The topic of fees and transparency reoccurred frequently throughout the discussion with all participants agreeing that justifying fees was one the most challenging aspects of running an interior design business today.
Daniel Hopwood, a former BIID president who has run his London-based practice for 25 years, outlined the issue. “Putting forward a decent design fee is very hard as people just do not value the design,” he told the group. “We’ve been forced to charge a percentage on the project and the goods that I purchase. I prefer not to but it’s the only way that we can make it work.”
“What’s refreshing about this,” began Lori Pinkerton-Rolet, praising the group’s honesty, “is that the great and the good of the interior design business who are seated around this table can all admit that it is hard to make a living in this industry. It’s hard to make a margin.”
The lack of support and advice when it comes to fee structuring was also called out. “It’s so hard to find any information or advice on fees that you can then share with clients.” shared Anna Burles of design practice Run For the Hills.
However, as Susie Rumbold pointed out, sharing information can be problematic: “We need to be careful as an industry when talking about fees, as we risk becoming a cartel,” she said, before adding: “I think a charging process that has a level of transparency has historically been missing from the industry; but that’s really changing.”
The consensus among the attendees was that it was unethical to make money out of kickbacks and adding huge mark-ups on furniture. “If we’re selling ourselves and we want to be perceived as professionals in the market place, then we should be paid as a professional in the market place,” said Beirut-born London-based architect Rabih Hage.
Meanwhile, Matteo Bianchi and Ella Jade highlighted that moves into retail and product development have proved to be successful for their businesses. “We’re doing a lot of product design at the moment,” Bianchi said. “We’ve just been appointed creative directors of a new wallpaper company called Bubble.”
Ella Jade explained how her showroom model, which sees her firm provide both design services and product, has worked for her: “We have design fees for our services, which includes everything, but the goods come directly from our suppliers. Most of it is manufactured by us and we have a mark-up on that. Everything is in house, so it’s a cross between design and retail.”
Other issues raised included poor or inconsistent trade discounts provided by suppliers, while some designers shared similar stories of clients who change their mind after signing off work. Suggested solutions included charging flat design fees where possible, issuing fee proposals with clear terms on number of meetings and revisions, and freezing general arrangement drawings.