This is a hotly debated question among design clients. It may interest you to know…it is equally charged among professional designers! Let me see if I can break it down for you.
To start, interior designers are similar to other knowledge workers, like accountants, lawyers, psychologists, certain consultants and, to some extent doctors. These professions deal in the sale of knowledge or intellectual property (“IP”). When dealing with these professionals, you expect to pay for their knowledge or guidance in what is called “services.” You are paying them to give you information. So, where does that leave a “free” first interior design session for a design project?
There are two kinds of “Free First Sessions” – In Studio or In Home
For mid to large size design firms with offices open to the public, these meetings happen on their turf, not yours. This allows them to control…what, do you think? The flow of information. To you. This is really more a meeting in which you can meet with the designer, discuss their philosophy, your goals, review their portfolio together and so on. You might get some general guidance for your project, but specific answers are hard since the designer is not standing in your home with you staring at that the narrow family room with the oversized bank of windows that confounds you. Time is kept to a prudent minimum – figure about 30 minutes. For smaller, boutique companies like mine, who do not have studios open to the public, we do these “In Studio” sessions via Skype or I’ll offer a meeting at our area Design Center. Same idea.
In Your Home
When I hear colleagues passionately debating whether to do the “Free In Home First Session,” here’s the rhetoric I hear from both sides of the aisle:
Designers who are AGAINST doing a free first in-home session will often say…
- “People do not value what they do not have to pay for. If I offer my service for free, it has no value.”
- “Sure, I love to tithe my services, but it has to be for a not-for-profit, charity or religious house.”
- “I don’t work for free. I’m just funny that way.”
Designers who are FOR the no-fee-in home first session, will often say…
- “I’m very careful not to “not to give the store away” during these meetings – information and guidance is kept general.”
- “I avoid offering too much specific information with phrases like, ‘I can’t answer that until I have more information about you (your budget, your spouse, your tastes, your etc.)’”
- “I feel like I’m more likely to land the job if I go into their home to carefully do a first free session.”
- Some will say, “I’m upfront with the client beforehand that I’m there to look at their project and to be interviewed, but not to provide design guidance.”
I’ll be honest. I have no idea how I’d manage to stand in that narrow family room of yours and not answer your questions directly with meaningful, actionable information. (Now you know where I stand.) In fact, if you can keep a secret, I actually price my first in-home session just a tad higher than my standard hourly rate.
Am I trying to be a stinker? No. I just figure it’s a quick litmus test. Those who don’t balk see value in professional design services and expect to pay for it – and – I know I’m going to take amazing care of them in session when they sign me. Those who do balk are giving me a great clue about what they’ll be like to work with and how they’ll react to every invoice. The balkers usually don’t hire me, but if they try to, we diplomatically and respectfully figure out a way to direct them to a designer who might be a better fit.
There is no right and no wrong here. Just keep your eyes open and if need be, adjust your expectations on a free design session. A “free first session” will not answer the specific questions you want answered and you’re not likely going to get an hour of free design service. But as the saying goes, “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”
Next time: “The Dangers of Working with an Interior Design in Secret”
About Donna Hoffman, The Interior Design Advocate™
Donna is a former top QVC Show Host and now one of the country’s foremost consumer advocates in interior design in addition to being an award winning designer herself. “I help people avoid wasting big dollars and unnecessary frustration when furnishing and decorating their home by offering clear strategies for finding the right products, professionals, contractors and services.” The results are that people get what they want, spend smart, eliminate the stress and get that beautiful home of their dreams. Known as The Interior Design Advocate™, Donna is here as your advocate, making sure you get wise in design so you can get what you want. For more information, go to www.theinteriordesignadvocate.com.