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What Do Interior Designers Really Do?

Interior design is an integral part of many types of projects, but I often get asked what do interior designers really do? Isn’t it obvious you ask? Not …


What Do Interior Designers Really Do?

Table Of Contents

Table Of Contents

Interior design is an integral part of many types of projects, but I often get asked what do interior designers really do? Isn’t it obvious you ask? Not really. Especially these days, there are so many off-shoots and subcategories, niches and specialists, it isn’t that clear to a potential client or even sometimes to an interior designer, especially when a client is asking them to do something slightly outside their scope of work or experience.

I’ve had interior designers come through my mentorship program being asked to do some pretty weird stuff… So for those of you who have watched one too many TV programs, let’s start this post off by clarifying some things that interior designers shouldn’t be asked to do:

Interior Designers Shouldn’t Be Asked To:

  • Build or renovate houses
  • Hire their own tradesmen (unless licensed or insured to of course)
  • Sign-off builders and tradesmen’s work
  • Make illegal changes to buildings

There is one thing that confuses this slightly and that is curtain making and upholstery, so let me clarify. Interior designers can often provide an upholstery, furniture or curtain making service as part of their interior design service. Installing curtains and upholstering are indeed trades and could be undertaken by tradesmen or the interior designer themselves. These are often niche services that an interior designer provides and indeed, many interior designers outsource this even if they provide the service.

A little more clarification is also required with interior styling and home staging as these are often all-inclusive services that interior designers provide which can also include fitting window furnishings and installing furniture. An interior stager and an interior stylist, however, have special functions that focus on specific niches in the interior design industry. If you need clarification as to what the difference is, you can read our post here: Interior Designer, Interior Stylist, Interior Decorator, Interior Architect. What’s the difference?

Now that we have clarified that, there are a large number of services that an interior designer provides that are hugely beneficial to a project at any stage from pre-conception to finish.

All interior designers are different, and they provide various services depending on their niche and speciality, so this post aims to clarify the services that interior designers usually offer.

If you are an interior designer who is thinking of setting your own business, it is important to consider what kinds of services you are going to offer. Obviously, this will include things that you are actually capable of doing but also you may be aspiring to undertake larger projects or more commercial/retail roles but are continuing your educating in a way that evolves your practice into a particular direction.

Interior designers have so many valuable skills, some obvious and others not so much. Below is a short list of the services that the majority of interior designers often provide:

Short List Of The Services That The Majority Of Interior Designers Often Provide:

  • Space design
  • Creating an interior décor scheme with finishes, furniture and soft furnishings
  • Detail design services
  • Project management
  • Specifying, sourcing and supplying furniture, fittings & equipment

But what are these services useful for and why do interior designers need to provide them?

Interior Designers Help Clients Clarify What It Is They Want To Do

Interior designer’s help a client express and clarify what it is a client is feeling and hoping to achieve on their project. Each project needs to start with a brief and without a solid brief, both interior designer and client are opening themselves up for an expensive, confusing and frustrating ride.

To be honest, you can barely end up with a great end result for anything without a vision for that end result. Even a pilot who flies off course the majority of the time knows where he is heading for the final destination, so having a clear vision of the end result with your building or decorating project is pretty important, especially if the budget or timeline are tight.

Types of services interior designers provide that can help a client create an accurate brief:

Types Of Services Interior Designers Provide That Can Help A Client Create An Accurate Brief:

  • They can define and outline the deliverables and scope of the project
  • Interpret client needs to define stages, timelines and budgets
  • Help clients clarify the specific requirements or functions of the project
  • Clarify the process, stages and approvals in order to complete the project in full
  • Undertake feasibility studies to see if a project is a worthwhile investment

With The Client Brief In Mind, They Create The Client’s Vision

Interior designers have the skills to make a vision come to life. Whether that is just in vision or in reality. They have the ability, experience and tools to put your words into a conceivable project. They have special awareness and can understand the scale and composition of anything from a picture to a whole project.

It is also the interior designer’s job to help the client understand what their vision looks like and present or communicate that idea to the client in a way that they understand in order to approve the design. This is the most important part of any project as the interior designer’s role is to help the client see the end result often many months before it materializes in reality and often during a time when the client is spending money on the project. The interior designer can help the client avoid potentially costly mistakes by helping communicate design specific decisions that a builder or client has already made.

Interior designers also have a responsibility to ensure the client clearly understands what it is they are going to end up with. Interior designers design the scheme, choose which elements are critical to the project idea to make it a success, they choose items that work around the timeline, deadlines, budget and specification and ensure important rules and regulations are adhered to whilst creating the vision. They know the parameters and know the rules and they have the skills to make the vision a reality. A lot more goes into designing or creating a space than one might think!

Also, interior designers help the client make decisions, as they show the client what things will look like, so the client can see and agree early on, what it is they will get at the end!

That is what a mood board can do – help someone see something coming together on paper before they start purchasing furniture and other items. This can be an invaluable service alone, helping a client clarify the main look and feel of a space.

In order to communicate the client’s vision (to the client or to another consultant or professional) an interior designer can offer the following services:

In Order To Communicate The Client’s Vision An Interior Designer Can Offer The Following Services:

  • Provide 3D visualizations
  • Lifelike 3D renders
  • Moodboards
  • Material boards
  • Sample boards
  • Idea boards
  • Room layouts
  • Draw up plans
  • Make scale models
  • Create maquettes

The way that an interior designer presents their sketch design information varies more than PDiddy’s shoe collection. This can vary in style and complexity and comes down to each individual interior designer’s expertise and creativity.

