Working with an Interior Designer

The idea for today’s guest post was hatched in response to a conversation I overheard at a Home Depot a few weeks ago.

A couple was having a somewhat heated debate about the renovations they were planning to their home. While the husband was adament that he could convert their unfinished basement into a nanny suite complete with a bathroom and kitchenette, the wife was less sure and was advocating her interior designer friend to be involved.

And while they were both passionate in their defence of their positions re bringing in an interior designer, it was pretty obvious that neither actually had any experience working with an interior designer.

So….I asked Toronto-based designer, decorator & home stager Steve Ryan to help clarify what exactly is it like working with an interior designer.

Here’s what Steve had to say…..

Working with an Interior Designer

A lot of homeowners want to work with a designer on renovating and improving the property value of their home.  With the rise of HGTV, Home Shows, Pinterest and Instagram, the general public has never been more interested in the world of design. However, what designers really do and how they get from “Before” to “After” seems shrouded in mystery.

Whether you’re working with an interior designer or a decorator for a minor decorating project or a total home renovation, the steps of service are the same and follows three basic phases: the Consultation, the Creative Phase and the Implementation Phase. 


Every project starts with a Consultation - usually two hours - where the designer comes to your space to go over your needs, budget, dreams, etcetera.

NOTE: You should have these things ready to discuss if you want the most out of this meeting since the designer will charge you for their time.

If, after the consultation is complete, you both feel you’re a good fit (personality, design asthetic, etc) and your timeline and budget is realistic, you may decide to hire the designer for your project.  The next step is a letter of agreement that will detail how you will all operate over the course of the project. In addition to the signed agreement, the designer will likely require a retainer for their professional services in order to begin the Creative Phase.


The Creative Phase is where all drawings, elevations, renderings, sourcing of furniture and finishes and budgeting happens. If you’re renovating, the designer will be discussing plans in depth with your contractor. 

When all of the design/structural/construction decisions have been made, the plan will be presented to you for your approval. This is your chance to veto anything you don’t like. If you’re happy with everything, you’ll give your approval and the cost of this plan will require payment.

In order for the project to move into the “Implementation Phase”, the designer & contractor will need the money to pay for it.

During the Implementation Phase, your designer will be placing orders, securing items, services, deliveries, and coordinating that with your contractor and their trades. These all require payments or deposits in order to happen and sadly, that money comes from you. The Designer does not front you the money and bill you for it later or have you just square up with them.

It’s a very detailed process (design is 80% paperwork and 20% creative) where you give them money to make your home beautiful, they tell you the plan, you approve everything and give them permission in writing to spend your money to get you the everything you approve. Then you can move on to the second phase. 


Welcome to the “Implementation Phase”…..generally known as the sucky part of the project. If it’s a decorating project the suck will be minor. Likely some small trade work, maybe new flooring, painters, electrician, ditching your old furniture and waiting 8-10 weeks for your new goodies.

If you’re renovating, the suck is major. It will be dirty. It will be dusty.  There will be strangers in your home a lot. This is also where something will likely go wrong that couldn’t be foreseen (bad wiring/a botched previous renovation/family of raccoons). Try not to worry. Your designer and contractor will fix it. There’ll be money in your budget set aside for these things and a solution will be found.

Also, be aware this phase could take weeks to months to finish depending on the scope of the work. Your designer will likely send you weekly email updates letting you know what steps you’re at, what you can expect and so on but it will *feel* like a very long time. This is where I often have to put on my other hats including ‘Marriage Counsellor’, ‘Hand Holder’ and ‘Talking In Off The Ledger’.

However, in the end, you will likely be thrilled with the end result just like on all those HGTV shows. Well, the last five minutes of them anyway. Your designer wants nothing more than for you to be ecstatic about the end result.  

I liken the whole process to childbirth. At first, you’re super psyched and a little nervous. Then things get surprising, you’re spending a lot of money and you’re not sure if you’re quite ready. Then there’s a really long, messy part where you think you’ll never survive. Then, it’s over and you’re crazy in love with what came out in the end. Just remember, a good design professional can really help you achieve what you’re looking for. Trust them and the process and you’ll be just fine. 

About the Author

Steve Ryan is a Toronto based Designer, Decorator and Home Stager. He is a graduate of the Interior Decorating Program from George Brown College and is an Accredited Member of the Decorators & Designers Association of Canada (DDA). He has contributed several articles to the DDA monthly newsletters on a wide variety of topics, given design consultations at their Fall Home Show Charity Events and guest lectured on small space design at George Brown College. He also gives design tips on his own website blog.

Contact Steve Ryan Designs

Headshot credit: Pierre Gautreau Photography