When should you hire a professional interior designer?

I’ve been practicing commercial interior design for over 20 years, yet many people are still unsure about what I do.  The industry hasn’t been effective at making the profession as well-known as other design professions, and with overlaps with both architecture and interior decoration, true interior design can be seen as a bit of an unknown.

One key difference between interior design and architecture is scale.  To design a building is a much larger proposition than designing an interior space.  In my experience, there are benefits to having both architects and interior designers on a project team.  As in all professions, some members will have more or less experience than others.  Some architects are better at designing interiors while other architects are better at master planning.  Some interior designers are better at decoration than with details.

In some cases, you will be required to hire an architect – if your project is a new commercial building or adding on to an existing one, or if your project encompasses a renovation over 7,500 square feet.  Municipalities have their own requirements for when drawings and specifications need to be signed and sealed by a registered architect.  For example, in Charleston, if your project will cost more than $50,000 in construction, you’ll need an architect.

So, when should you consider hiring a professional interior designer?  Here are some answers to that question:

When your business is open to the general public.

Commercial interiors is vastly different from residential interior decoration in that the profession is concerned with the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants.  There are certain building codes, life safety codes, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations which interior designers must address.  For example, there are minimum width requirements for corridors, slip resistance requirements for flooring materials, and specific requirements for ADA-accessible spaces, all of which will have an effect on the interior layout of a space.  These codes vary depending on the type of space as well; educational facilities have to meet different requirements than restaurants, which are different from office spaces, etc.

When you need space planning and functionality designed into your space.

The codes and regulations mentioned above do have an effect on space planning, and a professional interior designer knows these basic parameters.  We’re also trained to ask a lot of questions about how your business functions, how different groups or departments relate to each other, about work processes, and many other details.  We want to know where you store your office supplies, how many files you access on a daily basis, what types of meetings you have weekly, etc.  A professional interior designer is interested in designing a space specific to your business, to make you more successful, not something that is in a specific style or “theme.”

When you want the design to reflect a specific image or brand.

Many companies are sensitive to their projected image and rely on brand recognition for attracting and retaining customers and employees.  This can be fully developed as part of the interior design, not only in terms of style or colors, but also functionally.  (Think: Google and casual meeting spaces with lounge chairs.)

When new furniture or equipment is needed.

There are many places to buy furniture: local dealerships or furniture stores, online, even office supply stores and used furniture outlets.  Interior designers have access to many different varieties and manufacturers of furniture and do our best to specify the most appropriate pieces for you, which means we don’t receive incentives for doing this.  The best scenario is to retain an independent designer who can recommend specific furniture and where you can purchase it.  Other factors to consider include the power and data requirements in office systems furniture (cubicles), durability and warranties, functionality, materials, and manufacturing process.  Custom-made furniture can also be an option for specific design requirements or space configurations.

When special lighting design or interior details are desired.

As an interior designer, I am very mindful of lighting, particularly because the type and quality of light sources plays a huge role in how colors and materials appear in a space.  Light fixture selection and layout, combined with millwork details and other interior details can really bring a design together.  It truly becomes something specific to each client and will represent you and your brand, while being functional at the same time.

When you want to reduce your environmental footprint.

I’ve been involved with green, or environmentally-sensitive, building design for almost as long as I’ve been practicing interior design.  Plus, having worked among architects and engineers my whole career, as well as my experience with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Green Building Rating System since its inception, I’m able to provide an array of green building consulting.  This could include prioritizing systems for renovation, planning ways to deliver good indoor air quality for occupants, even designing for biophilia – bringing nature indoors either literally or figuratively.

Contact Watkins Design Works to discuss your next project…our mission is to improve the quality of life for our clients through the design of functional and beautiful interior spaces and by emphasizing the connection between the built environment and the natural environment.