Planning a home makeover? How to find an interior designer

Tips to find the best-in-class designer for your project.

How to find an interior designer is perhaps a question that has crossed your mind when considering how to make the most of your home. As designers’ projects have become more regularly showcased in popular culture, there is a growing fascination for how interior design can radically improve the quality of your life.  

The purpose of this guide is to help you to feel confident in taking the needed steps to find the right interior designer to take your home to the next level. 

ShutterstockCredit: Shutterstock / Sheila Say

For most people, buying property and carrying out building work represent a major investment. Interior design can sometimes be an afterthought, when in fact it can add significant value to a property. This means that hiring an interior designer who is both competent and highly creative can be a high stakes game. They should be able to make the absolute most of your budget and avoid the expensive mistakes that can cause a project to be derailed. 

The task isn’t for a novice. Interior designers must have a wide range of skills and competencies ranging from project to people management, as we’ll explain…  


Do you need an interior designer?

It could be overkill for small-scale and decorative projects

The first step in engaging an interior designer is thinking through whether you actually need one. Cathy Dean of Studio Dean explains that true interior designers think architecturally, knocking down walls and moving rooms about if needed. 

“Interior designers need to be called in early, before architects, and long before builders, to find the right flow for your home. We then work with the wider team to build a vision that works beautifully for real life.” 

If your work is small scale and not architectural in nature, there is a chance that a home styler or personal shopper may suffice in helping you make over your home. At the top end of the budget, Chelsea Harbour offers a personal shopping service to help you select luxury accents to tweak your home.  

If the budget is limited, companies like IKEA are increasingly catering to customers who want a tailor-made home shopping experience. The popular store recently launched its interior design service for £90 per room, joining high street shops like John Lewis, Next and B&Q, which also offer similar services. 

Find a designer through a professional body

Competent designers often seek formal affiliations

An interior designer can be entrusted with tens, hundreds and even sometimes millions of pounds to improve interiors – depending on the client and scope of the project. In other professions where this level of investment is made, there are set qualifications to assure yourself that the professional can carry out the work. Not so with interior design. There are no specific qualifications that someone in the UK must hold to show they are qualified to renovate or design your home. 

Keenly aware of the trust that is placed in their profession, many designers submit themselves to independent external assessment. 

One of the leading professional bodies in the UK offering you assurances of a designer’s competence is the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID).  

We spoke to Mathew Freeman, president of BIID about your what you can do to ensure your interior designer is suitably qualified. He advises, “When choosing an interior designer for your own home, BIID membership is an important credential to look for. The reason is simple – the BIID is the only professional institute for interior designers in the UK.  

“In addition to rigorous entry requirements – which assess training, experience and professionalism – the BIID requires members to continue their professional development throughout their career to ensure their continued expertise in design process, practice and regulatory matters.  

“The BIID has a useful free tool on its website to help homeowners find the right interior designer for their project, and to specify a location. It also offers a guide to working with an interior designer to help explain how using a professional designer can benefit your project. “ 

Another similar and invaluable resource for finding highly competent interior designers is The Society of British & International Interior Design (SBID). To become fully accredited with the SBID, an interior designer needs to hold an interior design bachelor’s degree, have been in professional practise for at least three-and-a-half years and give proof of ongoing annual training.  

Find a designer to match your personal style

Get a look you love

Credit: Shutterstock / jafara

Another positive upside of the BIID and SBID digital platforms is that they act as depositories for some of their members project images. While you’ll want to take a good look at your potential designer’s website, these portals are a helpful starting point for quickly getting to grips with whose style best matches yours. 

And styles can vary widely. Do you love colours and a more traditional feel? A practice like Sean Symington Interior Design might appeal to you. Prefer slicker more polished styles? Studio Dean might be more to your taste. Flicking through the images on the professional organisation’s portals might help you to discover what look you gravitate to. 

How about the location of your designer? Depending on your budget, locations may not matter nearly as much as you might think. Designers can and often do work internationally on even large-scale building projects and new builds. 

Find an interior designer through word of mouth

Recommendations matter

ShutterstockCredit: Shutterstock / nanami7

Digital portfolios are great, but they are beaten hands down by the three-dimensional experience of standing in a designer’s work. 

Imagine a scenario where you walk into a friend’s home and are blown away by what you see. The friend says they worked with an interior designer, who was recommended by their friend or architect and so on and so forth. They can’t say enough good things about the process and the designer’s knowledge and professionalism.  

You have a quick look at SBID and BIID and that interior designer isn’t listed there. What then? 

Despite the two very worthy organisations mentioned above, any interior designer will tell you that word of mouth, or someone walking into a property they have designed, or seeing an image of work they created on social media is what brings in the business. And a lot of the times these designers may not be members of either BIID or SBID and still be perfectly talented, amazing and competent. 

Their path may have been to undertake a non-degree course of professional training at a leading institution like KLC or Inchbald. Or, they may have renovated several properties themselves and gained experience in the field.  

Once you are armed with a personal recommendation and like what you see projects-wise, the next thing you need is do is to check their professional indemnity insurance. 

Any interior designer worth their salt will have professional indemnity insurance in place. Without it, neither party is protected should something go wrong. Ask for proof that it is in place and do not proceed without it, unless your project is purely small-scale and decorative. 


How to best engage an interior designer

Be clear on your project goals

Finding an interior designer whose style you like and engaging that interior designer to work on your project are two different things. An established designer will have learnt from experience that not every person is an ideal client for them. Assessing whether you are right for each other is a two-way street. 

If you have pinpointed a designer, get the relationship off on the right foot by having a realistic understanding of how much you have available to spend. Above all, this will help the designer to have a clearer path to creating what you hope and will save time at the start of the project when creative ideas are being considered. 

Perhaps you’ll identify your perfect interior designer immediately or maybe you’ll weigh up two or three. Either way there are some basic questions you’ll need to ask before going too far into the process. 

You’ll need to know: 

  • If any initial consultation is free  
  • How fees will be charged 
  • What the aftercare for the project will be ie, will they assist with any snagging

How much should I expect to pay?

Understanding interior design fees

How much your prospective designer will charge will almost certainly have a bearing on whether you proceed with them or not. Each interior designer charges differently. If you engage an interior designer to provide a full service which includes design, supply and install they may decide to charge 10% of the overall spend of the project.  

So, for example, if you have a £200,000 budget the interior designer may charge £20,000. Some other designers may opt to charge on an hourly basis with the national average being between £25 – £150 an hour, depending on experience. 

A lot will depend on what you want done on your project. The interior designer will assess and charge accordingly. What you will get for the fee should be covered in a Scope of Works and a Fee Proposal. 

If you decided to proceed you will likely be giving a contract that gives you more clarity on what you are paying for and what to expect during and after your project. 

Interior design for overseas property

Your UK designer will be perfectly capable of designing projects outside of the UK. It is worth seeking out a designer who has worked in the region where your home is located, especially if your budget will require local trades to work on the project. 

You may be able to find a local interior designer to work on your project. Local architects are great resources for international recommendations. 


Written by Joy Archer she/her