About Clare: Interior designer and lighting specialist Clare Winchester
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Clare Winchester, Interior Designer and Lighting Specialist

Why use a professional interior designer?Why should I use a professional interior designer?

Why use an interior designer when you can go to a department store, and the DIY outlet, buy the furniture and paint you need, and do it yourself? If you’ve never used a designer before, then this might be hard to believe at first, but you will actually end up with a home that’s more uniquely “you”, and more suited to the way you live, by hiring a professional designer than by doing it yourself.

Imagine that you don’t have to design your house the way that television adverts, DIY shops and department stores tell you to, that you no longer have to buy things in the colours that are 'in' at the moment. Imagine that your home can become an expression of what you love and who you are.

People who already use professional designers will tell you that each time they want to re-design or refresh an area of their home, they call their designer. Each project an interior designer undertakes is specially tailored to the individual client. Professional interior designers do not impose a 'look' on their clients: they listen, and keep listening, to discover their clients’ own tastes and requirements. An interior designer will help you to be brave in your choices, always bearing in mind your budget and your taste.

All professional interior designers have interior design education and training, combined with experience. Many designers have additional skills to bring to your design project: some are specialists in kitchen and bathroom design; some are talented artists and makers, who can create beautiful decorative paint effects or design unique furniture for you; some have backgrounds in art and antiques and are expert at sourcing the pieces that suit the period of your home.

An interior designer’s goal is not only to pick out colours and fabrics to make your house look attractive: it’s also to make the most of your home’s space and to enhance your quality of life within your home, planning the layout and using lighting to best effect, engaging the right trades-people, and managing them for you. Designers are only “creative” part of the time: most of the time we are practical organizers and managers, working full-time to make sure that during your design project everything happens in the right order and on time, so that the process feels as stress-free as possible for you.

For commercial projects, using a professional designer can be of great benefit to the success and profitability of your business. You might be about to re-furbish a restaurant or boutique hotel, and naturally you want your customers’ experience to be a great one. A professional interior designer can help you create the image and atmosphere you want for your customers, that helps keep them coming back, and keeps them talking positively about you to other new potential customers.

A designer’s experience of space-planning and technical drawing will ensure the available space is optimised and planned to be well-functioning. With the long term in mind, a designer will guide you towards finishes and materials that are stylish but also least likely to date, and that are hard-wearing enough to stand up to commercial use, saving you from additional unnecessary expense too soon. A professional interior designer is also conversant with the legal requirements for fire-retardancy of materials to be used in a commercial setting.

An interior designer has a network of other professionals to call on to help make your project run smoothly: trusted builders and architects, specialist commercial lighting designers, professional curtain-fitters, experts in sound-systems, and upholsterers who specialize in commercial work.

Moreover, your designer’s education and training means he or she has knowledge of the ergonomic regulations that benefit your staff too. For example, what is the correct amount of space for staff working behind a bar, and how should the back-bar area be organised, so that your employees work comfortably, happily and efficiently, thus adding to the positive experience for your customers.

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What services can I expect from an interior designer? What services can I expect from an interior designer?

You can expect your designer to be a good listener and a sounding-board for your ideas, to bring design experience to bear on those ideas and, if they won’t work, to explain why not and suggest alternative creative ideas you might not have considered.

A designer will usually draw floor-plans of your interior, showing the position of furniture and flow of the space, plus other drawings such as elevations, often called 'sections' by interior designers, and perspective drawings, as needed: frequently, a floor-plan is enough, and your designer will not make drawings that are unnecessary, thus avoiding additional expense for you. An interior designer will also present you with a 'sample board' or 'concept board' showing the items and interior finishes to be used in the design scheme.

Once you have approved the designer’s concept for your project and all the elements involved, as well as the budget, your interior designer turns that concept into a real living space for you to enjoy. A beautiful home doesn’t just happen by accident, but interior designers work hard to make everything appear naturally and easily to 'fall into place' for their clients.

Using his or her expertise and experience, and working with your builder, a professional interior designer will give you a realistic time-frame for your project, and will then manage all the different stages of the process, making sure everything happens in the right order. Your interior designer will co-ordinate plumbers, electricians, carpenters and joiners, plasterers, painters and decorators, carpet-fitters, seamstresses, upholsterers and all other trades involved in your project, or for very large projects your designer may recommend a trusted specialist project manager.

