If you think an interior designer’s role is simply to make a room pretty once the architects and builders have finished the job, think again. Interior designers bring a lot to the planning table, and when the designer and building team collaborate on the front end, that’s when design magic can truly happen.
Today we’re talking with Memphis interior designer Becca Gaines of B. Gaines Interior Design about the importance of working with a designer before the hammer hits the first nail. “The best situation is when I can work through the floor plan with the architect or plan designer,” Becca says. “Sometimes I come in when the homeowner is just thinking about what they want in the house, and I can walk through it with them and the architect. That’s awesome for me when I can sit in on that and help them think through how the space will be used.”
That early collaboration is helpful in everything from furniture placement to planning for special finishes to determining locations of electrical outlets and plumbing fittings. For example, in a master bedroom, it’s ideal to see the foot of the bed when you walk into a room – to have the headboard on a wall that’s facing or fully visible from the door, so the bedding and beautiful pillows are on full display. Often, though, the design of a room doesn’t account for ideal furniture placement, especially when the homeowner has a large or heirloom piece. “A lot of times you might have a really great floor plan, but that’s one of the details they’ve missed,” Becca says. “Or they’ve not given quite enough room in a closet. We’re here to be an advocate for the homeowner.”
Interior designers’ specialty is ensuring that a space works optimally for the people who live in and experience it — not only visually, but physically, as well. “We learn in school that form follows function,” Becca says. An experienced designer can offer valuable insight into the flow and ergonomics of the home – whether spaces are large enough or too large, and how efficiently humans interact with a space or design, she adds.
Thoughtful input at the design phase with an architect or in the pre-construction phase with a builder can also prevent time-consuming and expensive backtracking later in the process. “Some decisions have to be made before a foundation can even be poured, so involving a designer in the preliminary vision helps produce a well-curated home,” Becca says. “A designer will help take the time to ensure the details are there and will be along for the ride, where the architect is less involved in interior decisions and monitoring the construction process. The designer can help sustain the architect’s vision throughout the interior, as well.”
Say you want to use reclaimed wood ceiling beams, or a particular specialty flooring type, or a freestanding bathtub with a faucet that comes out of the ground. These small decisions affect not only bigger decisions like ceiling height or plumbing placement, but also the overall price tag for the project. And the more that can be planned for on the front end, the easier the builder’s job. “If you talk to a designer before breaking ground, you can start developing some of those design elements that the builder wants to know before he gets too far in,” Becca says. “You can plan for beams, plan for the plumbing to be a certain way, plan for sconces to be a certain height. It helps the builder move full speed ahead, rather than getting in and the homeowner walking through and saying, ‘Can you put a light there?’ and there’s no wiring there or no plumbing for that fixture. In terms of planning, that alone saves the homeowner money and saves the builder time. Everyone is happier when it’s well-planned.”
Also on the subject of finances, designers can help the builder determine generous allowances for selections that will stand the test of time – and a builder can help point the designer to reasonably priced alternates. “It’s important to look at allowances,” she adds. “Just because one builder’s bid comes in higher doesn’t mean he’s gouging you for his own fee. He may be giving you better allowances. A builder who is patient and runs a tight ship on a job site, that guy is earning every penny. That’s money well spent.”
She advises asking the builder for a detailed estimate to be sure there’s a reasonable amount budgeted for the types of materials – flooring, countertops, lighting – the homeowner envisions because it’s better for everyone when those decisions are considered on the front end rather than busting the budget later. And that’s why, for Becca, one of the top qualities to consider when hiring a builder is transparency.
“It’s a good sign when your builder spends time with you prior to construction … to create budgets and allowances that are realistic to what the homeowner wants the end result to be,” she says. “Some builders have questionnaires to be filled out, and some may conduct an interview with the homeowners. A designer can provide a lot of helpful input here.” When choosing a builder, Becca also recommends talking to more than one builder to compare their thoughts and find a person you feel comfortable with. Asking to see their work is a good idea, as is asking to speak to former clients. “If a previous customer is happy to show you their home and speaks highly of them, that’s always a great sign,” she says. “My favorite [builders] are the ones who my homeowners are happy with and feel comfortable talking with, and feel like they trust them and that they’re being told the truth.”
Along with transparency, Becca advises seeking a builder who is organized, who communicates regularly and clearly, and who recognizes and asks his or her subcontractors to recognize that the job site is someone’s home. “You want someone you’ll enjoy spending time with because building your home should be an enjoyable process and fun experience,” she adds.
From the beginning of the process to the all-important finishing touches at the end, an interior designer can be both a trusted advisor and an advocate. “It’s important to remember that a designer is an extra expense, but an expense that adds value to your home – just like hiring a quality architect for the home plan,” Becca says. “It’s good to spend time in this phase making sure you get the plan right.”
This article is sponsored by B. Gaines Interior Design. All photography by Sarah Rossi of Sélavie Photography. All unfinished home photos are built by David Clark Construction. The complete home photos are built by Eller Construction.