Interior Design Services – Professionals verses Furniture Dealers

Recently we had a client who was trying to decide who they wanted to work with regarding the research, selection, specification and procurement of furniture for their project. The message to us went something like this: “What I’m wondering is, would the interior designer provide meaningful – knowledgeable and unbiased – contribution to our discussion about which path to pursue: – Let the furniture dealer design the office space and give to them the furniture contract. Work with their coop to keep prices low. – Let the interior designer design the office space. Bid the furniture contract with at least three bids. In pondering the comment above; “What I’m wondering is, would the interior designer provide meaningful – knowledgeable and unbiased – contribution to our discussion about which path to pursue:” I think the client was asking for an unbiased opinion regarding the options they were considering. So I felt it necessary to at least try to offer my professional opinion. In doing so, I found some of my opinion was bias and some of it was not. First and foremost, I believe when individuals and/or organization research who they want to work with regarding these matters, they should look to find professionals and/or firms they have confidence in and feel comfortable with. Secondly, I would like to point out that although interior design services are provided by a variety of professionals in a variety of business settings, the body of knowledge each professional has is typically categorized into three groups. The first group is comprised of Human Environment Needs and Interior Construction, Codes and Regulations. The second group of categories is comprised of Design, Products and Materials and Professional Practice. The third category is Communication. A profession’s body of knowledge is the abstract knowledge needed by practitioners to perform the profession’s work. Abstract knowledge is what an interior design practitioner knows and applies to a design project. This is not to be confused with the skills designers need to practice or task designers are required to perform. It is the currency of a profession; it is what makes a profession legitimate and valued by the public. So this brings me back to knowing who they will be working with and who they feel brings the most appropriate skill set to their project. An interior designer’s professional practice protocol protects clients’ fiscal, physical, and human resources and assures them of timely delivery of a well-designed project. In addition, interior designers have knowledge of the profession, are knowledgeable about professional organizations, and maintain a code of ethics – or obvious strategies to support client welfare. As a component of their business practice, interior designers use best practice concepts to save money, time and create the best environment possible. Although I am not familiar with the coop option that is sometimes offered by dealerships it seems to me that they are obviously addressing a fiscal concern of the project. In this specific case, a “biased” argument could be two fold; 1.) Typically an interior design professional’s core practice is the business of interior design, so if the the client needs go beyond furniture the design professioals business may be better postured to provide those services; 2.) The interior designer’s fee (or a portion of) could possibly be covered in the savings they may gain through competitively bidding a project. But in all honesty, if a client has a good relationship with a furniture dealer (i.d.o. certainly has many great relationships with various dealers) and trust their abilities to meet their needs, they may be able to set up a “cost plus %” for the purchase of the furniture. This would give clients a true financial picture for the cost of the furniture plus the mark-up and the cost of the design services the interior designer is providing. From a prue cost perspective, interior design professionals cannot compete with furniture dealers who provide interior design services. The business models for each are very different. Thus, in my professional opinion, which may be considered bias, the fees furniture dealers may or may not charge for interior design services do not reflect the true market value of those services. Submitted by: Jill Mendoza

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