How much would you pay a decorator?

Remember this feature from the NY Times? The article is about a newlywed couple in NYC who wanted help decorating their first apartment. I always love getting some insight into how other decorators work (and how much they charge! $10,000 for this room, in case you’re wondering.***And to clarify, the designer volunteered her work for…

Remember this feature from the NY Times? The article is about a newlywed couple in NYC who wanted help decorating their first apartment.

I always love getting some insight into how other decorators work (and how much they charge! $10,000 for this room, in case you’re wondering.***And to clarify, the designer volunteered her work for the sake of the article and the press. It’s written in the features in the margin that she would have charged $10k for the room.)

Here’s the before:

and the after again:

Another angle:

Overall, I like the changes to the space, though my two favorite elements were pieces the couple already owned – the Empire dining chairs and the Hunt Slonem butterfly painting.

I did love the idea of vinyl stripes in the dining nook! Such a clever idea for renters with a no-painting policy.

The decorator spent $100 on the brown vinyl stripes, which were purchased through Walls Need Love. If you’re after the same look, you might consider contact paper, or at the very least, shopping around on etsy for the vinyl.

What do you think? Worth $5k+ spent on new furnishings? What about the additional $10k in decorator’s fees?

My thoughts on pricing for a decorator (just the fees – not the purchasing budget) have changed a lot over the past few years. I’d love to hear your thoughts – especially you fellow decorators. Is $10k for a NYC living/dining room too much, not enough or just right?

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140 thoughts on “How much would you pay a decorator?

  1. This is the reason most people are afraid to hire designers and decorators because frankly @ $10000 that is an extravagance. The general public are intimidated with the thought of using a designer because of the high cost, and consider it a luxury. Many retail establishments offer free services with space planning etc. so people can all give tips, which is another reason why the Pottery Barns and Rest Hardwares offer the one-stop shopping its just easier for most people copy a room based on the sales floor or catalog because frankly they are priced out of using a decorator, and all they really want is to create a great first impression and have comfort.

  2. If I were to spend $15000 to decorate my apartment I'd expect it to break down to $10k on furniture and $5k on design fees. In the last year I've spent just under $5000 on furniture and decor items so I know that amount doesn't go far. I didn't replace any of my large pieces of furniture and while my place looks different (better), it was hardly a complete makeover.
    This post and the comments make me realize I'll never be able to afford to utilize a design service. I thought in the future I might at least be able to look into an e-design, but I see now that any service is probably out of range of what I can afford.

  3. I guess it depends on the decorator, how well the do, and how big the space is. I think that they did an awesome job. I love the furniture and the accessories and especially the vinyl wall. But, it is a small room so I think, in my opinion, that was a little high of a price tag!
    Lila Ferraro
    Queen Bedroom Sets

  4. wow loved reading all of the comments. really interesting…

    As some people pointed out, it often takes MORE time to design a room on a super-tight budget than it does on a larger budget. Designers should be compensated for that additional time/ elbow grease/ whatver you call it to make a $5000 room like like a $20,000 room. (Much harder/ more time-consuming than having $20,000 to work with) …With only $5000 for this particular designer to work with, I'm sure she spent a lot more time on the design/ shopping/ scouring etc…

    And on another note… I couldn't afford to hire myself as a designer. My friends and family do not have designers either… As much as I would love to give my services away to people/ lower my rates, I can't and reserve that only for charity. (free of course, not lower rates! ;) Decorators have a skill that people want. We have created businesses, educated ourselves, made it a way of life to constantly research & learn, have overhead, have established accts and relationships, and so should be paid accordingly. We all have different skill levels & assets and so I think it's important for a decorator's pricing to be such that he/ she has clients willing to pay the fees. (If not, I'd say maybe the fees are too high.) As I gain more experience, my fees increase.

    For those who don't find it's worth what's being asked, then it would make sense that that designer is not for them because they don't value him/ her enough. Neither will be happy.

    rambled- sorry!! great question & comments!!!

  5. taking into consideration what Beth said (the only concrete guidance in the replies I've seen), 20 – 25% sound reasonable. By that standard, the room in question would have cost $50,000 to decorate. As already noted, the paint, rug, sofa's are the same. Different is desk, coffee and side tables. Since there is no before of the other side of the room, I can't guess, but from what I'm seeing, no way $50,000 was spent. Unless it was all put into the artwork.

