…More beautiful, more lived in, more loved.

StylingHere's What Interior Designers Really Do

Whether styling a home for sale or just sprucing up a new abode, the topic of interior design is one that inevitably crops up and leads many people to ask what interior designers do.

It’s a fair question, especially given the wealth of styling resources available to homeowners on the internet these days. However interior designers do a lot more than scour the web for inspiration and are worth their weight in gold for time-poor (and not-so-creative) renovators.

To get to the bottom of what interior designers do actually do, we spoke with Lead Interior Designer, Kate, of Home at Elm on the Sunshine Coast. We dive into the type of work interior designers like her do for their clients, how the process works and how they keep up to speed in a rapidly evolving creative climate.

Sofa with wooden frame against a sage green wall.

What Do Interior Designers Do? Q&A With Lead Designer at Home at Elm

Grab a cuppa and get comfy. This interview with lead designer Kate from Home at Elm shines a light on the entire interior design process. Learn what to expect from the first phone call right through to your final reveal. Enjoy!

Why and how did you become an interior designer?

I have been interested in everything ‘interior design’ since I was a young girl. From furniture and décor, and architecture to colours, I’ve always been interested in the creative side of homes. I remember as a child rearranging my room constantly and asking for new quilt covers or ornaments for my birthday instead of bikes, games and anything else the cool kids wanted.

Over the years, friends and family were always complimenting my style, suggesting I had a natural talent for decorating. They would ask me to work on their homes and I never thought much of it, to be honest. I just knew I loved it. I guess you could say I have been designing and decorating for years and I just didn’t realise it.

Like a lot of us, I had to re-invent myself due to COVID. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and that didn’t feel like work. But most importantly, I wanted to help people.

I enrolled with The Interior Design Institute & completed my Diploma & Darren Palmer’s MASTERSERIES which gave me the confidence to start my own business, Home at Elm.

Interior sitting area with couch and bottle-green wall.

What sort of help are most people looking for?

Most clients come to me unsure of what they are looking for. And most have never previously engaged an interior designer or stylist and have no idea where to start!

For a large number of people who come to me, they’ve tried to make their home look cohesive, but it isn’t working and they need help to make things right. Other people are looking for a complete styling overhaul and some renovation advice. So ultimately, designers enter a client’s world at a lot of different stages.

Our mission is to guide clients through their design journey and empower them with the ideas and confidence to make their house a home they love to be in.

What services do you offer people who come to you?

We offer a wide range of services but our most popular is the In-Home Design and Styling Consultation. It’s the perfect introduction to interior styling and gives clients the chance to ask as many questions as they like and receive honest feedback, all within their homes.

We provide loads of styling tips and tricks, advice on home styling, furniture placement, colour selections, flooring, lighting, renovating – the works! Understanding a client’s wants, needs and desired outcomes is a vital first step for a designer, so this consult is a great way for us to engage and get to know each other.

Another great service we provide nationwide is our Interior E Design Consultation. This is an exciting do-it-yourself decorating solution that provides you with a plan for creating a professionally designed space that you can achieve at your own pace.

Of course, we also provide a complete End-To-End Styling Service where we manage absolutely everything and remove all the stress for the client.

Interior space with curved green recessed wall and armchair.

Do you ever encounter clients that you can’t work with?

Thankfully, I have never encountered a client who I can’t work with. I find that adapting to a client’s communication style is critical when building all-important trust and rapport.

While most designers, myself included, will have a go-to niche, being able to adapt to other style needs is important. However, when the client’s design choice is vastly different from anything a designer is familiar with, it’s not likely to be a successful project. In this case, it would be in the best interest of the client and myself as a designer to decline the job before it causes any issues.

What is the process of working with an interior designer?

Most client-designer relationships start with an initial consultation. It is an important way to get to know each other and ensure that we are a great fit and feel comfortable working together. We meet in the client’s home and discuss project goals, design style, budget and timeframe. We will also tour the space and take measurements and photos that will help with planning a beautiful space.

