With people investing more time and money than ever into creating their perfect home, interior design is an attractive career choice for creative souls - in fact, there are almost 70,000 interior designers in the USA alone.
So how to you get ahead in this competitive career? We've asked 25 successful professionals in the interior design field: and the results are enlightening. Whether you're just starting out, or looking to build on a burgeoning reputation, these excellent tips will help you along. And what's clearer than ever is that an interior designer needs to be truly multi-talented.
The chance to stretch your creative muscles might be the most tempting part of this career, but our expert panels rated many other skills just as highly: you'll need the organisational skills of a Sargeant Major, the business acumen of a CEO, the creativity of an artist and the ears of a therapist. In fact, listening was ranked as nearly the number one skill by our expert panel. Feeling inspired to succeed in interior design? Read on.
Now read the tips from 25 industry experts...
You have to care about the way people will feel in the space you design. It's a service industry and it's your job to create an environment the clients need to make their lives better. - Lucie Ayres, 22 Design
Take any job or assignment you can get! I did the best job that I could with the skills I had at the time. I viewed each assignment as an opportunity to learn about the marketplace and consumer needs. I would then try to improve something about my practice. After each job I would review the process and make necessary changes to support growing profitable business. A key learning was to find people to work alongside who do things you can’t do as well but that need to be done for your client. - Megan Wunderlich, The Design Dot
Be a problem solver. Great design is only as good as it’s implementation. There are bound to be problems that threaten your grand plan from field conditions, to discontinued materials, to scaled-back budgets. If you can treat each of these challenges with a positive attitude and push through them, you’ll be in great shape! - Jenny Madden, Jenny Madden Design
Begin with some obvious style and talent. Listen to what your clients design style, budget and functional needs are. Bring them their plans in an extremely timely manner and within budget. Do not brake any promises. Communicate with them like crazy. (I’ll call my clients just to tell them I don’t have the answer yet, so they know we are working on it). Every person you do a GREAT project for is free advertising for your brand. One successful project will always lead to another. One horrible project can cut off 20 new ones. - Joe Berkowitz, Jab Interiors
The most important key to being a successful designer is listening to your clients and meeting their needs. Most of my clients are referrals from past clients; its a great compliment. Design can be beautiful, but if it doesn't function for the clients, it is not good design. - Michele Bitter, Michele Bitter Designs
Our tip for success is realizing that design is only half the equation in a formula for success. Taking on a career in interior design requires a ton of paperwork and ignoring it only leads to failure. - Lee Melahn and Rick Shaver, Pleasant Living LLC
Listen to your clients. On the end of the day as designers, we close the doors and our homeowners are left to live their life's at home. A design is not successful unless a homeowner can live both comfortably and beautifully in their daily moments. A happy homeowner translates to positive word of mouth and repeat clients. - Stefania Skrabak, Art Home Garden
With any profession, success starts with drive and desire. First thing I tell my clients when they ask me why I became a Decorator, I always say, “I enjoy designing from the heart, and I do this for a living because I am passionate about my work.” For me, that is the first ingredient to success. Working a business is by no doubt, hard in every sense of the word, but if you enjoy what you are doing, then it is well worth the effort. You need to believe in yourself. It is a matter of owning the process. For me, I establish a starting point with each consultation by simply listening to my client’s story. You create trust through an emotional connection. - Laura Maxwell, Decorating Den Interiors
Never rope in your clients' dreams. If we can sketch it, we can get it built for our clients. Design is all about the mix. Creating interest and balance with light and dark, clean lines and rich finishes, feminine and masculine. I like my interiors to have grit, age, and soul. If the architecture has all that age and soul, we ensure that our renovation does not strip it away. If it does not, like in a new build, we make sure to infuse the project with pieces and finishes that bring in those elements. - Sandra Funk, House of Funk
Know your client! Understand their wants, what they need and what they want the end result to be. That is understand the clients aesthetic, how they live their daily lives, and budget. If you client has young kids, like most of mine do, they want something beautiful but practical. They want a family room that is inviting to guest but also comfortable to spend family time in and just relax. Clients want choices! People are all so tech savoy, that it is important to show your clients options and even show them furniture or fabrics they have not seen before, to demonstrate your importance to the process. Any of my success comes from working with clients, who like working with me, trust me, and recommend me to their friends/family. - Wendy Strauss, Strauss House Designs
Listen and observe. An Interior Designer’s job is to create beautiful, functional, and safe spaces for his/her clients. To do that, we need to really listen to what our clients are asking. We're problem solvers, but we can't solve the problem well without deeply understanding the problem, which requires both listening and observing, because sometimes clients are giving us information in non-verbal ways. Interior Design is also about finding inspiration for new techniques, approaches, materials, and that requires listening and observing the world around us, other cultures, nature, beautiful design past and present. - Mary-Lynn ring, Mary-Lynn Ring Design
Knowing and believing in your authentic voice and giving that perspective value. Design is very objective, but we all recognize when something comes from the heart. A very close second is supporting your peers and the design community- we lift ourselves when we lift others. - Megan Downing & Sarah Barrett, Elemental Interiors
Be a good problem solver. Always look for answers to questions and solutions to situations that clients don’t even know they have yet. You know you’re doing it right when everyone consistently says, “Why didn’t I think of that?” A good problem solver will be able to steer the project through rocky situations that inevitably arise, build a high level of customer confidence, as well as create a beautiful yet functional space. - Christine Kohut from Christine Kohut Interiors
Go to school to learn the required drawing and tech skills. Be detailed oriented, consistent in delivering your best, a terrific project manager with strong visual skills, network and share your skills with the industry and always be curious to learn about new products in the architecture and design ever-changing industry to learn about art, design and taste and to appreciate beauty. - Laurence Carr, Laurence Carr Design Inc.
