Who should I hire to do up the house, an interior designer or a contractor?

The after joy of finally signing off the papers and getting the keys, all the while envisioning life in your new house. One would have think that finally! I’m done with all the complications of paper works and procedures. Alas, the most stressful phase has yet to come. Here comes the million dollar question: Who should I hire to do up the house, an interior designer or a contractor? Many clients that we have encountered often ask us the same question. They are confused with the roles of both party, and find it difficult to draw a clear distinction between the both. Some even think that both provide similar services. In fact, there is a vast difference between an interior designer and a contractor, and we are going to break it down here for you to properly differentiate and decide which you should engage for your house.

JOB SCOPE An interior designer’s job scope is to provide detailed consultation services from brainstorming the design concept to space planning, proposing furniture, lightings, fabric and materials. Apart from that, they provide 3D visuals so client can have a good visualization of the final outcome before proceeding to the construction. Project management is also included unless requested by client not to.  To sum up, an interior designer basically goes through the entire process together with the client to achieve function and aesthetic in a space. Contractors work with many subcontractors that caters to different areas such as electrical/wirings, piping, carpentry works, ceiling, flooring, etc. Their job scope is to ensure a smooth workflow between all parties. They do not provide design advises and are engage to only focus on the construction/renovation as per instruct by client. Client will need to have a strong understanding of the space and knows exactly what they want for their home/project. There will be no 3D visuals, only verbal and at most basic sketches to communicate with all parties.
KNOWLEDGE Interior designers are certified professionals who underwent years of official training to understand the interaction between space and human relation. They have the knack to combine creativity and technical knowledge to achieve quality standards within the given budget. Contractors are not certified professionals. They are usually trained by years of experiences throughout their job.  Their knowledge are mostly experience based and have limited creative solutions on problem solving. A contractor is more function driven and may leave out aesthetic aspect.
TIMELINE & PROJECT PROGRESSION Right after you’ve engage an interior designer, expect a few sessions of meet ups prior to the design stage as designers need to first go through site inspection and discussions with clients to further understand the space and clients preferences in order to develop a desirable design concept. The entire design process will take approximately 1-3 months depending on project size and complications. After deciding on a project kickoff date and paying upfront fees, contractor will start the construction job immediately.  Client will have to give clear instructions on what to do as contractors are hired to follow opinions and instructions given unless question arise.  A Sudden change of design will often ruin the schedule and progress of a project which can vary from 1-6 months depending on project size and complications.
CHARGES  & BUDGET Here comes the most controversial topic. Most clients feel that it is a luxury and not a need to spend on an interior designer. And if they do so, the charges are often doubted. Do bear in mind that when you pay an interior designer, you are paying for their service, knowledge, skills and creativity in designing your house/project. You are also paying for a peace of mind knowing that your designer will troubleshoot on site with contractors and rectify unseen complications that arise throughout the construction.  This additional design fees might also save you a large sum of money and time by preventing unforeseen complications. Contractor charge based on an estimation price. Other than the standard charging for all parties involved in the construction and material selection by client, they will need to charge for workers allocate on site daily. As with all estimation prices, client should be prepared for additional cost depending on the material selected, carpentry finishing, fixtures quality and rectification cost due to unforeseen complications. On the other hand, the benefit of an estimation quote is client can always go for second alternatives for instance swapping materials and selecting another finishing/profile.
CONSTRUCTION Most clients would want their designer to also project manage the construction for them to achieve quality workmanship. A good interior designer should have the creativity of producing nice design and also the knowledge to construct it. The end result should not be too far away from the initial design proposal.  That said, clients should bear in mind that there is no 100% similarity because throughout the construction process, unseen complications and additional suggestions by both parties are bound to occur. A percentage of 70-80% from the initial proposal is deem a success. A mark of good service from a contractor is when they can coordinate and communicate well with all parties to arrange a proper schedule to ensure a smooth work flow. They will need to have an accurate estimation on the time given for each party to step in. Because a contractor usually do not have background on creativity and design, they will take instructions solely from client and give advises when needed based on their experience. Unless a client is clear of what they want and able to provide specifications, engaging a contractor for a house/project construction is often stressful. Client will not have a clear picture of the final outcome until the construction is complete.
RESPONSIBILITIES If you’re hiring an interior designer, you can expect detailed site inspection from your designer to identify, rectify and prevent complications from period to period throughout the process.  They are responsible to work hand in hand with selected contractor to provide them with a specific scope of works that only the designer know best for instance, laminate joining termination and groove line, tile layouts, color of  grouting,  furniture etc. as these may differ depending on design concept/theme. They may also assist in material sourcing and suggest contacts to contractors to ensure a smooth workflow throughout the renovation. A contractor is responsible to source for all materials requested by client and hire subcontractors to execute the job based on their scope of work. They will also need to coordinate the project site to minimized complications and rectify problems based on their experience. All in all, a contractor is responsible in planning, managing and monitoring the entire construction process to achieve good workmanship and smooth workflow.

                                                                                                                    So, who should I hire to do up the house, an interior designer or a contractor? This really is a personal choice and at the end of the day, it all goes down to how clear you are of your needs and priorities. If you have the luxury of time and have experience in managing a renovation, then engaging a contractor will do the job just as fine. If you have zero knowledge and experience on renovation and have no clues of what you want, engaging an interior designer will certainly give you a clear direction and definitely take the stress off your shoulder. The three keys that you should also consider before deciding are budget, design and quality.   Good luck and all the best in achieving your dream home/project!          

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