The moment comes for some people when they move into a larger home and realize they have no idea how to use the space. For others, the inspiration to work with an interior designer springs from dissatisfaction with their color scheme or a desire to upgrade their post-college Ikea furniture to something a little more grown-up.
Once you've decided you want to consult an interior designer, you'll need to find someone you can trust and work with comfortably and whose services fit into your budget.
Shannon Munn, an interior designer and principal of Ambi Design Studio in McLean, suggested starting at the ASID.org site, which has a search feature to find interior designers in your area and according to their specialty.
"If you find an interior designer that's certified by the American Society of Interior Designers, you know you will be working with someone who has had the proper training, not just your neighbor who has good taste," Ms. Munn said.
Tracy Schlegel, co-owner of Waterlily Interiors in Bethesda, said homeowners need to connect with their designer on a personal level as well as in terms of style.
"It's such a personal relationship because you are spending time in someone's home and they're revealing things like their style differences with their spouse," Ms. Schlegel said. "People are often the most comfortable if they get a recommendation from a friend who has worked with the designer."
Ms. Schlegel also suggested looking online and reading local interior design articles to find designers. Most designers have a website with a portfolio of their designs, and some also write blogs that can give potential customers a feel for their style and personality.
"Ninety-five percent of my customers reference my blog when they call me for an interview," said Jessica Bonness, an interior designer with JGB Interiors in the District. "You can look at websites and see if you think you might click with the designer and then call a few and meet with them before you decide if they're right for you."
Before you meet with a designer, you need to take two steps: Think about your preferred interior decorating style and establish a budget.
"Most designers have a point of view in terms of style, but they can have a range of styles they will work in," said Kelcey Huff, co-owner of Waterlily Interiors. "Truthfully, though, a really contemporary designer won't be comfortable designing a very traditional home."
Ms. Munn said people sometimes get too caught up in trying to find a designer who fits in with their style.
"It's better to look at the basics of design, the look rather than the style," Ms. Munn said. "For instance, you can see from their website if a designer does a lot of cozy and cluttered rooms versus a streamlined look. A good designer can execute both traditional and contemporary looks."
When reviewing various designer websites, Ms. Bonness said you should look for what appeals to you.
"While most designers will do anything their client wants, I think it works best to work with a designer whose style meshes with yours," she said.
One of the most challenging issues for designers is to establish a budget with a client.
"You need to be upfront about the budget and completely honest," Ms. Bonness said. "One of the most common complaints clients have about designers is that they show them things they can't afford. Many people are shy about talking about money, but you need to make sure your designer knows what you can spend. You are wasting your time and money and your designer's time if you don't set a budget, because a designer can spend five hours searching for a coffee table that you can't afford to purchase."
Designers have different methods of billing for their services. Some work for a flat fee, while others charge an hourly rate or get paid from the discount they receive on furniture purchased by the clients. Interior designers have access to furniture resources not available to the general public and often can pass on discounted prices to their clients.
Many interior designers choose to be paid with a combination of an hourly rate or flat fee and to keep some of the discount on purchases. Some interior designers will charge an upfront retainer, while others offer a two- or three-hour consultation for an hourly rate. Sometimes the consultation is all someone wants, just to have an interior designer tour the home and offer suggestions.
Ms. Bonness said the easiest relationships between clients and designers occur when the clients are well-prepared with a budget, so she sends out a questionnaire before the consultation.
"Your budget is critical because you can find a rug that costs anywhere from $500 to $20,000," Ms. Huff said. "We can help make choices, too, to save money on one item and spend more on another or to use pieces you already own."
Ms. Huff recommended that both partners in a couple attend a consultation, particularly if they have different tastes.
"A designer can be a bridge between different styles to create an attractive space," she said. "Both people need to give the designer all their information about a budget and talk openly about style."
While you are hiring a designer to help you decorate your home, the process of working with a designer can go more smoothly if you have some idea of what you like and dislike.
"You should build your own file of photos from websites or magazines," Ms. Schlegel said. "You can see what you connect with in a positive or a negative way. It's just as important to know what people hate, such as repeating patterns or geometric prints. We can help people see the connections between pictures, such as monochromatic palette or something like that."
Ms. Munn recommended creating an inspiration file, but she said some clients opt to collect favorite items such as paintings, a tea set, clothing or even a handbag to show her what they like.
"Anything that makes you feel the way you want to feel in your new room can be used as an inspiration for a designer," Ms. Munn said.
Communication between a designer and a client may be the most important element in a successful relationship.
"It's so important to know what someone wants in terms of their budget and the date they need the work to be complete," Ms. Munn said. "Clients need to be realistic in their expectations. There are three qualities to any design project: budget, speed and quality. You can usually only have two of the three, so you need to think about what matters most to you and communicate that to your designer."