What to Expect When Beginning the Interior Design Process

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated January 20, 2022
luxurious interior design of living room and kitchen
Photo: slavun / Adobe Stock

 It's time to put those vision boards to the test

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You've spent months daydreaming about a new marble kitchen or living room layout right out of a magazine. But launching the interior design process—either for a DIY project or with the help of a professional—can be intimidating if you're concerned about the lingo or a confusing construction process. Designers work in what's known as "phases of design" to create a clear path between an inspiration board and a completed room. 

Let's walk through what you can expect from the early interior design process so you’ll be ready and inspired long before the first hammer swings.

1. Define Your Interior Design Goals

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Photo: DragonImages / Adobe Stock

You kicked off the first phase of the process long before setting it in motion. Noting your interior design goals doesn’t require detailed knowledge of which nails to buy, whether you have the right wiring, or even which interior paint colors to pick. In this stage, the sky's the limit.

Consider a few stages when brainstorming.

A Room's Purpose

Begin with the big picture. What will your new room or design accomplish? Is it a bathroom that evokes a spa-like energy, or is it a backyard designed for both the kids and your friends? Write down your overarching goals for the space. These will be helpful to hand off to your designer, to communicate with contractors, or to keep your own decisions on track.

Know Your Options

Borrow ideas from lists of popular Instagram design styles by state or decor brainstorming websites, including collections of similar spaces. Gather a selection of color palettes that inspire you, as well as fabrics, furniture design, or patterns that catch your eye. You don't need to make any decisions, but do get a sense of what you like.

Not the Practical Points

While you may not know how much it costs to remodel multiple rooms quite yet, look at what to expect by checking out our cost guides for specific renovations or an interior design project. Prices will vary depending on where you live, supply demands, and the time of the year, but these estimates can help you schedule and budget for what's to come.

2. Analyze Your Existing Space

Now that you have an idea of what you want, look at where you're starting. Most rooms indeed have extensive possibilities—we've all seen those shocking home renovation episodes—but each room does have limitations and challenges.

Begin space planning by:

  • Measuring the room

  • Making notes of electrical or plumbing hookups

  • Noting any structural repairs

  • Listing unique features like carpeting, popcorn ceilings, or old window frames

Try not to get too caught up on the initial challenges. The specific list of deliverables will come soon. Now's the time to simply become as well-acquainted with your space as possible.

3. Connect With Your Team

interior designers working on color palette
Photo: Sirichai / Adobe Stock
9 home experts to call when starting home renovations, including an electrician, structural engineer, and plumber

If you plan to call in professional help with a project, now's the time to do it. Even if you plan to DIY part of the project, hiring a renovation consultant can streamline the project, answer common interior design questions, and even help you save money. Interior designers cost about $2,000 to $12,000, but their expertise and access to supplies could end up saving you money in the long run.

Here are some home experts to call in the early stages of home renovations:

These pros can help you choose more specific experts in your design, such as pool installers, tile experts, plumbers, and electricians. They may also have their own team or provide a list of vetted professionals.

When you first meet with your designer, they'll want to hear the goals and parameters you sketched out in steps one and two. Your designers will perform a thorough walk-through of the space to get additional measurements and note structural details.

4. Build Your Deliverable List

At this stage, your designers will transform a basic floor plan into a detailed schematic design. This is when goals turn into specific materials, structures, colors, and furniture. Depending on how your contractor structures their contract, you'll likely sign one before the initial design development or once the deliverable list is complete. 

From this list, you or your team can list out which brands and models best match your budget and style. If any item is hard to acquire because of a material shortage, it’ll shift your timeline or encourage a different angle.

5. Set a Budget and Timeline

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Photo: Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

The deliverable list answers the two most important questions: What will it cost, and how long will it take? If you're going at it alone, remember to account for all the small purchases that can sneak up on you, such as safety equipment, tools, and tarps or covers to protect the rest of your home. 

Some DIY projects are only doable until a certain point, such as electrical repairs or plumbing installations. When hiring contractors along the way, line up these professionals before starting to ensure you stay on schedule.

Medium to large home renovations typically require applying for local permits, advising your property deed, or sometimes chatting with the local home association. Installing a fence, for example, requires zoning permits to avoid encroaching on your neighbor's property.

Local homeowners associations or community associations may require you to have major renovations approved before starting, especially if you have a historic home. 

Designers will work the zoning and permitting process into their timeline with a bit of leeway. Some permits can take over a month to process. Depending on the project size, they'll also add to the overall project cost, typically anywhere from $150 to $6,000.

7. Make Way for Construction

Congrats! You've made it to the end of phase one of the interior design process. To plan for phase two, prepare your home—and everyone in it—for the construction timeline. This may mean sending your dog to stay with a friend when you have your carpets replaced or ordering takeout when you rip out your kitchen countertops.

You can also safeguard the entryways of your house for construction materials and the flow of contractors coming in from the worksite. If you're renting a dumpster near you for demolition, clear a path for delivery as well.

From here on out, your project could go in an infinite number of directions. But knowing what to expect in these early stages can help you approach your DIY interior design makeover or professionally designed space with an expert eye.

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