Learn how to listen! Hear what your client is asking of you no matter how big or small. Demonstrate that you understand them by showing them what you have “heard” them. Ask for even if you had to read between the lines to decipher it. Then show them what YOU would do and why it may be better than what they asked for. If their ideas are great from the start, use them, but let them know you are taking all the credit - Jana Rosenblatt, Jana Design Interiors
I really do believe you’ve either got it… or you don’t. When you have it, you can’t help yourself. You grow up painting the walls of your bedroom and continually rearranging it. It’s a compulsion. Becoming a designer comes out of a life-long pursuit to makes things prettier. School hones your ability to present and communicate ideas, but ultimately what really matters are your vendor relationships. These are the people who execute your vision, so be good to them! My vendors (and clients) are partners in the process so I always treat them with respect and kindness, even when problems arise. They bring years of expertise to the table and when you have a great relationship, they will have your back in the event that something goes wrong. Don’t be a screamer…it doesn’t look good on anyone! - Suzie Parkinson, Süza Design
I have had my business for close to 25 years and I find that what makes it successful lies beyond creativity and knowhow. I have the reputation as a designer that gets things done. I excel at follow up and problem solving and always get back to my clients in lighting speed and demand the same attitude from my vendors and sub-contractors. As a result I have a very high ratio of return business as well as referrals. Being creative is a bonus but if you don’t call people back of follow up to make sure things get done you will not succeed. - Claudia Kazachinsky, CEK Design
One of the most important things? Be curious. Always. Never stop asking questions- to your clients, your sources, other designers, showrooms, trade shows. Ask. Ask about how people want to live, how they function in spaces, why new lines are developed, the purpose behind product changes, how changes or upgrades impacts the end user, what are the trends in the markets, what social norms and attitudes are shaping the way people live? All of these things will inform you and help guide you to the right people, and making the right choices for your clients and ultimately for your business. - Terrie Koles, Terrie Koles Design, LLC
Listen to your clients! You have to know something about the people you are designing a space for. You need to find out about the way they lead their life, which rooms they use the most and always consider form and function. It's all about creating an atmosphere that your clients will love. - Katharine Kelly Rhudy, Reed & Acanthus Interior Design
My top tip is very simple, “Listen to your Client”. If you take on board their wishes and work these into the design I guarantee you that by the end of the project you will have a very happy customer. You are there to make sense of their ideas, guiding and steering them towards good decisions. This will ensure a truly personal space that your client will enjoy for years. - Alison Glen, LA Dwelling
Ann and I pride ourselves on being good listeners and we believe this is one of the main reasons we have been successful. We ask a lot of questions and then really listen to the responses. This way we are presenting ideas to the client that are going to make then happy. And who doesn't want a happy client? We are not there to impose our will on them but to give them the home where they can live their best life. We do give them our expert opinion and do try to push them a bit to be open to new ideas but at the day we want to give them what they desire. We just finished a two year project that was inspired by India and it was a first for us. The client was very specific in her inspiration and we delivered it. She is delirious with happiness and therefore so are we. - Tamela Green, At Studio
Establish empathetic relationships with people. And, to a lesser degree, but not much, create for them a story into which they will be drawn, emphasizing the benefits of what they are buying and how good it will make them feel, so that they enthusiastically buy and are not “sold.” - Gail Green, Gail Green Interiors
I think the hardest but most important thing a successful interior designer can do to build a lasting business is TO LISTEN. Listen to your client when you meet with them the first time, come up with a design plan and then listen to their feedback. I aim to give my clients the best version of the room that they want transformed while keeping my designer eye on the whole picture. I've had the bulk of my business over the past 7 years from referrals and repeat clients I believe mostly because of this. - Alexa Harris-Ralff, AHR Designs
Join a "community over competition" Interior Design FaceBook group. Doing so brought enormous value to my business. We share resources and ideas, we post our work, we get feedback on mood/finish boards. The more seasoned designers are incredibly generous with their knowledge, and we ALL help each another figure out how to run a business. There are many project management and 3D rendering programs out there, we share our individual experiences so other members can make informed choices. And ... we vent … we share project challenges and learn that we are neither crazy or alone. - Tobi Wright, InsideWright
Top on our list is maintaining the relationship with our clients. Without them, we would not have any business. It is imperative that we do our very best to exceed their expectations and make the process as painless and stress-free as possible. Not only do we have a happy client, which is always our ultimate goal, but when we provide our clients with exceptional service, they in turn talk about their experience to their friends, family , and colleagues. - Beth Whitinger, Beth Whitinger Interior Design