Do you need an interior designer if you've already got a builder?

Do you need an interior designer if you’ve already got a builder?

Do you need an interior designer if you’ve already got a builder?

Most homeowners look to engage a builder as their first port of call when they’re embarking on a renovation. In this blog post, I break down the different roles of a builder and an interior designer in a renovation, and why it often makes sense to hire an interior designer first, then a builder. 


Do you need an interior designer if you’ve already got a builder?

The short answer? Yes (in most instances).


In my experience, the most successful, efficient and smooth projects — whether that be a website design, a wedding or a renovation — are the result of a talented team of experts who have clear roles and responsibilities, within their area of expertise. 


This same logic applies to a renovation project. In fact, in many instances where a homeowner has contacted a builder first, the builder has put the clients in touch with me prior to even quotes being produced, with the view to having a smoother project.


Having both an interior designer and a builder on board your project makes for a more efficient, streamlined process, and much less stress, time and energy spent on your part. Assemble your ‘A’ team of experts, and they’ll expertly guide you through the process, and ensure you get an incredible result.


Many homeowners I speak to just have no idea where to start when they decide to do a renovation. I hope this will give you some clarity and help you understand the renovation process more. 


Note: As with just about anything you read on the internet, the below is based on my personal experience and opinions. You may have a different perspective, and I am OK with that. I share my knowledge and viewpoint with the intent of providing assistance and education, not to sell interior design services to everyone — I know that not everyone will benefit from using an interior designer. Thank you for keeping this in mind as you read through the below.


What a builder’s role is in a renovation

Builders are do-ers. Their role is to make the vision and plan for your home come to life in the best possible way. 

Their responsibilities can include:

      • Liaising / collaborating with the interior designer, building designer and / or architect on how to make certain design elements work, and to make sure what’s designed on paper is feasible in real life. 
      • Providing a quote for the works that encompasses any sub-trades’ work like electrical, carpentry, painting and plumbing works. Some builders may also provide a high-level estimate before works begin, to give you a rough cost expectation.
      • Providing a detailed timeline of works indicating the order of works to be undertaken, start and finish dates. This helps you to know in advance things like when you might need to move out.
      • Co-ordinating and managing sub-trades, including being in charge of who’s on site, when, and managing any cost variations.
      • Ordering any building materials required to execute the design. This can include things like timber for things like custom wall or ceiling panelling. 
      • Being the go-to person on-site for all construction-related communications between the sub-trades, designer and/or homeowner. 


What a builder’s role is not

A builder isn’t responsible for anything to do with the design or planning. Their focus is on constructing something to the best possible standard, not how the end result is best going to suit how you and your family live.

Specifically, here’s what sits outside of the builder’s remit —

        • Providing design advice, both general and specific e.g. what material you should use for the kitchen bench, if you should use wallpaper or not.  
        • Determining space planning and layouts.
        • Producing documentation and drawings.
        • Making decisions on things like where wall panelling should go, how big a new opening in a wall should be, paint colours, the height of a pendant light etc.
        • Managing any council approvals required to undertake the works.
        • Arranging for all the required fittings and finishes to be on site at the appropriate time for the trades. Some larger construction companies do offer this service, but it is still up to you to source and select all items if you don’t have a designer on board.


Note: In some instances, a builder or trade will have a GREAT design idea about something that you or your designer haven’t thought of. In my experience, a good idea can come from anywhere, so I like to keep an open mind. As long as everyone’s clear on who the head design decision-maker is, the project will go smoothly.


What an interior designer’s role is in a renovation

      • To create the overall vision for the project. This is generally months (or even years) before construction even begins. Your goal might be “to have a kitchen I love cooking in” or “to freshen up the bathrooms”. A designer will take your goals, determine how you live and what’s important to you, and design something that meets those needs. It’s the designer’s job to keep this vision on track throughout the entire project, so that you are *over the moon* with the end result.
      • To produce detailed drawings that reflect the vision, and communicate to you and all the trades on how that vision will be brought to life. This includes 2D drawings such as floor plans, elevations and sections, as well as 3D renders (like this one) to visualise the finished space. Accurate, detailed drawings ensure that there is no guesswork and that everyone on the project knows exactly what they’re creating. We also include things like locations of power points and wall lights, because we take the furniture and artwork configuration into account, too.
      • To select finishes and fittings. A designer will select all the required items on your behalf, from a wide range of suppliers (many not accessible to the general public). This includes everything from tap ware to marble to grout and paint colours. All of these items are then put together in a document that accompanies the drawings, again, so that everyone knows what goes where.
      • To ‘design manage’ the renovation works. We have site meetings with the trades to ensure that the designs are being followed accurately, problem-solving any design issues that come up, and working on your behalf to make sure that you’re getting the best possible result.
      • Some design studios (Vellum Interiors included) also manage the procurement of all the approved items. This includes ordering, managing delivery times to co-ordinate with when they’re required on site, and dealing with any defective items (e.g. tiles that arrive chipped or broken).
      • Following the renovation, a designer will do what’s called a ‘defects walk through’ with the builder to pick out anything that needs to be fixed. Having a designer do this on your behalf, rather than just the builder, often means that every little detail will be picked up and rectified, even the tiniest little paint drop in the wrong spot. Because designers do this all the time, it can be much easier for us to have any difficult conversations required to solve any issues that come up. 


