7 Ways Interior Designers Charge for Services

There are different billing methods employed by a certified interior designer to charge clients for services rendered.

During the initial interview with a prospective client, a certified interior designer must give the various options available. This will help a client decide on which mode of payments will be preferable to them.

Depending on the services required, the client is made to know that the options open for choice is completely up to them, that is, after the certified interior designer has listed it all out, explaining every option in great detail.

So depending on the methods chosen, both parties, the client and the interior designer, will come to an agreement as to the best billing option and whichever agreement is reached, it must definitely be acceptable to both parties involved.

One thing for sure is that a client will get a good service and the best of works from a certified interior designer who feels fairly compensated for the service to be rendered.

Interior Design Services & Types of Fees Applied

The fees/rates employed for interior design services are quite are as follows:

  • Pre-fixed rate
  • Hourly rates
  • Percentage over costs
  • Costs per square metre or square feet
  • Retail
  • Department store retail
  • Combination rates

1. Pre-Fixed Rates

With pre-fixed rates, the client and the certified interior designer will discuss extensively - as much as is possible - the scope of the interior design works and an agreeable fee is set.

This fixed rate is generally supposed to cover all contingencies and on agreement, a part of this fee is paid in advance before works commence.

The usual amount paid initially may range between 10% and 40%, though this payment is different from a retainer or deposit (a retainer is a certain amount of money paid to a certified interior designer to reserve his or her time to work on a project), but whatever the case may be or whichever terminology is preferred, a deposit, retainer or whichever, it will invariably be treated as a form of deposit.

And it must be spelled out in the letter of agreement that needs to be drawn up by a certified interior designer

Meanwhile, payments will be made as the work progresses and a drawn up schedule will be made so as to determine when progressive payments must be made.

The only drawback of this mode of payment for services is that the scope of work may end up being broader than expected and an interior designer may end up expending more time and energy to complete the job.

Interior designers are always aware of the fact that it is very hard to determine the scope of required works in advance of an interior design project.

Because of the many variables involved, many of these projects require more work and take longer. This ends up displeasing the designer who may then not put in as much effort as is needed. Who want to work for an unjustified pay?

Interior design 3D sketch
Interior design 3D sketch

2. Hourly Rates

A popular mode of payments, the hourly rate payment method has been used over the years by many professionals such as architects, engineers, therapists, lawyers and accountants. It is well used by certified interior designers too.

The way it works is that a certified interior designer is supposed to keep detailed records of daily work and the number of hours spent to execute such works.

At the end of each month, the client is billed as per the number of hours expended.

This mode of payment actually is payment for time but not necessarily a payment for talent and skills of a certified interior designer.

Clients are a bit wary of this billing method simply because there may be instances where the designer works slower than others. What happens if the interior designer is slow or fast, highly talented or just plain competent?

It poses several problems and clients sometimes feel they may be cheated but have no way to ascertain such fears. This is expected.

For example, if the certified interior designer goes shopping on client A's behalf, spending a number of hours in the process, and whilst doing that finds something for client B, but is unsuccessful in finding client A's products, who pays for the time? Who pays for the time, client A or B?

Well the answer is that client A still gets charged, but one may ask, "Is it fair?" Unfortunately client A still has to pay for the expended time. This leaves many clients feeling cheated.

Also, how does a client trust that the number of hours a certified interior designer claims is correct and has not been inflated?

These are the usual question asked by prospective clients. Rightly so!

Working out the details . . .
Working out the details . . .

3. Percentage Over Costs

This method is great for residential projects, though it may be used for commercial projects as well. Charges are the net or wholesale prices that the certified interior designer pays to the merchants, vendors etc.., and then a predetermined percentage mark-up is applied to the net cost.

The mark-up is on the furniture, furnishings and labour incurred whilst working on a client’s project. The actual net cost is paid to the designer plus a commission which is inclusive of design and planning, selection, delivery and installations.

The percentage charged depends on the nature of works to be executed, which can range from as low as 1% or less, if it’s a commercial contract (usually a large contract), and may go as high as 40% if it’s a small residential project. This means that the percentage charge will vary depending on the size of the project.

Some may have issues with this mode of payment, feeling the certified interior designer will intentionally choose pricey items to ensure fat commissions, but because this may make the project end up being of a high standard, and stylish in look and finish, the final result will turn out great anyway, and this probably will please the client and at the same time promote the works of the interior designer.

Many prospective clients seem quite comfortable with this mode of billing as every item chosen and purchased will only be marked up by the percentage to cover for overheads and profit. And a certified interior designer feels very comfortable with the percentage over cost billing method as every single item, large or small, is compensated for. And this may even be continuous if the client keeps on wanting additional stuff.

