Get Quotes from Top Interior Designers in San Francisco, CA

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Interior Designer in San Francisco

An experienced interior designer can help you achieve the best possible results with your home or office improvement project. Making the right combination of uplifting colors, dazzling furniture, and smart accessories to create an aesthetic space is a skill mastered by top-class designers. However, before you hire anyone claiming to be an interior designer in San Francisco, it is important to ask the following questions to determine their proficiency:

Are You Registered or Certified to Practice as an Interior Designer in San Francisco?

In San Francisco, interior designers are not required to have local registration. However, per Chapter 3.9 of the California Business and Professions Code, they must be certified by the California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC) if they wish to refer to themselves as "certified interior designers."

This certification is also required for interior designers who wish to use the terms "licensed" or "registered." Violation of this law could result in a fine of up to $2,500. Administratively-imposed sanctions could also be added to the fine.

The requirements for individuals to be certified by the CCIDC are outlined below.

  • Graduated from an interior design program of a minimum of four or five years and have at least two years of experience.
  • Graduated from a three-year accredited interior design program and must have at least three years of experience in the field.
  • Graduated from a two-year accredited interior design program and have at least four years of experience.
  • The designer should also have at least eight years of interior design education, at least eight years of diversified interior design experience, or a combination of education and experience that equals at least eight years.

Individuals who check the CCIDC's requirements provided above can apply for the IDEX California Examination online. The examination is conducted on various paths depending on the level of education and experience the applicant has gained. Besides being able to submit their applications online, applicants also need to provide additional documentation for the certification, including:

  • A government-issued ID
  • Stipulated fees
  • Proof of educational qualifications

To learn more about an interior designer's certification process and the requirements of the CCIDC, you can contact the department at (760) 294-1936.

When choosing an interior designer for your home renovation project, hiring a designer certified by the CCIDC is essential to ensure that the work is carried out professionally and that you receive the best possible service. You can confirm that the San Francisco designer you are considering has been certified through the CCIDC online verification platform.

How Much Do You Charge Compared to Other Interior Designers in San Francisco?

Before you hire an interior designer in San Francisco, you should know how much they charge for their services. This will allow you to make an informed decision regarding their services and avoid misunderstandings in the long run.

In San Francisco, professional interior designers use various methods to calculate charges. Some of these include:

  • Percentage fee structure: The fee structure allows the designer to charge a percentage of the project's overall cost, typically between 10 and 30 percent. This gives clients a clear idea of how much they will be charged at the end of the project. However, this method can also be abused by some designers, who might recommend or purchase only expensive or unnecessary materials to increase the project's overall cost, automatically increasing their fee.
  • Hourly fee structure: The fee structure allows the designer to charge for the total time spent on the project. This is ideal for smaller projects that have a clear timeline. In most cases, a retainer is required before work begins.
  • Flat fee structure: An interior designer in San Francisco can charge a flat rate for certain services, such as assessments and design reviews.

Typically, when determining the cost of your project, an interior designer also considers certain factors, such as:

  • Your locality within the city
  • Your preferred interior designer's local reputation
  • The scope of the project
  • The size of the space that needs designing

This is why it is essential that you get and compare the cost estimates of multiple interior designers in the city. Doing so will allow you to avoid being overcharged and protect yourself from the potential fraudulent activities of an interior designer.

Interior designers in San Francisco earn an average annual wage of $81,260. The list below provides the average hourly wages of these professionals compared with the average hourly wages of interior designers across the rest of California as well as several other locations in the United States:

San Francisco Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Los Angeles Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Carlsbad Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
San Diego Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
San Jose Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Phoenix Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Chicago Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Houston Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
New York City Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Philadelphia Interior Designers Average Hourly Wage
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Kind of Interior Design Services Do You Offer?

When it comes to choosing an interior designer in San Francisco, it is essential that you thoroughly research the services that they offer and confirm that they meet your specific needs. Interior designers in the city offer various services in residential and commercial spaces, such as:

  • Color/paint consultations
  • Space planning
  • Selection, procurement, and installation of furnishings, fixtures, and accessories
  • Event and holiday decoration
  • Sustainable interior design
  • Interior restorations

Note that when choosing a professional to design your spaces, there is a difference between the terms "interior designer" and "interior decorator." While these terms are often used interchangeably, these professionals do not carry out the same work.

