Friday, December 14, 2012

Meeting my readers

Hello all,

I frequently observe the sources of traffic on my blog, and have noticed an exceptional number of views coming from outside the United States.  I would like to be able to become acquainted with my different readers around the world and get feedback on my work.  I am eager to learn more about my readers, so message me!  Let me know your thoughts and why you continue to revisit my blog.  I want to make a difference by educating consumers, but I have received little feedback to validate my effectiveness.  Write to me!

Thank you and happy holidays!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are interior designers worth the money? You do the math.

            With today’s economy, homeowners are on their tiptoes regarding any extra investments they make in their home. Despite the recent incline in real estate profitability, price shopping and DIY are still the name of the game.  This means that interior designers have taken a back seat on the priority list.  People are purchasing “factory direct” or online, and hiring cheap contractors in hopes of getting their projects done with minimal expense.  Small businesses are actually suffering for this.  Independent businesses in California that need to have a decent markup to REMAIN in business are getting the brush-off by homeowners purchasing slightly cheaper imported products, and going with the lowest bidder on just about everything. 

            It may be true, in a sense, that interior designers are a luxury, and not a necessity.  Having someone to guide you with furniture layout and create custom draperies IS a luxury.  However, when it comes to larger projects like fully furnishing a new house, or remodeling a kitchen, designers ARE a necessity.  Those who are uninformed as to the capacity of qualified interior designers usually argue, “Why should I pay for some designer to come in and tell me where to put stuff and which colors to pick?  I can do that easily by myself.  It is simply a waste of money”.  Some argue “I watch HGTV and learn enough to do things myself and save money”.  Those arguments are short-sighted and uneducated.  It is true that there are hundreds of design firms throughout the U.S. that cost an arm and a leg, affordable only to celebrities and politicians.  But those are HIGH-END companies. 

           You find high-end companies in every industry---technology, clothing, cosmetics, etc. I’m sure we can all agree that the tattered fashionable jeans from Calvin Klein cannot hold a candle to a good old-fashioned pair of Levis.  They are the same product in the same industry, but the lower cost company delivers a generally superior and longer lasting product.  It’s a round-about comparison, but interior designers, like clothing, come in different styles, strengths, and price-points.   

           So what do interior designers cost?  This is a difficult question because every designer has their own approach in fees and design style.  Some profit mostly from commission, and some simply consult with clients on an hourly basis.  It depends on their specialty, experience, recognition, and demographic.  So ultimately there is no SOLID answer.  Everyone that tries to write articles on this topic ends up saying the same thing:  “It depends”.  I cannot speak for any other firms.  However, I am more than happy to be honest about my approach and method of charging.  Even for myself, how I charge, and how much I charge, varies.  But I have managed to break it down into three basic categories:  Hourly Consulting, Concept Design, and Design Packages.


Hourly consulting                                 $150/hr.

This service allows the client to obtain design expertise on different areas of their home without purchasing project management.  It is great for clients that can handle their own research and coordination but need advice on a particularly challenging part of their home.  Common design questions/projects include color consulting, window treatment consulting, kitchen/bath consulting, and general decorating advice.  The client is allowed to take notes and make copies of any notes or sketches. 

Concept Design                                   $800 and up per room

This service is excellent for homeowners who are willing to do their own research, place their own orders, and hire their own contractors.  JOI creates a 3D illustration of a proposed finished design for the given room.  The client receives a recommended color scheme, room theme, and room layout.  This acts as a road map for the client when they are researching different pieces and allows them to invest in furnishings, accessories, and remodels at a slower pace. Concept Design

Example of 3D concept design rendering.  It illustrates the overall look of the finished space. From this, the client can pursue furniture that looks similar, install similar cabinets in a similar configuration, paint with the implied colors, etc. to achieve the feel of the original concept design, for a flat fee of $800 (may increase based on size of room and complexity of design).  A 3D rendering like this takes around 10 hours to produce, so the client is paying me at a reduced hourly rate.

Full Service Design Packages         $3,000 and up

For homeowners that have very little time to dedicate to designing their home, or those who just want the job done, and done QUICKLY, full service design packages are the way to go.  To start with, JOI develops a customized design for you after becoming well acquainted and listening to your needs and tastes.  Once the design itself is completed and presented to you, JOI coordinates all necessary orders and installations to finish your room/home.  In other words, we “project manage”.  You have the option to buy furnishings directly from retailers, or you can buy through JOI.  Full service design packages can run between $3,000 and $7,800 depending on the time needed.

That seems like a lot right?  Let’s look closer at the numbers, assuming we are decorating a living room, and the designer is given carte blanche on item selection.



