Do you want to create a home that truly reflects your personality and lifestyle, but don’t know where to start? Fortunately, there are hundreds of talented, professional interior designers to choose from in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the immense design talent that San Francisco offers, it can be difficult to find and decide on a design team that’s the right fit for you and your family. Read on as we share our professional guide to interviewing and selecting the perfect residential interior designer for your San Francisco Bay Area home.
DETERMINE YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN STYLE
Before hiring an interior designer, it’s important to have a clear idea of your personal style and the needs of your space. Take some time to gather inspiration that reflects your style – this could be anything from photos of a hotel you were inspired by on a recent trip or images from architecture and design magazines such as Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and Luxe Magazine. Start curating your images on Pinterest or Houzz with notes on which design elements you admire about each photo – is it the color scheme or architecture of the room or just a particular piece of furniture that you are drawn to? Designing a contemporary home with a modern architect? Focus on design portfolios that feature contemporary architecture, modern furniture and unfussy design elements. Interested in traditional architecture, ornate details and classical design? Look for photos that represent these elements in a designers previous work. Having a clear understanding of your visual preferences will make it easier to find a San Francisco interior designer who can bring your vision to life.
SCOPE OF WORK
Start by mapping out the work you want done in your home. Which rooms do you want to tackle? What types of services are you are interested in: Space planning, remodeling, material and finish selection, furniture selection and purchasing? Determine a rough budget and timeline for your project. Many San Francisco interior design firms (including us!) schedule projects months in advance, so it’s best to start looking before you intend to start construction. Once you have a clear grasp of the scope of your project, start searching for a design firm whose strengths and services are a good match. For example, some interior designers focus on remodeling and are experts at kitchen and bath design, while others are more focused on interior decorating, furnishings and soft goods.
After your scope of work is determined, focus on coming up with a realistic budget range for your San Francisco interior design project. One of the first questions a design firm will ask relates to your budget. As interior designers we rely on our expertise and knowledge about local Bay Area pricing to figure out if the target budget aligns with the scope of work, enabling us to design a home that is high quality and reflective of the firm’s aesthetic. Residential interior designers should be well informed about current cost per square foot for ground up projects, remodels and furnishing projects. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance if you are unsure where to start in creating a realistic budget.
INTERIOR DESIGNERS ASSIGNED TO YOUR PROJECT
How many employees does the design firm have? Will you be working solely with the principal designer or with other interior designers in the firm? This is a question that often gets overlooked. Consider the size and structure of an interior design firm and make sure your expectations as a client align with the services provided. Last but certainly not least – Pay close attention to the rapport you have with the designer(s). It’s important to make sure the designers you will be collaborating with “get you” and that you can relate to them both professionally and personally. Remodeling and interior design projects in San Francisco and Silicon Valley can take years (especially in San Francisco where the permitting process is long and arduous). Expect to spend a lot of time with your interior design team. If you invest time in finding a team that you enjoy, the design process can be rewarding and fun!
REFERENCES FROM DESIGN CLIENTS
Once you’ve found a few potential designers, it’s important to do your due diligence. Read online reviews from previous clients to get an idea of their experience working with the designer. Ask the interior designer for previous client references and reach out to them to ask about their experience working with the designer. It’s also a great idea to find out how collaborative a firm is with architects, general contractors, landscape architects and other team members on a project.
LOCATION IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
Ideally, the interior design firm that you choose will have already worked in or near the location of your home and be familiar with local codes and the permitting process in your area. Designing and building a home in San Francisco is an entirely different experience than building in Palo Alto or Sonoma. Another benefit to working in a specific area or city is that a firm will likely know other design and construction professionals in that area and already have professional relationships with key players. For example, Niche Interiors fosters relationships with design and construction professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Peninsula (Atherton, Hillsborough, Woodside, Menlo Park), San Francisco and Wine Country (Napa, Sonoma, St Helena and Healdsburg). We keep tabs on what type of project and budget ranges that individual architects are interested in so we can easily make recommendations when a potential client approaches us.
BUILDING A RESIDENTIAL DESIGN + CONSTRUCTION TEAM
After deciding on your interior designer you will want to start focusing your attention on creating the rest of your design and construction team. On almost all high-end residential interior design projects in the San Francisco Bay Area there is an architect, interior designer and general contractor working together, and in some cases additional team members as needed. Read on for details about each of these trades to see if your project would benefit from their services. For more information about why to hire an interior designer early in the process head to our interview with Jim Westover from William Duff Architects and Ari Gessler Architects.
The interior design team is responsible for creating and executing a vision for the interior of a home – from the color palette, materials, paint colors, wall treatments to furnishings, rugs, window treatments, decorative lighting and art and accessories. ‘Soft goods’ refer to all the upholstery, fabric, window treatments, rugs, bedding etc. These finishes can “soften” the space to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Custom furniture and built-ins also fall under the interior designers scope, as well as outdoor furniture and exterior color palettes.
The interior design team and architecture team collaborate closely on projects – you want to ensure that there is a good chemistry as well as set clear guidelines for where the scope starts and ends. For example, hard finish selection such as countertops, tile, hardwood flooring etc fall in a grey area – some architects that we work with are passionate about making these selections and driving the design intent while others are happy to delegate to the interior design team. Ideally, these types of details will be decided on at the start of a project.