Interior designers usually have more formal training and education and can provide various services that focus on enhancing the function and design of living spaces. These professionals work with various individuals, such as architects, engineers, and general contractors. In contrast, interior decorators mainly focus on the aesthetics of the space, and they do not usually carry out renovations or structural planning in remodeling projects.

Besides confirming that your preferred interior designer has the necessary skills and experience to meet your needs, it is also important that you agree on the service cost before completing the hiring process. Listed below are cost estimates for San Francisco interior design services based on different billing methods:

Residential interior design services cost estimates

Hourly rate fee structure
$122 - $138 per hour
Square footage fee structure
$11 – $17.30 per square foot
Percentage fee structure
10% - 30% of construction cost
Percentage fee structure
20% - 35% of furnishings cost

Commercial interior design services cost estimates

Hourly rate fee structure
$112 - $212 per hour
Square footage fee structure
$14 - $17.09 per square foot
Percentage fee structure
15% - 25% of construction cost

What is Your Favorite Interior Design Style?

It is usual for people to have a specific style or aesthetic in mind when it comes to their home renovation. When you are planning a project, it is essential that you hire an interior designer who has the necessary skills and imagination to bring your preferred style to life. If the designer you plan to hire is well-known for a particular style, it is advisable to look through their portfolio to confirm if their style or aesthetic matches your home's design needs.

The Hollywood Regency is a popular interior design style among San Francisco residents. Other prominent styles can also be found in the city, including:

  • Glam
  • Bohemian
  • Rustic
  • Coastal
  • Eclectic
  • Transitional
  • Modern Farmhouse
  • Contemporary
  • Traditional
  • Minimalist
  • Scandinavian
  • Art Deco
  • Organic Modern
  • Shabby Chic

If you have not settled on a specific style for your home, an interior designer can help you create an aesthetic that complements your personality and age. Some of the most popular design styles that different age groups in San Francisco favor include:

  • Generation X/Baby Boomers – Rustic, Traditional
  • Generation Y/Millennials – Minimalist, Hollywood Regency, Modern
  • Generation Z – Eclectic, Rustic

Can You Provide References from People You Have Served in San Francisco?

When finding an interior designer in San Francisco, it is common to get recommendations from friends and relatives. Various organizations provide helpful information about interior designers in the area, including:

Before you hire an interior designer in San Francisco, it is essential that you ask the designer for references from previous clients. This will allow you to confirm their credibility and provide valuable feedback on their service delivery. Doing so will also allow you to understand their work ethic better. Ensure you request these references regardless of where you got the interior designer's contact from a trusted person.

Most professional interior designers will gladly provide references from their previous clients who can vouch for their quality of work. However, this should be a red flag if the designer doesn't want to provide you with at least three verifiable references.

Besides asking for references, you can also check the interior designers online by looking up if there are any complaints on platforms like the CCIDC's Enforcement Actions website, the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Google Review.

How Do You Structure Your Interior Design Projects?

When choosing an interior designer in San Francisco, consider their work process. This will give you a better idea of how they manage their time and how you can expect the project to be completed. Having a well-defined work schedule can also help you avoid getting stuck. Creating the project timeline will also help you factor in upcoming events, such as weddings, birthdays, or anticipated move-in dates.

Interior design processes are typically broken down into six main parts:

  • Discovery: The first step is identifying the client's unique style and aesthetic. The designer then reviews the client's inspirational images and discusses the project's overall plan and expectations.
  • Inspiration: After the client's ideas have been identified, the designer creates concept statements to help guide the project's overall direction. This process usually involves working with a team of designers.
  • Design: After the client has identified their ideas, the designer presents them to the client. These ideas will undergo further revisions and alterations until the client agrees upon the final design.
  • Procurement: The designer then orders the necessary accessories, furnishings, and fixtures to execute the project.
  • Installation: The designer installs or oversees the various pieces in their assigned locations and spaces. This usually takes around a day to five days or more, depending on the scope and nature of the project.
  • Big Reveal: The designer then shows the client the completed project.