            The math speaks for itself.  Not only can you save over $4,000 on furnishings from designer discounts (varies by designer), you have a design that is composed by a professional interior designer, customized to suit your needs---one that will impress your friends the moment they walk in, and one that may even help you sell your home.  You don’t need to spend hours looking through catalogs and samples, driving around to various showrooms, and getting bids from different companies.  I save you that trouble, AND I save you money.  The benefits of hiring my company are very extensive, but for those who are concerned mainly with the price, the above numbers should help to clarify the dollar value in my services.  Keep in mind, the above pricing is also based on the assumption that the client is purchasing high-end, top quality product that will last for many years.  Budget management (when there is a budget) is ALWAYS taken into account when I select the different pieces for you.   You give me a budget, and I will do whatever it takes to give you a superior design within that number.  Whether you want to be very closely involved during the project, or just want me to take care of everything, the choice is yours.  My goal is to make all my clients feel very comfortable during and after the project.

            I hope that this information has been helpful.  If you are curious about the cost of design services as they would apply to your project, just call or email me. 
925-895-1336 cell

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"In Hindsight, Maybe I Should Have Hired a Designer"

           Homeowners today are more into DIY than ever.  Home renovations are now taking place with the guidance of HGTV, Better Homes & Gardens, and YouTube.  That is ONE WAY instruction, and poor quality instruction at that.  Consumers that decide to tackle a home renovation themselves with minimal professional assistance do pay a price both during, and after the project is complete.  The magnitude of all the different options becomes overwhelming, contractors disappear for weeks on end, permits get skipped, and product gets back-ordered.  When it comes to very costly and time consuming projects like kitchen and bath remodels, homeowners need to put aside their pride and invest in a designer.  Why?  To make sure they do not spend $90,000 when they could have spent $40,000.  To make sure their project lasts 3 months and not 18 months.  I have outlined some of the top issues in kitchen/bath renovation projects, and how a qualified interior designer may have been (or may still be) a benefit.

1.       BUDGETING
Today, the budget is EVERYTHING.  Homeowners must set a budget before they begin a home renovation project.  However, it is difficult to determine a budget when one has no idea what a renovation costs.  This is where designers with renovation experience can be helpful.  While they cannot speak for contractors or the directory of vendors, they can usually give a good idea of the magnitude of investment you would be dealing with based on your goals.  Kitchen and bath renovation can fluctuate between approximately 40k and 70k average.  For high end product, the price can go up significantly.  When employing an architect, the price will go up significantly.  An interior designer will consult with you and try to help you find the best way to achieve your goals based on your budget.

2.       PERMITS
Walls cannot just be knocked down and re-arranged by anyone at any time.  Modification of a “structure” requires permits from the city/area/state.  These are safety precautions that every homeowner must recognize.  An architect or builder must be employed to determine the feasibility and cost of moving/adjusting interior/exterior walls and foundations.  Furthermore, they can specify whether a permit will be required, and which permits apply if more than one.  Not only do permits cost money, but the professionals to verify the need for permits cost money.  Interior designers can give preliminary input on this to help you avoid the need for permits by working with your existing structure.  If modifications MUST be made to the structure, interior designers can help determine which changes will be less complicated and expensive.  They can show you a range of options and give you an idea of what permits may come into play, at minimal cost.  
Beware of ads and companies that pitch “Free design consultation”.  These companies are usually sales based and their assistance to you will be from a biased party.  Often times the “designers” employed by the company are underqualified, AND are on commission, which will likely cost you additional dollars that you might not have spent hiring a design firm or independent interior designer.  For instance, let’s say you call a company you found in a magazine that advertised “Free in home design consultation”.  The representative from that company will be coming to your home representing only a small given set of manufacturers and contractors---often times just ONE manufacturer.  The layout and product they offer you will be a certain price, with a certain selection.  Qualified interior designers will consult with you to discuss a layout that works best for your space, and vendors/contractors that work best for your budget.  You can save many thousands of dollars going this route, AND you get an end result that is perfect for YOU---not limited by a given company’s product line.  For more information on the downside to “free design service” see my other article:
4.    LAYOUT
Kitchens and bathrooms are the most functional rooms in a home.  They are necessities, not luxuries.  Therefore the space plan must be given a significant amount of forethought.  One of the most sought after kitchen layouts is a U shape with an “island” or an L shape with an island.  Kitchen islands are glamorized on TV and in magazines and many new homes today have them.  Contrary to popular belief, an island does not necessarily improve a kitchen functionally.  In fact, it can even become an inconvenience.  It can impede traffic flow in average to small size kitchens and can become very costly to add on, especially when adding a sink or range, as most homeowners tend to desire.  The demand for this particular feature in kitchens, I believe is based on media driven popularity.  In my book islands are overrated.  Yes, they can be attractive and functional, but the NEED for an island is not as crucial as people think.  Other popular features that can put occupants/users at a disadvantage are double ovens, luxury range hoods, free-standing tubs, vanity tables, double sinks, and walk-in showers.  Qualified interior designers will help you to see past the “popularity” and appreciate the functionality in the best layout for YOUR space. For more details on finding the right designer, see my article:  "What is a Qualified Interior Designer?"