What an interior designer’s role is not

      • Determining what the build works will cost. Because designers have a lot of experience doing renovations, we may have a very broad idea as to what your budget should be, but we are not responsible for giving any sort of costings or quote. 
      • To determine how things will be constructed. 
      • Determining the best building materials required.  
      • To manage the sub-trades (unless it’s a small job with only a couple of trades required). Any works over $20,000 in value in NSW require what’s called Home Owner’s Warranty Insurance, which protects the homeowner in the event of a builder or contractor’s insolvency, death, disappearance or licence suspension. This can only be taken out by a licensed builder, so any renovation over that amount needs a builder to manage it.  


Other questions you may have — 

Q. What if I can’t afford an interior designer? I’m on a tight budget. 

I get it — Full Service Interior Design is a high-end, very personalised service that not everyone can afford — or needs. However, the interior design industry has changed a lot in recent years, and today there is a design service for just about every budget. At Vellum Interiors, we cater to a variety of budget levels, depending on the scope and level of service required. 


Keep in mind that using a designer can actually save you time and money, because the construction work will be much more efficient and well-managed.


Q. My friends have said I can manage the renovation fine on my own, as they’ve done it before without a designer. What do you think of that?

I would say — proceed with caution. Yes, you can manage a renovation on your own, but it is a very time and energy-intensive process, before, during and after the trades have left.


While it can be fun to go out to showrooms with your friends, there are literally hundreds of decisions to make on a renovation. And this is where people often become completely overwhelmed and stressed throughout the process. Even if you have the time on your hands to do all of this, ask yourself how much time you really want to be spending on this. 


In my experience, homeowners embarking on a renovation without the assistance of a designer can become overwhelmed with the amount of options available, and get sick of fielding phone calls from trades on site needing decisions made or wondering where xyz item is.


I’ve also seen communication go awry when there’s not a clear set of plans to communicate every detail. Builders have a lot to manage on site, so a clear set of plans and documentation is *crucial* in making sure everyone is on the same page — literally! I’ve seen awful things happen, like original fireplaces being demolished, and shower heads being installed the wrong way because of a lack of clear plans communicating the vision to everyone involved. 


Q. I’m just renovating my kitchen, and my builder has said he’s got a kitchen company he uses. Why would I need an interior designer in this situation?

Many builders have preferred cabinet makers or kitchen companies they refer to clients for the design of a kitchen or bathroom. In my experience, you will always, ALWAYS get a better result if your kitchen is designed by an interior designer, rather than a kitchen company or cabinetmaker / joiner.


      • Kitchen company designers are often commission-based, meaning the design is inherently tied in with their pay, rather than the best outcome to you.
      • Cabinet makers and kitchen companies will often work off templates from jobs they’ve done before. Again, this means the design won’t be designed with you and your needs top of mind (which is how an interior designer plans).
      • Interior designers have access (and knowledge of) a much larger pool of products, meaning you get access to the best options on the market, not just the best options the kitchen company has available.
      • Kitchen companies are often tied to a small number of suppliers for finishes and fittings, meaning there’s only a small pool of options for the design to be created on.


If you’ve got a tight budget or you’re not a big cook, then I’d be fine going with a cabinet maker or kitchen design company. Companies like Freedom Kitchens and Kinsman are cost-effective and work Australia-wide.  


Q. My builder has already included specifications for things like tiles and tap ware in his quote. Why would I need a designer if that’s already done? 

A builder may include these items in the initial quote so you can get a sense of the overall renovation cost. Most likely, the items costed for will be from builders supplier — often cheap products that don’t stand the test of time. You’ll also only have a very small range of choices to make selections from. 


Unless you’re doing a quick and dirty renovation for something like an investment property, I would allow extra for these items at the quoting stage. Keep in mind that you still need to spend time making the selections in this instance. 



Got any other questions on whether you might need an interior designer on your project? I’m really passionate about educating homeowners on this, and I’d love to give you more guidance. Send me an email at or book a free project planning call and I can help you determine what help you need. 


“It was such a pleasure to have had Vellum Interiors deal with the design and renovations of our bathrooms and laundry. One of my main concerns was that the new bathrooms wouldn’t fit with the rest of the house, but Alex was very considerate with the design. The way Alex presented the designs to us was so detailed and beautifully presented, and included all the items she recommended up front.

All costs were also were communicated from the very beginning to the end of our project so there were no surprises. During the renovations, any issues or problems that arose during the 10 weeks or so of work were dealt with by Alex in a calm and positive manner. Alex has a wonderful flair with a very unique style that suits our home beautifully. We are thrilled with the result!


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