who’s newer to the field, he said. Younger designers who still are building their careers and portfolios will generally have lower rates.

Choosing the right designer

It takes a little legwork to find the right designer. You want to keep searching until you find someone you click with.

Do some research. Ask your friends for recommendations. Google. for Houston designers; many of them post photos of their work and a link to their websites. Once you’ve found a couple of possibilities, call to set up meetings. That first meeting isn’t a commitment; “I kind of look at it as a first date,” Johnston said. You’ll talk about what you want to do – update the family room, redo the floors, turn a bedroom into a game room – and find out whether your desires and your budget are in the same place.


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