Home renovation is never an easy decision to make and the sensible thing to do would be to engage the services of an interior designer or a contractor. But how are they different? Though they seem to provide similar services at a glance, interior designers and contractors differ in striking ways, and which service provider that’s the best hire depends on the nature of the work that needs to be completed as well as your expectations.
Japanese-style Muji dining room design by Kava Decor.
If both form and functionality are key to your renovation needs, the interior designer is the professional you want. Whether it’s a beautiful and functional kitchen design or a kid-friendly bedroom, they take charge of every aspect of the job from planning, supervision of work to finalizing the décor.
Listens to what clients want
Interior designers start by discussing their client’s needs to establish a better understanding of what the client wants, and the heavy construction work only begins once a general agreement has been reached. An open channel of communication is then maintained between both parties throughout the duration of the project, keeping the client informed on its progress and giving him or her the option to intervene at any time.
Unlike contractors, interior designers are more than willing to entertain client’s requests to create themed renovation work, whatever they may be (examples may include a Disney themed bedroom for their daughter, a minimalist look for the living room or an H.R. Giger inspired bathroom for Alien fans).
To ensure that a client’s needs are understood, interior designers then proceed to produce a detailed 3D drawing of the project plans which is presented to the client for inspection, which can then be used both ways to communicate changes and suggestions from both parties to ensure that the client’s needs are met as best possible.
Example of a 3D plan used by interior designers to facilitate communication of ideas and changes to clients. Design and image courtesy of Trinity Interior Design, an interior designer in Johor Bahru.
And once that’s done, interior designers also oversee the entirety of the process themselves, coordinating and supervising the work while keeping their clients updated of the progress throughout the entire process.
Also, because of the higher level of autonomy assigned to interior designers, clients are freed of a significant amount of commitment that would otherwise be needed in overseeing the progress made by contractors.
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Contractors are all about functionality and are largely unconcerned with the final product’s aesthetic qualities. They carry out the jobs they take based strictly on a specific process – which usually leaves clients with little choice for personalization other than, say, the type and design of tile to be used or the placing of electrical outlets.
Their mode of operation does mean that contractors are able to charge less – and a good contractor will still do a good job. This is perfect for clients who aren’t too particular.
Nor do they provide advice and design ideas voluntarily and only step in to provide advice when their clients make requests that would be architecturally unsound or simply beyond what they are willing to do.
Often employ Sub-contractors
Often, contractors will almost always need to hire sub-contractors to perform tasks that they won’t or cannot perform, an additional cost that will be transferred to the client. Sub-contractors complement the contractor and performs jobs main contractors won’t or can’t do, such as electrical wiring and carpentry. Sub-contractors are highly specialized, and typically only follow through with instructions provided to them by clients or the contractor.
And because contractors perform a task with little to no regard for input from clients, the cost of making fine adjustments post-renovation might end up costing the client a lot more than expected.
Are held less accountable for errors
However, if a problem does occur (e.g. bad wiring layout, inappropriate use of materials, safety issues) contractors are likely to transfer all liability to their clients, claiming that they are just following instructions. If things go south, be prepared to accept the fact that contractors are most likely going to stand by themselves and their sub-contractors.
Summary of the differences between Interior Designers and Contractors:
|Comprehensive services for higher price||Basic services at base cost price|
|Handles full design concept, with full consideration given to client’s needs and aesthetic preferences||Rigid, follows instructions only. Are less accountable for error and inconsistencies.|
|Provides additional services and/or advice post-renovation.||Only performs work as agreed in contract.|
|Optimal for large scale renovations.||Optimal for small scale renovations.|
|Prepares 3D plans for inspection.||No prepared plans.|
|High autonomy frees clients of commitment.||Requires greater client involvement.|
|Takes in client input regarding aesthetic preferences and customization.||Provides only marginal customization options.|
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Considerations for hiring
Ultimately, it’s the budget that dictates the hire. Interior designers cost more as they provide a higher level of service, while contractors generally cost less but take minimal input from clients on how the job gets done.
It is possible to control for costs to get the best of both worlds and that’s by hiring the services of an interior designer to oversee only a partial part of the renovation while relegating the bulk of it to contractors to complete.
Keep in mind that cutting corners and hiring the cheapest service at the onset isn’t prudent, and could possibly cost more in the long-term as additional charges are incurred to rectify problems arising from poor workmanship and oversights.
The scale of renovation required
The decision to hire an interior designer or contractor should also depend on the scale of work and attention to detail required. Contractors are best suited for smaller jobs where the outcome of the job would likely have no significant impact on the overall design of the house (or isn’t important to the client).
But as the scale of the renovation increases so do the potential for error and inconsistencies – and greater consideration should be given to hiring an interior designer instead.
This surrendering of a high degree of autonomy does mean that clients become very dependent on the skill and professionalism of the interior designer and (at the very least) could result in a waste of time and money should their services prove unsatisfactory. So it’s a good idea that the client performs a thorough check of their interior designer/contractor before hiring them.
Level of commitment
The amount of time that clients are willing or able to dedicate is another important consideration. Interior designers take on the time-consuming process of both planning and coordination of the renovation work, thus freeing up clients of responsibility – and also giving clients a degree of peace of mind knowing that their project is in good hands.