The Unfiltered Truth About Pricing Interior Design Services

how to price your interior design work

If you're looking for a specific number or formula to figure out how to price your interior design work you are in the wrong place because there isn’t just ONE way to do it.

There is not just one way to price your interior design services. There's a lot of different ways to calculate interior design fees but what practically no one addresses is that it isn't the number that matters as much how you go about selling yourself. 

Today, you're going to hear the unfiltered truth about pricing your interior design services that, if you follow, will put you ahead of the pack.

Know Their Problem

No one wakes up one day, out of the blue, looking for an interior designer. 

This is where you're going to put on your thinking cap and not revert the favorite phrase on 95% used on a shit ton of interior design websites.

"We believe that every homeowner deserves a beautiful home."

If I'm Joann from Canarsie and I read that on your website I'd respond, out loud to your site, with a "No fucking shit, Sherlock."

What does Joann from Canarsie want to hear? She wants to hear about her problem. 

"Is it time to get rid of the 80s sea-shell shaped cultured marble countertop in your bathroom? Perfect, you're in the right place. We're gonna make your bathroom something your friends will wonder if they've seen it in Architectural Digest."

That's what Joann from Canarsie gives a shit about, not what every other fucking prick in the world deserves.

People think about themselves first and their problems. Talk about their issues, and you'll have taken a step in the right direction.

It's Not You, It's Me

You know how when you watch "Wheel of Fortune," and as the contestants introduce themselves, they give a spiel about themselves. They work as a licensed real estate agent in the greater Dallas Area, they feed the homeless, have a Ph.D. in Puppetry and love to spend time with their "wonderful husband, Kyle" and their "brilliant children Grande, BigMac and WoodChipper" or whatever fucking stupid names they gave their kids. 

By the time they're done you can tell that Pat Sajak wants to hang himself. Which I'm sure he wants to do after every show at this point. 

Designers do this same shit and prospects have the same reaction as Pat Sajak. 

Do you want to charge premium interior design fees? Paint the picture of the life that your dream client wants. Then you can sprinkle in the very brief bio.

Spell It Out For Me

You know when you pull up to the drive-thru menu you see the options to order a #1, #2 or #3? Because people want to pick something quickly. 

No one wants to pull up to the drive-thru menu and see this: 

  • Beef Pattie

  • Lettuce

  • Tomato

  • Onions

  • Pickles

  • Secret Sauce

  • Jalapenos

  • Cheddar Cheese

  • Avocado

  • Bacon

  • Ketchup

  • Aioli

  • Mustard

  • Barbecue Sauce

  • Mushroom

  • Chili

This leads to "Confusion and Delay." Thank you, Sir Topham Hatt.

Create a design solution that makes sense, and it's easy to understand. No one wants to see a list of everything that you can do. How in the hell are they to figure out what they need from the list you put out there? 

"Uh, I need my bathroom remodeled. I guess I need paint colors and flooring?" You and I both know they need more than that so don't put them in the position of trying to figure out how you can help them. You need to paint the picture of the solution.

People Hire People

When anyone hires a designer, it isn't just about the fee or the portfolio. It's about the person. 

We recently inherited a piano at the last minute from my husband's grandparents. If we didn't rush at 4:45 pm on a Friday afternoon to find a mover, it would have been in the wood chipper the next day. 

After we got it to our house the next job was to repair the broken keys. I looked online for someone to fix the keys, and I sent an email to a local company.

While I waited for a response, my husband decided he could repair it himself after finding a kit for our piano. 

I checked my email and the company that I had reached out to responded. So I let them know that my husband would be taking on the repair. If we have any issues, I'll reach back out to them, but either way, if he can repair it or not, I'll ask them to tune the piano. 

They emailed back with this exact response: 

Hahahaha, you make me laugh, if he know about the piano, let him fixed, but if he never done this before, there is a trick to do this job, otherwise will cause another problem. Good luck

Well, that fucker wasn't going to get a dime of our money even if my husband wasn't able to repair the piano. BTW: My husband was able to fix the piano with no problems.

People hire people. Not logos, or design packages... they hire people that are friendly, down-to-earth, decent people. Not assholes. 

