Design Decisions

After more than a year of making grim choices—to stay in New Orleans or go, to demolish the flooded house or to rebuild—many owners of Katrina-damaged homes have reached the fun part. Décor decisions. Maybe you’ve decided to go for a new look, or you just want to recreate the look you had. Either way, it often
helps to bring in an expert.

But what kind of expert? Although there is overlap, there are definite differences between an interior designer, an architect and a decorator. And confusion abounds about what each of these professionals do. Here’s an attempt to clear it up.

The Interior Designer
An interior designer is a licensed professional who focuses on issues beyond color and fabrics, says Michelle Verdigets, who runs MVM Interiors and is president of the South-Central chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

The American Society of Interior Designers defines an interior designer as someone who is “professionally trained to create a functional and quality interior environment. Qualified through education, experience and examination, a professional designer can identify, research and creatively resolve issues and lead to a healthy, safe and comfortable physical environment.”

“What goes into it is much more than the aesthetics,” Verdigets says. “Interior designers can do things like space planning, making efficient use of space, and deciding how different areas are laid out for function. They can design installed lighting, millwork and ceiling systems. And they are trained in the use of new materials and technologies.”

Louisiana is one of 27 states that require licensing for interior designers. To be licensed, an interior designer must have a minimum number of education years and experience and take an exam. Many interior designers focus solely on commercial spaces, but Verdigets says that since Katrina, 95 percent of her work has been renovations of flooded and damaged homes.

An interior designer usually charges an hourly fee that ranges between $100 and $250 in the New Orleans area, Verdigets says. But she adds that there may be additional charges if the designer is purchasing furnishings, fabrics, etc. “Don’t be afraid to discuss fees when you hire someone,” she says. And, she says, get it in writing.

If you want to find out if someone is an interior designer, go to the ASID Web site,, and click on “Find a Designer.”

Fort is careful to distinguish herself from an interior designer: “Interior design suggests schooling and says you understand concepts such as moving walls, space planning and lighting,” she says. “But some people just want decorating. If you have great architect, for example, you may just need a decorator.”

The Interior Decorator
Decorators are focused on creating a stylish look for a room or
a home. “Decorators help create a cohesive picture,” says Vesta Fort, an interior decorator who works in New Orleans and in Fairhope, Ala. “One of the hardest things to do is decorate your own house. So many factors go in, such as sentimentality and two peoples’ tastes. A decorator can create a unified vision.”

And a decorator can help with what Fort calls “editing.”

 “That is a very important process,” she says. “You don’t want to have too much and you want to choose only things
that will really speak to the owner.”

A decorator can provide access to showrooms and fabric warehouses open only to decorators and interior designers, Fort says.

These days, many homeowners opt to have a decorator simply offer advice. Such style experts usually charge an hourly fee and then walk away. Traditional decorators purchase fabrics, furniture and other items for the homeowner, and charge the client a markup that can range from 20 percent to 50 percent above cost, Fort says.

It all depends on how much involvement you want from your decorator, Fort says. Some people love the ease and convenience of having someone else do all the measuring, searching for the perfect lamp or side table and purchasing. Other homeowners are just looking for some direction and then want to go it alone.

For her advice, Fort charges $100 an hour. If the homeowner wants her to do the searching and shopping, her fees vary—sometimes she charges $85 an hour and an additional markup on purchases; sometimes she marks everything up and charges no hourly fee. It depends on the size of the job, she says.

If you’re looking for a decorator, Fort suggests finding someone whose style you like. “That’s why it is great to go with a recommendation from a friend,” she says. “That’s basically all I do: word-of-mouth decorating.”

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines an architect as someone who “designs buildings and advises in their construction.” This is the person to go to for anything structural, such as creating a family room off the kitchen or adding a sun porch. It is also who to go to if you want to create a different configuration of rooms or expand the existing footprint of your home.

Lee Ledbetter of Ledbetter Fullerton Architects has been designing new houses and renovating old ones in New Orleans and around the country for more than a decade. But he is unique in that he is also a decorator.

“I’m careful not to say I am an interior designer,” Ledbetter says. “I am not. I am architect that does interiors. And I don’t mind saying I am a decorator. There are some incredible decorators in this country.”

Ledbetter strongly suggests that homeowners get an interior designer or a decorator involved as early as possible, so that the interior expert and the architect are talking from the start. The architect, who understands issues such as plumbing, mechanical systems, roofing and foundation, can make accommodations from the start for such design elements as lighting and window treatments.

“In our houses, I am assured from the very beginning that it is either going be us or someone I approve of doing the inside or I won’t do it,” Ledbetter says.

The experts will tell you that while it may sound costly to pay someone to create the right look for your home, it could save you money in the end.

“There is a tendency when you go it alone to flounder around and then you wind up having to redo things,” Fort says.

Categories: Home Renewal, LL_Home