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The Future of Interior Design for Kitchen and Bath Remodels

by Marcus Pickett

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In recent year, remodeling companies have been putting more and more interior designers on their payroll. Meanwhile, the current recession is causing many homeowners to skirt these valuable professionals, often to the detriment of their remodeling projects. Together, these forces have been a strain on independent interior designers. As a sign of the growing tension between interior designers and the remodeling industry, legislation strictly regulating interior design services has been introduced in state legislatures across the country. Needless to say, lobbyists from both sides have been aggressively arguing their case to elected officials.

While independent interior designers aren't an endangered species yet, the future of the interior design remains uncertain at best. Understanding the forces at play behind the interior design and remodeling industries are important for homeowners who are likely to need professional design services for their next remodeling project.

Technology and Demand Trends for Interior Designers
HomeAdvisor, leading online resource connecting homeowners to home improvement contractors, has seen online requests for kitchen and bathroom remodels more than double over the past three years, while requests for kitchen and bathroom designers has remained largely constant. This doesn't mean that fewer homeowners are using designers to generate remodeling plans. With greater design options, more material considerations, and increased scheduling pressures for contractors, the role of residential designers has never been more important.

Rather than looking to independent designers, however, homeowners may be using designers already on staff with a remodeling company. Computer-aided design (CAD) programs for both homeowners and design professionals have permanently altered the landscape of residential design. While homeowners with some construction and computer-savvy can generate their own remodeling plans, the transformation on the professional side of home design has arguably been even greater. First, after taking some preliminary pictures and measurements, remodeling companies can show you what your finished kitchen or bathroom might look like with dozens of permutations related to homeowners' choices. Next, the ability to readily convert these visual aides into construction plans for subcontractors has decreased remodeling timelines and costs.

Material Costs and Peace of Mind
Some remodeling companies may have special relationships or biased preferences toward a specific manufacturer, limiting your ability to choose cost-effective products. Of course, the same thing could be said of independent designers, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the cost of hiring a designer is almost always tied to the materials you choose. Designers receive discounts from manufacturers, which typically or directly match the fee charged to the homeowner. In some cases, if you choose Manufacturer X, your project will cheaper if you choose an independent contractor, but if you choose Manufacturer Y, the best price lies with an in-house designer.

Of course, if you like a remodeling company but are driven to seek out an independent designer, there is no reason you can't have both. Even remodeling companies that have a designer on-staff are generally more than willing to work with the designs of an independent designer, as long as the plans are reasonably detailed and well-formed. In fact, having multiple professionals involved with the project can add an extra layer of quality control. Although this may not be the cheapest way to complete a home remodel, it may be the route with the least amount of hassle.

Kitchen and Bathroom Designers
Despite more and more companies offering in-house design services, custom plans and specialization remains one factor that guarantees the continued existence of independent designers. A comprehensive remodeling company may employ one residential designer for all its remodeling needs, while independent contractors may focus solely on kitchens or bathrooms. Certainly, there is a ton of overlap, but kitchens tend to skew more toward finished products and materials—stone vs. solid-surface countertops, for example—while bathrooms can be just as much about the use of space and logistical problem-solving.

That said, both kitchen and bathroom projects can become monsters, even with the best remodeling plans. Certified kitchen designer and blogger Susan Serra notes that hidden defects, like termite-ridden floor joists, are a common issue during remodels. "Consumers must dedicate 15 percent of their budget for such eventualities. This is money that can be spent, or saved, if not needed for an unforeseen expense."

Know the Details, but Don't Ignore your Intuition
No matter which way you decide to go, you should seek out someone with whom you feel comfortable. Like most contractors, your designer should be willing to listen to your ideas, while giving you honest and knowledgeable feedback that will lead to the best overall value that stays within your budget. And don't underestimate the value of these professionals. A carefully-considered, easily-followed remodeling plan will almost always reduce the final cost of your project.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.