Managing an Interior Design Project

Once your interior has been designed - making it a reality is the next challenge! Project management covers the specific details, the planning and the organisation to implement the plan to achieve the desired results in a smooth and calm way. Managing the project is an essential part to turning the your new interior design into the real thing. Writing lists is key when it comes to project management. Taking copious notes is the only way to properly organise all the thoughts and priorities to prevent any details from being forgotten.

The most important list is the ‘specification of works’. This is basically a detailed list of everything to be done, from start to finish including all the materials, finishes, appliances in addition to light fittings, radiators or anything that will form part of the room/building. If you’re dealing with one main builder who’s organising all the work, then you’ll need to make sure they’re given a copy, so the brief is clear and all the information is provided. Also, having a detailed specification makes it easier if you want to obtain multiple quotes, and you’ll know it’s a fair comparison, as all the builders will be quoting using the same brief.

If separate contractors are being coordinated (joiner, plumber, electrician etc), then it would be worth indicating who’s responsible for each task. A complete copy of the specification needs to go to all of them, so they’re all aware of what the others are doing as well as themselves. Specification needs to be discussed with the contractors, as they may be able to provide extra help and advice. A schedule is also important so progress can be tracked and everyone knows who’s going to be on site on which day. And to clarify any overlapping in works/trades. With prior knowledge, that a partition wall will feature some lighting, for instance, the builders will know to leave the stud frame open for the electrician to run the wires through before it’s boarded up and plastered over. Trying to feed wires through after the fact is much harder, takes longer, costs more and risks unnecessary damage.

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As well as your main specification, it’s a good idea to have sub-lists for each separate element of your design. For example, your main specification might say 6 x recessed LED lights in ceiling, but a lighting specification will detail as to where they are to be positioned, the type of bulb, the finish on the fittings and so. The more information you provide, the more accurate your quote should be and the less likely it will be for mistakes or misunderstandings to occur. It will also minimise any unexpected or unnecessary costs.

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A bathroom refurbishment for example would require a builder’s spec, including layout and elevation drawings with dimensions, an electrical spec with lighting plan, a plumbing spec with layout drawing, and a decorating spec, lots of detail! The design definitely needs to be finalised before starting any work, rather than trying to do it as you go along. The process will be much more enjoyable without constant deadlines presenting themselves, and if things haven’t been planned, options will be restricted based on work that’s already taken place.

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Full project management can take a couple of weeks to put all the details together, write specifications, draw up the plans, getting everything booked in and ready to make all the decisions before proceeding. This will save time and money along the way and significantly reduce stress levels during the project. Detailed designs usually features well-thought-out lighting and clever bespoke joinery. Careful consideration needs to be given to where to position the sockets, radiators, lights, switches and all the other details. Drawings always help so that there are no assumptions. Writing specifications or drawing plans, means that someone else will know what is wanted as it’s been explicitly stated. Every tiny detail, no matter how pedantic it may seem, should be included. As well as avoiding mistakes, it also prevents any disputes over what is and isn’t included in the quote. For example, dark grey tiles look best with grey grout. If dark grey hasn’t been asked for, you can’t expect it and you can’t assume you will be asked what colour you want. White is standard and a tiler may use it if nothing has been specified.

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There will be an overwhelming amount of decisions to be made. Your builder will present many questions and decisions to you along the way. What direction should the tiles be laid? Where do they stop and start? What are the skirting boards, tiled or wood? Pre-empt as many of these decisions as possible by providing the information in advance. Making these decisions under pressure can lead to impulse moves you may regret later. On the other hand, taking too long could hold up the project, costing you time, money and the patience of your builder. No one wants an unhappy builder.

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Inevitably, there will be some questions that can’t be anticipated, but if you communicate well with your builder, they should, where possible, give you time to make a decision without holding up the project. Don’t be afraid to ask their opinion on the best course of action, but don’t feel pressured to compromise on the design if you don’t want to. Give yourself time to deliver. This is one of the classic pitfalls. Deciding on which products and materials to use, the lead times need to be noted. Many pieces of furniture are made to order and can have lead times of up to 12 weeks, sometimes longer. Similarly, tiles and natural stone can take much longer than expected to arrive and products from abroad can encounter hold-ups during transit.

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Custom-made items for a project look fantastic. But cannot be left to the last minute, as an off-the-shelf, next day delivery job. It can be a huge shame if hours, days, weeks have been spent choosing the perfect product, but when the time comes to order, you find it has been sold/discontinued, or will take too long to be delivered, or perhaps you can’t afford it. Then you have to decide whether to hold up the work or compromise by picking something else based on the fact it can be delivered quickly.

Even with the very best of intentions, there will almost always be issues that arise during your project that you couldn’t have predicted. So it’s a good idea to factor in a 10% contingency within your budget for these matters, especially with old buildings. Who knows what condition the walls are in behind those kitchen cabinets before you rip them out? Or what might be lurking underneath that carpet when you pull it up? In these situations, it’s important to expect the worst and don’t let it throw you. It is fairly usual for these things happen, know what the options are and make a decision based on the facts. Sometimes contractors will be able to advise on what to do, their opinion and expertise should be trusted to help find the right solution.

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Project managed interiors can be enjoyable and rewarding process, but it also takes experience. You have to be organised, calm under pressure, strategic and confident with numerous and varied suppliers. The time it takes to plan, coordinate and oversee the work can be staggering. If you have qualms about taking it on yourself, then consider allowing the project to be managed. Yes, there will be a fee, but consider that a badly managed project can cost extra time and expense, and you may not achieve the results you were after. As professionals we can take care of everything and allow you to rest easy, knowing you’re in safe hands.