Contractor Tips

The final product of your hard work and dedication will result in a beautiful final product such as this modern kitchen.

Interior Designer vs Contractor: Who & What You Need for Your Home Renovation

First off, let’s start this conversation by stating that you need both an interior designer and a contractor for your renovation. No matter how great you are at choosing colours or using a nail gun, you will still need support when embarking on your home’s overhaul.

Because there are so many things to consider when renovating, the chances of things going wrong when you don’t have years of experience are pretty high. Heck, the chances of things going wrong when you do have years of experience are still pretty high. The difference is, construction & design experience is what helps most when navigating around the issues. Hence why hiring an interior designer and contractor can be an invaluable resource.

You’re smart, handy and talented, but you still need expert advice. Read on to understand fully understand why you need help from industry professionals.


1 | Start with a Roadmap

Before calling a contractor or interior designer, make sure to have your renovation roadmap.

Kitchen layouts featured within the Reno Bible spec books


The roadmap of your renovation is a technical drawing, along with a specification book outlining what will happen for your renovation. Before embarking on your dream renovation, you must come up with a comprehensive plan. You should never think that you can figure things out as you go. Walking your contractor through your space without a physical plan in hand will allow your contractor to change his pricing as he goes, and more importantly, he will imagine things differently from you. A plan for your renovation includes floor plans, elevations (drawings that show the front of your house, cabinets, etc) details (the fine architectural details that truly make a job beautiful) and a spec book (a document that indicates everything that will be going into your house). Designers spend their days compiling and organizing information pertaining to renovations. Why would you leave something like a renovation to chance by proceeding without the proper documentation?


2 | Understand How Much Your Project Will Cost

Make sure to understand your costs before you start renovating. Use a spec book as pictured in this photo.
Reno Bible Spec book listing pricing, contact information, designer discounts & more

Once you have a complete construction package, (which is comprised of your plans and specifications), you can give it to your contractor to get pricing for your job. He won’t just be pricing the specific items listed in your spec book, but he will be able to price the install of the items as well. A 60” x 60” tile may cost considerably more to install than a 12” x 24” tile. Asking a contractor to price a job without a design plan and a spec book is like asking a contractor to pull a rabbit out of his hard hat.


3 | Install Methods and Best Practices

When deciding whether you need a contractor vs interior designer, consider your install methods.
Mud tile featured in the Contemporary Haven Spec book

As a designer, I know that there are quite a few different ways to build things. We deal with many different contractors, and they all go about things slightly differently. That’s not to say that one way is necessarily any better than the other, but it does mean that because contractors have tested multiple ways of doing things over the years, they do wind up settling on methods that work best for them. The same goes for design. As designers, we’re always trying out new ideas. Sometimes they work amazingly well, and sometimes, not so well. After doing this enough times, we really get a sense of what will work, and what won’t. But most importantly, when designers attempt something new, it’s easy for us to reach out to our contractor friends, and figure out the best way to do it together.


4 | Preparing, Ordering, and Procurement

Preparing items such as the shower system pictured here can help make the design and renovation process much smoother.
AB shower kit in custom finish

Unless you’ve had a job delayed as a result of waiting for something to get delivered, you don’t understand how important it is to have an understanding of lead times (the number of days before the item is available). If you have a complete spec book, you, your designer and your contractor can work out ordering of product to ensure that it arrives on time and doesn’t delay your project. I don’t think that good contractors get enough credit for ensuring that everything is ordered in time. This is a full-time task in itself. The amount of organization and coordination that is required for renovations is immense, and attempting to stay on top of everything without having it all organized within a spec document is virtually impossible.


5 | It’s Not Quite How You Imagined It

Having an interior designer and contractor help you on your renovation will avoid anything hiccups or mistakes you wouldn't have seen coming.

What happens if something gets installed and it’s not what you imagined? Who pays to have it removed? Who pays to have it or something else installed? The easy answer to these questions is YOU – unless you have it all documented for your contractor. And by documented, I mean in writing with all of the pertinent specifications. As humans, we are incredibly attached to our dwellings. We get very emotional and attached to ideas about our renovations that reside within our heads. When you have a spec book on the job site, it’s much more likely that the contractors you are working with will take responsibility for their mistakes if the information for your build is clearly stated in writing for them.


