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Becoming a Successful Interior Decorator

What It Really Takes to Be a Strong & Successful Decorator

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Becoming a Successful Interior Decorator
© Britt Erlanson/Getty

HGTV and other popular decorating networks have spawned a huge increase in the number of people who think they would like to be interior decorators or designers. Decorating shows make these jobs look fun, creative and glamorous. And they are… sometimes.

However, being a decorator is also hard work. There is much work, along with natural talent, that goes into becoming an interior decorator. Even more work and talent is required to become a successful interior decorator.

These tips on how to become a decorator go beyond the basics to help to prepare to be a strong, successful interior decorator and may also help you to eventually become a leader in your field.

1) Learn how to be ultra organized.
Multiple projects always seem to fall apart at the same time and orders often arrive in shambles. Lost receipts, misplaced fabric swatches and a folder stuffed full of unidentifiable paint samples will only add to the confusion and push an already out-of-control project over the edge. You’ll need to be ultra organized to be able to bring calm into the constant chaos that is common in the world of decorating. If you can’t do this, choose another field now.

2) Spend time with contractors and subcontractors.
Most decorator wannabes, especially the young, want to get jobs in a posh decorating or home store for “experience.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but you probably won’t learn much either. The most successful decorators have the most hands-on experience. Look for jobs or volunteer to work with contractors and subcontractors like painters, cabinet installers, framers and/or electricians. By forgoing the glamour and working with the people who make it all happen, you’ll gain valuable experience as well as great connections and the respect of your future crews.

3) Become a good manager of money.
Every project will have a budget, and on top of being a great decorator, you will have to be an excellent money manager. No client likes to find out that you’ve spent their money unwisely… even if they asked you to during the project. (See Tip #4.) It is going to be your job to keep yourself, your client and your crew on track. Not only will poor money management throughout a project land you in hot water with your client, it could also land you in court. Learn how to manage your own money well right now so you can understand how to manage your client’s money when duty calls.

4) Learn how to say, “No.”
Clients hire you because they need help. Most clients truly don’t understand design nor do they really have a grasp on what things cost. $500-room-makeover shows that redo a room in one weekend have further fueled clients' unrealistic expectations. Your job is to guide clients through the tricky world that hangs between their desires and their needs. To do so, you are going to have to have a strong personality and be willing to say no – a lot. If you tend to be a people-pleaser and have trouble telling people the truth, do yourself and your future clients a favor by learning how to be firm and honest (while remaining kind) before you pursue an interior decorating career.

5) Study conflict resolution.
Anytime you deal with people, there will inevitably be conflicts. No, the client is not always right (see Tip #4), but there are ways to deal with this without risking your project, job or career. Read a few books and invest a little time in studying conflict resolution. Having a grasp of the basic personality types will also help you communicate with your clients more effectively. Knowing what certain personalities’ trigger points are will help you navigate the tricky world of clientele and will help make you a successful designer in many more ways than one.

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