How to Start an Interior Design Business

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Interior designers do more than just stylize and decorate.
Interior designers do more than just stylize and decorate. (Image: Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images)

Turning an empty room into a beautiful and functional space takes skill, education and experience. Starting an interior design firm takes business and marketing savvy to turn prospects into happy clients. Your customers should feel you took their interests, needs and taste into consideration when you conceptualize and fill the spaces they provide.

Know the Requirements

A solid education and the ability to fill a space with functionality and style differentiates interior designers from interior decorators, who handle surface decoration only. You may need to become certified as well. Eighteen states require interior designers to pass an examination and obtain a license, the American Society of Interior Designers says. To become federally certified -- especially important if you want to secure government contracts -- you must take the qualification exam offered by the National Council for Interior Design. You also need to know local, state and federal codes regarding safety, use of flammable materials and room capacity to work on commercial design projects.

A Sense of Focus

Working on certain types of design projects, such as commercial or residential development, can help you establish a niche. If you handle commercial projects, you may want to focus on a particular industry, such as hospitality, office, entertainment or retail. Specialize further by becoming known for the types of projects you handle, such as sustainable design or space planning that involves safety elements. Another option is setting a specific style to attract clients with similar tastes.

Bottom Line

Interior designers structure their fees based on their reputation, location and client demand. Charging $75 per hour is a good starting point, according to Freshome.com, an online magazine focused on interior design and architecture. You may choose to instead charge a percentage fee based on the total cost of the project, ideal if costs run higher than originally planned. Another option is to charge a fixed project fee that covers all design, layout and installation costs. To calculate pricing, determine how much time you must spend on the project, including the initial consultation, creating drawings, meetings with clients, shopping for furniture and accessories and installation.

Dotted Line

A contract is a necessity in handling interior design projects because the process is so subjective. Provide as many details as possible, including the functionality requirements of the space and how many rooms or total square footage you expect to design. Explain how the furniture and accessories you buy on the client's behalf are invoiced. Request a retainer of half of the proposed design fees before starting each project.

Vendors and Furnishings

Set up accounts with vendors who provide furniture and accessories, and request discounted or wholesale pricing. This allows you to offer your clients savings over retail prices on any furnishings you buy on their behalf, but the markup of between 20 percent and 40 percent can still provide you with additional revenue.

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