What to consider when instructing an interior designer.

Pippa Beesley offers advice to readers considering engaging the services of an interior designer in Essence October issue.

An ‘interior designer’ can cover a wide range of activities, including creative art and architecture. For domestic interiors, the interior designer will often work with many different consultants such as architects and engineers to bring together a client’s requirements.

The interior designer may advise a client on furniture, fittings, layout, colour schemes and fabric. They may also be involved in preparing cost estimates, obtaining approvals and helping a client design the brief, programme and budget.

The profession is quite new and it is not regulated, so anyone can call themselves an interior designer. The British Institute of Interior Design, however, issues the Code of Conduct and Professional Ethics for the compliance of all its members. The Code states the principles and ethical standards for members of the Institute and includes sections on responsibility to society, the client, other interior designers and colleagues and to the Institute and the interior design profession.

When using the services of an interior designer you should agree some form of contract, be it a letter of agreement or a more detailed appointment. This document should set out what has been agreed, providing comfort and security of legal protection for the investment you are making in your home. If properly drafted, it will also give you some protection against spiralling costs and ensure parties are aware of what is expected and when, thus hopefully avoiding disputes.

The contract should be in writing and signed by both parties. There is no need for the document to be overly complicated, but it should be clear and it may be a good idea to use numbering and headings. Your interior designer will probably have their own terms and conditions and these should be checked prior to signing to ensure you both clearly understand what the designer is doing, when and for how much.

You may need to put in place instructions and drawings to monitor the contract. You should also consider estimated due dates and details of the specific rooms/spaces that are to be included. The appointment may also set out how variations are to be dealt with. The designer will understandably want to be paid more if their scope increases and you need more work done than initially agreed. It might be worth agreeing additional hourly rates at the outset so it is clear how much any additional services could cost. It is also a good idea to include a dispute resolution procedure in order that both parties know how any issues that arise can be solved.

The appointment of the designer is, however, only as good as the services or products it describes, so you will need to spend time considering what you want your designer to achieve, what each of you are responsible for, for what price and when payment will be made. Will you be paying for expensive items when the order is placed and will the title in these items pass to you when you have paid a deposit for them, or only when you have paid for them in full?

Where will any items that you have paid for be stored? Is a vesting certificate available for more expensive items that you have ordered and paid for but have not yet been delivered? There is a risk if the designer were to go bust prior to completing your project and you have paid for items that have not yet been delivered that these may never be recovered. If you have any concerns about this and how it can be handled, you should instruct a lawyer to advise on how to protect your position.

Statutory obligations

In addition to the above, interior designers may also have to comply with various statutory obligations, for example the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (‘CDM 2015’). A designer who specifies or alters designs as part of their work will be a ‘designer’ under the CDM 2015.

A designer’s decision can affect the health and safety of all those involved in the project and therefore they must:

  • Make sure the client is aware of the client duties under the CDM 2015
  • Take account of any pre-construction information provided by the client and principal designer (if there is one)
  • Eliminate foreseeable health and safety risks
  • Take steps to reduce or control any risks that cannot be eliminated.
  • Provide design information to the principal designer (if applicable) for inclusion in the pre-construction information and health and safety file; the client and principal contractor to help them comply with their duties.
  • Communicate, cooperate and coordinate with any other designers so that all designs are compatible and ensure health and safety both during the project and beyond and also with all contractors to take account of their knowledge and experience.

You as ‘client’ will also have duties under the CDM 2015, however, the domestic client’s legal duties are normally taken on by the contractor and the designer must work with them as ‘client’. Alternatively, a domestic client can ask the principal designer to take on the client duties, although this must be confirmed in writing.

Commercial considerations must also be thought through, for example, the designer’s covenant strength (as briefly touched upon above) and who owns the copyright in the designs? Also ensure the contract contains provisions for any specific materials you require or that are required under your planning permission and that the designer will cooperate with all the other parties involved on your project and the site will be left in a clear and tidy condition after the works are completed.

We would always recommend for substantial works you seek legal advice on the documentation to ensure your best interests are protected.

Kevin Healy head of the Property department at Mundays specialising in non-contentious construction law and can be contacted on 01932 590638 or at kevin.healy@mundays.co.uk


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