How To Choose An Interior Designer

When you work with an interior designer you can be in partnership for a year or more. They’re your technical expert, lifestyle guide, champion and cheerleader all in one. Plus, they’re helping you plan one of the largest investments you may ever embark upon. So it’s important to get your choice right.  But designers vary greatly in offerings, experience and style.  So how do you decide who is right for you?

To help you choose, I’ve listed out some of the key things you should consider beyond client testimonials.  But before we get to that I want to break down the difference between an Interior Designer, Interior Decorator and Interior Stylist.  Most people don’t realise that there’s a difference between them and the role that they play in your home.  Sometimes you’ll find a person or company who can deliver all of these services and sometimes they will collaborate with other companies to fulfill that aspect of the project.  Here’s the different roles.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

1. Interior Designer

Role and Responsibilities:

  • Education and Training: Interior designers typically have formal education and training in design, architecture, and space planning. They may have degrees or diplomas in interior design but are not required to in Australia.
  • Scope of Work: They work on both the aesthetic and functional aspects of a space. This includes creating floor plans, selecting furniture and materials, designing cabinetry and ensuring the design complies with building codes and regulations.  Not all interior designers are skilled at decorating and styling and may choose to work with someone else for this aspect of work.
  • Technical Skills: Interior designers often collaborate with architects and builders, and they are skilled in using design software to create detailed plans and renderings.

2. Interior Decorator

Role and Responsibilities:

  • Focus on Aesthetics: Interior decorators primarily focus on the aesthetic aspects of a space, such as color schemes, furniture, accessories, and window treatments. They do not typically get involved in structural changes or space planning.
  • Education: While formal education is not required, many interior decorators have taken courses or earned certifications in interior decorating.
  • Scope of Work: They work on enhancing the visual appeal of a space. Their work involves selecting color palettes, furniture, fabrics, and decor items to create a cohesive look.
  • Limited Technical Involvement: Interior decorators do not handle structural work or make changes to the layout of a space. Their role is more about enhancing and beautifying the existing space.

3. Interior Stylist

Role and Responsibilities:

  • Focus on Styling: Interior stylists are primarily concerned with the arrangement and styling of decor items to create a specific look or theme. Their work is often used for photoshoots, magazine spreads, selling homes and marketing materials.
  • Short-Term Projects: They often work on short-term projects, such as staging homes for real estate listings, styling for events, or creating visual content for brands.
  • Scope of Work: Their tasks include selecting and arranging furniture, accessories, artwork, and other decorative elements to achieve a desired aesthetic. They might work closely with photographers and marketing teams to style spaces for visual appeal.
  • Creativity and Trends: Interior stylists need to have a keen eye for detail, current trends, and the ability to create visually appealing setups quickly and efficiently.

Key Differences:

  • Interior Designers: Focus on both function and aesthetics, involvement in structural planning, and perform a highly technical role.
  • Interior Decorators: Focus solely on aesthetics, do not become involved in structural changes, and typically enhance existing spaces with decor.
  • Interior Stylists: Specialize in short-term styling projects, creating visually appealing arrangements for photoshoots or events, and have a strong emphasis on trends and visual appeal.

Interviewing Your Interior Designer

If you’ve decided that an interior designer is right for your project it’s important that you interview them as you would for any job.

Here are some guiding questions for you.


Does the interior designer have the experience on the type of project you’re planning and with the level of assistance that you need? Designers offer varying levels of expertise. While they should all be able to offer materials specifications and floorplans, not all designers are setting out cabinetry wire drawings for your cabinet maker or electrical floorplans. Or you may be working on a period home that requires a delicate touch and the understanding of the issues that older homes bring including council regulations and necessary updates. Ask them to show you examples of work.   Ask the following:

  • What specific services do you offer?
  • Do you coordinate with contractors and vendors?
  • How do you approach space planning and layout optimization?
  • What documentation can you provide for my project?

Professional Development

Interior designers in Australia are currently not a regulated industry and as such they are not required to demonstrate continuing professional development. The building industry is fast moving so it’s important to stay up to date with changes. Ask the designer what they do to stay up to date with current technologies and standards.


Does your designer develop projects that feel like they are aligned with the style of home that you are hoping to achieve. It is not uncommon for designers to sit within a few styles of design but not all of them. Designing a home is like creating art and just like artists they will have particular styles they are better at.


An experienced designer should be able to explain their process to you. While it may vary depending on project type they should be able to explain it clearly for you. Make sure that they can and that you like the way the process looks.

Communication and Collaboration

Not everyone communicates in the same way and considering how much communication is required in a home project, it is key to ensure you are aligned on this. Questions to ask include:

  • How do you typically communicate with clients during the project?
  • How often can I expect updates and progress reports?
  • How do you handle feedback and revisions?

Budget, Timeline and Logistics

Every designer charges differently so be open and ask what their fee structure is.  Common fee structures include hourly rates, flat fees and percentage of project cost.  If it’s an hourly rate, be sure to ask for an estimation of time as a slow designer could end up costing more, even at a low hourly rate.

Ask for thoughts around project budget and the design and build timelines for the project (note that a designer can only give an estimate on the build timeline as it will vary depending on the trade employed and materials on hand).

Understand the likely start dates, resources available through your designer and potential roadblocks, as these may have financial implications and can be frustrating if they’re not clear up front.  Ask the designer:

  • Are you available to start my project within my desired timeframe?
  • How many projects do you typically work on at one time?
  • Do you have preferred contractors and vendors you work with regularly?
  • Can you provide examples of how you’ve handled unexpected challenges or issues on past projects?
  • How do you deal with out of stock products?

Personal Compatibility

Because this is such an ongoing and important relationship, it’s important to understand if you feel you have a personal compatibility.   When you enjoy working together, the journey and the outcome will simply be better for everyone.  Ask the designer some of the following questions (and ask yourself if you enjoy being in the room with this person):

  • What do you believe is the most important aspect of the designer-client relationship?
  • How do you ensure that your designs reflect the client’s personality and lifestyle?
  • What makes you passionate about interior design?

Additional Considerations

If you have needs specific to your project do not be afraid to ask about them.  Ask relevant questions such as:

  • Do you incorporate sustainable or eco-friendly design practices?
  • Are you comfortable working with existing furniture or decor that I want to keep?
  • Do you have experience with autistic or ADHD needs?
  • What’s your understanding around allergen friendly interiors?
  • Have you worked on human centric or biophilic design principles?

I hope that this information has given you some valuable information to choose the designer and services that best suit you.

If you’re planning a project in the Brisbane region and would like to consider Elska Interiors please feel free to call me for a no obligation chat about your project.

0417 600 893

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