Residential and Commercial Architecture | Nico Interior Design

Your contractor is not your designer.

For some clients, hiring an interior designer to redesign a space is perceived as a luxury. Many clients, particularly in the residential market, choose to forego hiring a trained interior architecture and design professional to oversee the redesign of their space and subsequently turn over this responsibility to their contractor with the rationalization that doing so will “save money”. I’m here to tell you that using a contractor as your designer is unlikely to reduce the financial cost of your project; rather, it will likely increase the cost of your project while promoting a second-rate result. Let me explain.

For one, contractors are not trained in interior architecture and design; they are builders. A good contractor is invaluable to the execution of a project; however, they do not have training in space planning, lighting, materials or finishes and most are unable to furnish a set of technical drawings to scope the project and guide its execution. From the start, this tends to create tremendous ambiguity and hampers a common understanding of the redesign between the client and contractor, creating a significant source of risk for the client. Furthermore, without a set of technical drawings to guide the construction of the project and provide conceptual guidance, the client will be unable to visualize the space, the relative location of one thing to another, the flow and area allotted for clearances and manoeuvrability within the space.

A trained interior designer has expertise in space planning and can draw a set of technical plans that define the scope of work to be completed and the materials and finishes to be used by the contractor, removing uncertainty and facilitating a more accurate bid. In fact, a designer’s technical drawings are the foundation of a legal contract between a client and a contractor. Additionally, the drawings produced by your designer provide the contractor with an overview map of the work to be completed by each sub-contractor – one that greatly reduces the margin of error in the work to be completed, which contributes to an accurate project timeline and budget. In this way, the upfront project planning cost associated with engaging a designer to produce technical plans generally offsets the cost to rework any mistakes or design crimes that are likely to be committed during construction without them.

Secondly, a trained interior designer is invested in an alignment with the client’s interests when selecting the most appropriate layout, materials, lighting and color in accordance with the client’s budget, intended use of the space, architectural elements, availability of natural light and personality – whether an individual, family or business. Conversely, a contractor’s decision on layout, materials, lighting and color is often based on the contractor’s desired margins, not a design objective. This influences some contractors to recommend lower priced materials and inferior layouts to reduce material and labor costs, which comprises the style and quality of your remodel. Even bids that include specific allowances for materials are created to manage a contractor’s margins, not your design goals. I’ve heard of countless stories from dissatisfied clients who have agreed to allowances on materials, plumbing and lighting fixtures, etc. that were very disappointed in the quality of the selections they were able to make under the budget allowances made by their contractor.

If you’re still not convinced that using a contractor as your designer for your remodel is not going to reduce the cost of your project, consider this: if your contractor knows that you are expecting them to oversee the redesign of the layout and selection of materials, lighting, plumbing, etc. for your project, they are certainly adding the cost of the time involved to do the “design” work for you in their bid. They will also be adding a markup on everything that they’ll be purchasing on your behalf, often without any form of transparency. I mean, have you ever known a contractor to work for free? If you use your contractor as your designer, you are in effect paying someone that does not have design experience to do your design work. Wouldn’t you rather pay someone trained in interior design to do that?

Lastly, if you were to ask most contractors, they do not feel confident overseeing the design of a project; nor are they very interested in the design process. Any contractor that I’ve ever worked with is relieved to have a designer lead the management of the project from a trained design perspective and is delighted to use the technical design plans created by the designer to guide the sub-contractors in the execution of the project.


Written by Darlene Nicolau
Principal Designer, Nico Interior Design

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