The designer places orders for all the items needed for your interior design scheme, again in the right order, knowing from experience that some things, like bespoke furniture, or pieces ordered from overseas, have a longer lead-time than others. Your designer will keep track of all orders, and will be on hand, and sharp-eyed, to supervise deliveries.

Designers make things easier in many small and simple ways: for example, spotting potential logistics problems before they happen: if an item of furniture is coming on a huge lorry, and you live at the end of a narrow country track, the designer makes sure that a reliable 'man with a van' is there to meet the truck, transfer the item, and deliver it into your house.

There will sometimes be problems of scheduling and simple human error along the way, especially on more complicated projects where several trades and crafts are involved, but your interior designer is there for you, to deal with mistakes as soon as they occur and to keep on top of the schedule, leaving you free to get on with your life and work.

Whatever your project, a home, a commercial premises, or a show-house, you can expect personal service throughout from a professional interior designer: from your first meeting in hard-hats and work-boots in a muddy concrete shell, to the placement of the perfect floral arrangement and plumping of the final scatter cushion.

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How expensive are professional interior designers? Is using an interior designer very expensive?

Using a professional designer can be as expensive or as inexpensive as your budget allows: the most important thing is that you already have a budget in mind, and you can rest assured that your designer will work within that budget. Using an interior designer should not be any more expensive than managing all the work yourself. Throughout the project, your interior designer will co-ordinate and manage other professionals and trades on your behalf while you are at work, leaving you free to do your job without stressful interruptions.

In fact, a professional interior designer can save you money in many ways, including helping you avoid expensive mistakes you’ll have to live with for several years. One of Clare’s clients had fallen absolutely in love with a cool, modern L-shape sofa, and was determined to have it for the family’s TV room, where they liked to relax on their old L-shape sofa, adults and kids snuggled together with popcorn to watch a DVD. Before the client made the purchase, Clare was able swiftly to point out the low back of the beautiful new sofa: how it offered no support and comfort for the upper backs and necks of adults and therefore no snuggling potential for children. The purchase was quickly cancelled, saving money and heartache, and the client was enabled to make an educated decision for a new sofa with the help of his designer.

An interior designer also saves you money by providing a fresh pair of eyes to look at the pieces you already own. Designers are naturally gregarious and interested in the history of your possessions: given free rein to rummage through your house a designer will have discovered a set of plates or prints and have them up on your wall before you can say “do you need a tape measure for that?” Interior designers don’t want to make you get rid of things you already own and spend money on new things to replace them: we love to discover antique pieces of furniture, old lamps and pictures that you’ve had for years and use them to best advantage to add to the unique personality of your home.

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do interior designers compromise individual taste? How do I make sure my own taste is not compromised?

There are a few famous interior designers who have a specific style for which they are renowned, and their clients seek them out for this very reason, but almost all other designers – even the most celebrated - are led not by their own taste, but by that of the client. The designer’s aim is not to make your home conform to a certain style, but to create a stylish home that is just right for you: not to impose someone else’s taste on you, but to create an interior environment that is the best possible expression of your personal taste.

Because a professional interior designer’s training will have included the study of history of architecture and interior design, he or she has the knowledge to guide you on how to blend together artfully the correct furnishings and decoration for a house of a particular historical period, with your own sense of style and with your family’s practical requirements for living comfortably in that period house today.

Apart from their training, experience and creative talent, three skills that all good interior designers have in common are these innate abilities: to observe, to listen, and to empathize. Right from the initial meeting, your designer will be looking for visual and verbal clues to your taste and how you like to live.

If you’ve never used a designer before, you might feel slightly apprehensive: perhaps the words 'interior designer' suggest an image of a larger-than-life character who will breeze into your home and immediately start dictating how your house should look…

Nothing could be farther from the truth: at your first meeting you will probably be pleasantly surprised to find yourself doing a terrific amount of talking, while your designer does a lot of listening, and that’s just how it should be. Listening and communication continues between client and designer, so that ideally, by the time your designer presents you with a scheme, your reaction will be “that’s exactly what I want!”

