A guide to managing interior design projects


 I have been working as an interior designer for over 32 years and running my own business since 2000. My early career was based in London working on retail projects for major high street names. My Devon-based business has a more diverse client base with a large proportion from the leisure and tourism sector.

 I (still) enjoy my work and get an enormous amount of satisfaction in seeing our design solutions help our clients businesses grow and prosper. Projects often run for several months meaning we spend a lot of time liaising and managing suppliers, contractors, and business owners. Interior design projects are always a team effort and over time, working relationships can become friendships.

 Learning how to work with others and manage an often-complex set of requirements, expectations and constraints is not always straight forward. Here are my tips on how to get through the rewarding but stressful process. 

 3 Fundamental Constraints – Time, budget & quality 

 Every project will want to be on time, on budget and of high quality. Understanding which of these is the priority will help when making decisions. This applies to the overall project but also individual detail choices.

  • At the start of the project, establish the criteria for each of the fundamental constraints and understand the critical objectives in each case. For example, many of our leisure clients will want to be completed in time for the summer season. This date is often fixed and must be met. The cost of our working hours or paying for express delivery has less impact than loss of business due to not being finished on time.
  • In instances where the budget is fixed or limited there needs to be clarity on the options when unforeseen costs arise. The options are to: 1) leave time in the project programme to resolve the issue, 2) be prepared to reduce the scope or 3) amend the quality of work.
  • A contingency sum is always recommended, between 5% and 20% of the contract value, depending on the complexity of the project. In my experience when budgets are tight, a contingency is the first thing to be omitted.

 The above criteria do not only apply to everyone in the project team and contractors and suppliers will be making the same judgements about time, cost, and quality. When talking to your project team try to understand what works for them. If the work is difficult to deliver due to pressures on time or budget, it will affect the quality. Also be sure that the standard you aspire to is within your contractor’s level of competency. 

Most suppliers and contractors are willing, within reasonable parameters, to expand the services and products they offer. Build up good relationships with your project team and give them time to consider and research requested solutions outside their regular work practices. Good relationships with suppliers and contractors are crucial when dealing with unforeseen challenges. Most problems can be resolved if everyone works together. 

Sorry. It’s complicated.
Schedule of works, programme and specification

The more information you have, the better you can control the project outcome. The more information you can give your contractors and suppliers, the better they can understand what is expected. 

Where to begin 

Start by creating a list of everything you require. A spreadsheet is the best way of doing this. Organise the items into categories based around the trades and suppliers you need. This can be done as you go or once the list is complete. Some of the categories we use are Builder’s work, Electrical, Plumbing, and Decorating.

I recommend this schedule of works structure even if you intend to use one main contractor for all of the project. Changes, variations, or extras are inevitable. Your structured schedule of works will allow you to have greater clarity when monitoring changes.

The schedule of works can be broken down to show supply items separately from installation. This is useful when there are items yet to be decided such as fixtures and fittings. You may be looking for the perfect sink or bath and have yet to find it. In this case, add a line that lists what the item is. I suggest you add a budget sum for items where you have yet sourced the product, but know it will be required.

Some items you may decide to purchase yourself for the contractor to fit. This is potentially a way to save money but does lead to some consequential outcomes that need to be understood. A contractor will reasonably add a mark up to any item supplied by them. The increased price is to include the costs incurred in sourcing and procurement time, liability for damage or fault and profit.

Any item supplied by you but fitted by the contractor is likely to be your responsibility should it prove faulty. Trying to prove it was not fitted properly is not always straightforward.

In addition to the schedule, the specification of each item provides the information on the work involved with each item on the schedule of works. For example, fitting of appliances – bath, cooker, boiler etc. Include a reference to working to the manufacturers fitting requirements.

(For more comprehensive specification information there are industry standard systems such NBS https://www.thenbs.com.

The project programme can be as simple or detailed as you need to meet your requirements. For self-managed projects I would suggest you start with the basic information and build in detail until you are comfortable. This process will require input from your contractors once they are appointed.

The information to send out when collating quotes is project start and finish deadlines. Do a little research into lead times for some of the items you have already identified. Disruption to supply channels has been affected by the Covid lockdown and will be further tested by transport and logistics issues following on from Brexit.

Ask contractors to confirm or advise on their availability to meet the dates you set out. Once you have your project team in place, organise a meeting with all present and run through the project in terms of what will happen when – and by whom. Identify the dates when any items you are supplying need to be available to each contractor.

After the contractor meeting, produce an updated project programme to each supplier and contractor and issue this with any instructions to proceed. In this communication set out dates for regular team meetings where progress against the programme can be monitored and adjusted accordingly. 

More to consider
Insurance, CDM, Planning & Building Control.

I won’t go into these in too much detail here at this time, but it is useful to be aware of them.

Make sure the project is adequately insured during the works. Check contractors have the right policies in place and also the building is covered whilst in refurbishment.

CDM – Construction Design Management, projects are classified as ‘notifiable’ if the construction work phase is expected to last longer than 30 working days and have more than 20 workers working at the same time at any point on the project, or to exceed 500 person days.

Planning & Building Control are administered by your local authority, and they can advise you if your project requires an application. 

In closing 

This is a quick guide to project management using a combination of experience, training and learning from others in the industry. Essentially it comes down to having good processes for managing the three themes I mentioned at the beginning of the article – Time, Budget & Quality. Being able to keep these elements within your control will reduce stress and make the process much more satisfying.

The satisfaction of seeing a project realised is pretty hard to beat. It’s why I love my job.

If you would like templates for Schedule of Works, Project Programme and Specification, please get in touch: hello@gutxi.co.uk

If you have project you would like to discuss without obligation book an appointment here.

Mark Green, Director – gutxi.