One of the most chaotic parts of home remodels is hiring the right contractor.  Cheap contractors these days are a dime a dozen.  Do not choose a contractor based on how your neighbor’s kitchen turned out, based on a couple Yelp reviews, or based on price.  Cheap contractors are notorious for being difficult to reach and disappearing for days and even weeks on end.  It is unsettling how many homeowners have been robbed of thousands of dollars when a cheap contractor disappears altogether after collecting a substantial deposit.  What is even worse, is if the contractor is found and charges are filed, often that “contractor” will not have the assets to reimburse the client anyway.  This can leave a client with a room(s) that is unfinished with walls taken out and a half order of cabinets sitting in the garage needing to be installed.  Do not take the cheap route.  Hire quality based on referrals, experience, company history, and make sure that the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured.  In addition, make sure to find out what sort of contract they use prior to the start of the project and the deposit.  Read the fine print.  While most contractors still do business with checks, it is now very easy for small businesses to receive credit card payments.  With large investments, it is safer to use vendors and contractors that accept credit cards.  That way you are protected in the event of them disappearing without completing the job.  If you do not have the budget to hire a great quality contractor, postpone the project, or consider lower cost options in materials.  This is a very good reason to hire a qualified interior designer--- determine how to distribute budget, and be connected with trusted contractors and vendors by an industry professional.  The tiny initial investment is worth it.  I only charge $150 per hour and can provide you with a wealth of information for your project.  Plus, JOI offers "project management" which saves you time, money and tons of stress.

All inclusive home remodeling companies and independent contractors are very easy to find.  In the case of these companies, I have found that the quality of work may be strong in one area, but lacking in others.  For instance, the quality of cabinetry may be decent, but the quality of the tile application and design may be lacking/poor.  It is beneficial to hire specialists and artisans/craftsmen to complete certain tasks and make sure that no element of your project suffers.  A qualified interior designer can recommend these sorts of contractors/specialists to you, but the key in this approach is COORDINATION.  It is wise to hire an interior designer that works with the best specialists and knows how they work and how to coordinate their working with each other. The benefits of employing a qualified interior designer outweigh the costs, and most times the costs are covered in designer discounts on product and designer budget management.  For more information on designer-contractor relationships, see my article:  "Contractors Prefer Designers"

Electricity is not something you want to mess around with.  There are codes and safety issues involved, and it is best left to a specialist with excellent references and experience.  Some general contractors can handle this well, but often they contract out anyway, so you are accepting whomever they choose to include on the project without being informed.  Make sure that the specialist OR general contractor has impeccable records, licensing, and insurance.  Always make sure you include a contract.  If the “contractor” does not use a reasonable “contract”, it is best to look elsewhere. 

8.       PLUMBING
The same rules apply to plumbing contractors, but even more so.  The LAST thing anyone wants is a room flooded with sewage, or pipes that leak/erode.  Do not skimp on your plumber, and do not skimp on materials.  Plumbing issues can be the downfall of your kitchen/bath project.

Homeowners tend to get very excited about selecting appliances.  Stainless steel, gas powered six-burners, and decorative range hoods are all the rage.  Realistically most homeowners do not need a sixburner and 2-3 ovens in their kitchen.  Those commodities are popular, but they should not automatically be added to YOUR kitchen.  Be careful and be sure to prioritize.  A collection of new appliances can get very expensive very fast.  A professional interior designer can help you sort out your priorities and clarify which pieces you should pursue when appliance shopping, so that your budget does not get eaten up by appliances alone.

Tile is not only one of the most difficult parts of designing a kitchen or bath---it can also be the most expensive part.  Pictures online and in magazines/catalogs will show luxurious and exotic custom tile backsplashes and popular tile patterns/orientation.  Usually not listed in these ads and catalogs are prices.  You can visit dozens of showrooms and look at hundreds of styles and patterns, but it can become a full time job without any guidance.  Tile will almost always be involved at one point or another in a kitchen/bath project.  Tile must be addressed in detail during the budgeting phase.  Costs can range from $1.50-$35 per square or linear foot and then well above that in the case of luxury tile.  So in an 11x11 kitchen, a tile floor can easily cost $800 in tile alone---plus the cost of installation materials and labor, which can be double to quadruple the price of the tile depending on the contractor and complexity of the design.  The complexity of the pattern not only affects the sizes of tile and the square footage ordered, but the extra time needed to install and finish the tile as desired.  Hiring a designer that is knowledgeable about tile can save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.  I offer tile design services and get great discounts.  

