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Need some interior design help?

WHEN YOU NEED TO HIRE A house painter or plumber, a friend's or neighbor's recommendation is often the best bet. But when it comes to finding an interior designer, you may want to cast your net wider. After all, this person will be spending many hours with you designing your living spaces, and possibly making purchases involving tens of thousands of your dollars.

But where to begin? A good place to start is a designer referral service. It maintains portfolios on prescreened interior designers--and sometimes architects and other design professionals as well--and helps clients choose the right person for the job.

Many people are intimidated by the process of hiring and working with an interior designer. Referral services are trying to change that. "We attempt to demystify the whole design process," says Marc Feld of The DAAC Collective, based in Los Angeles. "We're trying to see that everyone has access to quality design."

When you meet with a referral specialist, he or she will study your personality, project, and style preferences. The consultant acts as a matchmaker, showing you the work of designers who may best suit your needs. Some also give clients lessons in fee structures and contracts. The process continues until you find the right designer. You make the final decision.

"It's a way for people to comparison-shop," says Bobbie Everts of Designer Previews in Los Angeles and Orange counties. "If our clients had to interview 65 people personally, it would take months. We save them so much time."


Consultants often interview several hundred designers to find the several dozen they maintain on their rosters. Each designer's background is investigated thoroughly. Consultants talk with former clients, visit finished projects, run credit checks, and clear the designer with the appropriate licensing group and Better Business Bureau. They look for quality work, reliability, and a history of good client relations.

Their designers cover a wide range of styles, from traditional to cutting-edge contemporary. Some consultants specialize. Everts says she tends to represent young, innovative designers. She also looks for those with the training to supervise structural work and remodeling projects.

The DAAC Collective (of designers, architects, artisans, and contractors) can refer all the professionals and tradespeople for a remodeling or building project.


A referral service can help you find your own decorating preferences. Everts takes clients through a slide show of 75 projects in a wide range of styles. She urges them to express likes and dislikes immediately as images flash on the screen to determine emotional responses to particular styles. After narrowing down a client's preferences, she shows portfolios of designers who work in that style.

Alison Greenberg of Charlotte Peters Inc., in Los Angeles and San Francisco, goes to clients' homes to see how they live and what kinds of things they already own.

All consultants will ask about the scope of the project and your budget, geographic location, and lifestyle, and will look over any "wish books," fabric swatches, or magazine clippings you bring in. Then they'll let you know what you can expect to pay for the job. The initial 1 1/2- to 3-hour meeting can cost as much as $100--or nothing. After you've hired a designer and the job has started, you're still welcome to see the consultants for advice. All make it clear, however, that they carry no liability for the work, since you choose the designer.


To locate a referral service, call a local design center. Some centers have in-house referral services where you can make an appointment to review designer portfolios; some contract space to independent referral services.

The American Society of Interior Designers and International Society of Interior Designers also have referral services.
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Author:Colby, Anne
Date:May 1, 1993
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