In interior decorating, there are no such things as general absolutes. The field is far too subjective, and thank goodness for that. We shouldn’t crown someone the best decorator, declare a certain table the best, or a certain hue the colour of the year. There are, however, ‘particular’ absolutes, shall we say: the perfect decorator for your project, the best table for your dining room, and the right paint colour for your space.
And so, in a world where we are spoilt for choices, how do you find the perfect decorator for your project?
Here are some tips that will help:
1) Examine their entire portfolio, not just the first couple of photos you see.
Really take the time to study their style, the features that regularly appear in their projects, observe the kinds of homes they typically work in, the way they position furniture. In my case, for example, you’ll find curtains and black lines to be recurring elements in my designs.
Does the decorator favour a beautiful albeit functional approach or is he/she focused purely on the design aesthetic: an example of this would be where you see an amazing large sofa, a huge TV mounted on the opposite wall, and a 30 cm round designer coffee table as the only accompanying piece… not much room to place your pizza while you’re watching Netflix! Surely looks beautiful as a Natuzzi ad, though.
Do you like the colour palettes you see in their portfolio, or does your favourite tone not appear in their work at all?
2) Check out their vendors.
Often times, a decorator must work with various existing pieces that belong to the client, which means that the portfolio photos you see are not 100 percent representative of the decorator’s style. And so it should be, for one of the decorator’s greatest talents is the ability to integrate existing elements into a new concept. In the example below, the link between the client's existing sofa, the sideboard with a green glass top and the side tables was an XL custom-made rug, a set of lamps from Loberon, and a green glass modern coffee table.
Nevertheless, if you want to get a good idea of the decorator’s design style, have a look at the brands they work with. In my case, I am drawn to modern Spanish interiors and Belgian design, which is why you’ll find that some of my vendors are brands from those countries.
If the firm has no providers advertised on their website, simply write or call them to ask. You can then research the brands they mentioned and get a real feel for their style.
3) Read about them and their personality traits.
Decorating projects can last a few months, if not longer, so ensure you’re sharing the experience with someone you like. Read the testimonials the decorator has received and scan for personality traits that you like and see yourself working with. Age, language and background are also important, at the end of the day, you and your decorator need to be able to relate on more than one level. Do you know anyone who has already worked with them? If not, ask them to provide a reference with whom you can speak directly.
Consider whether the decorator has previous experience in another field and which skills may be associated with that. In my case, a background in law and several years of experience as a university teacher help me articulate to my clients the reasons for my design choices in a way that they can make sense of them, too.
4) Have them over for a home consultation.
This is a great way to decide whether a certain decorator is the perfect one for you and your project. If necessary and you can afford it, book consultations with two different decorators and compare!
5) Ask the decorator specific questions that relate to your project.
Once you have booked your home consultation and the decorator visits, forget about their portfolio for a while and ask them to provide ideas and initial thoughts for your project based on what they see. I am not suggesting that the decorator should give you a perfect plan right there and then, but let him/her brainstorm and see if you like some of the recommendations they come up with.
How does the decorator charge for their work? Where's the decorator located? This might impact the decorator's ability to recommend colleagues or trades in your area... Has he/she worked on a similar project before? Are they familiar with brands that represent your style? Do they push your boundaries and introduce you to ideas that you hadn’t thought of?
No longer is residential design "perceived as strictly the purview of those with a large house or deep pockets, interior design is universally attainable, relevant and applicable to any abode _ no matter how modest _ and available to every buyer."(1) So, in conclusion, take your time, don't make rushed decisions. Hiring a decorator is an important investment not only in your home, but also in your lifestyle and that of your family. The decisions you make with your decorating partner will impact your moods and attitude towards life for months, if not years to come.
(1) "New York School of Design, Home: The Foundations of Enduring Spaces," by Ellen S. Fisher.