If seeking a romantic link, one might turn to an online dating site. If it’s a specialty collectible we’re looking for, there are a number of options, from eBay to a local specialty store. But when it comes to finding the right match for an interior-design project, the pathway to finding “the one” isn’t at all obvious.

As with other professional trades, finding the right connection and perfect alignment of expectations and abilities is key to a successful relationship. And just like in other areas of our lives, a little due diligence and reliance on your intuition can go far. Where do you start the search for the right design professional for your project? And what sort of filters to you want to use?

We recommend beginning with an eye toward what you want in the end, and then use that when getting your search underway for your design partner. There is a world of difference between “I just want to freshen up a few areas” (the realm of decorating services) and “I want to reassess the lighting, re-design the kitchen, and/or transform my small broken-up spaces into fewer, more livable spaces that encompass and address all of our needs” (the realm where interior designers play). Yes, interior designers do provide many decorating services, like window coverings and finish selections. But the expertise and experience that licensed interior designers bring to residential or commercial projects reaches far beyond look and even feel, taking into consideration things like the health, safety and welfare of their clients.

A licensed interior designer takes a holistic approach to design, incorporating all of that, as well as things like how clients intend to the use the space, longevity of concept, durability of materials and desired outcomes — for example, higher employee retention, increased sales and market appeal, physical, emotional and mental health.

So, you’ve looked at all this, have said to yourself, “Yep, I need one of those, I need a true interior designer.” The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and Council of Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) each have websites providing listings of practitioner members within any given geographic area. Within these organizations and the industry at large, a member using those letters in all caps after their name signifies the highest professional level of recognition in interior design.

Vetting recommendations across multiple channels — search engines, company websites, and said professional organizations — can shed light on whether any particular candidate will probably be able to meet the requirements for your project. In addition, keep an eye out for any listings with the terms “licensed” or “registered,” as that demonstrates that your potential ally has met state-based standards.

At the initial “getting acquainted, let’s have a coffee and talk” meeting, there are some questions and issues that are important to get out in the open: how compensation is going to work, how transparent you can expect to find the process, what to expect when things may go wrong (trust us, there is no problem-free project, even if the problem may be oh-so-minor), and a demonstrated emphasis on communication. In many ways this is the first date, and all the same questions and concerns apply: Do you feel heard? Can you get some sense of respect for your ideas? Do you feel comfortable? Can you talk and share what you’re thinking with them? If so, the stars might be aligning.
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