Many interior designers operate without a contract, or just use a simple one-pager.
To put it bluntly: That is just a huge, massive mistake.
With the amount of money we spend, the amount of time we’re in clients’ homes and the amount of things that can go wrong during a design or renovation, you need to cover your … let’s just say, assets.
A contract not only protects you, it also protects the client: A good one clearly spells out the responsibilities on both sides, boiling down the specifics of what the client is getting, how much it will cost and when everything will be finished.
And if you make a whoopsies and forget to deliver something that is in the contract, the client can easily refer back to it and say, hey, you forgot this, allowing you to make it up to them by either providing that detail ASAP or even writing them back a check for the applicable portion of the design fee.
6 things to include in an interior design client contract:
Scope of Work addendum
With your contract, you can add on a separate document called a Scope of Work that becomes an addendum to your contract. This spells out all your deliverables. Basically, if it’s not on the scope of work, it’s not getting done.
This protects against scope-creep, aka when a client says, “Oh can you also do this and this and this” in addition to what the contract says. You can, but you need to create a new Scope of Work to protect yourself — and your client.
Flat fee pricing and payments
A contract also allows you to set a schedule for payments for your design fee, which of course is a flat fee pricing model, right? (If not, here is a gratuitous plug: I teach this content in my course.) This payment schedule lets you to spell out when all the payments are due and any caveats.
I generally do 50/50 payments with half due when the contract is signed and the other half right before the design is complete. But that’s flexible and negotiable depending on the size of the design fee.
I sometimes break down larger design fees into four payments (and boy, do I love those projects). And sometimes the client wants to put a little caveat to pay the final 10% after the full design is delivered. I know my team is going to do an amazing job, and I always feel comfortable adding that.
A contract also protects you from a client coming back a year after the final design is installed and complaining they no longer like something in the design — even something as small as pillows, which they loved when they first got them.
I add language to my contracts to say that I don’t take any liability or offer any warranty beyond whatever the manufacturer offers and that I don’t take any liability for the contractor’s work.
And I have an end date to the contract, with options to extend if needed.
Protect your profitability
A contract also secures profitability. In my pricing structure, I build in a variety of different ways to make a profit in the overall design fee for the project, such as including a margin on the sale of furniture.
If a client decides to go outside that scope of work and purchase furniture on their own, I have language to tell them that I’m not going to help with placing the order or trouble shooting anything related to that piece, and I also include an additional charge. Both these things protect my profit margin (and my sanity).
Cover the unexpected
Having a contract gives you a way to cover the unexpected things that pop up from that client not liking a pillow a year later to the client wanting to purchase furniture from a different vendor I don’t work with and everything in between.
Literally all the details I have added to my contracts over the years have actually happened. I just write it up and send it off to my lawyer, who confirms it and sends it back. That means I don’t have to deal with that little — or big — unexpected drama the next time it pops up.
Keeping things professional
Interior design is really a personal service, and we spend a lot of time in and out of clients homes, sometimes for months and months. Oftentimes, friendships with clients develop as a result, but the contract helps prevent lines from getting blurred in the process.
When this happens, it’s easy to refer back to the contract to make sure that not only is the business not getting taken advantage of, but that I also don’t inadvertently take advantage of the client either, simply because of the close relationship.
Basically, it helps keep me out of awkward situations.
I like to photograph our work and use it in an online portfolio as well as social media. But not every client wants that.
My contract mentions plans for photographs after the design is complete, and allows clients to opt-out when they’re not interested whether it’s because they’re a celebrity or just really private.
It’s another way the contract protects the client, and it lets me know that any future work for that client will not be photographed.
If you’re ready to dive deeper into the business of interior design, my online, self-paced course will be going live next month. And I’ll even be offering participants in the course three different versions of sample contracts you can download, make your own and get your attorney to sign off on. You can check out all the details and get on the waitlist here.