For kitchen and bath renovations, numerous materials need to be individually specified.  Materials including: wood for cabinets, finish for cabinets, countertop material, backsplash material, flooring, wall finish, ceiling finish, and more.  In rooms that involve heavy use, durable materials are a must.  Some of the most desirable materials today are actually the least appropriate for such spaces.  Furthermore, materials that have become fairly mainstream in the last 10 years, are some of the most EXPENSIVE.  These materials include: cherry wood, walnut, granite, travertine, and marble.  Here are some examples of unappealing results when one has neglected to employ a qualified interior designer:  marble that quickly and easily became stained because of inappropriate use in a kitchen; solid wood floors that warped and split when installed in either kitchens  or baths; cherry wood cabinets that have become 4 shades darker than the original chosen color in one year; butcher block counters that have become water and heat damaged, etc.  Designers can steer you away from materials that are not suitable for your anticipated uses. Don’t be afraid to ask for unbiased professional help on this.  It may save you thousands of dollars and months of stress. 

I have heard the same argument a million times: “My brother/nephew/neighbor (etc.) is a superb contractor.  He can help me remodel my kitchen/bath.  I don’t need to spend all the extra money on a builder/contractor.”  Having friends and family with talent and connections is wonderful, but unless that brother/nephew/neighbor is retired with absolutely nothing to do, it is generally a bad idea to employ their services.  The complications with family and friends on large scale projects are just too much to risk.  What if you don’t like their ideas?  What if you don’t like the quality of their work in the end?  What if they have other things to do and only have time to work on your home once every couple weeks?  These are actually common issues with family/friend employment on remodels/renovations.  Not only is the quality and timing of the project at risk, but the relationship is put at risk as well.  If you cannot afford a third party contractor/professional, consider putting the project on hold, or speak with a qualified designer to discuss options for a low budget route.  My company is very budget friendly, and just a couple hours of professional discussion can do you and your pocketbook a world of good.  I can help you figure out the best ways to pursue a low-cost, but good quality renovation in your home.

Here is a good rule of thumb: don’t set deadlines.  Set a “estimated/goal completion date”.  The reality is that orders get delayed, deliveries need to be rescheduled/postponed, and the wrong color gets delivered.  These are just a few of the many things that can set your project back for MONTHS.  As a general guideline:  For custom cabinets, estimate 5-8 weeks for delivery; for tile, estimate 2-7 weeks for delivery; appliances and fixtures vary, but are usually attainable within 2-3 weeks unless they are backordered.  As for contractors and specialists, you MUST allow some padding time around the estimated time frame they give you.  If you want a project completed quickly, but with good quality work and product, always hire a qualified designer to project manage.  As mentioned before, it is most beneficial to you if you bring in the designer before a project is executed to discuss preliminary decisions, budgeting, time frame and the look desired of course.  The “look desired” is easily attained in 1-2 weeks for a professional interior designer.  It is all the other stuff that takes time, including order time.  

As mentioned in “order time” it is best to employ a designer very early in the game.  It is of course nice to have a designer to help pick out colors and materials, and space planning, but the complicated part comes later---when permits are needed, and product is ordered.  The orders need to be coordinated and executed at the appropriate times to make sure that all product arrives in the same week approximately.  Having everything arrive at one time is not a must, but having a bunch of cabinets sitting in your garage and susceptible to moisture is a very bad idea.  Materials for the project can be ruined before they are installed if proper arrangements are not made!  An experienced and organized interior designer will know how to coordinate the orders and deliveries to avoid this problem.  And of course, it is important to make sure you do not delay on ordering the product that will take the longest.  Do not mull over it for too long, or your project will be delayed.  Hire a professional designer to guide you on this and help you make educated decisions.  This will get your orders delivered fast, and installed faster!

For an organized person, orders can be coordinated easily, but coordinating contractors and installers is an entirely different ballgame.  It is important to have a reliable team of contractors that have worked together and are easy to get a hold of.  I insist upon the best service for my clients.  The contractor coordination alone is a VERY big reason to bring in a designer straight away.  You don’t have to deal with the estimate game, or the scheduling game.  My company handles that for you.  This part of “project management” is one that definitely makes hiring a qualified designer worth the money.  Generally speaking, home renovation projects can turn chaotic when just ONE contractor is involved.  Imagine how it would be with 3 or 4!  Save yourself time and tons of stress and call me to coordinate your home renovation project.

Don’t be a homeowner that after 14 months and $90,000 of questionable investments, says “In hindsight, maybe I should have hired a designer”.  Take the extra precaution for yourself, your home and your pocketbook, and book a consultation before jumping into your project.  You won’t regret it!