Outside-the-Box Interior Design

Some of us are afraid to commit, particularly when it comes to interior design.

Whether you’re suffering from the misconception that a designer is beyond your budget or think your project is too small or cheap, it’s time to reconsider your options.

In recent years, the design industry—recognizing consumer trends and the benefits of technology—has introduced some fresh approaches to working with clients.

Design in a Box

Esteemed interior designers like Windsor Smith and Nyla Free (and many others) offer long-distance design services through their “design in a box” packages. While each designer offers distinctive amenities, these programs basically consist of three phases: information gathering, design review, and a furnishings plan.

For example, Windsor Smith asks clients to answer a lifestyle questionnaire, provide detailed room measurements and photos, and welcomes any “inspiration” photos the client may have gathered. From this, the designer will put together a scaled furnishings plan (taking into account any furniture or accessories you asked to keep), along with fabric, furniture and paint selections where applicable.

Photo courtesy of Windsor Smith Room in a Box (also pictured above)

Fees for these services vary, but are fixed and thus predictable. Some designers offer to break different services down; others have a flat fee for complete design of a room (fees vary by room or size).

Pros: Transparent, a la carte pricing and ease of use
Cons: Doesn’t allow for much dialogue in the design process; the designer is unable to take into account the rest of your home in the process (unless you elect to do contiguous rooms)

Retail Design Services

A number of home furnishings retailers offer their customers design consultation services. In their design centers, stores like Ethan Allen and Pottery Barn help customers review product options and variations online, get inspired by looking at images of furnished rooms, and help with customization and furnishings selection. If needed, they can also work with customers to help measure a room and develop a furniture plan.

Pros: Free; good product knowledge; able to help you scale furnishings appropriately to your space
Cons: Constrained by retailer’s specific product offerings; do not offer full-service interior design 

Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn

Online Resources

One advantage to hiring an interior designer is gaining access to their Rolodex. Now with a broad array of high-quality design websites, homeowners can access comprehensive lists of tradesmen specific to their local market, along with customer reviews.

  • Houzz is a favorite for designers and dreamers alike, offering hundreds of thousands of inspiring images of some of the world’s most beautiful and innovative homes and landscapes. You can search by location for any resources you might need, from architecture to roofing contractors (but keep in mind these important hints before you hire any handyman.
  • Newcomer Refined Haystack acts as a marketplace for Chicago design, offering homeowners an unprecedented insider’s view of the best local design and décor sources, as well as designer profiles. Unique to the website is a simple tool allowing designers and clients to privately communicate and share select images with tagging capabilities, creating an open online dialogue in the design process.


Pros: Plenty of design inspiration
Cons: Sifting through the myriad resources to find the right one to meet your needs and personal style

Traditional Resources with a Twist

Don’t be afraid to approach an interior designer and ask them if they’d be willing to consider a flexible or creative working arrangement. Some suggestions include billing by the hour or by the project phase (for example, providing a furnishing plan only, or providing access for “to the trade” products). Always be forthcoming about your budget, knowing that the best partnerships are based on trust and honesty.

If you need help finding a designer, ASID Illinois offers a “Find a Designer” resource on their website to help you find a seasoned, professional designer to meet your needs.

Pros: You gain access to full-service interior design
Cons: You’ll need to allocate some of your design budget toward professional services, not furnishings 

DIY Programs and Blogs

The web is bursting with DIY programs and blogs, many featuring the input of some of the country’s top designers. Traditional shelter magazines, now also online, readily share links to some of their favorite bloggers, adding extra credibility to a lesser known designer or decorator.

Pros: Endless creative inspiration
Cons: Just because someone else can paint stripes on their floor doesn’t mean you can—or should

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