The popularity of this system speaks for itself. Good to consider.

4. Cost Per Square Metre/Square Feet

A very simple way of charging that is commonly used for space planning tasks and is usually a small amount per square metre or footage. What it entails is the certified interior designer simply measures the client’s space to determine the square metre (or square footage) to be designed. Then multiply by a pre-determined and mutually agreed amount.

Space planning is a specialised aspect of interior design and involves the design of space allocation to a person or group of people to work in (or within), so that designated tasks and duties can be performed optimally, with added convenience, efficiency and most especially, comfort.

However, this billing method can be used in combination with other forms of billing systems in the event that additional services are requested for by the client. This is due to the fact that space allocation is the beginning point of interior design and it eventually leads to the final design.

Once it has been ascertained that additional interior design services (asides space planning) are needed, that is, the task of choosing the required elements that is needed to complete the project, then a method of billing must be introduced by the certified interior designer to provide for services related to supplies and installations.

This billing mode is popular for commercial interior design projects.

Commercial interior design . . . a bar in Houston
Commercial interior design . . . a bar in Houston | Source

5. Retail

A method commonly associated with residential interior design projects; this was the traditional mode of payments applied some decades ago. This was before interior design became designated as a profession before the mid 20th century. Later the interior design study started to include complex technological services (electrical, lighting, etc...) for complete interior design projects.

In this billing method, no fee is directly charged for interior design services. Rather, the stated retail price from the retailers is charged the client and the certified interior designer's payment comes in form of discounts given by the retailer (merchants).

The prices quoted by their shops is all the client has to pay. The discount given the certified interior designer by the retailers is always between the designer and the merchant and it’s never the clients business so it is never disclosed outside the two parties. This works well only for furniture and furnishings provisions to a client.

When other services are needed then a problem might arise. If for example the services of an electrician are required, say to fix a chandelier, the certified interior designer will have to source for one, hire and then supervise his works whilst installing. Now since there won’t be any discounts on his labour costs the certified interior designer will have to employ other billing methods to charge the client for the electrician’s time and effort.

That’s why the retail billing method doesn’t adequately cover the normal scope of today's interior design projects.

6. Department Store Retail

Many department stores that retail home furniture and furnishings also offer interior design services. These services are usually provided free as long as a stipulated minimum number of items are purchased. In some cases, a fee may be charged for services, but if the purchase exceeds a certain amount then the charged fee is refunded.

This billing method is great for residential projects but impractical for commercial projects. Some dealers in office furniture, furnishings and equipments offer this service as well.

"A curving envelope that embraces the reception and the adjoining lounge" . . .
"A curving envelope that embraces the reception and the adjoining lounge" . . . | Source

7. Combination Rates

This billing method is advised if working on a large project and a complex one.

The initial works of space planning can be charged per square metre (or square footage), at a pre-fixed or an hourly rate by the certified interior designer.

Percentage above cost billing can be used for the ordering of furniture, furnishings and deliveries.

If the certified interior designer is to purchase rare antique items that are costly, the retail mode of payment will be used. The client pays the price tag cost (no discounts for the client!) and the certified interior designer makes their money from a commission given by the retailer.

The combination method of billing is the best option for such projects incorporating the best methods appropriate for each aspect of the design project.

Which of these charging/billing methods will you prefer to adopt?

  • Pre-Fixed
  • Hourly
  • % Over Costs
  • Cost/m2
  • Retail
  • Department Stores
  • Combination
See results without voting

Drawing up Agreements for Interior Design Services

With all this said and done, when charges have been ascertained and agreed upon, it is now time to have a formal written and signed agreement (contract drawn up) outlining the intent of all parties involved and this will serve as a guide for the conduct of the business between both parties - the client and the certified interior designer.

It is always better and more acceptable for the certified interior designer to draw up the agreement and then the client may decide to give it a lawyer to go through and advice.

If all seems well and both parties -the client and the certified interior designer - are pleased and satisfied, the contract can now be signed and sealed, and subsequently delivered.

© 2010 viryabo

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Comments 22 comments

sreeiit 6 years ago

This is good information and an interesting topic to write on. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

sreeiit 6 years ago

This is good information and an interesting topic to write on. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

shanel profile image

shanel 6 years ago from Seattle

Thank you for all of the practical information regarding billing practices for an interior decorator. Nice hub.

viryabo profile image

viryabo 6 years ago Author

Hi sreeiit, you are welcome. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a nice comment.


@shanel, Im glad you found it informative. Sometimes it seems the billing methods are not clear cut, and a lot of designers have lost some revenue because they are unsure of how to bill appropriately.

