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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Walker

What’s the difference between an Interior Designer, an Architect, and a Contractor?

This may sound like the beginning of a good bar joke, but this is a real question we get asked pretty often. In fact, a few weeks ago, we sat down with a contractor who had recently completed a renovation for an investment property on his own. He showed us the photos of the new finishes, and newly renovated space and we applauded him for his execution! What struck us as almost insulting was when the contractor asked us why his clients would need an Interior Designer when he is fully capable of coming up with a decent design plan and selecting the finishes himself.

We asked the contractor if he has ever worked with an Interior Designer before and it did not suprise us when he admitted he had not. We then explained how with a team effort on some of our recent projects, we were able to come up with solutions to save the customer money, make his job more efficient, and avoid costly project delays by having everything well-planned out in advance. After discussing this with him, the contractor had a revelation of the importance of having an interior designer assigned to the project with him.

While some contractors can likely recommend finishes, fixtures, and materials, that is not their area of expertise. What they will recommend are products they have used before, and will not provide selections custom tailored to your style. Keep in mind that contractors are creatures of habit and notorious for doing things the way they have always done it.
I think this is common question that clients are often faced with, so let’s dive right into the roles of each team member.

General Contractors

General contractors execute, they make plans a reality.

General Contractors are responsible for implementing designs created by architects and interior designers. GC’s take design drawings, concepts, and ideas and make them a reality. The GC will manage the actual construction aspect of the project, calculating quantities of materials needed, adhere to proper building codes, manage sub-contractors, pulling permits, and constructing the space according to plan. The contractors main role is to construct the space accordng to already created scope, drawings, and product specifications. For renovations, many GC’s can also prepare construction drawings by brining in an architect and/or structural engineer.

Contractors typically provide no cost estimates because they are only there to see the space, take measurements, and prepare the budget based on the client provided scope of work. GC’s do not usually provide design direction or come up with ideas for the space, they expect that to already be determined for them to price out.

It is common for clients with a vision to proceed with their project with a general contractor alone, providing the contractor with their material selections for the space. However, when going this route, the client takes on the task on managing their own project which is extremely time consuming, stressful, and can lead to many details being overlooked costing time and money.


Architects fuse aesthetics and structure as it relates to the building

The architect’s role is to prepare a design that merges aesthetics and structure. Architects are responsible for creating designs that contractors implement. For new construction projects, an architect will be involved at the preliminary stages to design the structure and façade of a building to prepare drawings before the contractor can prepare an estimate. Architects will coordinate space planning, mechanical, plumbing and HVAC, and ensure the projects meets building codes and accessibility requirements. For some renovations, the general contractor may be the first person involved on the project and will then bring on the architect to create drawings involving any major structural changes.

Architects focus more on technical aspects where an interior designer focuses more on client needs, functionality and aesthetics. Architects typically do not get involved with the details such as adding electrical outlets to accommodate a certain feature, or the exact placement of decorative lighting fixtures, that’s where interior designers and contractors come in. An Interior designer will coordinate all building details with the furniture layout of the space.

Interior Designers

An interior designer takes a hollistic approach, seeing the project as a whole

An interior designer is trained to look at the project as a whole. They take a holistic approach to the entire project to make sure the space will not only look beautiful, but also function properly for the clients needs. Aside from providing a beautiful design and furniture selections, an interior designer will prepare the millwork, decorative hardware, finish sections, lighting selections, fixtures, and appliance selections and then coordinate any necessary changes to structural, lighting, electrical, plumbing with the architects and general contractors.

For example, the interior designer may prepare a furniture plan for the space that is more functional based on the clients needs by moving a dining table to another side of the room, the designer will then coordinate to make sure that the electrical wiring is moved for the chandelier above the table. Designers will make sure the project has accounted for a floor plug in your office under your desk, and that your kitchen cabinetry has the spice rack closest to the oven. Designers provide detailed drawings and dimensions to account for the details that impact your lifestyle and the way you use your home.

Designers help clients see beyond what they can imagine for themselves and introduce them to materials and products that are more unique than just the latest trends. Interior designers steer clients away from mass-produced trends because they look good, but ensure each selection is deliberate to ensure clients are getting a design completely tailored to them that will look good years from now.

Interior designers are also involved in the project from start to finish and oversee construction. They ensue that the project is staying on track to guide construction, and make sure that we maintain the overall budget.

How do you choose?

So why do many client’s resort to hiring a GC alone? We believe it comes down to cost, as the more professionals you hire the more it will cost in service fees. It’s important to remember that GC’s Architects, and Designers each have their area of expertise, and skimping on having the right experts on your team can actually cost more in the long run.

The great thing about having the right team on your project is that each member brings a different level of expertise to your project and when working together can save you money. For example, one project we were working on, the architect had specified a specialty type of flooring and we were able to recommend another product equally durable and suited for the space for a fraction of the cost! At the same time, the general contractor understands construction costs better than anyone, and can make recommendations for modifications that may not sacrifice design but will significantly reduce construction costs.

If your budget does not seem enough to hire a full-service interior designer on your project, you may be surprised of some of the other services we can provide such as design only where we create the drawings, select materials, and you and your GC take it from there!

Regardless of your remodeling or new construction budget, we highly suggest you begin speaking with an interior designer who can help educate you on remodeling costs, explore possibilities, and give you guidance on your project. We provide all of these with our in-home consultation so schedule a discovery call today and we would love to book an in-home consultation with you in person to provide our expertise.

Ready to get started with your design project?

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