By Shilpa Mohan
I grew up watching design shows and wanted to become an interior designer from about six years old. Transforming a place by picking colours and furniture seemed easy and fun. If people on renovation shows can design and renovate a whole house in a few weeks with no experience, it should be easy, right? Being an interior designer is definitely fun, but if only it were that easy!
Completing a recent commercial office fitout project from the design stage right through to the construction and styling of it was a learning experience even for me, despite knowing what to expect. I hope the following summary will be useful to budding interior designers and provide compelling reasons for why you should hire an interior designer for your next project.
The design stage
Clients will usually provide a brief for what they would like for their space. In the case of the small office project for Compass Financial Services, the clients required; a meeting room, a work area, a kitchen, a breakout space, plenty of storage and a few hot-desking areas in a 75 square metre space.
After measuring the existing office space, we provided the clients with four layout options and three colour/materials schemes, which resulted in an open discussion about what they loved, what they would like changed and what needed to be added. This can usually go back and forth quite a bit and a designer usually won’t stop refining until they are sure the clients are happy. Once the clients are happy with the layout, we refine it further by detailing in the design and exact measurements for all the joinery, drawing up electrical and plumbing plans and making note of everything that already exists: every light, switch, powerpoint, cable and plumbing fixture that needs to be fitted.
In some cases, the clients may not be able to visualise what a space would look like from a 2D plan, so some designers may provide a 3D perspective using all the colours, furnishings and furniture selected to give them a better sense of the space.
After this stage, I can’t emphasise how important it is to call your local council and find out what documentation you need to submit to get your build/renovation work approved before you start. If you are completing a project in a common building or apartment building, you will need to get your work approved by the strata body as well.
Length of time for this project: 2 weeks
Budgeting, tendering and sourcing stage
Tendering is the process of putting out your plans to a few building contractors to get their quotes on your project. The more details you provide them with, the more accurate their quote will be, so the perfection of the detailing in the design stage is crucial.
It is really important to always allow for the quote to increase during the build stage by at least 10-to-20%, and be open with your client about that. Our initial builder’s quote increased by 8% because of problems that arose from the existing plumbing conditions of the building.
This is also the time to source samples for all your finishes to test and feel their textures, how they work together and their durability. Budgeting for all your finishes, fixtures, furniture and styling pieces at this stage, allows you to foresee how much the entire project will end up costing.
Along with budgeting for everything and sourcing all our suppliers at this stage, we created a Gantt chart using Excel to keep track of the timeline of each stage of the project to ensure that we will be on top of the progression of every part of the construction process.
Length of time for this project: 2 weeks
A designer’s job doesn’t stop when the place is being built or renovated; site visits at regular intervals are a must.
“Our regular site visits ended up being so important because we discovered some plug points were in the wrong place and the air conditioning unit was so low, it nearly had to be our artwork!” says Anna Lines, a student interior designer on the project. “The site visits also give you real life experience that you can’t learn from a classroom. The builder took the time and effort to teach us things about the build process that I wouldn’t have learnt otherwise.”
When a place is being built or renovated, an interior designer will often act as a project manager and manage every minute detail, which is sometimes more work than the actual design. Liaising between the builders, suppliers and clients is something a designer has to learn to be on top of.
Make sure you are constantly communicating with the builder and suppliers; just ask for a quick update on what they are doing for the week and planning to do for the next week. A person that hasn’t worked in the design industry before may not realise that you will usually receive a call once a day with a question or a problem that you need to solve straight away, otherwise it creates a snowball effect. No problem is a small problem at this stage.
Lead times on furniture should be checked and ordered accordingly, well before the completion of this stage. Find out about trade accounts (only available to designers or builders) at this stage to get some excellent discounts.
Length of time for this project: 6 weeks
A final walkthrough with the builder allows you to fix up any small issues and give all the detail work a final check. Keep in mind that furniture usually takes some assembling and hanging artwork needs to be done with a lot of attention to detail. Luckily for us, our builder went out of his way to come in and level our artwork for us.
Remember not to over-style the space, keep it minimal and let your design work speak for itself.
Length of time for this project: 4 days
Plan, Plan, and then plan some more and your projects will be successful!
–Shilpa Mohan is the senior interior designer at ddc architecture + interiors in Sydney. The office project was completed with Anna Lines, who works for ddc and is currently completing her Bachelor of Interior Design at Billy Blue College of Design, in conjunction with Damir from Split Building Services and Fernando from FLC Installations. Professional photography by Lucas Muro.