  6. Interesting question…

    1) $10k is too much money for that room, though it looks great.

    2) I am mistified by posters comparing decorators/designers to doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc.. I have a PhD in Computer Science and there is NO WAY I would consider paying a designer more than I make hourly (and I work in a financial services firm). I simply would not do it on principle alone – because I also spent 4 years getting a B.S. degree, plus 2 getting a masters, plus 5+ getting the PhD and then I did a Post Doctorate! Doctors have similar experiences and honestly the only lawyers out there who escape faster from the pile of debt they have after law school are the corporate ones. It boggles my mind that people would compare these fields to interior design.

    3) I totally understand how frustrating it must be for a designer to have his/her fees questioned – but because design is considered a luxury item for most people in this country, they question the price because they reason they don't need the service.

    4) The assumption that other fields don't have their fees questioned is ludicrous. I work for a financial services firm and we have to negotiate fees every time we do client work. Moreover, the FIRM can charge high fees, but it's not like we the individual workers get that much. For example, for my expertise, the firm might charge $500-600 to the client, but I will likely only see about $50-80 of that at a manager level, more at a director level. The firm can charge that much because the client is paying for the overall reputation of the firm as a whole, as well as my expertise.

    Thus, with that in mind, paying a designer at $150-175/hr seems exorbitant to me. I get it that this is like contracting, but even comp sci contractors at my level (Master's or PhD level with lots of experience) don't charge that much. For me, the high fees associated with design and the fact that it is not a necessity puts it into the luxury category – which is WHY I think designers can get away with charging so much in the first place. When people are shopping with their hearts, they tend to pay more. Most companies I know don't get stars in their eyes when shopping for a Computer Architect, etc..

    For my field, I couldn't get away with charging so much because my services would likely be required on an ongoing basis, while a designer would probably only confer with a client once every few years, if that – another reason to consider it a luxury.

    And I did want to add that my field of work (usability and user experience) involves a lot of retreading and going back over old work and even though it is a science, there is also an art to it. I notice a lot of the same issues popping up in design that I have to deal with in usability.

    Though I would not pay a price that steep for design work, I would pay for a consultation (to help me polish my own ideas) or to help me hunt down specific items. For that, I would hope the cost could remain around $2-4k. THAT I would pay for – but not some giant amount that can't be broken down into exactly what I'm getting for my money.

    My firm (the financial services one) has to list out exactly what we are charging for what – why don't designers then? Maybe that would help.

    But designers still have to solve the major question of how to get people to pay for a luxury service. If my work doesn't get done, a company could lose millions of dollars of revenue due to their employees not being able to efficiently use some critical software. If my house doesn't get professionally decorated … what calamity occurs?

  7. thanks for starting this discussion, jenny! it's been so interesting to read what all of your readers have to say about this clearly controversial topic. it seems to me that it's most fair to charge on an hourly basis — i liked the anonymous comment that equated $10,000 with 80 hours at $125 per hour. i agree that the $10,000 fee need not correspond with a room that looks like it's had $10,000 worth of changes, but i do think it's fair that the designer be honest about the time he or she puts in both designing and interacting with his or her clients. for the fledgling designers among us, it seems they're lowballing the amount of time they spend on their projects to keep costs low for their clients — while perhaps this designer can afford to overestimate the amount of time she worked on this space (the results are lovely, no doubt, but likely not 80 hours' worth) given her expensive location and up-and-coming reputation. thanks again for opening up an interesting dialogue.

  8. How interesting it's been to read these comments. I think the room looks great but like many I no way feel it's enough work to account for the 10k the designer would have charged. I realize there is a lot of disposable income in NYC but I couldn't help feel that the designer was a little full of it as a way to up her cred. Does this firm have a website?
    Too compare design work to medical help seems a little out of touch. There is a world outside of certain wealthy enclaves and life is quite different there.
    Unfortunately, after reading many of the designers comments here it seems as if ID will continue to be a luxury procurement for many.
    I have noticed that ID seems to be something more southern woman do at more varied levels of income.

