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The Proven 5-Step Process We Use with Every Design Client

The interior design process can seem like a complex one if you’re not familiar with it. And as a potential client, it makes perfect sense that you’re not familiar with it.

But let me assure you, it’s a really stress-free journey for you, because we’ve been following the same procedures for so long. We ironed out any kinks years ago and we’re now in a consistent groove that works.

We don’t stray from our proven process because we know it inside out. By using the same framework with every client, we reduce stress for them and us. We know what stages we have to go through to get a exceptional result. And so we never gravitate away from this structure. It keeps the project as easy, fast and affordable for you as it can be.

coastal bedroom with white bedding rattan pendant lights and blue wallpaper design

The journey of having us transform your interior works best if you resign yourself to the process. I promise you it works. We have delighted clients tell us all the time how easy the whole experience was, because we drove the process for them and took the stress out of it.

The interior design journey is always a bit of a partnership, but as the designer I’m in the driver’s seat. Let me drive and you can relax! I’ll even let you listen to whatever music you like.

Today I want to do a deep dive into the interior design process for you. I want to run you through every step we go through with clients so you know everything we do from start to finish when we transform a home. Prepare to get fully informed.

classic hamptons interior design tlc interiors camberwell interior design project

1. Consult

The interior design process starts with a consultation. This is where I come to your home and spend up to 90 minutes with you. It’s the all-important first step.

We’ll start with a tour of your home so I can get a feel for not only the spaces you want me to work my magic on, but the home overall. I want to get an idea of your current interior design style (if there is one) as well as explore what existing pieces of furniture or decor you might want to work with.

Many clients give me blank canvases, in which case there’s nothing existing to work with. But some clients might have a treasured piece of art, for example, that they want to keep and use in the room. So it’s good to know this upfront.

neutral living room with white sheer curtains and round timber coffee table with glass top

We’ll sit down for a style analysis

I have an entire image library on my laptop, broken up into different interior design styles. Looking through all of these images allows me to do a style analysis with you. We need to figure out what look and feel you’re drawn to, what you love in the images, and what elements in them you hate. I invite you to be as honest as possible. Imagine you’re Simon Cowell on X Factor.

Truth be told, I’d have already asked you about your preferred style on our 20-minute discovery call, so we won’t spend an eternity in-person looking through styles that don’t apply to you.

Often though, a potential client will tell me they like Hamptons, for example, but there are about five different ways to execute a Hamptons look. So the images we go through together help me identify which direction we’ll take the home in stylistically.

If I’m working with more than one person in the home, you might not even be on the same page about the style. And that’s OK. That’s what looking through the images does. It helps me figure out how we can merge your different styles together to achieve a result you’ll both love.

blue and white hamptons bedroom styling with glass hamptons pendant lights and stripe wallpaper

After the analysis, we’ll walk through rooms

The ones you want me to work on. I’ll make a list of every single item we’ll bring into the room. This is done in conjunction with you, of course, because I’ll ask you what you want to use each room for.

Making this wish list of items helps me identify what sort of budget you’ll need to spend on products. We’ll then sit back down together and I’ll go over the style we’ve agreed on for the home, as well as confirmation on what each room will be used for and what items we’ll bring into each space.

That’s pretty much everything we cover off in the 90 minute initial consult. You’re of course absolutely free to pick my brain on anything and everything design during this time. I’ll also be suggesting things as they come to mind, walking through each space. It might be wallpaper here, sheer curtains there, something we could do to improve the living room – you name it.

Once I leave your home, I’ll send you an email

The email I send you after our meeting confirms everything we discussed during the 90-minute consultation. It’ll also list the amount of money I estimate you’ll spend on products, as well as how many hours I believe I’ll work on the project.

The amount of hours I estimate I’ll spend on your project from start to finish helps me determine what my design fee will be.

Not sure how I charge? I’m really open about it. Click here for all the details on pricing.

grey sofa with tan cushions and round marble coffee table in contemporary luxe living room

2. Concept

When you’ve read through my post-consult email and feel comfortable with the estimated product spend and design fee, I’ll send you an agreement to sign. That’s stage two of the interior design process underway.

Don’t worry, the agreement is not very full-on. It simply states what rooms we’ll transform, what my responsibilities are to you as your designer, and what your responsibilities are to me as my client. It also details pricing estimates.

