Tips & Insights

Fee-setting Secrets for Designers

By Michelle Jennings Wiebe, ASID, President & Principal Designer, Studio M Inc.;
High Point Market Style Spotter Emeritus

Setting fees. Serving clients. Making money. As a business owner, these are three of my top responsibilities. They’re related. If our fees aren’t set correctly, it’s hard to provide exceptional service, and impossible to make a profit. My 26-plus years running an interior design firm that specializes in luxury residential new construction – with projects all over the country – have shown me a few ways to make sure we set the right fees.

Flat Fee

Overall, this is our go-to fee structure. Our typical projects last two to three years and average 10,000 square feet. We find that clients building a new home want to know exactly what we are going to bill, so most of the time they prefer the flat fee structure. Our flat fees for our construction scope of services typically run in the mid-teen dollars per square foot, depending on factors such as millwork intricacy, the architect’s scope, location, and etc. Based on our experience, this covers all of the construction drawings and specs we will have to do for the project, plus some construction administration, site visits, and etc. We have a very detailed letter of agreement that explicitly calls out our scope of services, the payment structure, and approximate completion date. This must be signed with a non-refundable retainer before we begin ANY design work.


Occasionally we have a new construction client who wishes to pay hourly, mainly because they think they will not use our full arsenal of new construction services. We explain this is hardly ever the case, but if they wish to do this, it is fine with us! In most cases, we will make more in fees this way, too. Our hourly fees range from $95 for a Junior Designer to $265 for a Principal Designer, with a few categories in between.

For large scale renovations (typically entire homes), we also characteristically work on hourly fees. I find for remodeling, there are just too many unknown factors, so a flat fee is difficult to set. You either have to pad it for all of the worst case contingencies, or underbid it because the scope continues to creep throughout the project.

As with our flat fees, we require our signed letter of agreement, along with a non-refundable retainer to begin work on our hourly fee projects. We then bill monthly for work completed. With both our flat fee and hourly fee structures, we also charge for purchasing, typically at a markup of 40-50% over our wholesale costs. This is also stipulated in our letter of agreement from the beginning, with clients required to make 80-90% of their furnishing purchases through our firm. We buy wholesale, so this offers our clients very competitive prices and value.

I hope this helps you determining fees for your business! I always love to share what has worked well with our firm. Over the years, we have really seen the pattern of the fees needed to do a successful job for our clients.

For a more detailed look into Michelle’s approaches to setting fees – as well as additional insights from consultant Kimberly Merlitti and business transformation coach Gail Doby – reserve your place at the Fall 2017 Interior Design Summit, at High Point Market. This special offers a unique opportunity to learn, network, get inspired, and enjoy a curated Market experience.

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Sponsored By:
Lexington Home Brands, High Point Market, French Heritage, Stanford Furniture, Theodore Alexander, Woodard, Currey & Company, E. by Design, IM Centers, Julian Chichester, KMM Consulting, Mr. Brown, Nourison, Picture Source Somerset, Stemper & Associates, Studio M, Steelyard Designer’s Lounge, The Chaise Lounge, The Media Matters, Inc, Universal To The Trade, Weather or Not, Verellen