To give you a sense of control, you might want to prepare for your project by gathering together interior design magazine features that appeal, and maybe some that definitely don’t appeal. This can be a starting-point for discussion with your designer. If you don’t have the time or inclination, or if you just don’t know where to begin, Clare can visit you armed with a selection of images if you would find that helpful.

However, anything you really love can be the starting-point for an interior design scheme: a painting or print, a rug, even your favourite piece of clothing. Working in this way ensures that from the outset your designer has a strong image of your taste to build from. Clare has designed interiors around her clients’ art and sculptures, rugs, even a glass vase, and in one instance the pattern on a single well-loved scatter cushion. The end result of each project has been unique to the individual client, a home that is comfortable and beautiful to live in.

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Budgets for professional interior designers Will an interior designer work within my budget?

Yes. In fact professional interior designers prefer you to have a budget we can work to, and you’ll probably find that a designer will be reluctant to proceed without one. Interior designers are not just for the rich and famous: we work with all kinds of people and budgets. With your budget in mind, an interior designer will be able to advise you as to what can realistically be done for the amount you want to spend.

From the outset, you and your interior designer will talk in depth about your project, and the designer will thus have established your design needs, wants and hopes, in order to visualize the end result and present it to you before any work is started. In this way, an interior designer can help you get it right first time and save you money.

Knowing your budget allows the designer to allocate your resources wisely. To use a slang expression, an interior designer will make sure your project has the most 'bang for the buck'. Designers are experts at cleverly mixing in bargain finds with more expensive items. That said, an interior designer will always encourage you to spend as much as you can on items that must withstand the most wear and tear, for example, upholstered furniture. This is good sense for your budget, as what seems like a bargain often isn’t: a cheaply-made sofa will need to be replaced very quickly, costing you more money even in the fairly short term.

If your project involves building works, it’s important to get pricings from all the trades together, under the control of your builder, or project manager if you have one, and to involve your interior designer at this early stage. Once you have a total estimate for all works, your budget can be broken down into portions, so that you’ll know from the outset how much money is available for the interior finishing and design of your home.

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Interior designers can and will work on just one one room if required Can I use an interior designer for just one room?

Yes, almost all interior designers will be more than happy to design one room for you, but be warned: you may love that room so much that over the next few months, or years, you’ll invite your designer back again, to design the next room, and the next! Many successful long term client-designer collaborations begin in just this way.

Your designer will always keep in your personal file a floor-plan plus any other drawings, photographs of your room, images of items of furniture, light fixtures, lamps and artworks used, and swatches of all your fabrics, paint colours and wall-coverings. An interior designer will suggest furniture, fabrics and lighting that won’t easily date, so you can still achieve a beautiful result over time, often all the better for having been allowed to develop organically room by room.

If you live in a period property, and worry that a designer will try to impose ideas that are too modern, and simply wrong, be assured that interior designers are educated, and interested, in the history of interior design. Designers work with certain clients over many years, supplying as required a single piece of furniture, or some fabric or wallpaper that fits with the historical period of your house and its original architecture and design.

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Interior design ideas Can I just pay an interior designer for some ideas?

Yes, you can. The design process is the same up to the point of your agreeing the design scheme. When you’ve contacted an interior designer and had a chat about your project by telephone, you will then decide whether you want to go ahead with a meeting at your home or commercial premises. The initial consultation is without obligation on your part and many designers offer free consultations within a certain radius of their base, charging mileage outside that, although some designers do charge for a first meeting.

Despite what the viewer might infer from interior design programmes on television, it’s highly unlikely that a designer will offer you a solution to your design requirements on the spot: interior design is a creative process, and the first meeting on site or at your home is only the beginning.

To research the furniture and other items needed for you project, draw the plans, and put together sample boards, most interior designers charge an hourly rate which varies slightly depending on your geographical area, with designers in London and other large cities charging more. You can choose to pay a designer for this service, and manage the project yourself.

It’s important that you and your designer are clear from the start that you are looking for a design scheme only, and that you want to implement the design yourself. With this in mind, your designer will specify items that are available for you to purchase easily yourself from retailers or online, rather than items available only to the trade. Bear in mind too, if you are shopping around online and sending images to your designer for his or her opinion that you should expect to pay for the designer’s time to do this for you.

