The REAL Cost of Free Design Advice.

In the age of having information available everywhere, there is no shortage of free advice in many areas in which we might need assistance.  We can find numerous individuals anywhere with the click of a computer key. We are willing to decide that these search results know as much, or more, than the experts? They are willing to give free advice about an upcoming surgical procedure that you might need, how to do your own electrical work, legal issues or free advice on how you should invest your money. But of course, there is always no lack of free interior design and renovation advice. These well-meaning individuals with a little bit of knowledge can be costing you quite a bit when it comes to advice for designing your home.

broken floor tile

Recently, while doing my weekly Instagram posts, I noticed a popular design blogger doing a video in which she was giving advice to the masses about selecting tile for a bathroom project in her home. In this video she was recommending a tile that was not suitable for use on floors as a great selection for a floor tile. And then outlined her process of making design selections as follows: “First I look at every store I could find until I had seen everything and then I ask everybody I know (family, friends, etc.) for their opinion before I made my selection.” This, for the record, is actually some of the worst design advice that I’ve ever seen in regards to making a design decision. This very lovely, well-meaning person, whose design experience consists of selecting seasonal accessories for her own home, is now giving advice as to how to select the tile for YOUR home. This blogger actually uses an architectural interior design firm for her home, a fact that usually gets omitted when passing out design advice to followers. So for her home, most of her ideas will be filtered and developed by the pros before they are implemented in her home, something that you might not have when taking action on her design advice. This is a sure way to lead your project astray before you even start.

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My point to this is to be careful where you get your advice. Free advice could actually be quite costly in the end. 

How can that be?  


Consider where the advice comes from and the level of experience with professional projects. People that don’t have the level of experience working on professional projects oversimplify the things that have to be considered when making selections. Especially for things like tile for construction-based selections because they do not know what they do not know. Just because you want to be an expert in design or have good taste when shopping for things doesn’t make you an expert in design.

In fact, the only thing that makes you a real expert is many years of practical full-time experience working on different homes with different materials for different clients, with different sets of circumstances at each project, day in and day out. Even then you are always continuing to learn when presented with each unique challenge, but you are armed with a developed skill set that will navigate these challenges and that allows you to successfully sail through what could be devastating and expensive problems for the inexperienced designer.

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However harmless it might seem to take a little design advice, a selection of a tile that’s not meant for a floor can cause very expensive problems! First, if you find a tile installer to actually install this tile on the floor after you have purchased it, will probably cost you twice as much because of the time involved, extra labor involved, or overall liability since most likely the tile installer, who might have advised against this installation knows of the problems that will occur.

A thin veneer-like marble looking tile found in a quick Internet search and chosen because of its looks will not perform well as floor tile. Results can be expected such as cracking, safety issues, durability issues, and poor performance. So, you’ve just wasted thousands of dollars installing something suggested to you under the heading of “free design advice”. Who is going to pay the cost of repairs on this floor when it fails?

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When a professional designer or experienced contractor steers you away from using certain items there is usually a good reason. Another design blogger writes about how “20 professionals told her not to use this product in her shower but she did it anyway and it looks great.” Yes, it might look great for a few weeks or months. The reason the professionals steer you toward certain product selections is because they have the knowledge of durability, longevity, quality,and safety. They also know that there are a lot more products out there that have a similar or superior look and perform better than the products that you’re looking at. Just because you came up with a beautiful piece of tile and you use it anyway does not mean that you know more than the pros, it means that you did not ask questions about why they don’t suggest these products. Smart homeowners will listen to professional advice and consider the risks when using a product that the pros think is not necessarily a good idea. Should you choose to proceed with that product at least you know the risks.

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Consider how this free advisor is getting paid. Are you getting free advice from a retailer selling products? Their goal is to sell products, not necessarily to do what is best for the client, or suggest products that might be better for their project that might be available elsewhere. Usually, these free designers don’t have the ability to design a complete space through to completion or to see what other existing elements or challenges you might have in your home. Their job is to coordinate several pieces of furniture together to make a bigger sale, or to sell their cabinets. Therefore the design costs are built into product sales. All of this might be fine for a few small things and you might get lucky and find individuals with some level of skill in selecting nice pieces. But these are not the designers to design your home renovation projects. It’s always best, no matter how small or large your project, to choose a designer that has exposure and the ability to source product from many different manufacturers. This allows them to suggest a product that is absolutely right for you, your taste, and your budget.

In the end, the real cost of that “free design advice” is that your project may be even more costly than if you hired a professional, to begin with. But in addition to that cost, the final end results might not be the beautifully well-designed space you had imagined.


Until next time, 


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