Why Do (you think) Interior Designers Seem Expensive?

Why Do (you think) Interior Designers Seem Expensive?

On some days, I seriously wish I could change my job title from “interior designer” to something less menacing, but everything else sounds awkward. Color, saturation and hue selector? Material specifier? Coordinator of tradespersons? I’d like to switch because as soon as I tell people what I do, one resounding association surfaces: EXPENSIVE. Interior Designers seem expensive, right? Suddenly I’ve become a pretentious, impractical aesthete who rolls his eyes at polyester, sighs a lot, and charges exorbitant prices. It’s an amazing set of assumptions derived from just two words!

The Other Dreaded D Word

But worse yet, I could be called a “decorator.” That sounds like something from “Father Knows Best,” a trivial hobby for the women-folk to pass the time in between soap operas. But like so many other trades, the business of interior design has been disrupted by the Internet, the crash of 2008, and the surging popularity of DIY. Why on earth would you need a professional interior designer when you’ve got TV shows, magazines and catalogs to guide and inspire your decorating ideas, Internet sites virtually giving away cheap home décor, and earworm-like ads cheering you on with slogans like, “You can do it. We can help.”? So I put on my investigative journalist hat (a Glen-Plaid Trilby), and here’s what I came up with.

1. Interior Designers Spreads Featured In Mass Media Show Really Expensive Home Decor

Turn on “Million Dollar Decorators,” “MTV Cribs” or flip through some design magazines. The projects and spreads are featured for inspiration, shock value and awe, both good and bad (depending on the source).  They’re there to entertain you with the most lavish, expensive, and/or most spectacular home plans in the world. If you’re old enough, you may remember “Lifestyle of the Rich & Famous.” Pretty much the same thing. While I would love to design a 15th century castle in the Rhone, or a 50-million-dollar penthouse in New York, these are the attention-getting projects, most budgets are a tad smaller.

David Easton's Abermale Salon is completely spectacular in every way.

Need decorating ideas? David Easton’s Abermale Salon is completely spectacular in every way.

Our clients don’t live in a Kardashian world (phew) and usually have financial obligations in the form of offspring, other expenses that are equally if not more important to design (like travelling), and not a lot of time. It doesn’t make for great TV to watch interior designers crunch home decor numbers on a spreadsheet and prioritize where to spend and where to save. Better to watch people fall to their knees and shriek “OH MY GOD!”

2. Not Many Other Than the Rich Used to Feel the Need for Interior Designers

Historically, if you needed furniture or home decor, most Americans bought some sort of “matching set” in Early American, Modern, Mediterranean, or Traditional.  That was it. Need some appliances? Harvest Gold or Avocado Green. Wallpaper and paint? Here’s the coordinating colors and patterns that exactly match. Ah the romanticized vision of a simple past.

The choices were pretty simple way back in 1957

The home decor choices were pretty stark way back in 1957

Wealthier Americans were the ones employing professional interior designers and they went to totally different showrooms, more expensive places like the Merchandise Mart,, in order their homes to stand out from the pack. Everything could be customized, tweaked, bedazzled, whatever you wanted and it was expensive because it wasn’t mass produced. Hence the term “to the trade only.”

But today the lines are blurred. There’s an avalanche of home decor at both consumer and designer levels, and virtually every home plan we do is contains products from both worlds. Good interior designers are now not just style dictators, they sift through mountains of home decor and materials for you, and have a lot of experience where to get the most “bang for the buck.”

3. The “Do-It-Yourself” Home Decor Industry Hammers the Point Constantly

Look at what’s playing on the treadmill screens at your local gym. I like spying at them; it’s usually sports, reality shows but now also increasingly, home improvement channels (I always internally giggle at the macho guys tuned into HGTV). DIY and dispensing decorating ideas became big business after 2008 and continues to grow, and there’s both good and bad in this. Good because people see how much better their home plans can be with some improvements. Bad because DIY is now a huge industry which has attracted both Madison Avenue, Wall Street and Silicon Valley types. These aren’t people that know good design, but they know how to make a lot of money. And that hinges on one simple premise: persuading you that doing everything on your own is really quite easy. Then, for balance, ask someone with no experience how easy it is to install crown molding.

Not the easiest turn to make on your own. While I can specify it, I can't do it myself. I do know many contractors can, all in a day's work.

Not the easiest turn to make on your own. While I can specify it, I can’t do it myself. I do know many contractors that can, all in a day’s work.

How Much of Your Home Plan Should You Do On Your Own?