  9. Love your blog. I definitely agree that designers should be compensated for their time and talents but $10,000 for design fees for this room seems insane. In rereading the article, it does sound like the designer (and her assistants!) spent quite a bit of time on the project, the end result, though quite successful, looks like she just rearranged and added some accessories. It sounds like the project was a bit stressful for both designer and client compounded by the timing of a death and illness in the client's family in the middle of it all. The designer wasn't too interested in accomodating the client's taste with lots of fussing over the antlers, the painting, the vinyl decals, etc.

    I think it can be misleading seeing before and after shots like this. So many magazines, such as the June issue of Better Homes and Gardens, have cover stories like "Amazing $350 Room Makeover" by Grant K. Gibson, which looks like a similar process accomplished fairly quickly with lots of DIY ideas.

    I would love to hire a designer to help me pick out fabrics to reupholster some things but it doesn't sound like it's realistic. I doubt most people can spend $10k on many projects let alone just for the designer's fee!

  10. I am not a designer, but rather spend my off-time drooling over beautiful designs on blogs that I follow. I would love to have the capacity and keen eye for design… and skills to execute it… and it is a true art form. I got my degree in clinical psychology and am balancing being a new mom with finishing my postdoctoral hours so that I can get licensed as a psychologist. What I have learned while trying to build a private practice is that, if you can actually help people do what is otherwise difficult for them to do within their own capacity at that particular time, the price they pay should reflect that it is a valuable service (without putting them through the ringer!) I once heard a sports analyst comment on why professional athletes are paid so much. He explained that Peyton Manning does not earn millions because what he does saves lives or is for the greater good (some may argue with me on this, my husband being one), but because he is essentially irreplaceable. No one else can do what he does. Whether you're a decorator, a psychologist, an a chef, an athlete… whatever… if you are doing something special that no one else can do, you should be compensated accordingly. And, the world deserves to know that you're out there!

  11. oops… I send the last post before i was finished. I meant to add that very few professionals in their particular line of work are truly irreplaceable, which is why most of us are not bringin in the big bucks. The particular renovation that was posted, in my mind, does not seem to be work the 10k that it was valued at and I wonder why it was. But it looks pretty darn good, and if my place could ever look that beautiful without me having to lift a finger, especially with a 17-month old bulldozing through it, I would be in hog heaven. Maybe that alone is worth the big bucks.

  12. How funny is this to me, see, I paid a interior designer to come into our home to help me choose paint colors and well, I later had a different idea and went off in that direction… so goes the creative mind… so goes the pocket book…

  13. While $10,000 is an amount that I could never justify spending on design services, there are designers in NYC who make that much and more. They are also the exceptions rather than the rule. It takes an enormous amount of talent, luck and killer business skills to get to the point where a designer can justify those kinds of fees. Most of the people I know who got design degrees never make a fraction of that kind of money in NYC – the market is just so saturated with talented designers. Anyone who wants design services in NYC can hire a Parson's student whose looking to build a portfolio and they'll get great design for practically nothing. However, there's also an enclave of incredible wealth in NYC and they'll pay big bucks for big-name designers just for the bragging rights. Frankly, if a designer is that good and well-known and there are people who are willing to pay their fees, there's no reason why they shouldn't charge the highest price they can get for their services.

  14. I cannot believe it cost that much… mainly because so much of what was used the couple already owned. They basically just rearranged and added a few things. Maybe it's a huge name designer? What an awesome discussion topic! Kudos!

  15. I'm a firm believer that your trade is your knowledge and what makes you valuable. People come to us for a reason, and while there is definitely a line to draw on asking for too much money (especially in this economy!), don't give away your time. $5k could have easily covered the room, considering it has a new couch, chair, tables, desk, painting, etc… but $10,000 in decorators fees? a bit steep to me…

  16. That's a tough one. On a practical point, I'm not sure what the going rates are there. From a more emotional perspective I suppose it depends whether the people whose house it is love it. If they do then I suppose it's worth it. If they don't, then probably not.

  17. I completely agree with Nicole, the third poster.

    "I think that 10k in designer fees is complete madness for a space so small, with such minor changes. The wall color looks the same, the carpet is the same, the curtains are the same, the major furniture is all the same. I appreciate the difference, but surely changing the placement of the furniture and choosing a few lamps and pillows is not that onerous of a task for someone who does this day-in-day-out."