Interior Designers Choose The Bits & Pieces To Make The Vision Come Together

Whilst adhering to design and building codes, rules, regulations and keeping the client’s vision, budget and timeline in mind, interior designers choose and design every single individual detail and item to create the end result. They may even need to invent, design and create bespoke pieces to ensure the end result is achieved.

In order to make the client’s vision come together, interior designers offer the following services:

In Order To Make The Client’s Vision Come Together, Interior Designers Offer The Following Services:

  • Research and choose the right size, colour and style of furniture & décor items
  • Design, invent and create bespoke items to create a certain result
  • Find the right items for the right price
  • Negotiate the best price on items and pass on trade discounts to their clients
  • Ensure specified items are within building and fire code requirements where appropriate
  • Filter through the magnitude of styles and sources to provide the perfect items for clients

Interior Designers Create The Documentation Required To Communicate The Project

When hiring an interior designer for a project that is slightly more detailed or complex, it is this service that you are truly paying for. In order to accurately communicate how to build the end result, interior designer’s have to create an enormous amount of documentation to make sure that what gets built by the builder is communicated clearly and without mistake.

If there is a mistake, the builder can claim expenses (rightfully so), and more often than not, the client is required to pay to fix the “mistake”. That is why interior designers put a lot of effort and thought into providing accurate information for tradesmen and can help a project run smoothly.

Interior designers can offer the following services in order to communicate the main ideas to a builder (and hopefully save a client lots of money on a project):

Interior Designers Can Offer The Following Services In Order To Communicate The Main Ideas To A Builder:

  • Provide detail design documentation, which provides information on what something looks like in greater detail before it gets built
  • Technical and regulatory specifications (for example non-slip flooring to foyers)
  • Schedules of work that help the builder know what needs to be done in each area (and price accordingly)
  • Detail finishes, ironmongery, lighting, sanitary and furniture schedules and specifications in order to specify and source the correct products
  • Ensure specified items are within building and fire code requirements where appropriate
  • Filter through the magnitude of styles and sources to provide the perfect items for clients

Interior Designers Oversee The Project & Make Sure Everything Ends Up As It Should

On a medium to large project, an interior designer will often oversee the project and undertake weekly (or as agreed) site meetings with the builder and client to ensure the project is as per the documentation and is on track with the overall design intent.

As this is often time-consuming and costly for the interior designer, smaller projects don’t include project management unless the fee is appropriate to the project.

As every project and brief are different, the project management requirements can vary. Here are a few services that interior designers usually offer:

A Few Services That Interior Designers Usually Offer:

  • Project management (scope of the project individually agreed)
  • Take deliveries of small items and or stay on-site to take and sign for deliveries
  • Check deliveries to see if items have been delivered without damage and are as per the order/specification
  • Shopping and delivery service
  • Oversee tradesmen’s work to ensure it is in line with the design and brief
  • Communicate between other consultants and designers and coordinate information
  • Can offer contract Administrator roles (very experienced interior designers only)
  • Often work with builders, manufacturers and tradesmen to ensure the furniture fittings and equipment are installed in line with the design (not to be confused with signing off their work for regulatory purposes)

Interior Designers Style The End Result So That A Client Can Create A Specific Mood

The end result is what the client has been waiting for and the interior designer has had to hold that vision for the whole team throughout the project. The finishing touches, however, can also be undertaken by the interior designer and often are because the styling of the final space can make a huge difference to the success in the client visualizing the end result.

Anyone will know that a room full of stuff is just a room full of stuff, but an interior designer’s skill comes from arranging those items in a way that can create the vision and mood the client has been aiming for.

Interior designers can offer the following services to make the final design absolutely perfect:

Interior Designers Can Offer The Following Services To Make The Final Design Absolutely Perfect:

  • Position items and put in the finishes touches to help create a specific result
  • Shop for or source final items to pull the scheme together
  • Create vignettes in order to present décor items in an attractive, inspiring and beautiful way
  • Arrange furniture in ways that compliment the space and clarify their use
  • Turnkey service (even put the bed sheets on the bed ready for the final reveal)


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As you can see, an interior designer is quite a multi-skilled person who can offer a broad range of services from the start to the finish of a project.

The reality is, however, the majority of projects that an interior designer will undertake will only be a few of the above services as each project will require a mixture of services to complete the project.

In my experience, only the largest projects have required every single one of the above services, so more often than not, interior designers will offer a spread of these services and allow you to choose which ones you want to pay for or they will propose the right services in order to visualize your specific project.

Sometimes, even just discussing your thoughts with a professional for an hour or so can reveal enormous amounts of information for your project that you might not have thought about (and often would never know unless you were a professional), so don’t be surprised if an interior designer charges for a consultation either, as in the past these services might have been given for free.

We have created a downloadable services form for potential clients as well as interior designers to help with discussions around what services are required for a project. You can download it above.

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak is an architectural and interior designer and mentor at the Interior Designer’s Business School that trains interior designers to set up professional and successful interior design businesses and gain experience working on real projects. She is trained in architecture, interiors, business and life coaching and runs her architectural and interior design studio in London UK.
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