A few of our clients still say “do everything”, but less and less. Others would prefer to do the majority of the heavy lifting on their own- they just need some advice on best practices and some decorating ideas. But most fall somewhere in the middle: they want to get their feet wet but don’t want to train like Michael Phelps.

There’s also a whiff of rugged American individualism inherent in DIY. Reflexively, I don’t want to be told what to do or what to buy, but that’s the lingering stigma of the dogmatically-perceived interior designers: and true, they used to be rather inflexible and diva-like. But if my doctor says lay off the fried food, in all likelihood he’s not saying this because he enjoys bossing you around. He’s seen some clogged arteries!

So if you’re a renegade and a rebel against authority, cool. Me too. But I do know that an expert gets that title usually because they encounter a situation over and over and has learned how to solve the problem efficiently and effectively. Interior designers are experts in scale, proportion, repetition, balance, etc., what we know as design considerations. Business people have different skill sets, as do marketers and website developers. The world is a better place because we all have different skill sets.

4. Interior Designers seem expensive because you’re heard they charge that exorbitant “retail” price

Again, kind of a spillover from the past. The Google shopping tab is available and accessible to all, and therefore, and that’s there’s not much pricing variance anymore in consumer level home decor products like lamps, rugs, vases, ceiling fans.

With custom home decor products there’s lots of variables depending on what you pick, so it’s not as easy to compare apples to apples on Google. Rest assured, interior designers discount off retail just like you see on price tags at stores and online. So that retail price you see everywhere, often with a slash through it is kind of a joke now.

5. It Still Feels Weird to Pay for Decorating Ideas

I remember one hilarious episode of Will and Grace when Grace figures out a way to workout always within earshot of a personal trainer to get his advice without having to pay for it (It’s ironic too because she herself is an interior designer in the show).

Sifting through thousands of home decor products like wall coverings, fabrics, floor coverings, paint, etc. takes time. More time to figure out how they balance and relate to each other. Even more to calculate quantities of each for each application, to figure out who can install, and to assess if this whole scheme is worth it relative to the whole home plan budget. I can almost guarantee that you won’t want to sit in on this part of the job, but that’s the bulk of what interior designers bill for- you are paying to save you time, get expert advice, personal and practical decorating ideas, and avoid complications. It’s pretty much outsourcing.Remember though, you’re not outsourcing your personal taste. In other words, when you eat out at a restaurant, you still get to choose what you eat. But you pay a bit more for the privilege of not having to cook.


It’s ultimately up to you what percentage of your home improvement plan you’d like to tackle. Most professional  interior designers are equipped to handle every part of the process, that’s what is meant by “full service interior design.” But if there’s parts you’d rather do on your own, great. Just think through it through and be aware what you’re in for. Some parts can be very fun and rewarding, and putting more of your personality into a project is a win-win for everyone.

There’s some happy medium that we’re getting to between “full-service” and DIY design. And I’m excited about the future because collaboration is more meaningful and rewarding all around.  I’ll leave you with a quote from fellow interior designer and all-around great guy, Patrick Landrum:

“Real interior design is all about the experience– the interaction. The surprises and laughter, the push & pull of personal choice, the butting of heads. The merging of taste and technique, and most of all the camaraderie of designer and client that results in a beautiful lifestyle that internet shopping cannot touch. It’s living the design, not just doing it.” – Patrick Landrum

Interior Designer

Hand rendering by Patrick Landrum

Hand rendering by Patrick Landrum

Happy decorating!

Dean Malambri Signature
Dean Malambri

Dean Malambri

President & Principal Designer, Dean Alan Design Inc.

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Recipes from September 28 Customer Appreciation Luncheon

Recipes from September 28 Customer Appreciation Luncheon

We believe in saying thank you for helping through the last seven years of our company! In keeping with this sentiment, we hosted our first ever Client Appreciation Luncheon on September 28, 2016 at the Arlington Design Center. The day started with a homemade lunch, and then people were free to roam the buildings or attend one of our mini Show-N-Tell sessions on lighting at CAI Lighting, Thibaut wallcoverings, custom window treatments by CMI Drapery and Hunter Douglas, and a special fabric trunk show at Kravet from the Candace Olsen Collection.

Client Karen looking at Kravet Fabrics

Browsing the Kravet Fabric Wall…

Trish Feerer, showroom manager of Kravet goes through the Candace Olsen new fabrics for 2016

Trish Feerer, showroom manager of Kravet goes through the Candace Olsen new fabrics for 2016

Everyone went home with a special swag bag full of goodies, including a jade plant and Alan’s special homemade Arrabiata Sauce!