Yes, you need to articulate what the design solution is of the package you are selling, but if you've done that, then the next thing they will think about is who will be providing this service to them. 

Let people see who you are, warts and all because if you can walk on water, then you're in the wrong profession.

Carrie Charges A Flat Fee, But Suzi Charges Per Sq. Ft Fee. Help!

What you charge or how you charge shouldn't be based on what anyone else charges. 

First, how much money do you need to earn to have a profitable business? What are your expenses? Start there. 

Second, what does it cost you to deliver the service? How much time and what materials are included to deliver? It is impossible for anyone to tell you that you should charge X amount when they haven't seen your financials.

There are many ways you can charge for your services. You can go square-foot, a percentage of the cost of furniture, hourly rate, flat fee, design concept fee plus a percentage, hourly fee plus a percentage. Seriously there are many ways to skin this cat.

For some designers, they know that their clients value a higher price tag. For other designers, they know their clients want a more reasonable price tag (which does not mean cheap). 

Basics of Pricing Interior Design Services

Know that there are a bunch of different ways to price your design services and the only right one is the one you feel most comfortable with. One designer can tell you that you must do it this way and another will advocate for a different pricing structure. What works for them may not work for you and this is where you need to feel out what works best for you and that will come from experience.

Flat Fee

The flat fee for your design services is one that clients prefer most often. They don’t like surprises and knowing how much a complete project will cost them is something that helps to eliminate their fears. To get to this point in being able to offer a flat fee you need to know the scope of what you are providing in what it costs to deliver. An average fee for most rooms is around $1500. You need to make sure that it is documented and your clients agree to it so there is no confusion should scope creep rear its ugly head.

Hourly Rate

You can charge your client an hourly rate that varies from $50 to $450. I would take these top end fees with a grain of salt because when you read the reports they are all over the map for what is being charged at the higher end.

To figure out an hourly rate for your business start with what you’d like to earn for the year.

  • Salary: $75,000

  • Working Weeks: 50 (2 Weeks Vacation Per Year)

  • $75,000 ÷ 50 weeks = $1500 Per Week

  • $1500 ÷ 30 Billable Hours Per Week = $50 Per Hour

Now you can add in money to cover your overhead and add profit by applying what is called a multiplier to the hourly rate you’ve calculated:

  • $50 x 1 ½ Percent Multiplier= $75 Per Hour OR $50 x 2 ½ Percent Multiplier= $125 Per Hour

Hourly Plus Markup

Charging your hourly fee you’ll then add a percentage markup to your trade items only to account for managing the orders, delivery and installation. This is one clients resist because they will think you’re going to pick the highest priced items to make more on the markup.

So Many Choices

To get a starting place for your fee, you're going to take an estimated shot in the dark. While you work the project, document the hours and resources you needed to complete it. Then you'll have a better idea for the next job. 

Here's another thing... people who hire interior design professionals aren't looking for "affordable design." People who want cheap ass design will go to an online eDesign sweatshop and find it there. Anyone who has signed up to work with one of those eDesign sweatshops KNOWS precisely what I mean. 

Yes, it is great for experience and to refine your design process, but it is NOT profitable for you at all. 

Your Brand, Not Your Logo, Matters

Your branding is vital to your business. A brand is a promise of an experience. That is why it is critical to know your market and what their expectations are. 

To understand this, take some time and know why you love the brands that you support. Why do you buy Starbucks? Why do you have an iPhone or an Android? Why did you buy the vehicle that you have? 

Beyond being a cup of coffee, a phone or a car the brand and what it promises is something that you want to align yourself with or experience. 

Lastly, if you're reading this and you're a designer who only works with the 'affluent' but your business is in the dumps... check your branding and the words that you use because being an elitist prick is probably at the root of your failing business.

While we wish there was someone who would just tell us what the right number is, you're going to have to take a measured stab at it.

The clarity you seek will come from doing, learning and adjusting. If you'd like to delve deeper into the various methods that interior designers use to charge for their work, then check these books out. 

The Interior Design Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Profitability

Value-Based Fees: How to Charge - and Get - What You're Worth

Techniques for Estimating Materials, Costs, and Time for Interior Designers