How do you go about when it comes to choosing an interior designer or a contractor for your home renovation projects? 

Think about it, how do you really choose an interior designer in Malaysia? Usually, it’s mostly through word of mouth or via referral.

How do you know if a renovation company is the best and can tailor according to your home renovation needs? Choosing the wrong people to work with can frustrate your effort and potentially cost you a lot of money! 

While there are no fixed rules specifying how a good renovation company should look like, we do, however, have a few factors to help gauge the quality and make sure we’re only paying for the best.  

In this post, we’ll share a step-by-step guide on how you can choose the best interior designer for your home. 

But first, let’s get one common question cleared up.

Should you hire a contractor or an interior designer? 

What is the difference between them? A lot of the time, we listen to people (including industry experts) who use these terms loosely. And for industry outsiders like us, it can be pretty confusing. 

So, to get their difference straight, here are the roles of a contractor and an interior designer  (at least in Malaysia):

Interior Designer

Interior designers are those who coordinate and manage your home makeover projects. They are responsible for providing you with design ideas, 3D drawings, and expert opinions on how best to utilize your renovation budgets.  

Interior designers are also responsible for hiring the right contractors, sourcing the best materials, and sometimes, project manages your home remodeling project.

Contractors 

Contractors, on the other hand, only execute the renovation works as requested by the homeowners. Depending on the project scope and their area of expertise, contractors may hire external subcontractors to carry out some of the project’s works.

Another major difference between interior designers and contractors can be the expected price you have to pay. Interior designers generally charge higher than contractors. 

This is mainly due to the fact that interior designers will do all the heavy lifting and carry the bulk of the workload. Besides executing the works, they will also communicate closely with their clients and produce an accurate design that best reflects the needs of their clients. 

That said, these days, it’s quite common to also see contractors throwing in interior design services, as a value-added service. That will save you some budget from having to hire a separate interior designer, but again, going this route depends on whether the said contractor has interior design expertise too.

Now that we’re clear on the roles, let’s look at how to choose an interior designer for your home renovation project.

Here are the main steps we’ll be covering in this article:

  • Understanding your style & needs 
  • Determining your budget
  • Referrals and recommendations
  • Find your top 3 favorites
  • Meetup and home tour 
  • Contract and indemnity 
  • Customer service and communication 
  • Gut feeling

1 – Your home renovation style and needs.

The first thing you need to do: identify your style.

Different interior designers usually lean on different design styles and inspiration. You need to have a rough idea of what you are after, before looking for an interior designer with expertise in that design style.

Get some references or inspiration online. Some ideas from Pinterest or look at some property websites visualize the style you’re aiming for. 

Once you get a solid picture of what kind of style you love, then only you’ll be in a better place to find a designer that can match your style. That said, a good designer should be one who can adapt to your style.

2 – Home renovation budgets (and be really honest about it).

Most of the time, when we see homeowners who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the projects, we immediately assume they were being scammed or short-handed by the designers or contractors.

But that isn’t entirely true. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of expectations. But how can you align the expectations properly?

By getting your budget right and sharing it honestly with the interior designers. Get your expectations out and receive feedback from them. You’ll never know how certain project scope will cost more or, ideally, cost less than you expect.

Most interior designers would ask about the budget you have allocated for the renovation project, and work backward towards the design and remodeling possibilities.

So, start by researching. Gather all the pictures, prices, and relevant aesthetic information you want for your home. Go even further by tabulating the costs and everything into an excel sheet. 

A good interior designer should have good budget management skillsets as well.

3 – Getting referrals and recommendations from friends & family 

Up next, asking for referrals and recommendations from people you trust. 

Compile a list of interior designers from people who actually experienced their designing services before and are able to vouch for them.

Add in a few extra ones from your online search (if any). Or if you’re a community member from any construction-related Facebook groups in Malaysia. Don’t be shy and ask for some recommendations there as well. 

Facebook makes a good place to search for interior designers, but do your due diligence!

Alternatively, you can also get interior design advice from us at no cost. Click here to drop us an inquiry on Whatsapp.

Once you’re satisfied with the number of interior designers you have selected, let’s move on to the filtering stage. 

4 – Filter down to the top 3 interior designers.

Now you have a list of interior designers, time to do your due diligence, and check if their expertise matches your requirements. 

Do a search online. Browse through their sites and go into a call to get to know them. You will usually be able to get a sense of their professionalism and collaboration style, during your first call.

From here, filter down to 3 (or 5 if you like) interior designers who are more like-minded and stick out to you. 

Then, ask for their portfolio. A good tip is to ask for their most recent portfolio. Take a look at their past works and see if they resonate with the style you want.

5 – Time for a home tour.

After you’ve filtered down to the one interior designer whom you like to work with, it’s time for a meetup. 

Bring the designer to your property for a tour. Show him/her around and share your idea of a fully renovated home. Then share your budget and compare notes with the designer. (this could be done even during your filtering stage or the introductory call) 

If things go well and you really like the proposal, and design shared by the interior designer, this is when you can consider signing off to start your renovation project.

But before you award the project, there are some important assurances you need to cover.

6 – Draft a contract and make sure you’re protected (indemnity)

Always ask for a written contract.

Before any work is done or you pay for anything, make sure your interior designer is able to provide a written contract, specifying the responsibilities, budget limits, working timeline, and other works involved. 

After doing your due diligence, you should also ask whether the interior designer you’re hiring is insured. More specifically, does your interior designer have professional indemnity insurance?

This may sound counterintuitive, but what does your interior designer being insured have anything to do with your home renovation?

Well, professional indemnity insurance can protect your property from business risks in the event the designer provides incorrect advice or damages the property. The designer can be held liable and you can claim against your interior designer’s insurance company. 

Though this is not entirely necessary, it can go a long way to protecting your home and provide you with an additional layer of financial protection. 

7 – Great customer experience and open communications 

A good interior designer can get the job done. But a great interior designer can finish the job and leave you satisfied and with peace of mind. 

A communicative interior designer is one who can empathize with the homeowners. He should be transparent about the work and its progress. Note if your interior designer sets up a communication channel, such as a WhatsApp group with homeowners, to keep them updated about the project.

From 3D drawings, amendments, purchase of building renovation materials, related-furnishing, and post-renovation services, a professional interior designer will be sure to update everything and keep homeowners on track.

Communication is key. If you can’t communicate effectively with the designer, what’s the point of even collaborating together anyway? 

And this leads us to our last point. 

8 – Go with your gut feeling.

The portfolio is satisfactory. The sense of art direction is aligned. The license is legit and the business risk is properly insured. 

But, if the feeling isn’t right, will you still go for it? At this point, we sometimes ask homeowners to trust their gut feeling. 

Find a designer that has the same wavelength as you. Period.

Qualities of a good interior designer.

Now that you know all the steps to finding and choosing an interior designer, here is a list of qualities that a good interior designer should possess:

  • Adequate knowledge of space planning and designs
  • Detail-oriented with the design specifications
  • Has a list of ready suppliers but is open to new ones (ensure nothing’s fishy here) 
  • Has great references and a good portfolio 
  • Has great accountability 
  • Empathetic and practice open communication 
  • Timeliness

If you’re now ready to search for an interior designer for your home, feel free to browse through our catalogue of home improvement professionals.


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