How to Set and Charge Accurate Design Fees

Published: December 12, 2022

Ignorance is not a state of being I want to be in, but when I began my business 22 years ago, I had not worked in the industry for anyone else. So I did not know what I did not know and never dreamed most of my colleagues did not charge design fees when they sold cabinetry and other items needed to complete a kitchen or bath design. Say what? You do not charge fees to meet with a new client or to create the design?

I was not getting into real estate or contracting where they are betting on the big payout. I was doing the work to deliver a comprehensive and well-thought-out design to meet my client’s needs. To do so necessitated knowing the material specifics and what could and could not be done, so it only made sense the cabinetry acquisition and ancillary products would be under my domain and control. Amazing what you can accomplish when you ignore what everyone else is doing and do what makes sense to you.

“Change” Can Be a Good Thing

I am on a mission to amend the dynamic of design fees being relegated to part of the cabinetry sale. It does not serve the design industry well and does nothing to elevate the blood, sweat and tears so many kitchen and bath designers exude every week when creating award-winning spaces for their clients. To me, kitchen and bath design – with all the bells and whistles, not just a simple layout for cabinetry – is a premium service.

Why do we devalue our creativity in this manner? Because it is the way it has always been done? Or I hear these a lot in coaching, “Everyone in my area gives out free design or rolls it into the price” or “That’s the way we secure the cabinetry/countertops/materials sale.”

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Challenging the status quo is hard. It is easier and way safer to conform to what everyone else is doing and not have to do the work to properly position our firms in the minds of consumers. Look, I sell product too. Without doing so, we would be hard pressed to survive on fees alone for a team of nine.  However, how we get people in the door is with our abilities to do it all —design, procure and manage. Elevating design to the stature it deserves heads off a multitude of problems that can come up later in the process.

Know Your Worth

You bring value to the transaction, hence the need to charge accurate design fees for your work. You have the creativity of an original thinker and the vision for results; you interpret the wants and needs of your clients, and then you translate those for ideal functionality; and you alleviate fears with proper drawings. You anticipate requests before they materialize, you communicate effectively with your team, and you have the organization skills to complete a project with many moving parts. You are dedicated to the details and have the wisdom of experience. You troubleshoot all the small things that come up during a project that the client never even realizes, and your caring and kindness makes a typically arduous process more palatable.

Now, how do we get everyone on board with this and show the value we bring to the table? One designer at a time.

Feedback on Setting Accurate Design Fees Coaching Services

“I was charging hourly fees, but [they were] terribly low and inconsistent. Adopting Cheryl’s visual proposal is what gave me the client-facing confidence. When I put that big number in front of the potential client, it’s now presented in a way that conveys professionalism and expertise. It gives THEM confidence that this fee will be worth it, and I’ve not gotten much pushback at all.”

-Monika Merchant, Monika Merchant Design Studio

“I think it is important for all kitchen and bath designers to understand their value, as these rooms are complex and what we do is so specialized. I am no longer pricing blindly and am landing projects with larger budgets since working with Cheryl. I have more confidence in what I am offering and at what price point.”

-Rachel Hutchens, Maven Home Interiors

“As a design-build firm, we called it a “free service” to entice people to use us, but after hearing Cheryl and others in our group talk about this topic incessantly, we now charge an initial consultation fee, and sometimes charge design fees separate from the product sales. I am a work in progress, but even the initial consultation fee helps weed out people who are not serious, and if they do not go with my firm, I get my time compensated.”

-Steven Kampfer, Maumee Bay Kitchen & Bath

-Cheryl Kees Clendenon is owner and lead designer of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla. 

Photo credit: zinkevych/Adobe Stock


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