The True Cost of Bad Design and Why It Can Be Scary to NOT Hire a Designer

Ahhh, this quote is so powerful and on-point! And I will be the first to tell you that hiring a designer can be scary and nerve-wracking if you’ve never gone through the process before! You might think it’s unnecessary and costly, that you can do it yourself and figure it out along the way—or another common misconception—that you’ll make time for it! But, when you don’t hire someone that’s qualified, it easily becomes a disaster where you’ll end up paying double or MORE to fix it! And it’s not just more money—it’s more time, energy, frustration and heartache. I’m going to tell you a story that happened recently because I want to help you avoid this at all costs (pun intended!) in your future!

A couple reached out to me in the midst of their full house remodel. They were living with his parents while their house was demo-ed, stripped and rebuilt. Not an undertaking for the faint of heart! They found a contractor they loved and someone to help with their space planning and selections at a very low cost—a win they thought! However, after months of hour-plus “meetings”, they felt like they were on a hamster wheel talking about the same thing each time without decisions ever really being made. And all the while their hourly invoices kept coming in. Their contractor would ask what materials were being used or if anything had been decided and they honestly had no idea. Apparently, in the very beginning, certain items were used as a budgetary number, but then nothing was actually selected. After too much frustration and wasted money, they called me frantically asking for help because they knew they were in trouble. My heart broke for them! They are hard-working, sweet people who had saved for years to be able to do this remodel and had essentially wasted a ton of money on “bad design.”

They inevitably ended that contract and I signed on. Fast forward to our first meeting and I redlined the floor plans on-site. I couldn’t understand how some of the space planning decisions were made and immediately redrew some. But, we also had to make sure the contractor wasn’t too far along to make the changes—and thankfully we were just in time! Their house already been through demo and had studs throughout and concrete was being poured. We managed to change the master bathroom layout hours before the plumbing and concrete would have been done! I also asked for their specs to see what materials had been approved to know what I would be working with—paint, tile, flooring, cabinets—but there wasn’t one. NOTHING HAD BEEN DECIDED AND WRITTEN DOWN! In all the months of planning and work, nothing was listed out somewhere for the contractor to implement. And on top of it all, THEY had been the ones going around to different tile shops in town in their non-existent spare time and perusing countertops at different places once they realized they weren’t getting anywhere with the people they hired. They even selected the flooring themselves because their person didn’t show up to a meeting with them at the store! Talk about awful! I felt soooo bad for them!

Now, if you’re reading this and seem confused, let me break it down! As a designer, my responsibility is to provide you with everything needed to complete your project—functional space planning that works for your family, design elements such as ceiling and wall detail, lighting selections and placement, and spreadsheets of all spec materials that you have agreed to (everything from floor to ceiling!) listed out so you can pass it off to your contractor. When you hire me, you don’t have to do any searching! You don’t need to spend your time looking for products and hunting down the perfect paint or tile to use—that’s literally my job and why you hired me! Imagine hiring a stock broker and then spending all your time trying to find the best stocks to buy and sell—it’s so ridiculous! That’s why you hire a professional—to do the things they’re experts at to give yourself time, sanity, and to save money by doing it once—and right—the first time. THEN your contractor can provide a bid for you based on the actual materials that will be used, not just some arbitrary number that’s completely inaccurate. You’ll almost always be over-budget, frustrated and upset if that happens. And almost 100% of the time, CONTRACTORS DO NOT WANT TO DESIGN. They want to go into a space knowing exactly what’s happening with floors, walls, tile, etc. That’s why I make them specs sheets and drawings with all the information needed. Otherwise they are wasting time trying to put it together for you—and that’s not their job. They want to build. And just like I want my accountant to handle all things money related (because that’s what she’s an expert at which means I get to spend more time focusing on what I’m best at), I want to make their job as smooth as possible too! It’s a collaboration between designer, contractor, architect and home owner!

So, back to the story. Nothing was decided and their contractor was asking for final materials because he was ready to install. Let me just say that this is not an ideal situation—for him, for the homeowners or for me coming in at the last minute to fix it. I love to be on the front end. But, we worked together to get them new layouts, tile, lighting, carpet, paint and design details for the ceiling and walls to create the home they envisioned. When they first showed me some tile samples they were given that “fit their budget,” I was surprised at how industrial they were and commented that all of the urban, concrete look caught me off guard just having initially talking to them about their style. “Oh, we don’t like that—we don’t want it to be cold or uninviting!” And here’s another part of trying to do it yourself—the complete vision isn’t typically there. You’ll find something you like—and another thing you like—and another—and because you like them, you somehow think they go together. But that almost never works out. Just because they liked a tile didn’t mean it was right for their space. Instead of their master bath turning into a concrete cave, I swapped out floors and shower tiles for porcelain marble to lighten and brighten the space, toned down their vanity with white cabinets and charcoal counters and added individual mirrors for a more personal space. The original layout had one vanity centered on an 8’ wall with two windows on each side. The counter wrapped the corner and included the other sink to make an incredibly awkward space that would have been the opposite of user-friendly and efficient. Thankfully, we could rework the vanity layout to eliminate the corner wrap and put one window in between the sinks to keep the natural light they wanted without a massive vanity on one side and a “leftover” one on the other.

Were we able to fix everything? No. Some things were already purchased or couldn’t be changed and we had to move forward with them. We absolutely did as much as we could, but I can’t tell you how many times they said they wished they’d have started their project with me! They know the effort and outcome would have been worth the investment. And when you’re doing something this big that you’ve put your heart and soul into, you want to do it right the first time!


Things a Full-Service Designer Will Provide For You (depending on your project)

  • Complete scope of work prior to signing a contract so everyone is on the same page about what is included in the pricing
  • Design concepts
  • Space planning
  • Drawings: floorplans and elevations to show details
  • Material specifications for all hard surface items (paint, cabinets, flooring, tile, counters, etc) and plumbing listed in a spreadsheet
  • Furniture layouts with fabric and finish selections
  • Lighting, artwork and accessory selections
  • Scheduled presentation with samples
  • Furniture and fixture ordering service
  • Delivery and installation coordination
Kitchen remodel

Have you ever been through a project where this happened?! Or did you save yourself some frustration and sanity and hire a designer? Tell me your stories—the good, the bad and the ugly— and let me know if I can help!