Once you’ve signed the agreement, I’ll go away and get started on your concept document. Now, this is where I take all of the things we discussed in the 90-minute consultation and start to work my design magic on a document I’ll present to you during a return visit to your home.
The concept is the design blueprint for your home and takes a few weeks for me to complete. It takes that long because it contains a lot of detail about what we’ll do in each room.

chic living room with molmic sofa globewest round marble coffee table and coco republic rug

Specifically, the concept document includes:

  • Inspiration images to reflect what the home makeover will look like
  • A mood board of every room we’re transforming so you can picture the end result
  • Confirmation on the colour palette, textures and patterns we’ll use throughout
  • A floor plan (to-scale) of each room with all proposed furniture mapped out
  • Detailed explanation of changes we’ll be making to each room
  • A list of my trades we’ll be using if we need to engage any (paint, curtains etc)
  • A few design curveballs that I’ve come up with

I throw a few design curveballs or left-of-field ideas in a lot of my concepts, because the whole idea of hiring an interior designer is to have someone execute a scheme you could never conceive or pull off yourself. That’s my job, after all.

The concept meeting can take up to two hours and is a pretty in-depth discussion. I’m not only walking you through the plan for every single room in detail, but I’m asking for your feedback every step of the way. In an ideal world you love every single idea, but there might be a few things you’re unsure about.

lorraine lea winter bedroom styling dark sage green quilt cover set in teal bedroom sheer curtains

It’s OK to dislike some parts of the concept

I tell clients to be brutally honest during the concept presentation. You have to be. I won’t be offended if you tell me that the art option I’ve mood boarded is the most hideous thing you’ve ever seen. I didn’t paint the artwork, so I won’t be reaching for a Kleenex (I might die a bit inside if I loved the piece in question, but I’ll get over it).

It’s also OK to be unsure, and to need some time to think about an idea I’ve presented. The aim of the interior design process is not to rush you. Like I said, it’s my job to show you things you might not have considered (that will look amazing!), but it’s normal to need time to let ideas grow on you.

Honesty is always the best policy here. I have a full transparency approach to design, so I like my clients to be equally upfront.

It’s best I receive all of your feedback there and then, as I’ll be making notes throughout the meeting on elements I need to tweak before we move onto the Specify stage. But you can take a few days to let all the ideas sit with you. I’ll leave a physical copy of the concept with you and send you an electronic version too.

Once we reach the end of the concept meeting, you know what your home is going to look like, what we’ll do with it, and I know what small changes I need to make when I begin putting a product list together for you to review.
open plan living room with dark staircase glass balistrade and concrete feature wall dulux

3. Specify

The Specify stage is the third part of the interior design process. It’s where I go away and start putting a list of products together for you to review and agree to purchase. This can take a few weeks to complete.

As you can imagine, there are a tonne of products to include in this list and we specify right down to the cushions we’ll karate chop on your sofa.

If we’re doing any work where a trade is involved (like window treatments, paint, flooring, joinery) we’ll also organise a trade day at this point. This is where I’ll come to your home for a third time with my trades and get measure and quotes carried out.

modern dining room design with glass rectangle dining table grey upholstered chairs and mid century glass pendant light

You do not need to organise any trades

I have my own team of trades who I work with all the time and they’ll meet me at your property on a nominated trade day. You will be there, of course, but I take the headache away from you by managing this process end to end.

Ideally all of the trades are available to come on the one day. If this needs to be split over multiple days, we’ll simply check your availability to give us access. The idea is to make this entire process as seamless as possible for you, so we do try to minimise time off work for you, and to reduce any inconvenience.

Once trades have come back to me with their quotes, these will be added to the product list and you will be notified when the list is ready for you to review.

sage green bedroom styling with white linen quilt cover set and woven leather bench seat

We use an online portal to present the product list

This system works really well for us and the client. The program we use allows you to access each room we’re making over in the online portal. You’ll review each product in the room and approve it, or mark it for revision if you don’t like it.

When you’re accessing your product list and reviewing what’s been recommended, there should be no surprises because we’ve discussed the rooms and products in great detail during the concept meeting. Most clients breeze through this part of the process.

It would be concerning if you’re declining a lot of products at this point. If this is happening, something has gone wrong during the concept meeting.

