Some of the country's top interior designers talk about why hiring a designer is so important, and how to choose the right one for you.
Aesthetics, personality and money: these are the three ingredients that either make or break almost any marriage. and yet, with a very short courtship – sometimes no more than one or two interviews – you’ll be selecting a person who will be your partner through the whole decorating process. but the benefits of finding a match made in heaven are worth the risks, say those who have walked the designer aisle. here’s why hiring an interior designer makes sense…
They save you money
Toss aside the idea that interior designers are only for the rich and famous. It may seem hard to believe but, in the long run, a well-chosen decorator can actually save you money. "A designer will help you plan, plot and coordinate every stage of your project, eliminating, as far as is realistically possible, hiccups along the way that can cause unnecessary delays or lead to expensive mistakes," says successful Johannesburg-based interior designer David Muirhead.
The fact that designers are constantly exposed to new trends and products is also a pocket-friendly plus. "If you’re not in the design field, it takes a lot of energy to research these in order to ensure you’re making a decision about furnishings or fabrics that isn’t going to end up costing you more to fix later," says lauded Cape Town interior designer Sarah Ord. "Think about it: you use a professional to fix your teeth, your car, your tax return. why leave a large and potentially expensive job to chance?"
They have a trained eye
"There is so much more to a well-designed room than simply filling it with your favourite things," says Sumari Krige, award-winning interior designer and owner of la grange interiors in Kramerville, Johannesburg. "Designers are trained to know scale, proportion, colour, size and texture, and so will professionally assess your space to ensure it’s used with maximum efficiency and functionality." In short, a designer offers an extra set of eyes – eyes that are trained to see things you may not. "Sumari introduced elements into our home that we would never even have thought of, but that worked so well," admits Angelique de Rauville, who recruited the designer’s services for the interior overhaul of her home in Constantia, Cape Town. "We had a palette and a certain look in mind but we wanted something unique and personal to us, not something just taken straight out of a catalogue. Sumari just 'got' this."
They’ll help you plan (and stick to) a budget
"Setting a budget is the easy part. Deciding how you’re going to divide it among the different aspects of your decorating project is a lot harder. this is where the designer comes in," says Krige. Cape Town interior designer Robert Sherwood agrees: "There’s no use in setting a budget if you don’t know what products or materials actually cost. A designer has this information at his fingertips and so can work out a clear item-by- item breakdown of projected expenses before any work begins."
"A designer will give you a realistic picture of what can be achieved within the scope of your budget," concurs Francois du Plessis, who has been in the decorating business for over 30 years. du Plessis’s experience proved invaluable to Nicolò Stortiglione Pudel, former owner of Sea Five in Camps Bay, who recruited the acclaimed designer for the interior remodelling of his luxury boutique hotel: "As a commercial enterprise, the project had to make good financial sense and Francois was not only able to accurately forecast a comprehensive budget based on each and every one of our requirements but also to stick to it precisely."
They save you time
When you take into account all the countless hours (and petrol) wasted by buying items, being unhappy with them when you get them back home, and then returning them, hiring a pro is time-saving no-brainer… and that’s to say nothing of all the gallons of paint an interior designer can save you, too. "I never set foot in a showroom unless I wanted to," recalls Debbie Coombe, who employed Cape Town designer Natalie Bulwer when redecorating her Kenilworth home. "Natalie brought all the samples, swatches and catalogues to the house and we chose what we wanted in the comfort of my own living room."
They have contacts
"Sarah has all the industry connections so sourcing furnishings and fabrics was second nature to her, which, in turn, helped keep the project on deadline," says hotelier Michael Pawlowski who commissioned Ord to decorate the four luxury villas that comprise his La Clé des Montagnes in Franschhoek. "Designers also have access to trade-only resources that are often not available to the general public or are heavily discounted when bought through a professional," comments Ord, adding that, because they’ve formed relationships with kitchen consultants, plumbers, electricians and other contractors, interior designers "can help you get the right people for your job".
They’re good at liaising
"Architect, decorator and landscaper, not to mention all your contractors, need to be on the same page, and the designer, as Jack of all trades, is often the one who makes this happen," says Krige. Her client agrees. "Sumari literally project-managed the whole process," recalls de Rauville. "She also acted as a second pair of eyes when it came to looking over the plans. from these she was able to do the furniture plan, which then determined the lighting plan, the colours, finishes and so on."