Once we understand a client’s vision, we get to work to create a design concept for your space, taking into consideration the spatial planning of furniture. This often involves preparing mood and sample boards so clients can visualise how a space will look and feel.

From there, clients receive a quote and timeframe. Then we press play!

white sofa on a hardwood floor.

What is your favourite part of the process?

Installation and reveals are the most enjoyable parts of the process for both designers and homeowners because it’s where everything comes together. The homes are fully completed and styles and clients are ready to show it off to family and friends.

How often would you liaise with a client on a job?

This can vary depending on what type of service the client requests. Typically, the most time would be spent at the initial consultation. This is where I gather all the information I can about the client, how they use their space and the desired outcome.

Follow-ups happen periodically, especially when material selections are required. In most cases, I like to keep the client up to date frequently with the progress of their job. After all, it is a big investment and I want them to feel comfortable with the process.

Minimalist living room with lowline grey sofa next to full windows.

What do interior designers expect from a client?

Honesty is an important thing. If I am going to satisfy or exceed a client’s expectations, I need them to be honest about what they want to achieve and what they like or dislike. There is no point saying they love or agree to a tile colour or selection only to find out later that they hated it the entire time!

I want all my clients to feel they can be open and honest with me, I want them to love their completed home – it’s why I became a designer after all.

What DON’T interior designers do?

I can’t speak for all designers, but I certainly won’t ever force a style on a client. I am more than happy to make style suggestions, but should never force a client to lean towards a certain style just because I feel more comfortable with it. Even if it means referring my client to someone better experienced in their style choice.

People often ask me what my style choice is, but I love too many styles, colours and designs to choose just one.

One thing I would never do is always follow what is on-trend right now. I need to know what my client is drawn to, and what makes them feel most comfortable – most of the time, it’s not what is trending right now.

Modern kitchen with open wooden shelving.

Do you work multiple jobs or just one client at a time?

This depends on what jobs I have on. If I am doing in-home consultations and styling edits, I can usually take on multiple clients. For larger jobs, I may only take a couple at a time to ensure that I can give the client and their job my full attention.

This is the fun part! Designers just happen to get invited to previews before they hit the public eye. Some of the more high-end furniture showrooms often hold special preview events, allowing designers a sneak peek as to what is new and trending.

Design shows and exhibitions are another way we use to keep on top of what is new in the world of interiors. Following blogs is also fabulous for connecting with other people in the trade, especially overseas. Australia is usually the last to see trends, so insights from overseas designers are something we’re always open to.

And of course, social social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are also valuable for discovering new ideas.

Tile and paint swatches.

Is it true that interior designers access great discounts?

This is a great question I am sure everyone is burning to know the answer! Honestly, it depends on where you are purchasing from.

Some high-end furniture stores offer a greater discount than the less inexpensive pedestrian stores we all know and love. For example, higher-end stores will offer a higher trade discount to encourage designers to purchase from their stores and promote their brand. They usually have a broad markup and can extend a more generous trade discount.

If we are talking about stores at the medium to low end, we usually don’t get any discounts and have to wait for the sales just like everyone else.

What would you say to people who think interior designers aren’t worth it?

This is a tough one. As a designer, I think that if you are wasting too much time and money trying to get your house to look right by purchasing things that don’t compliment your space and regretting it afterwards, then you have pretty much answered your own question.

Many of my clients have spent a fortune on furniture, rugs and artwork trying to achieve a cohesive look and fail dismally, only to try and offload it on Facebook Marketplace. A vast majority of my clients would say that if they knew working with an interior designer would save them time, money and a lot of stress, they’d have done it a long time ago!

Ultimately, it’s all about having the right designer to work with, someone who understands your goals.

I aim to make life easier for my clients and I genuinely love doing it.

Chaise lounge next to floor-to-ceiling window.

Find Kate and her fabulous team at Home at Elm.

After more styling tips? Find our how to decorate a dining room sideboard for any type of home.

Come on in & join the family.

There'll be renos and reviews, redesigns and redos. Everything you could ever need to know about making your home more wonderful, lived in and loved.

Join now