In-Home Consultation vs. Interior Designer: How to Get the Design Guidance You Need

by Rana WaxmanMay 23, 2018

Professional design guidance comes in various hues – from the in-home consultation to the interior designer, decorator and of course, the classic DIY. Any option could be a great way to turn the space you have into one you have always dreamed of.

Whether you have a vision or prefer to let someone else take the reins, the digital age has transformed the interior design world into a competitive landscape. With a significant choice for the consumer, it’s helpful to learn about the different options, then make an informed decision about your ‘inside job.’

In-Home Consultation

Many of today’s retailers are rolling out in-home consultation services. The in-home consultant essentially makes product recommendations through a plan personalized to each client. The in-home advisor is not necessarily an interior designer, but the premise is they have a solid grasp of their merchandise and how to use it. Essentially, it’s a way for the store or service to come to you.

Depending on what the visit is for, an in-home consultant might take measurements, and will usually discuss your needs as well as their inventory to see how to bridge the two. The scope of the advice is typically project-oriented, so you shouldn’t expect a home security expert to choose wallpaper.

That stated, you could theoretically have several in-home consults at once. Think – paint color, windows, blinds, curtains, furniture, home office, electronics and smart home technology, or something else.

In the end, you might receive a written list of suggestions, samples, 2 or 3-dimensional drawing or other actionable information. The consultant may also act as concierge, making the purchases for you based on what you have agreed to.

  • Pros: For those who just need a sofa, home theatre, lighting or other product or if you love a specific brand, it might be a great option – something like going to your favorite salesperson who puts an outfit together for you from the store’s inventory.
  • Cons: Project-focused means you have to have your own strategy in place or hire someone to take charge of a coordinated concept (like a decorator;) you may also want to check the consultant’s qualifications or have worked with them in-store.
  • Costs: “Free” could mean you pay a fee up-front that is discounted if you make a purchase, so you need to read the fine print, though any floor plan is probably yours in the end if you change your mind. Some providers might also charge a la carte (services plus merchandise plus delivery or labor.)

Interior Designer

An interior designer usually needs at least a bachelor’s degree with a focus on interior design or interior architecture, and in some states may need to be licensed to use that title. Those who are true professionals have studied color, lighting, drawing, and computer-aided design (CAD). As a result, they often team up closely with architects, civil and mechanical engineers, electricians and construction crews.

The role of an interior designer is to create functional, safe, beautiful spaces through a selection of decorative items. Depending on the scope of a project, they might have to read blueprints, understand codes and standards, or just stay on top of trends and technology. Also, they may need to orchestrate the timeline – when to paint, put in flooring, or bring in that fabulous rug.

Of course, there is a spectrum of talents and proven expertise among designers. Some interior designers might specialize in kitchens, bathrooms, lofts or luxury homes. Others may provide a full service from the initial sketches to the actual installation of all the elements and may take on any type of project.

  • Pros: An interior designer is the CEO of your décor, from the minutia to the bigger picture; and assuming that you are on the same page, could provide full (perfect?!) end results.
  • Cons: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you have to look at an interior designer’s portfolio to see whether what they consider lovely lines up with your own views. Also, they could end up expensive though you may get some veto power on where and how to cut costs if that matters.
  • Costs: There is a scale from low to high based on which one of four ways they use to charge for services: (1) cost plus, (2) fixed rate, (3) hourly rate, (4) by the square foot. A small project might, therefore, come with a price tag of several hundred while a larger one could run you several thousand.


Whereas the interior designer has formal training, a decorator doesn’t need special schooling, as their focus is primarily on aesthetics. Where an interior designer may use software like building information modeling (BIM) or CAD, a decorator often comes in when all this work is complete.

They then whip the space into shape through things like color, fabrics and furniture, and accessories (that perfect throw pillow or chandelier). Consequently, your perfect decorator might work with custom furniture makers, upholsterers, and other industry professionals.

Their skill is to pull together elements from multiple sources to create the décor you want to achieve. This doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of other functions. However, a decorator’s strength is often in being able to re-do a space, help clients choose a color scheme, and purchase furniture and accents.

  • Pros: A decorator could transform, dress, stage, or accessorize a tired space into a modern and exciting one and cut down on your legwork, somewhat like a personal shopper for your house.
  • Cons: Decorators aren’t necessarily technical and you still have to trust their taste or make sure they really hear your preferences. Unless also a licensed interior designer, they can’t help with structure.
  • Costs: The costs could be similar in pricing format to an interior designer with a variance based on skill level, experience, and training and may or may not be able to get discounts. However, they may have their finger on the pulse of cost-cutting websites and they might have the time to scour for the right piece at the right price.

Do-It-Yourself Home Décor/Design

For those who prefer to take charge of their own projects, there are some DIY options that may provide the perfect solutions.

  • Pin It

    Pinterest is a staple for the DIY crowd. Here you could find ideas and inspirations in a very easy to use format. Just search by typing in what you are looking for (e.g. laundry room ideas, modern farmhouse kitchens) and scan results. See something that appeals to you? Pin it to your own vision board.

    • Pros: You can make many boards and it is creative, playful, and personal.
    • Cons: The main drawback is you don’t always know the source, so you may have to do a lot of extra searching, and it isn’t as up-to-date as real-time catalogs.
    • Cost: Free.
  • Online Interior Designing

    A variety of websites pair users with a professional interior designer that is supposed to provide a personal (and virtual) interior design experience. It isn’t the same process everywhere, but one might start by taking a photo, selecting a filter or style (e.g. California, contemporary) and then swapping in colors or products. Or, you might get to shop looks and substitute colors, fabrics, sizes. A few to try: Homepolish, Havenly, Laurel and Wolf, Decorist, Hutch, and Modsy.

    • Pros: A big pro is home renovation meets smartphone technology. Ordering may be really streamlined as there is often a concierge who pulls together your wants/needs and clicks to order.
    • Cons: It may be better or easier for some projects, millennials, renters, or the tech-savvy, but you have to find the right designer and think through your costs.
    • Costs: Browsing the portfolio may be free but you typically have to sign up with an email, plus pay a fee so read the fine print
  • Home Design Software

    For the tech-driven DIY-er, there are various software packages that can be installed to let you take charge of home design from your own computer. Examples include Virtual Architect, RoomSketcher, CAD Pro.

    • Pros: Perfect for the take-charge types or those who truly love home renovation and want the planning tools to get the job done with the help of current technology.
    • Cons: You need to learn the software ropes, make your purchases, in addition to coordinating and managing all facets of the project.
    • Costs: The cost varies from about $50 and up.

In-Home Consultation vs. Interior Designer

Not everyone is able to visualize, and for those of you that can’t do it on your own, there are ways to make the most of any space at just about any budget. Remember to factor in your strengths, schedule, and style. Whether it’s for a ground-up build, a remodel or a little pizazz you are looking for, the more you clairfy your own tastes ahead of time, the better.

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About The Author
Rana Waxman
Rana Waxman parlays years of work experience in several fields into web content creation aligned with client needs. Rana's versatile voice is supported by a zest for research, a passion for photography, and desire to provide clients with a purposeful presence online. In her non-writing hours, Rana is a happy yogini, constant walker, avid reader, and sometimes swimmer.