A designer will be able to build a stronger bridge between you and your architect or contractors early on and can avoid design mistakes in your overall plan. This is crucial in managing time and money.
explains Ord, adding that designers are trained to think about things clients may overlook. "It’s so important that the lighting and furnishing needs be addressed before construction. If your lounge sofa is floating in the middle of the room, for instance, you want to make sure you have the proper access to plug points and so on."
"Each practice informs the other," adds sherwood. "You can instantly tell a home that has benefited from collaborative approach."
They increase the value of your home
There’s a reason why people hire so-called ‘home stagers’ when they put their properties on the market. If done properly, staging your home will highlight its strengths and help downplay its weaknesses, making it more attractive to potential buyers. The job of the interior designer is no different, says Krige: "Decorators aren’t there simply to choose paint colours and hang pictures. They are skilled at figuring out the best way to utilise the spaces in a home, making each one work harder and be more attractive to potential buyers."
"Understand that the return on your interior investment is comfort and an improved lifestyle, both of which will have an impact on your home’s desirability to others should you decide to sell it one day," says Muirhead, who advises, however, that your financial outlay be in proportion to the value of your property.
"An expert will consider factors for maximising your home’s potential that you may not even have thought of," adds Bulwer. "They’ll look, for instance, at how the light enters a room, during what time of day the space is used most and who uses it. They’ll find ways to make your interiors accentuate the features of your home’s particular architectural style and they will ensure that every element of the decorating scheme works within the overall layout. this creates a sense of cohesion between the interior and exterior spaces, all of which adds significantly to a home’s appeal."
They’re on top of trends
"Designers have their fingers on the pulse of industry developments, new products and suppliers, and the very latest in design thinking," says du Plessis. "Every day, we are exposed to new information and we bring this with us when we create new concepts for existing living spaces, be it converting an old bathroom into a modern wet room, say, or updating a classic home for the new century."
A good designer is able to adapt cutting-edge trends to the property owner’s individual preferences, adds Stortiglione Pudel. "Francois never lost sight of my vision, he just reinterpreted it in a modern idiom. he seamlessly incorporated my preferences – like a range of specially manufactured tiles i wanted to use – into a scheme that was contemporary, efficient and practical but that still reflected my personal tastes."
They bring focus to your vision
When help is needed to direct your decorating fantasies, it pays to call in a pro. "Even if you’re a naturally creative person, when it comes to furnishings, fabrics and fittings, there are so many choices available that it can be overwhelming to do it on your own," admits Sherwood.
A professional will help focus and structure your mental picture by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable components.
The flip side of the argument is that many people have difficultly visualising the end result, counters du Plessis. "They know that they like this chair or that painting but they can’t figure out how to pull it all together."
"A designer will help find the underlying thread – be it a unity of colour, proportion or texture – that brings a sense of continuity, an intrinsic flow, to your home and makes it just feel 'right'," says Bulwer.
What’s the most common interior design mistake?
Opinions vary, but it all adds up to excellent advice. "Hiring a designer who doesn’t take into account your desires and, instead, creates a home for himself," is Natalie Bulwer’s bug bear. Sarah Ord warns against not agreeing the terms and conditions of the job upfront. "Put everything in writing. Then let the designer do her job. That what’s you’re paying her for, isn’t it?". Over-decorating is Sumari Krige’s worst nightmare. "Your decor should complement your space, not cover it up," she says. But the last word goes to David Muirhead, who advises against planning interiors without correct working drawings done to scale: "This is the only way for the exact proportions of the various elements to be interpreted within the final design."
Watch South Africa's best up and coming interior designers battle it our on the Win a Home Show on SABC3.
Little black book
Antoni Associates 021 468 4400, aainteriors.co.za
David Muirhead & Associates 011 784 5555, davidmuirhead.com
Francois du Plessis Interiors 021 461 1166, 083 409 3323, fdpinteriors.co.za
La Grange Interiors (Sumari Krige) 011 444 5379, lagrangeinteriors.co.za
Natalie Bulwer Interiors 021 686 2476, 084 926 6393, nataliebulwer.co.za
Robert Sherwood Design 021 424 1268, 082 627 9504, robertsherwooddesign.com
Sarah Ord Interiors 021 422 3218, sarahord.com
The SA Institute of Interior Designers (IID) 011 486 0450, iidprofessions.com