Interior Designer or Contractor, Who Comes First?

Interior Designer or Contractor, Who Comes First?

Interior Designer and Contractor measuring a wall

Interior Designer or Contractor, Who Comes First?

Are you considering a renovation and are unsure about the steps required? With so many steps and planning involved, it can be confusing especially when it comes to the order of hiring an interior designer or contractor. 

Interior designers are brought on at the beginning of a project, they are not just on-site at the end to put on the final touches but are involved at every step which is why hiring an interior designer first is recommended.

At Level Studio, we embrace a design-build approach meaning we are registered interior designers who also take on the role of the general contractor, in some cases. No one knows our projects like we do and this is the only way we can ensure they are being built correctly and to our standards. That said, not all interior designers work like us—so keep reading to see how other Interior Designers and Contractors work together.

Breaking Past Tunnel Vision

When budgeting for your next vacation, it wouldn’t make sense to purchase your tickets right away, even if you know where you’re going. Things move quickly and questions will come up like: 

“How long do I want to be away for?
Do I want to leave the country? 
Is it all-inclusive? Are excursions and outings part of this trip?
How will I get to the airport and accommodations?”

Envisioning and experiencing are two different things since it is easy to get wrapped up in tunnel vision. This means once on vacation, you realize you under anticipated the budget and want to add to your trip. But how can you make an informed decision when you are unsure and do not have a solid game plan?

Renovating your space has a similar approach.
 How can you hire a contractor when you do not have a design?

How can you be provided quotes and a project schedule when there is no design?

Sure, you may have ideas in your head and design inspiration saved but a contractor cannot grasp the entire scope of a project by just looking at photos, nor can they bid on a project based on that alone. 

Roles and Responsibilities 

We have established that hiring an interior designer is the first step, so let’s break down the roles and responsibilities of interior designers and contractors. While interior designers and contractors work closely together, and some responsibilities can overlap, there are differences. 

What is the Interior Designer responsible for? The biggest misconception about interior designers is that they pick furniture, make things look pretty, and only show up at the end but this is not true—Interior Designers do it all. We are responsible for all stages of the design process which includes: Programming, Site Measure and Documentation, Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Drawings, and Project Management.

Typically, a full design project includes analyzing wants and needs, space planning, sketching, sourcing materials, and finishes, liaising with trades and vendors, designing custom millwork and/or furniture, meeting with clients, producing construction drawings and design packages, attending site visits, updating clients, coordinating delivery and install, tracking numbers, and much more. 

Specifications are important because these are the elements that bring
a design to life. 

These could be materials, finishes, and specific instructions for how you want something to be built and look. Specifications are part of the interior designer’s responsibility, however, a contractor *may* suggest an alternative based on their own experience but a designer usually has a say before the client approves.

Specifications need to be communicated clearly to contractors and trades because this ensures there is no room for errors and if there is, designers will not be held monetarily liable as specifications are part of construction drawings, and these drawings are binding once signed off by all parties involved. 

What is the Contractor responsible for? Like interior designers, contractors wear many hats and often responsibilities can overlap. Contractors are responsible for understanding the scope of work, estimating costs, bidding and tendering, and hiring and finding trades to execute the job such as electricians, plumbers, tilers, carpenters, painters, and more. They are also responsible for pulling permits as needed, following the project schedule, understanding the order of trades, and updating the designer/client on progress.

Contractors will take the drawing package provided by the designer and purchase/source materials based on the specifications. 

They will delegate work as needed making sure that the work being done is as indicated on the drawings, that the quality of work is not being sacrificed and that the work environment is safe.

Contractors can answer structural, mechanical, and more complex questions, and can guide designers to alternative construction approaches but do not design/rework existing designs. Since contractors do not design, they are usually unable to provide the client with models, renderings, and sketches.

Final Thoughts


Now we understand hiring a designer comes before hiring a contractor and the reasons why, b
ut perhaps more questions have come up for you such as:

“When is the best time to hire a designer? 
What should I expect when I hire a designer?“.

At Level Studio, we’ve got you covered and can answer all your questions which is why we enjoy writing blogs based on important topics. If you’re ready to hire a designer—give us a call! 

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