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Should You Engage a Contractor or Interior Designer?

Weighing in on this dilemma.

Whether you’re moving into your new home, or thinking of refreshing your existing one, there’s a process you’ll need to go through: renovation.

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Now the first question that should come to mind is “should I engage an interior designer or a contractor?” How can you distinguish the two roles? What makes one so different from the other?

Difference between a contractor and interior designer

An interior designer is someone who provides design and spatial planning ideas, manages and coordinates your renovation. They typically provide 3D drawings and may be able to advise you on furniture/decor shopping. This allows them to command a more premium price.

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Conversely, a contractor typically takes specific design instructions from your end. Depending on the complexity of the project, they may need help in securing external sub-contractors (e.g. plumber, electrician) to get the job done.

An interior designer is someone who…A contractor is someone who…
  • Provides design and spatial ideas
  • Provides 3D drawings
  • Oversees and coordinates your renovation
  • May advise on furniture/decor shopping
  • Typically command a more premium price
  • Takes specific design instructions from you and pay less attention to design details
  • Doesn’t provide 3D drawings
  • May not oversee or coordinate your renovation
  • May not advise on furniture/decor shopping
  • Typically commands a lower price

Following this, here are 3 main factors to consider when deciding which to engage:

Factors to consider when choosing between a contractor and interior designer

1. Design

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If you have a concept in mind and are looking for expert advice on spatial planning, an interior designer would be your best bet.

If you are someone who has a clear design vision and you are comfortable proceeding without 3D drawings or are willing to do them on your own, a contractor could be an option for you.

2. Coordination and communication with sub-contractors

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This is probably the biggest challenge in the entire renovation process! With an interior designer, they’ll be your main point of contact, and he/she will work together with sub-contractors on your behalf without the need for you to step in.

On the other hand, hiring a contractor means you’ll need to be a lot more hands-on. You’ll be playing the role of both a project manager and an interior designer, making sure the contractor understands your design brief and relays the correct information to the sub-contractors.

You may also need to be familiar with the renovation technicalities and sequence of works (for instance: do you know if masonry should come before or after other works?) for a smoother discussion. The last thing you’d want is to incur additional costs due to problems arising from miscommunication.

3. Cost

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There’s the preconceived notion that contractors are cheaper than an interior designer, but the latter can actually help you save costs more than you think.

Most interior firms have a network of suppliers, which means they stand to gain savings from preferential pricings. In fact, larger interior firms may benefit from economies of scale when it comes to material/labour costs, so these cost savings can then be passed on to you.

So, should I hire a contractor or an interior designer?

Remember: managing a renovation can be very time consuming, and requires a fair bit of effort. And ultimately, choosing between a contractor or an interior designer involves choosing between two things: the time and effort required, and the (relative) amount of money saved.

So, if you were of the opinion that hiring a contractor is the cheaper and better option, you might want to think again!

This article was originally published on 25 Jan 2016, and updated on 11 Jul 2023.

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