  18. As someone who lives in new york, and knows a little about the reporting style of the nytimes, perhaps it would be a good idea to keep two things in mind.

    1. designer fees: are based on time and reputation,
    (if you look at some of the previous examples in this series of articles you will see a variety of fee quotes given the time and stature of the design teams involved).

    2. the designer did this for free advertising and ballparked her "regular" fee for the newspaper.


  19. The price tag on this space is not messured by what has been done to it, but who did it! I guess there is a name attached to this job, which comes with a price. If you want to hire a reasonable and fabulous decorator, look around and find a lesser known personality with a portfoloio you find inspiring.
    There are many out there who work for a very reasonable rate. Like me and many others I know as well!
    I work very hard for all my clients, but I also have learned not to sell myself under value.
    I usually offer a flat rate and for longer projects a planned payment. I work out of Westchester area/NY and charge usually not more then $100/hour. Flat rates are even more favourable for the clients. It is not cheap and some consider it a luxury, but I believe the value of a well designed space can add enormous benefits for the owner and safes much in the long run.
    PS: I consider above project extremly high priced for the amount of work/result!
    But this is NEW YORK! There are always people willing to raise the bar…and there are enough people who go for it!


  20. $10k for that transformation, no. I think just by taking a friend who is naturally good at styling out for a meal and back to apartment for free advice…would have been near enough. I actually think it is a ridiculous amount.

  21. Just wanted to add to my other comment because I don't want to disparage the amount of work a designer has to put in, or to imply that anyone could do it. It is just that in this space and with the results they got I don't think it is worth it.

    I do not disagree with a designer charging that much for that project, they can charge what they like and they put in hours. What I don't like is people being prepared to pay it, that is up to them but misguided I think.

    Maybe I am in the wrong mood to answer this because I have just been watching a programme about hostels and slums in South Africa, if you get my meaning…

    But that hasn't made me feel negative toward paying for design, so I think it is this specific fee and this specific project.

  22. Wow, great comments and really interesting insight from alot of different professions. It seems like most agree that paying someone for their expertise is reasonable…and some don't mind paying more than others for it. I don't think anyone here is literally saying that they are doing the same thing as a doctor, for example, but are merely pointing out that there is a skill involved and therefore a designer should be paid for said skill. It is abundantly clear every day that salary is not necessarily related to perceived value of work—we can debate all day long the merits of various careers and people in them. That said, I personally wouldn't pay what these people paid for this room…but then again, I couldn't afford myself at $80/hour (what my arch firm bills for me). But my commercial clients don't blink at the fee. I also won't pay $200 for a haircut or pair of jeans–but have friends who consider that well worth the money!

  23. As someone who has done a bit of decorating work for friends and thinking of branching out, I, too, have struggled with how and what to charge. So glad to know this is normal!

    This may have been addressed in another comment, but I'm curious about why so many designers/decorators ask potential clients to email or call for their rates rather than just posting them on their website.

    To me that reads "expensive," and I wonder if it would be better to just put them out there so there's not as much mystery. I know this is several days after this post, but this has been such a helpful discussion and any feedback on this question would be so great. Thanks.

    And, Jenny, I enjoy your blog and am sorry to hear about your grandmother.

  24. I am loving this discussion! I am a licensed interior designer in Texas and this is a battle that is all too familiar. Our profession is very undervalued thanks to HGTV! When I first started out, I undercharged and ended up resenting my clients for it, eventhough I was the one that was undercharging. I've learned the hard way that if they don't value my time they aren't going to be good clients, it is very black and white. There are so many factors, that most people just don't realize, that go into the design process. So many clients are shopper savvy these days as well, and will find what you have shown them, or something similar, for less money and buy it…therefore we have to compensate for our time! I've enjoyed reading the comments, especially from other designers. Great post!!!

  25. I guess it would depend on the client that you are dealing with; meaning how demanding. I do think that to pay 10k for that particular space is way too much! Personally I would think of all the things I could be doing in other rooms with the 10k!

  26. @pve design: not to discount the professional service a designer provides, but it is ridiculous to compare it to the services of a doctor or lawyer. Doctors save lives, or save lots of money in long term medical expenses when they effectively treat conditions. Lawyers can save time (spent in jail, etc) as well as assets. Both are investments. While I appreciate a designers work, I can't fathom comparing it to a doctor or lawyer b/c i would probably want to redo it in 3 years anyways.