Selecting a general contractor or “GC” for your residential project is one of the biggest decisions you will make and will set the tone for the project. Ask your architect or interior designer for recommendations, find out who your neighbor used and if they were happy with the experience and the quality of the home, and always get at least two bids for your project. Be sure to pay attention to the size and structure of the firm and ask for concrete examples of how they communicate the status of a remodel project with their clients. Understand that while the least expensive bid may seem enticing, many times you will end up paying more to fix issues and errors if you opt for a less experienced and lower quality general contractor.
If your home project includes any significant work to a garden, backyard or other outdoor spaces you should definitely consider hiring a landscape architect. They are experts in designing outdoor spaces, both hardscapes and plants and trees, and will bring the same level of creativity and execution to the gardens, ensuring the indoor and outdoor areas are harmonious and have a great flow. The landscape design team will work closely with the architect and interior designer to make sure the color palette, overall style and materials are cohesive. Learn more about how to plan for a successful landscape design project in our interview with Arterra’s Principal Designer, Kate Stickley, and Strata’s Principal Designer, Dustin Moore.
Not all residential projects require a lighting designer, typically they are brought on for ground up construction projects (also known as new builds) as well as large scale remodels of existing homes. Lighting design plays such a key role in how an interior space feels and the right lighting designer plays a huge role in achieving this. The interior design team works closely with the lighting team to supplement rooms with additional ambient light in the form of chandeliers, pendants and table and floor lamps.
Professional Organizer + Move Coordination Team
If our design clients are moving from one house to another we always suggest using a move coordination team/professional organizer. Not only do they research and get bids for relocating your personal belongings, they coordinate and handle all logistics and details for you and oversee the packing, move and unpacking process. The professional organizing team will then unpack everything, line your drawers, create organization systems in your closets and pantries, and provide the essentials for a comfortable first nights stay. Sounds dreamy, right??
Owner’s Representative + Construction Manager
For more complicated construction projects and extensive home remodels hiring an owner’s rep is a something worth considering. A professional owner’s rep (also referred to as a client rep) will have a strong background in construction management and will understand all the nuances of managing multiple subs and trades on a project. They will act as the client’s advocate and work with all the team members to keep a project on budget and on time. An owner’s rep will act as the point of contact for all design team members and will utilize efficient systems for corralling information and details for client’s review and approval.
NICHE INTERIORS | SAN FRANCISCO INTERIOR DESIGNER
Now that we’ve outlined our professional tips on hiring a San Francisco interior designer, indulge us as we share a bit about our firm, Niche Interiors. We offer award-winning, sustainable interior design services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Our streamlined and personalized approach simplifies the process of designing a home. We manage each project from concept to completion; handling order procurement and installations, with a keen eye for detail and efficiency.
“Sophisticated yet livable, highly personalized spaces are what we strive for in every project.” – Jennifer Jones, Principal Designer
“High design, down to earth approach, and a streamlined process are pillars of our design practice.” – Jennifer Jones, Principal Designer
Our Menlo Park clients, a family with young kids, appreciates modern interior design and wanted an inviting, durable space where guests and kids of all ages would feel at ease. We designed a modular, custom sectional sofa that is non-toxic and sustainable and can be configured in many ways – for weekend naps, fort building or entertaining larger groups. The coffee table was designed with a rounded edge detail to prevent little ones from injuring themselves. It’s fabricated locally in San Francisco from sustainably harvested wood and sealed with non-toxic finishes. A light, airy palette was employed throughout the home, alongside contemporary furniture and lighting and tones of blues and greens.
Our Sonoma client asked for a relaxing wine country vacation home with plenty of feminine color and playful pattern. Her love of blush, salmon, amethyst, and teal informed the color palette throughout the home, which is tempered by crisp white walls and ethereal wallpaper patterns throughout the home. Graphic wallpaper sets the tone in the primary bedroom, layered with soft window treatments, contemporary furniture, a hand knotted silk rug and modern light fixtures. Click here to see more photos of our design for this Sonoma vacation home.
This San Francisco bachelor pad is a complete departure from the previous home in Sonoma, featuring a rich, moody color palette and a mix of vintage and contemporary furniture and statement lighting. We channeled jazz musician vibes with a dash of Art Deco Modern to design a loungey space perfect for entertaining. Oxblood ceilings and charcoal gray moldings add a dramatic twist to the original architectural details from the early 1900s. A low slung velvet sofa grounds the living room along with a marble and bronze coffee table, patterned silk rug and vintage armchair that we had reupholstered in an ochre fabric. The rich color palette continues into the adjoining formal dining room which features a custom walnut table, maroon leather dining chairs and an oversized glass chandelier.
Our design team takes pride in getting to know each of our clients individual preferences and practical needs for everyday living, ensuring that our design solutions meet needs and exceed expectations. If our approach sounds like a good fit for your interior design needs don’t hesitate to reach out! Our intake process starts with an initial phone or zoom call to determine if the project is a good fit, which is then followed by an in-person meeting, ideally at the location of the project.