What Builders, Architects, or Contractors Do You Work With?

The scope and nature of your project may require that the interior designer work with architects, general contractors, and builders. The designer may hire other artisans and subcontractors to carry out certain tasks. When this happens, ensure you confirm how much it costs to hire these other professionals. Also, ensure that they are properly licensed and adequately insured.

Before starting a project, ensure that all the individuals involved are insured. This will allow you to avoid financial liability for any bodily injuries or property damage recorded during your project. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 58,000 work-related injuries were reported by construction and interior designers in 2020.

As such, before you sign any contracts with the interior designer, request proof of insurance and contact the insurance provider to confirm the validity of such proof and if the general liability insurance coverage is adequate. If the designer is working with other professionals, ensure you are provided with proof of necessary liability insurance that can adequately cover them in case of unforeseen events.

Note that all professionals, including interior designers, are mandated under state law to carry workers' compensation insurance policies for their employees. Also, in San Francisco, interior designers are statutorily required to inform their clients about errors and omissions in insurance availability. This type of insurance covers the negligent or inadequate actions of the designer.

How to File a Complaint Against a Bad Interior Designer in San Francisco

Complaints against a bad designer in San Francisco can be filed with the California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC) and the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.

Home improvement and remodeling scams are widespread in San Francisco. In 2020, the number of complaints about these types of scams was the second-highest in the country. In June 2019, multiple sting operations in California, including in San Francisco, resulted in the arrests of over 160 contractors for various illegal and dishonest business practices.

When planning a home improvement project, it is important to know the potential risks of hiring a dishonest designer. Some of the tricks that these individuals use to scam their clients include:

  • Insisting on a large initial deposit or full payment before starting a project
  • Despite being quoted high prices for certain products, these individuals still use inferior accessories and furnishings.
  • They will even give them low-cost estimates and then later add hidden charges.
  • After receiving the proper payment, they would leave their work incomplete.

Here are some tips to help prevent getting lured into a scam by con artists when planning a home improvement project in San Francisco.

  • Get a second opinion before starting a major home improvement project.
  • Avoid an unsolicited interior designer. Instead, look for referrals from trusted sources like friends and family, real estate professionals, friends, and other interior designers. You can also use resources from organizations like the California Council for Interior Design Certification, the American Society of Interior Designers, and the Better Business Bureau.
  • Ensure the interior designer has a physical office space and can provide at least three verifiable references.
  • Make sure that your preferred interior designer is certified.
  • Utilize the CCIDC's enforcement actions page to determine if they have taken disciplinary action against your preferred interior designer. You can also check the designer's ratings and reviews through websites like Google, Yelp, and Better Business Bureau.
  • Execute a written contract. Before you sign a contract with an interior designer, ensure that it includes all the necessary details, such as the designer's contact information, the services they'll provide, and their payment plan. Make sure that you thoroughly review the contract before you sign it.
  • Make sure you don't pay the full cost of the project upfront. Also, be wary of hiring an individual who demands an initial payment of more than 20 – 30 percent of the project's cost.
  • Follow up with the designer regularly to ensure the project is completed on time and satisfactorily before you make the final payment.

If a deceptive interior designer has scammed you, you can file a complaint with the California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC) online. However, this agency can only take action against certified interior designers.

Nonetheless, you can file complaints against non-certified individuals in San Francisco with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office by completing an online complaint form, by calling (628) 652-4000, or in person at:

350 Rhode Island Street
North Building
Suite 400N
San Francisco, CA 94103
Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays

You can also file a lawsuit against the interior designer in the businesses or individuals named in your complaint in the appropriate San Francisco County Superior Court division. However, before you proceed with this process, it's important that you first seek legal advice from a licensed attorney. You can use the Bar Association of San Francisco's Lawyer Referral and Information Service to find a qualified attorney.