The concept is our blueprint for the home. Once that’s locked in, it’s in everyone’s best interests to stick to the agreed game plan. This is why it’s always best to be honest about what you do and don’t like during the concept meeting.

moody abstract art in dining room with glass top dining table and grey chairs

4. Source

Once we have a final list of products approved by you in our online design portal, it’s time for us to go to all of our various suppliers and get invoices from them. This part of the interior design process can take a few days because for some projects there could be 20 different suppliers we’re getting product from (sometimes more).

As a guide, we tend to specify about 90% of products from our trade suppliers, not retailers. This not only secures you a lot of products your friends can’t buy in stores, but it also gets you better pricing, because we get trade discounts from our suppliers.

We’ll collate all of the supplier invoices and then prepare one invoice for you to pay us. Once we have your payment we’ll lock in all orders with our suppliers and organise deliveries of the products to your home.

black luxe sideboard from brosa with mustard armchair from horgans in chic master bedroom

Regarding deliveries, there are three options:

  • We accept deliveries at your home if you can’t be there
  • You’re listed as the contact for deliveries and suppliers contact you to organise a time
  • We hold all of your products in a storage facility and deliver them all one once

You accepting deliveries is the cheapest option. If I need to come to your home to accept deliveries I am charging you my hourly rate for this.

If you are choosing to have all the items stored so we can install them in your home in one hit, charges for this apply also. Every client is different and has a different preference here. So just let us know what you’d like to do as we approach this stage of the interior design process.

master bedroom with dark grey carpet brown timber bed and grey quilt cover set with purple cushions

5. Style

Woohoo! The Style part of the journey is the last and most exciting component of the entire interior design process. This is where we come to your home and put all the furniture in its place as per the layout we provided in the concept document.

Understandably, items may have arrived at different stages due to stock availability and some large pieces of furniture might already be unpacked (like a sofa or bed). That’s OK. We’ll still come to unpack everything else and move it into place.

At this stage, we’ll also line up trades to install the various items they need to install, if required. Our window people will come and install your curtains. Our electricians will come and install pendant lights if we’ve specified them. Our hangers will come to fix art and mirrors to the walls.

This installation day might also be spread out over a few days due to availability of the trades, so again we just need some flexibility on your part here.

neutral grey and white bedroom with coastal timber bedside table and grey striped bedding

The final decor shop

Once all the furniture is in place, we’ll put a list together of smaller decor items that need to be purchased to finish off the rooms. This decor shop is done by me, in-person, in stores across Melbourne. I shop for smaller items like trays, ornaments, candles etc. You know, those finishing touches for tabletops, bedsides, sideboards and more.

Because of the ever-changing stock levels at retailers it’s impossible to include these smaller items in your product list during the Specify stage. So I’ll go off and do a shop and then return to your home one last time to pop in all the decor, and hopefully photograph the spaces for my portfolio.

chris carroll tlc interiors melbourne interior designer in bright cbd apartment

Any Questions on the Interior Design Process?

I know, that was an intense read. But I really wanted to leave no stone unturned when it came to explaining the entire interior design process. This proven method works really well and ensures we can transform your home easily and affordably. It minimises your stress and ensures we build trust with each other every step of the way.
If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave them below and I can address them for you. Or if you don’t want to ask in a public forum, shoot me an email: chris@tlcinteriors.com.au


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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6 Responses

  1. I love this insight to what you do as we’re thinking of hiring an interior designer for our latest property. We usually do it ourselves but feel like we would love to just give it over to someone else this time around.

  2. Hi Chris,
    What if there are bigger aspects requiring tradie eg bathroom reno? Do you know guys in that area and can get involved in the design aspect of the reno as well?

    1. Good question KC. Usually I invoice the client a lump sum to cover the decor shop and I go off and buy the products. There’s no approval process for these smaller items. It’s only ever happened once that the client didn’t like a few small things and I returned them. There has to be a level of trust with these smaller pieces (and the entire project, come to think of it). It’s simply too hard to have the client approve every single trinket. Hope that clears things up.

      1. Thanks Chris, that makes sense. I guess by that point you’ll have a sense of what they like/dislike, plus you’ll be buying items that fit with the style of the larger pieces in the room.

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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