What Your Money Buys
Hourly billing starts with the decorator's first consultation. A decorator might charge you to shop for samples (paint chips, plumbing fixtures, fabric samples, carpet squares) or do research. But she should be able to tell you how specific products performed for past clients in terms of durability, ease of cleaning and warranty coverage, and how responsive the manufacturer was to complaints. She should also warn you off bad practices, such as using absorbent carpet or cloth wallpaper in a bathroom, unwashable flat paint in a kid's room or glossy ceiling paint in a small room, which makes the space look even smaller.

Then, as choices or changes are made, the decorator must immediately communicate with the contractor on the construction implications of each choice. If, for example, you finally settle on laminate floors but the contractor bid and designed for hardwood floors, the height—and cost—of the slab or joists may change. The contractor needs to know this. Design changes also have an impact on cost and schedule. For instance, perhaps you changed the molding planned for the bedroom because the original choice didn't complement the final choice of curtains. Or maybe you picked a new color for the border tile in the kitchen since the initial pattern you selected would have clashed with the final choice in fixtures.

To streamline communication, set up a meeting early with the decorator, contractor or architect, designer and yourself. Draw clear lines of responsibility for who chooses and buys which products, when choices are made and who arranges for delivery. For instance, will the decorator order the carpet and floor covering and oversee installation, or will she simply communicate your choices to the contractor? Will the decorator or contractor arrange for custom molding samples? These are the details to work out ahead of time.

As the job progresses, the decorator should talk with the contractor at least once a week or in regularly scheduled meetings to share and update information. These talks often occur on a daily basis at the start of a job. Some contractors even keep a "daybook" on site in which the contractor and decorator make notes to each other in case they haven't had a chance to touch base.

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