Top 5 Myths About Interior Design


In the spirit of the modern “listicle,” in today’s post I share with you my “Top 5” myths about interior design. If you have worked with an interior designer before, these will not be surprising. For many people though, these are operating assumptions that can cause trouble when approaching an interior design project.

1. Interior design can be done quickly (a.k.a. Reality TV Syndrome)

Planning and executing a cohesive, curated, warm, welcoming, high quality design takes a lot of time.

Reality TV shows that depict a room makeover in a day or a weekend do a huge disservice. If you embark on a design project with the expectation that it will look amazing and feel high quality, and last far into the future, AND will only take two days to execute, you will likely be disappointed.

Transformation of this sort can be fun brain candy, but beware. Watch closely and you might notice that quality is being sacrificed at every turn. I’ve talked to colleagues who have participated in these shows. It is not at all what it seems. Remember, what looks good on television has a lot to do with lighting and the way that visuals get filtered when filmed and broadcast. Even the type of TV that you have will affect how beautiful that quickie design project appears to be.

Interior design shows may also make it look like a designer is a mechanic, just giving your house a quick tune-up. High quality interior design is a much deeper, richer and more complex process.

Another reality-check: You can pick up a cute chair from West Elm today for your daughter’s first apartment, and that may be fine. But at a certain point in our lives, as we grow into ourselves, we become more discerning. We desire quality and soul, and we develop the patience for it. For example, a custom-built piece of furniture made from solid wood and durable materials that will last for generations may take three-to-four months to complete, and is worth the wait.

2. I can do it myself

Yes, and… do you want to?

Good interior design is an investment of many hours of research, planning, development, more research, shopping, shipping, returning, rethinking, problem-solving, customizing, curating, project managing.

Is that where you want to spend your time?

In addition to freeing you up so that you can put energy and attention on other parts of your life that are meaningful to you, professional interior designers also have access to resources: artists and artisans, materials and furnishings dealers, that the average homeowner does not.

And there is the training, the experience, the eye, the aesthetics that a professional interior designer brings to a project.

There are, of course, people who are naturally talented at creating spaces where people want to gather. Are you one of those people? Great! Do you love to do your own design work? Then this article is not for you. Do you have the time to devote to carrying out the project? Terrific. You can stop reading here.

If you are thinking you might be a candidate for hiring a designer, keep reading.

3. Interior design services don’t cost much

You might as well know now that interior design is not cheap. It’s not just that per-hour rates are what they are, it’s the number of hours that a project takes.

Depending on the designer, how that person likes to work and their availability for small projects, you might be able to have a single consultation for a few hours to get your questions answered about paint colors, or how to arrange a room using existing furnishings.

To engage the services of a high-end interior designer for a common area room, expect to budget a minimum of $20,000 for design hours, in addition to the cost of materials, fixtures and furnishings.

There is a wide range of options for how much you might spend on a single light fixture, for example, or for tiles, or the type of sofa you choose. Keep in mind that as your designer educates you on the options available, your desires may change. Often, a well-planned mix of “high-low,” meaning combining retail and custom furnishings, fixtures, materials, and finishes, can keep a budget in line while achieving the experience of quality that you desire.


Living Room in a Tahoe vacation home demonstrates an elegant mix of “high-low” with retail-sourced sofa and chairs (Crate & Barrell; Mitchell Gold) covered in custom fabrics alongside an Eames lounge chair and ottoman; a vintage hand-knotted kilim rug sits atop a machine-made wool broadloom with custom binding; retail coffee table and end tables from Anthem in San Francisco  (photo credit: Eric Rorer)

4. My architect (or my contractor) can do it

There is no right or wrong here. I believe that the most important aspect of having someone help you with design is to find the match that works for you. Many architects and contractors offer design services and assist with choosing colors, materials and finishings. In our skill sets and training, interior designers and architects have a lot of crossover.

However, do you want help with acquiring and arranging art, antiques, pillows, and curios? Most architects will not shop on that level for clients, nor consult on creating the visual “moments” that arise from thoughtful placement of objects. Designers do this work, in addition to planning the finishes, designing and purchasing the materials and furnishings, managing the various timelines of contractors and craftspeople involved in the project, and holding the bigger picture of the overall space or spaces, to achieve a cohesive whole.





Re-purposing and re-placing: We revived and improved this display cabinet with new paint, new pulls, and textural wallpaper on the interior, and composed the objects and books in each shelf, using a combination of the client’s existing collection and adding in new pieces that we sourced for them. (After photo credit: Eric Rorer; Before photo – LMBI)

Every design firm is different in terms of the architectural services they may provide. When our clients are adding rooms, moving walls, building a house from the ground up, we love collaborating with our architect colleagues to make that happen.

At this point in the article, if you are already on board with the cost of hiring an interior designer, the time it will take to achieve your vision, and the value of adding a designer to a team that already includes an architect or design-savvy contractor, this last myth might be obvious. Still, this is one of my favorite points to make, so I’m going for it…

5. The cheap knock-off is fine

You are welcome to scroll back through my blog posts over the years to see how often I like to talk about how quality makes us feel. Fake vs. real flowers being an easy example.

And with furnishings and fixtures that have history and gravitas, a patina happens over time, and with use; it’s not something that can be faked in a factory.

Like the difference between a meal that has been processed, stripped of the nutrients that nourish our bodies, as compared to a meal prepared thoughtfully with whole organic foods locally-grown; the cheap knock-off may taste good at first, but it won’t sustain us over time.

Having a few antiques that matter to us, owning pieces of fine quality created soulfully, chosen with care, these things, especially the ones that have stories, connect us to our homes, our communities and families, and our lives.

Really good interior design is enables us to live and work and play in beautiful spaces that nurture us and bring us home to ourselves.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Piedmont Post


  1. Dan Cohen September 29, 2016 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    Great article!

    Dan Cohen
    Creative Spaces, Inc.

  2. Tony Kitz September 29, 2016 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Hi Laura

    This is great!! It takes time and focus to make a space look
    and feel right. Thank you for putting this out there.


  3. Nancy Wood September 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Once again, a great, thoughtful and informative piece. Always fun to read and to learn. Thanks, Laura

  4. Hugh Groman September 29, 2016 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    Very interesting! Thank you!

  5. […] In Tahoe: The living room of this vacation home in Lake Tahoe (furnishings discussed in previous post) is dressed with layered rugs. The base is a wool broadloom which we had custom cut to size and […]

  6. Patricia M. January 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    I agree that interior design is a way for us to live and work in personalized spaces that reflect the best of us. An interior designer can go a long way in making a place look good, but in the end, it’s up to you as the person living or working in the room to make sure that it fits your personality and style, as opposed to fitting whatever style happens to be “the flavor of the month” into your room.

  7. John Mahoney January 6, 2017 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Thank you for talking about the time that doing interior design takes. It is understandable that something well done can take a long time and work to accomplish. I would want to hire someone who is realistic as well as efficient with my time and resources.

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