Thanks for your visit and taking the time to leave a comment.


jenny 6 years ago

Hi, lots of helpful information, but how do you bill your very first client when you have no revenue to start?

:-( Thank you

viryabo profile image

viryabo 6 years ago Author

Hello Jenny. Thanks for the visit. The great thing about this profession is that you need not have any starting off costs. All you need are your creative ideas, your computer (if you use software programs for interior design), or a simple sketch pad and pencil. That's how i started off, drafting on a drawing board.

Your first client should pay you some form of deposit.

Hope this helps

ericosiu profile image

ericosiu 6 years ago

This is definitely some great stuff here for starting interior designers. Great work!

viryabo profile image

viryabo 6 years ago Author

Hi ericosiu, thanks for visiting and for finding the time to leave a nice comment.

And welcome to HubPages.


Jun 4 years ago

Hii, interior designing is my hobby. I love to spend my most of the times in designing things. So i took admission in interior designing, bt my course duration is only 6 months. With this short duration will i be able to become a professional interior designer in my future life.

viryabo profile image

viryabo 4 years ago Author

Hello Jun, thanks for stopping by.

It depends. What is the curriculum of your six month interior design course? If it covers major topics in interior design such as space planning, lighting, colours, etc.., then once you graduate and start working, you can work your way up to the top of the ladder.

Yes it will take a number of years, but it is achievable.

On the other hand, you can (after completion of this course you are on) pick an area of specialisation in interior design, and do additional courses on that, on-line, e.g. furniture design, custom designs, stage design, lighting design, space planning and design, custom cabinetry (bathrooms, kitchens), etc..

You will have the time to still work and learn more as you go along.

Experience they say, is sometimes the best teacher.

Best of luck Jun.

Man from Modesto profile image

Man from Modesto 4 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

I know a young woman who just got certified as an interior designer. Could you write a hub on how to get started in the interior design business? I'm sure others starting out would like to know how to build clientele as well.

viryabo profile image

viryabo 4 years ago Author

Thanks for visiting and reading, Man from Modesto. That's a good idea you just suggested which i will carry out very soon.

I am sure, as you said, that interior designers starting out will appreciate a guide on how to get into the business.

Thanks for the suggestion.


fotoviva profile image

fotoviva 4 years ago from Swansea

I think these days many home owners think they are interior designers! Truth is, they are to a degree but you can never replace the inspiration a professional interior designer can bring to your home.

viryabo profile image

viryabo 4 years ago Author

So true Fotoviva. Thanks for visiting.


kayla shoemaker profile image

kayla shoemaker 2 years ago from Illinois

I cant get over how perfect that picture is at the top of the page. The ground floor one. I just have not seen anything like it and its so fascinating. Your page is really amazing and You did a good job.

viryabo profile image

viryabo 2 years ago Author

Thank you so much for the nice comments Kayla. Blessings.

Arco Hess Designs profile image

Arco Hess Designs 23 months ago from Kansas City, Kansas

I think most actually charge a combination of what you mentioned (at least in my area). Department store costs, plus a contract "bonus" at the beginning and then some other fee, possibly hourly.

Jack Mulligan 2 months ago

I think I would like that first method of payment best. I tend to go over budget on any project that I don't set very strict limits for. I think if I hire a designer this fall I'll have to find someone who can work with me on that so I don't over spend!

Po Ku profile image

Po Ku 5 weeks ago from Toronto

Hi, very helpful article. I am a custom home builder and use a standard project management form. I've tried other ways of charging for services but always come back to the project management method.

viryabo profile image

viryabo 5 weeks ago Author

Glad you find it helpful Po Ku.

SAllen 3 weeks ago

Great article. I have been in business for 10 years but changing my pricing methods. I plan to use the sq. ft. method however, I'm not sure how to determine the appropriate sq. ft. dollar amount for the market I'm in. Any suggestions on where I might find useful information to help with my question?

viryabo profile image

viryabo 3 weeks ago Author

Thanks SAllen,

Design charges per sq. metre (or foot) vary from one region to another with charges ranging from as low as $5/sq.m to as high as $9.50 for residential projects.

(In some regions of the world, they go as low as $2/sq.m)!

For commercial projects, we are looking at pricing within the range of $7.50 to $16

Many clients are generally comfortable with this kind of pricing, more that hourly rates, for reasons that's quite understandable.

With specialized items like designs of built-in wardrobes, kitchen cabinets, etc... pricing should be per linear metre (foot)

A great place to find more information on this is from the ASID chapter in the part of the country you work/live in.

I hope this helps.

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