Arizona is a veritable buffet of interior designers and decorators chomping at the bit to earn your business. That’s the good thing. Now for the bad… In Arizona there is no skill required to obtain an interior design company, nor license. With SO, SO many of us around, how do you know you’ve found the right one to work with? That’s a fantastic question. I will try to be as objective as I can with my answer, but of course, I will toot my own horn… toot, toot!
Some interior “designers” in Arizona are nothing more than a well dressed decorator. Decorators can make your space pretty- they, well… DECORATE. They can’t really go beyond that, having no techincal knowledge of what we do. You may think initially that your project may not require much more than this, but if you are looking for someone to propose the absolute best options for your space, that may require more knowledge than whether that color upholstery will match that color floor. I have been suprised to find that many designers in Arizona do not know wood species, their characteristics, understand fabric ratings, light planning, scale, many can’t render a room to show you what you will be getting as an end result of their design, very few know plumbing or understand specifications and far fewer can interpret a blueprint. Working directly with remodelers, I’ve come across countless errors made by other designers in the field, stemming from a lack of knowledge. These are things that you just don’t think of until there she is standing in your room after two weeks of working with her and all she’s done is dressed up your pre-existing space without really seeing that the floorplan can possibly exist in a different way.
A good way to judge if your designer is not much more than a decorator is by their hourly fee. It should be lower because they do not have the technical knowledge that would expect a higher salary. If your designer is charging less than $100.00 per hour, please know they are most likely not a designer. That being said, you can obtain a great designer for a rate of $125.00-$150.00 per hour, with many now offering value based flat fees ( I am one of them). Having done this for over seventeen years now, on the East and West Coast, I know this to be a very fair wage for what we do. If someone is charging you more, that does not mean they are better… and that brings me to my next topic.
Interior design was not invented in Scottsdale, AZ! You do not require a Scottsdale designer to ensure good work. However, this has become a snowball effect of afluent clients seeking designers in Scottsdale, so more designers have placed their offices or rented tiny showroom spaces in Scottsdale to do their best to attract your business. Does that mean that a designer who lives in Chandler, Mesa or Gilbert can’t do as well a job… well, that’s just silly? Is there a possibility that you will pay more money to work with a Scottsdale designer to create your dream space? Likely you will, because that high rent cannot pay itself. Don’t judge a designer by where they have chosen to live, nor where they conduct their business. As a matter of fact, there are afluent pockets of homeowners throughout the East and West Valley; and I have to laugh when I come across a designer or remodeler that tells me they won’t come down to the East Valley past Shea, as though no one worth designing for resides beyond the 101. I have done many gorgeous remodels in Chandler, Mesa, Gold Canyon and Tempe in everything from multi-million dollar estates to $300k condos. I feel a good designer doesn’t limit herself and seeks to create where the opportunity is. As a result, I practice interior design from Phoenix to Gold Canyon, and every city in between. ( Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Peoria, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek, Gold Canyon)
The more skill your designer possesses, the less outsourcing they will need to do to complete your project. For instance, I am an interior designer who also specializes in kitchen and bathroom remodeling. I can fully design a kitchen or bathroom, right down to the cabinet layout and fixtures that will work best within the space, doing my own technical drawings usable by a contractor. I can ensure that the fixtures will fit properly, understand the construction required to move a drain or cutouts needed when putting a certain style of faucet in a vanity that contains all drawers (I just recently saw this huge mistake made by a very well known Scottsdale design firm). Working with a designer that has this kind of knowledge can only benefit you and your project by having less hands on the work and greater project management. I also have a fantastic team that I work with constantly, consisting of my own custom cabinet and remodeling shop- owned by my husband, Jay Dunbar of J&M Custom Millwork & Remodeling, and an amazing custom home and commercial builder, Kevin Panoski of Kevron Homes. Some designers have to outsource this type of work, and that’s ok, but that typically means there are added costs involved, as each time a plan passes hands, there is profit thrown on top of that next source’s cost.
Lastly, use good judgement when selecting your designer. Do you feel, after meeting with them that they will be a good fit for you and your project? Have you seen their work? An experienced interior designer will have photos of their work and references of past clients. Be leery of someone who shows you nothing but one photo of each project they’ve done. Sometimes one photo is all that’s required to show off the work, but designers know how important the process is from beginning to end, so your designer would be able to show you a few before and afters or even mid project construction photos. This is how you will know that this work is truly their own. I only bring this up because I have been shocked to find that a few designers in AZ have comprised websites and portfolio photos of work that is not even theirs. I also know of one designer who’s website shows you nothing but inspiration photos stolen from another website. It’s great to have inspiration, but this doesn’t show you what they can accomplish for your space. I happen to be friends with a few designers both in Arizona and in New York who actually do great design work. There are a few good ones out there, in addition to myself, of course! One of my favorites, if you live in the New York area, is Meredith Zaretsky Weis. I highly recommend you contact her company, Merri Interiors, for all of your design projects. Like me, not only does she do fabulous interior design, but also specializes in kitchens and bathrooms. She is one of those background designers who really needs to shine more in the forefront, she’s fantastic. (look at her portfolio).
I realize that this was a very long post, and it should be even longer, as I can go on and on about the many nuances I have seen first hand in interior design in Arizona. For instance, I know of one “design firm” who is remodeling kitchens and bathrooms throughout Scottsdale, Chandler and Mesa and the owner was previously in an unrelated field with no experience nor knowledge of design WHATSOEVER! She continues to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners by charming them, I suppose, because she continues to be hired without so much as a website and has left a bad taste in the mouths of dozens of homeowners that I know of for the last 9 months. The mistakes she’s made and lack of knowledge for what she claims she can do has shown in her work. As much as I would like to publicize this business, I will continue to do my best to promote good design, educate homeowners on what to look for, and create amazing spaces for my own clients. But at least now, you are a bit more savvy on what to look for and avoid when selecting an interior designer in Arizona. If you appreciate my honesty on the subject, and are seeking a designer for your home, give me a chance to see if I may be a good fit for you and your home!