Getting An Interior Designer? What To Know So You Won’t Be Scammed

27 January 2023 | BY

Don’t want to be that person on Reddit ranting about your horrible Interior Designer? Then here are some tips to help you get a good one!

interior designer guide

For the most part, coordinating a home renovation is out of the leagues of many ordinary homeowners. Not only is there the designing aspect, there’s the sourcing for materials, and contractors and a lot of red tape you need to wiggle your way through.

But with a million Interior Design (ID) firms out there, choosing an ID easily becomes a tricky decision that can land you in a hot – and expensive – mess. To avoid regaling your friends with your own ID horror story, here’s a list of things you should look out for to help you steer your search to find the one. 

Look for highly-rated IDs with lots of reviews

You’re often told to pick an ID firm whose portfolio projects match the style of home that you want, but final home shots aren’t everything. Beyond making sure your ID understands your vision, you’ll want to do some digging to make sure that the ID firm that you’re going with has a staggering amount of good reviews from happy clients on Google and not just their own website. 

interior designer guideImage adapted from: Facebook

And in the same way you stick to a good hair stylist, you’ll want to make sure that the ID that’s assigned to your home has glowing reviews about them as well. This also applies to word-of-mouth recommendations, since some people might be super easy-going, while others total perfectionists. This will help you with the initial ID firm shortlist.

Image adapted from: Build Built Pte Ltd

Pro-tip: Look out for CaseTrust-accredited ID companies to avoid getting scammed.

Make use of free consultations

These days, it’s common for interior design firms to offer free consultations, so capitalise on the free service. This might entail basic spatial planning, drawing up a rough mood board or design concept, and on-the-spot hand sketches.

interior designer guideImage credit:

Most free consultations require you to visit their physical centre or location, which means that they don’t get to personally see the space that they’re going to be working on. That’s why it’s important to bring along your floor plan and any other specifications you might need i.e. budget run-down, inspiration boards, what kinds of renovation is to be done.

If you’re keen to work with a particular interior designer, expect to pay a fee for 1-2 subsequent consultations. These will be more in depth and you get access to further resources like in-person home assessments, 3D-rendering, material samples and swatches, or detailed breakdown of past projects.

Questions to ask your ID: 

  • Can you give me a rough quote for what I need?
  • What is the expected timeline or schedule? 
  • What styles have you worked with before?
  • How much storage space can I incorporate with this floor area?
  • Are you open to the idea of coming down to my home to assess it?

Make sure the scope of work & fees are clearly explained

Once you start collecting quotations for your reno work, that’s when you find out that the price discrepancy from one ID to another can be really drastic. While some IDs charge a very straightforward management and design fee, some IDs are a little more ambiguous with their pricing.

Example of a quotation. Compare a few quotes item-by-item to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Image adapted from: Uchify Team

This might mean that they’ve under-declared certain aspects of the reno works and might potentially add on charges to your total bill at a later date. Another plausible cause is the use of low-quality materials in your home build that’ll result in more headaches and sunk cost for you in the future.

If your ID is charging a professional fee, you shouldn’t be paying a marked-up price on other services and reno works. Ask for an itemised cost list, and if you’re kinda sus about the prices you’re paying, simply reach out to other IDs or contractors for quotations on the same scope of work.

An ID’s professional fee usually covers: 

  • Designing the homes layout with multiple renders
  • Coming up with the project timeline
  • Being the liaison between contractors and suppliers
  • Project managing the entire renovation process
  • Help curate suitable furniture or recommend colour palettes for your home and furniture

Pro-tip: Make sure you’re paying full GST on your renovation. Firms that offer GST discounts or don’t charge GST are usually sketchy ones. You also don’t want to be paying more than 10-20% of the total reno upfront, as some unfortunate homeowners have actually had their IDs run away with their cash. 

Reputed IDs will usually stagger the payment in batches to allow the clients to have some sort of “leverage” on the project. This is usually in the form of a 10-15% initial deposit, and staggered second and third payments upon completion of certain aspects like carpentry. The final 5-10% of payment is usually reserved until all works are complete.

Make sure there’s a performance clause & warranty period in your contract

With so many ID horror stories floating around the depths of Reddit, it’s only natural to worry about whether or not you’ll end up working with an unprofessional ID. To save yourself from a lot of frustration and stress, make sure you pore through the contract well, and make sure to include a performance clause. This should state that in the event that your ID doesn’t live up to expectations, then you have every right to be compensated for damages.

Another component to look out for in your ID contract is the warranty period – they usually last between 12 months to 2 years from the date of completion. Just in case you end up with defects or subpar workmanship, there’s no harm in enquiring about it before engaging with your ID.

Most warranties cover poorly installed or defective carpentry or components that remain installed in its original position. Also, take note that any defects should be brought up to your ID within 1 to 2 weeks’ time of discovery, to prevent them from dismissing the flaw as a simple abrasion from normal use.

Questions to ask your ID: 

  • What does your warranty cover?
  • How long is the warranty period?
  • How long is the period of notice for any defects or flawed workmanship?

Address regulation and structural concerns

Image credit: @19eightythree  

Sure, you can go crazy and think out of the box with your dream home – but not too crazy. Certain housing types come with their own set of restrictions and safety concerns, especially HDB flats

Upon obtaining your renovation permit from HDB, do keep in mind that there’s a 3-month window for your renovation works to be completed. This is crucial when it comes to planning a timeline with your ID. If your ID is looking to make alterations like hacking your walls, make sure our ID seeks the necessary approval from HDB beforehand. 

As for condominiums, if you’re considering closing off your balconies due to weather-proof or child-proof it, it’ll be good to suss out if your ID has experience with installation.

Lofts might also be part of your dream home – make sure your ID has experience with it and abides by URA regulations, as it might affect your safety or structural integrity of your home. Moreover, you have to be clear about how you expect the final space to look like – do you intend for it to be a study room, or more of an open-concept bedroom?

What if you want to DIY instead? 

Image credit: @authorsinstyle

Finally, for those who’re deciding between engaging an interior designer and going solo, understand the additional service that you’d be paying for. 

Interior designers are there to offer experienced advice and ideas that the typical homeowner might not be able to think of right off the bat. They also source furniture and create professional materials like drawings, mood boards, and 3D rendering prior to the execution of the renovation project.

Having worked in the industry for an amount of time, they have better access and connections to resources and contractors – this would definitely come in handy if you’re looking to renovate an older resale that needs various repairs. Having professionals to handle your home also means a higher resale value because of the detail and quality.

On the other hand, you can always YOLO and try your hand at DIY-ing your renovation instead. By directly hiring a contractor, you have more control and creative freedom over how the project proceeds. While it might be more budget-friendly to take this route, being your own project manager means that you’ll have to be extremely on-the-ball and monitor every step of the project.

Finding the right interior designer for your home

For first-time homeowners, working with an ID might feel like taking a dive into unfamiliar territory. Even if you’ve had experience with past renovation projects, here’s a mini checklist that we’ve come up with to ensure that you don’t leave out the important details.

From budgeting to doing ample research, it’s crucial to run through this list so that you can avoid sub-par workmanship, questionable service, or even entanglements in flawed renovation contracts. 

For more home renovation guides, check out: 

Cover image adapted from : TheSmartLocal,

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