Thursday, January 24, 2013

Too Many Interior Designers, Too Little Time

Now that we've completed our first HDB appointment and met up with our lawyer to get the paperworks going, we needed to find the right interior designer to renovate our new home. I've heard lots of horror stories about contractors skipping town with your money, not finishing the project on time or doing a shoddy job on the renovation. We wanted to make sure we wouldn't encounter such problems. And so I researched, went on home renovation sites and requested for quotes. Hubby and I sat down with 5 different design firms and had email communications with about 3 others, here's what we've learned from this long and tedious process.

1. Come prepared - Bring your floor plan and bring pictures of the unit. The floor plan is a no brainer, but we took very few pictures of the unit and so when they were asking us what type of flooring it had and whether we wanted to change the flooring, doors and windows, it was a bit difficult for us to answer.

2. Focus the discussion on the fixtures instead of the design - Unless you're willing to shell out SGD2000 for a 3D drawing, don't spend too much time talking about the design during the first appointment. Normally, all they really need to know to be able to give you a quote is whether you're doing any hacking, tiling, cabinetry, carpentry and whether you're changing doors, windows; doing plastering, painting etc. The design discussions can come later when you're about to shortlist or have already shortlisted your designer. Otherwise, you'll spend too much time discussing details and then you'll have to keep repeating yourself during subsequent appointments with other prospective interior designers.

3. Prepare for a reality check - Normally, you'd come in with an idea of how your dream home should look like (mine had a glossy all white kitchen and a glass-enclosed play area) and think that the interior designer should be able to bring it all to life. Sadly, they're there to also keep things real. And in the real world, all white kitchens are hell to clean and glass-enclosed play areas (where the children can be seen but not heard) are impractical and a safety issue. So buck up, breathe in deep and prepare to listen to suggestions.  

4. Ask yourself, can you work with this person? - Although it seems pleasant to work with an interior designer who will do as you say, it's better to have someone who will tell you why your ideas aren't going to work and recommend something better. Use that first appointment to see if you can feel comfortable working with the interior designer for the next 6-8 weeks, which is how long the renovation usually takes. If you start getting riled up while discussing dividers with the interior designer and having to justify why you don't like them and therefore don't want them in your house, it's probably a sign that you won't be able to work together.

5. Watch out for responsiveness - All is well and the discussion goes smoothly. Now you wait for the quote. Whether or not they submit the quote on time can be a good gauge of how responsive they'll be in future. 

We had a wide range of experiences with the five designers we talked to. The first one talked to us but did not give a quote, only offering to do a 3D Drawing if we shelled out SGD2000 and said he could probably work within our budget but it would be a stretch. The second one was pleasant to talk to and promised to give a quote within the week and never did. The third one sat down with us and painstakingly did a furniture lay-out on his computer, when it would have been easier to do a pen and paper draft, then proceeded to deploy hard sell tactics by asking us to sign on the spot and when we didn't, asked his team leader to come over so she could persuade us. The team leader then proceeded to push on with the hard sell (what is it with these people?) by saying if we signed on the spot we could participate in the lucky draw (it was at an expo), get discounts as well as an electronic door lock. I wanted to kick my husband under the table so he could get the hint and get us out of there but that would be too obvious. It took another 15 minutes of saying no before they finally got the hint and we were able to leave. The fourth one was pleasant to talk to, seemed knowledgeable and submitted their quote on time. The fifth one was also okay but seemed a bit young and was a bit delayed in submitting their quote. 

In any case, we'll be deciding soon and hopefully move on to the next step in the process. Very excited about talking design ideas. I'm especially excited about the designs for my kids' play area. More updates to come.

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