Involve an Interior Designer Early in Planning a New House

Dear James: My husband and I are planning to build our dream house. I have looked through many magazines and pretty much know how I want to decorate it. Does it make sense to involve an interior designer in the house design phase? — Char W.

Dear Char: If this is truly going to be your “dream house,” then it makes a lot of sense to invite an interior designer to work on the design team. The basic team will be you and your husband, an architect, the builder (general contractor) and an interior designer. With your magazine clippings and design ideas as a target, they can all work together to accomplish it.

The initial meetings can be with your architect alone. Relying on its engineer staff, the architect can quickly determine if your basic design concepts are feasible. For example, you may need interior support walls or areas for plumbing and ducts that your ideas may not include.

If you are interested in a very unique floor plan, this might be the time to consider some house construction method other than conventional stick-built lumber or concrete blocks in mild climates. Many of these new construction methods produce extremely strong structures that do not require interior support walls. This provides more design flexibility.

Several of these new construction methods to consider are steel framing, concrete-filled foam blocks, stress-skin panels or even straw bale construction. No matter what construction method you finally choose, using engineered, laminated lumber is certainly worth considering.

Your architect will give you some guidelines on what is possible and not. Actually, almost anything is possible, but the cost can be prohibitive. For example, an attractive exposed, heavy wood beam can sometimes replace an interior support wall. Arches can also be very attractive and will provide support for a second floor.

Now it is probably the time to bring your interior designer into the group. Before your meeting, take pictures of your furniture in each of your rooms of your present home. Stop at some furniture stores and get some samples of the fabrics that you like. Remember, you and your husband have to live in the house, not the interior designers, so give them some direction.

Even though you will not be keeping all of these pieces of furniture, the pictures, along with your clippings from magazines, give the interior designer an idea of the decor that you like. Indicate which pieces of furniture that you plan to keep and in which room they will be.

Your architect or builder will be able to suggest the names of some interior designers that they are familiar with. Keep in mind that an interior designer and an interior decorator are not the same beast.

Interior decorators generally have experience with selecting colors, fabrics, wallpaper patterns, etc. You can find them at most high-quality paint stores. An interior designer typically has much more experience in the design phase and many have college degrees in design.

There are two initial simple steps that many interior designers will ask you to go through. First, they will want to know what your budget is for interior design and decorating. Your builder will have some input on this too.

Second, you must prioritize what you want for each room. Your builder and interior designer may not be able to accomplish everything you want within your budget. Remember, changes always cost a lot more money, so finalize your plans early..

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