There's a good reason why cable TV networks like HGTV, The Learning Channel and DIY Network have such a huge following from coast to coast: The home design and improvement industry is hot, hot, hot and is showing no signs of cooling off. There may be no better time than the present to tool up your skills and fire up your enthusiasm for a career in this creative and fulfilling field.
But while Americans are keenly interested in home improvement and home design and have made household names out of "Extreme Makeover: Home Editions" Ty Pennington, professional organizer Peter Walsh from "Clean Sweep" and other home design show hosts, the fact is many don't have the time, talent or inclination to undertake such projects themselves. Or they enthusiastically take up a paintbrush, rearrange the furniture or make a stab at organizing their lives, then toss up their hands in defeat when they realize it's not as easy as it looks.
All this means there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs like you to start what we are broadly calling a home design business. In our startup guide Home Design Services, we've outlined the information you need to start five different home design services: interior design, interior redesign, professional organizing, building preservation/restoration, and faux painting. Here's a closer look at each of those businesses so you can get feel for the opportunities available in this industry, and what will fit your personality and creativity the best.
If you have a knack for planning spaces and coordinating furnishings and accessories, then this is the field for you. Interior designers (aka decorators, if they don't hold a degree from an accredited university or college) beautify, improve and update the appearance and functionality of interior spaces in both residential and business settings. Many specialize in a particular type of design, like kitchen design or lighting solutions, and many augment their income by selling decorative products like accessories and furniture.
According to the 2004-05 Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), there are approximately 60,000 interior designers in the United States, one-third of whom are self-employed. This is the only design field regulated by the government-nearly half the states, the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and seven Canadian provinces require licensing for interior designers. To become licensed, designers must pass a rigorous certification exam, which they can only take after they've accumulated six years of experience in the field and a college degree.
But this is not to say that you can't become a designer if you don't have these qualifications. Rather, if you live in one of the jurisdictions where licensing is required, you can call yourself a decorator instead and do all the same things a designer does and still be in compliance with local laws.
Employment prospects for designers are excellent, according to the OOH, which says, "Overall employment of designers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012." So if this is your preferred trade, now is the time to launch a business.
Imagine taking stock of a person's furnishings and decorative accessories, then rearranging or "repurposing" them in the same space. That's the function of the interior redesigner, who uses design skills similar to those of the interior redesigner to work his or her magic. There are actually two career paths in interior redesign. The first is in residential or commercial redesign; the second is in real estate staging, in which the redesigner sizes up a home for sale and makes improvement and updating suggestions that can help the home sell faster.
Although the notion of interior redesign has been around for the past 20 years, the concept has only just caught on and become mainstream in the past five to seven years. As a result, there is no hard date or statistics to suggest exactly how many redesigners there are. But thanks to the efforts of a handful of people who blazed a trail in the field, redesign is now heating up. Shows like HGTV's "Designed to Sell" are helping to make redesigners even more sought after.
This is another field that's still in its infancy but growing fast. Professional organizers cut through the clutter in people's homes and businesses to help them live simpler, more organized lives. They also develop customized organizational plans using filing and storage systems that their clients can live with and maintain easily.
While there aren't any available statistics on the number of professional organizers practicing today, what is known is that the National Association of Professional Organizers, which was established in 1985, counts 3,200 people among its membership. There's also a similar organization in Canada. Because there are no educational requirements, few equipment/tool costs and no licensing issues, this is one of the easiest home design businesses to establish.
This is the field that Bob Vila single-handedly launched in the mid-'70s and is being perpetuated today by shows like "Restore America." Restoration/preservation professionals (also known as conservationists) may specialize in one type of home project, such as carpentry, or may act as general contractors and handle various types of projects on homes and businesses that were built before 1930. (Anything after that date is considered to be from the modern era.)
You'll find these pros engaged in just about any home building activity related to electricity, plaster, masonry, stucco, woodworking, tile, tin ceilings, painting, post and beam construction, and the preservation/conservation of vintage elements like horsehair plaster, fresco, adobe and lime plaster. These professionals also use their skills to preserve and save objects like furniture and accessories.
However, make no mistake: A restoration/preservation specialist doesn't renovate. Rather, he or she either restores buildings or objects to their former state or preserves them in their current condition so there is no further deterioration.
Although there are no specific statistics available concerning people involved in historic preservation/restoration, it's possible to get an idea of the potential in some of the individual home design categories from the 2004-05 OOH. For instance, the OOH says there were about 659,000 electrical jobs in 2002, and the median hourly earnings were nearly $20 an hour. There were about 1.2 million carpenter jobs, with a median wage of $16.44 per hour. The nation's 59,000 plasterers and stucco masons earned a median wage of $15.91. Finally, construction managers held 389,000 jobs that same year, and their media wage was $63,500 annually. Opportunities for each of these occupations are expected to grow at a better than average rate through 2012.
While some of these wages may sound very low, keep in mind that the statistics refer mostly to employees. Self-employed people often earn much more. Plus when you factor in the sociality nature of preservation/restoration, you will find your earnings can be significantly higher.
And the work is definitely there. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street Approach program, called Historic Preservation Equals Economic Development, 96,283 building rehabilitations undertake since 1980 in more than 1,700 communities have resulted in 244,543 jobs and 60,577 new businesses. So there's room for you, too.
This purely decorative art form is usually practiced by true artists, although it is possible to achieve a certain level of competence through hands-on instruction. "The key to success is being able to follow step-by-step instructions and take your time," says faux painter Brian Bullard, who's also owner of The Decorative Arts Center in St. Louis.
Faux painters apply decorative finishes to walls, ceilings, floors, furniture and accessories. They use paint, glazes and other media, and must be masters at mixing colors and applying them with just the right touch. Among the types of faux finishes popular today are marbling, precious stone, patina, trompe l'oeil and stenciling.
Bullard says that because of the specialty nature of the job and the technical skill involved, faux painters can earn $400 a day or more, or around $60 by the hour. Other faux painters say it's possible to earn up to $1,000 a day depending on the size and scope of the project as well as who's footing the bill.
One of the greatest advantages of starting a home design business is that it can be operated out of your home. That keeps overhead low, and you may be able to take a home business deduction on your taxes. If you start as a sole proprietorship as many home design business owners do, you will have few paperwork requirements when it comes to filing taxes. What's more, you can operate any of these businesses without employees, and you often can start out with tools and materials you already have.
Of course, as a one-person business, you also will shoulder a lot more responsibility to keep the business running. For this reason, some home design businesspeople purchase a franchise. With a franchise, all the legal aspects are handled for you. You have access to prepackaged marketing and advertising, and you can use the name of a recognized company in your advertising. The problem is, franchise fees can be steep-often tens of thousands of dollars to as much as $100,000. But for some people, having all their ducks in a row is worth the extra money.
For more information on starting each of these five businesses, check out our extensive startup guide onHome Design Services.