  27. I'll preface my comment with.. I am completely incompetent when it comes to design.

    I would have said absolutely not. But, then I started thinking about the real estate agent I once worked for that got 3-5% commission. I would compare those two industries. Sure they don't necessarily have to go to school, but clients rely on their expertise, connections, ability to sell a beautiful life the same way a client expects their designer to do the same thing with a room revamp or whatever. I would guess the number of hours, ridiculous clients, emails, etc.. could be very similar.

    With that being said, I still think it is a lot of money and quite frankly I agree with the commenter that some designers are pricing themselves out of markets. My husband is a physician (and by the way gets paid $96.00 for removing an appendix.. yeah, not kidding) and with our massive student loans, $10K isn't even a remote possibility.

  28. My thoughts on the design: The spaces seem brighter, more spacious, and much more inviting. I appreciate the fact that a few things were reused. I don't sense much unity between the living and eating areas, but that's based on my taste, not the clients'.

    The price seems high, but being married to a designer and having been a client in renovations, I recognize that price alone means nothing. Designers have overhead and what the designer does depends on "scope of work" and changes requested later.

    My "overhead" can be past and continuing education; rent, utilities, maintenance, office equipment and supplies; samples; time with salesmen or attending trade shows; advertising; support personnel; transportation; professional dues; taxes…
    My "scope of work" can go from an initial meeting to determine the client's needs, a meeting to present design, ordering products, shopping with the client, hiring workmen, overseeing the actual renovation and installation, handholding, making changes, resolving problems…
    Those were just the first things that came to mind.

    Everyone deserves a win/win situation. Choose your designer/accept your clients carefully. Be willing to spend time making a comprehensive contract that spells out the expectations and responsiilities of all envolved and then honor it. Charge for what you do and pay for what you get.

    Freebies for relatives and low fees for friends will most likely be bad experienes for all.

  29. Well, if the new artwork is included in that, I can see how the budget got so inflated…and worth it for a piece of art (or two!) that you love and can't live withou. If the artwork is not part of the budget, the cost is crazyness. CRAZYNESS. I'm all for paying a fair price for someone's time and talent, but this just seems excessive.

  30. As a drapery workroom who works with some awesome designers, they earn every penny they make. It takes as much time (sometimes more) to sell a less expensive piece of furniture than a more expensive one). Sources take time and money to find.

    And as a workroom who is continually attending conferences to perfect my skills and learn new things to help inspire them in their designs, I also earn what I charge.

    One of the items questioned was $750.00 for the pillows. That can quickly add up. Based on what I could see from the picture, there are several fabrics, pillow sizes and details. If you have to order fabrics and trims from different vendors and custom pillow sizes, those things add up quickly. I calculated 5 pillows with fabric @ $50.00 yd, no trims, freight, inserts and labor with no markup yet and it came to $781.00. These things add up quickly. It's not like going to the local retailer and picking up something that been made in China for pennies.

    Also, some have commented that "$25.00/$50.00 hr is all they would pay. That's more than I make." If you are not self-employed, you have to remember we have overhead, pay our own benefits, insurance, taxes and the occasional vacation.

    Ok stepping off my soapbox. Back to the table full of draperies to finish.

  31. Wow. I don't now if it is fair, or not, but I would never spend that much. Then again, my car is the one screeching to a halt on bulk trash day, picking up furniture to play with. I don't think I've spent 10K on my entire house of furniture.

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  33. Ah! That's a very simple, but elegant-looking carpet! I don't mind spending or adding some bucks on decorating services. But if I can actually do it myself, I'd rather pick up my own ideas from stores. And yes, I think I need to stay away from light-colored ones 'coz I'm a bit clumsy and always stains some of the old rugs. We needed to contact the guy from a carpet cleaning in Ottawa for that. But it was worth it, he did a pretty good job.

  34. wow, admin your interior design photos are really gorgeous. But I want to decorating my room like it. But your furniture price $10,000 is too high. Middle-class family people can’t decorating their room this furniture. If you share us for some less price furniture then middle-class family people can decorate their room. But your furniture is looking really gorgeous.

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