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Interior designers working with architects Will an interior designer work with my architect’s ideas?

Yes, definitely. Interior designers work well with architects, and with builders. A very good reason to engage a professional interior designer is that his or her training will have involved the study of both building construction and history of architecture, as well as technical drawing: an interior designer can read the architect’s or builder’s plans and quickly grasp the building’s layout, which then starts the process for the designer of visualizing how the inside of the building will work best for you, the client, to live in.

Your architect may be creating a house for you in a particular historical style, but architects rarely concern themselves with interior furniture. An interior designer understands the language of architecture: if your architect is working in an idiom from Palladian to Mid20th-century Modern, your interior designer is able to interpret the architect’s ideas and continue the concept into a living environment, suggesting pieces of furniture of the right style and proportion to suit the architect’s vision for your home.

It’s a good idea to have an interior designer on your team from the beginning of your project to work with you and your architect. The designer can often be a 'bridge' between your architect and your lifestyle, an extra person to bounce ideas off. If your architect has specified a huge wall of glass, for instance, your interior designer will raise the question of whether or not you would like that glass wall curtained or fitted with blinds for privacy and a feeling of security at night, and if so, how this is to be done, so that this kind of practical problem is resolved even before it occurs.

Window treatments are just one area of your home where architects and designers work together. A designer also considers the flooring: how noisy will it be, and how resistant to wear? Another is lighting: you may have a huge painting, or collection of artworks that need to be hung together on one wall, and an interior designer will take this into account, suggesting to your architect or builder that instead of a wall-light they fit either a picture light or directional spotlights in the ceiling.

An interior designer notices on your behalf the tiny, but important, details that you and your architect might overlook. One small example that made a big difference: some American clients were retiring and moving from a large house, dividing their existing furniture between a new-build terraced house and a newly-purchased mountain cottage. Because Clare had been involved early in the process when the new-build was still barely a shell, measuring the clients’ furniture and helping decide which pieces were to go to which house, she knew how the furniture should be arranged.

There was one sofa earmarked for the centre of the living room, facing a fireplace, with several chairs to the sides, an antique sofa-table (beloved by the clients) immediately behind it, and another separate seating area beyond, on the opposite wall to the fireplace. Having drawn a floor-plan that included the furniture, Clare asked the architect to have some electrical sockets put into the floor, in the right place to be hidden by the sofa. A beautiful pair of lamps for reading and just for adding to the cosiness of the ambient lighting could then be placed on the table behind the sofa, which would otherwise have been impossible without long trailing flexes.

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Including an individual piece of furniture in an interio design scheme Can I include some of my own ideas and specific pieces of furniture into an interior design scheme?

Yes, of course you can! Most designers like to work with your ideas, and with pieces of furniture and art that you already own: this is something that helps us make the project unique and special to you. If, for example, you are moving to a new home, your interior designer will need to visit you in your current home, ascertain which pieces you wish to use, measure and photograph them, so that they can be incorporated seamlessly into the new design scheme.

What’s vital, however, is that you and your designer are both absolutely clear and in agreement from the start about which pieces of furniture you want to use (either items you already own, or new ones to be purchased) and which design ideas are 'must-haves' for you.

It is much more difficult for the designer to incorporate an additional item or a new idea later on in the project. A very important aim of all designers is that the finished result appears natural and unforced, and an unexpected new element can threaten to throw a harmonious scheme out of balance. In the extreme, it can force your designer literally 'back to the drawing board', resulting unfortunately in more expense.

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Book a consultation with Interior designer Clare Winchester How do I book a consultation with Clare?

To arrange a consultation please phone Clare on 07970 550 708 or click here to send an email.

The initial consultation will cover an in-depth discussion about your project, your ideas and your budget. Clare will then be able to give you a general assessment of your design requirements and be able to advise you if your budget matches your requirements.

If you wish to proceed to the next stage, Clare will then prepare an outline design proposal with an estimated cost.

Please note: travelling expenses may be charged by prior agreement where the site or meeting place is outside a 50 mile radius of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.

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