CAI Design warehouse with Dean's Mom Overseeing

Mom still helping set the table!

Dean Malambri of Dean Alan Design talking

Dean talking too much, as usual!

Since we got a few requests for the recipes, we thought we’d post them here if anyone would like to try them out!


15 min Prep Time

20 min Cook Time

35 minTotal Time


  • 1 cup uncooked tri-color quinoa
  • 1 cup cubed and roasted butternut squash
  • 1 apple, diced (I used a Gala apple)
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups baby kale or spinach, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons pepitas (raw or roasted and salted)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cider vinaigrette for dressing the salad.


  1. In a medium sized saucepan bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil.
  2. Rinse and drain the quinoa then add it to the boiling water.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let the quinoa cook for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
  4. Remove the quinoa from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
  5. Prepare the cider vinaigrette and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl combine the cooled quinoa, roasted butternut squash, apple, green onion, baby kale, dried cranberries, almonds and pepitas.
  7. Mix in the desired amount of cider vinaigrette and season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper as needed.
  8. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cider Vinaigrette

1 cup apple cider

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon maple syrup (not pancake syrup)

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste


If you plan to make the salad ahead of time, wait until just before serving to add in the toasted almonds so that they stay crunchy.


Yield: 4 servings


  • 1 pound heirloom tomatoes, cut into eighths (then halved, optional)
  • 1 pound ripe peaches, cut into eighths (then halved, optional)
  • 2 T fresh basil chiffonade
  • I T fresh mint leaves
  • 1 t maple syrup
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t ground black pepper
  • 4 oz burrata, sliced


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the burrata, and toss them well. Place the salad onto a serving platter and top it with slices of the burrata. Serve immediately.

Croissant Chicken Salad Sandwich


  • 6 -8 plain croissants ( I went to Costco)
  • 3 cups cubed poached cooked chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups grapes, sliced in half
  • 4 -5 diced spring onions
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 3/4-1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • lettuce leaf, to dress the sandwiches


  1. Mix mayo, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and basil together till well incorporated.
  2. Fold in chicken, grapes, cashews,celery,and onions.
  3. Halve the croissants (you may wish to slightly toast them) and layer with salad, lettuce, and cheese if you wish.
  4. Serve immediately.
  5. Time to prepare does not include chicken’s cook time.

Tarragon Shallot Egg Salad Sandwiches

Makes 6 sandwiches


For egg salad

  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar or white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

For sandwiches

  • Mayonnaise for spreading on bread (optional)
  • 12 slices seedless rye bread or 6 kaiser rolls
  • 3 cups tender pea shoots (3 oz) or shredded lettuce


Make egg salad:

  1. Cover eggs with cold water by 1 inch in a 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a rolling boil, partially covered. Reduce heat to low and cook eggs, covered completely, 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and let eggs stand in hot water, covered, 15 minutes. Transfer eggs with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water and let stand 5 minutes (to cool). Peel eggs and finely chop.
  2. Stir together eggs and remaining salad ingredients in a bowl with a fork.

Make sandwiches:

  1. Spread some mayonnaise (if using) on bread and make sandwiches with egg salad and pea shoots.
Cooks’ note:
• Egg salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.
Once again, we have to thank you all for our continued success, and we hope to bring you many exciting changes in the future!

– Dean & Alan

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Our Inaugural Post: We’re Interior Designers of The Month in Chicago!

Featured Designer of the Month

Dean & Alan
Dean Alan Designs

Congratulations Dean and Alan, you have been chosen as the Arlington Design Center’s featured designers of the Month!

Dean and Alan started their career 15 years ago by designing fireplaces. From there customers started seeking their advice on designing other areas of their homes. They worked as in home designers for notable furniture retailers, coordinating rugs, furniture and accessories. As a natural progression with their design expertise they decided to create their own design firm which is known today as Dean Alan Design. 

Dean and Alan have been working with the Arlington Design Center for many years and everyone at the design center only has wonderful things to say about both of them. They are a joy to work with and are always looking for ways to better improve the design world through informing and educating people on interior designers, who they are and why they are important. They are team players and it shows in everything they do.  Dean and Alan are one of a selected few ADC featured designers.

Thank You Dean and Alan for being a great partner and supporter of the Arlington Design Center. We value and appreciate all that you do!

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