6 | Changes & Extras

Working with an interior designer or general contractor, the cost of any changes or modifications will be covered.
Conceptual design with contemporary Haven washroom Spec book

Changes on a job site need to be managed. Once you’ve engaged a contractor, and they’re coming to work on your project daily, it’s easy to ask them to tack on some extras for you. (i.e. the upstairs washroom is starting to look really drab next to my new main floor renovation). Now that you have a wonderful, loving relationship with your contractor, it will be nothing for them to throw in that washroom, right? Wrong! I’m sure your contractor would love to take on some extra work, but be sure to come up with a clear plan of your changes and extras (that means, put them in writing) and get pricing before your contractor starts the extra work. It’s amazing how quickly these extras will add up on your job.


7 | Timelines

The final product of your hard work and dedication will result in a beautiful final product such as this modern kitchen.
Kitchen by Affecting Spaces

There are many timelines that encompass a renovation project. There’s the amount of time to come up with and land on an approved conceptual plan. There’s the amount of time it takes to prepare permit and construction drawings. There’s a crazy amount of time that goes into sourcing items and assembling a spec book for your project – Not to mention the amount of time it takes to build your project! During construction, there is an order to things that have to happen on a job site. Your army of construction trades needs a General to keep things in order. No matter how large your crew is, there is a consecutive process that must take place during construction to ensure things are being built properly.

You may have the best electrician in the world, but he’s not thinking about the mechanical contractor and the plumber while he’s doing his job. He’s just thinking about his scope of work. Your contractor is the person on your job site that thinks about the whole picture and is strategizing one step ahead throughout the process. Having a complete construction package allows your contractor to see his next moves, and stay on top of schedules. I’ve seen construction projects without detailed plans take years longer than those with plans.

Up next, 10 elements to consider when renovating your modern farmhouse.

2 Replies to “Interior Designer vs Contractor: Who & What You Need for Your Home Renovation”

  1. As an industry professional, she shares her knowledge by offering Interior Design advice and industry secrets in content that has been featured on Forbes, House and Home, The Huffington Post,

  2. Hi Gillian! Loved your blog about designer vs contractor! I am a designer working on some small remodeling projects with contractors. I’m kind of new to this aspect of design, because in my previous design career I worked for an architectural firm doing commercial interiors. Lots of spec’ing, space planning and drawing up plans, but not so much interaction with the contractor about costs of things. I just walked the job site to make sure things matched my spec and addressed his questions to the plans. So, now I am finding working with contractors is very different. It is my perception the contractor thinks the client doesn’t really need a designer because he can do all the stuff I do. So I’m struggling a little with understanding myself where my value lies. My client was surprised that I didn’t have an account at the tile store, and that I wouldn’t order her tile. I told her that she/we needed to have the installer to confirm the tile selection would be appropriate with the existing flooring condition…. and quantity to order per the size & pattern run, etc. I I shopped with the client to select materials and fixtures at trade only showrooms and then the contractor bought the product for the client per my spec. Should I have accounts at these places? (i.e. Cabinetry manufacturers, Daltile, United Tile, Plumbing and Lighting Stores) I am so used to just spec’ing the stuff. Am I leaving money on the table by not purchasing directly and marking up? Would the contractor be offended if I asked to get in on the purchasing? I had one contractor say, “I would never let anyone else order the tile if I am installing it!” I totally get that in a way, because he is the “expert” at tile, but couldn’t he just tell me how much is needed for a particular install with necessary overages? How do you deal with this? I have been charging a flat “design fee” for overall floorpan/elevation layout drawing with recommendations (not for construction), digital concept board, specifications of plumbing, lighting appliances, flooring, countertops, hardware, paint & trim. Then I let the contractor proceed with the project (contract with client directly) and then if they need my consultation, I charge per the hour. The line between designer and contractor seems so blurry. I guess it all depends on the relationship one has with their contractor. There are “kitchen design centers” that sell the cabinets and countertops, appliances and faucets. So when we go to the cabinet showroom and they draw up cabinet drawings and they pick out all the stuff, I feel like I have opinions but may not be totally necessary. What would your advice be to me in this situation? Thank you for sharing your design expertise and I wish you the best!

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