Who needs an interior designer?

Although I’m an organized person — or perhaps because of that — I like listening to podcasts about time management, planning, organizing and tidying up while I’m doing things around my house.

During a recent stretch of washing the 29 original, divided-light, double-hung windows in my Craftsman bungalow, I listened to a lot of podcasts! And perhaps because I was thinking about how much I enjoy having clean windows but don’t love the hours it takes to clean them, the idea of outsourcing came to mind.

Why haven’t I done so already? Because I feel like, as a homeowner, washing windows is something I should do myself. I’m not alone in this type of thinking.

The scourge of “should”

In an episode of the “About Progress” podcast, guest KC Davis, a therapist, speaker and author of “How to Keep House While Drowning,” talked about her belief that there is no “right” way to do daily home care and maintenance. People should give themselves the grace to find what works for them, Davis said, including hiring someone to do the things they don’t enjoy or don’t have the time or skill to do.

And yet women, in particular, are often reluctant to hire someone to regularly clean their homes, feeling that it’s something they should do — with a big emphasis on “should.”

And yet, those same women don’t have any qualms about taking their car to a mechanic for an oil change.

I wonder if some of that explains a statistic from recent Consumer Insights Now research that has stuck with me: only 6% of consumers plan to use an interior designer to help with the decorating of their home. Six percent!

Admittedly, CIN sampled consumers in the market for new home furnishings in the first half of 2024. If CIN had queried people remodeling their homes, the number might have been higher: Being in the market for a new sofa doesn’t necessarily translate to the need for a professional to help redesign the living room.

And yet, the number still strikes me as low. Because just like many people don’t have the skills (or time or patience) to change their own oil, many don’t have the skills (or time or patience) to design their homes. Certainly, more than 6% could use help.

Another case in point: This one raised in Sarah Hart-Unger’s podcast “Best Laid Plans.” Hart-Unger recently recorded a conversation with designer Myquillyn Smith, also known as “The Nester” and author of the new book, “House Rules: How to Decorate for Every Home, Style and Budget.”

Hart-Unger is a highly competent and successful woman: a pediatric endocrinologist, a podcaster and speaker, a mother of three, a wife, a marathon runner. But she’s at a loss when it comes to decorating and organizing her home. It’s not something that comes naturally to her and she’s a bit overwhelmed by the whole process. Because of that, her home remains a source of frustration for her. It’s a budget issue, but I suspect that one reason Hart-Unger hasn’t hired a designer for her own home is that she feels like she should be able to do it on her own. She has mastered so many other aspects of her life, why not interior design?

According to the CIN research, six out of 10 consumers “prefer to design on their own.” But I wonder if they truly prefer or think they should design on their own. How many of those believe that they should innately know about color theory, scale and proportion, light and all the myriad aspects of good design.

Normalize seeking expert help

I think to many people, hiring a designer is something other people do — people with far more money, larger homes, multiple properties. Obviously, interior designers love clients with lots of money, large homes and multiple properties, but I think a lot of other people could benefit from professional design help.

Homes are most people’s largest investment, the place where they spend the majority of their time, a center of their lives. What would it look like if people began to think of interior designers like financial planners or even good mechanics and cleaning services? As a necessary part of creating an efficient, ideal life and home?

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I think it might require somewhat of a shift in how designers market themselves, keeping an aspirational focus on the beautiful images of spaces they’ve designed but also emphasizing the knowledge and skills they have to do their work — knowledge and skills that can ease the confusion and uncertainty that people like Hart-Unger feel about tackling the design their homes.

Respondents to the CIN survey who planned to use an interior designer cited “the designer’s expertise” as the main reason for doing so.

One respondent told CIN: “I prefer the opinion of experts.” Another recognized: “Design professionals have expertise in furniture selection, design principals, color and space planning.” Another acknowledged that “designers create a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing space.”

Designers’ message that “We make things beautiful for you” is compelling but adding “We make things easy for you” could help consumers see interior design as a necessary part of creating and maintaining a home rather than a luxury reserved for just a few.

For more: Consumer Insights Now research is conducted twice a year for Design News Now and its sister publications, Home News Now, Casual News Now and Bedding News Now. Industry veteran Dana French leads the CIN research project, which was sponsored this spring by Synchrony, a consumer financial services company.

I’ve highlighted just one part of the research in this column. Released in six parts this spring, the extensive research series also explores how consumers approach in-store and online shopping, what they value most in several product categories, how the economy is impacting their home furnishings purchases, how they plan to pay for purchases and more. You can read all the latest CIN research results here.

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