Start a Home Redesign Business

Got a knack for rearranging? Get in on the newest niche for home designers.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the June 2006 issue of Entrepreneurs StartUps Magazine. Subscribe »

With the proliferation of home design shows on cable TV networks, as well as last year's return of domestic guru Martha Stewart, interest in interior design has never been stronger. But there's one segment of this industry that's experiencing especially strong growth and presents a great opportunity for creative people who are interested in careers in home design.

Interior redesign (aka interior arrangement or one-day decorating) is a close relative of interior design. Instead of creating an entirely new decorating scheme with new furnishings and accessories, as an interior designer does, an interior redesigner works with whatever the homeowner already owns--including items purloined from other rooms in the home--and rearranges it to give a room an entirely new look. The result is a decorator look without the decorator price tag.

"Redesigners are a 'safe' version of the traditional designer," says Julea Joseph, 44, owner of Reinventing Space in Chicago. "People are no longer looking for an interior designer to sweep into their home and say, 'Dahling, everything must go.' Instead, they're educated consumers who just need someone to pull everything together."

"[Redesigners] are nonjudgmental about the homeowner's belongings, and they'll work with any constraints or within any budget," says Michele Roark, owner of Interior Arrangements By Michele Roark in St. Michaels, Maryland, and vice director of Interior Redesign Industry Specialists, the redesign industry's leading membership organization. "No matter what the homeowner has, a redesigner will work with it and make it work."

"Redesign services appeal to the average person, not the homeowner with the big bucks," says Marcia Smart, 57, executive director of IRIS and owner of Smart Interior Styling in Thousand Oaks, California. "We offer an alternative to high-priced design services that validates and honors the clients' own selections."

Though redesign isn't a new industry, the idea only recently caught on when HGTV's Decorating Cents coined the term to describe its no-cost decorating segment. Prior to that, Roark, 46, says people's most common reaction to the idea of redesign was, "You rearrange furniture, and I'm supposed to pay you [for that]?"

Depending on the location, redesigners charge anywhere from $50 to $200 an hour, usually with a three-hour minimum. Redesigners who specialize in commercial redesign can command even higher hourly rates. As a result, with the appropriate marketing and local exposure, it's possible for a sole proprietor to earn a six-figure income in this field within just a couple of years.

Typically, redesigners work in one of two ways. Some prefer to plunge right into a room, remove every stick of furniture and every accessory, then bring back some or all the original pieces, as well as items found in other rooms, and arrange everything in a new and exciting way. Because this type of redesign can be physically demanding, redesigners often hire assistants to help with lifting and carrying. Other redesigners prefer to offer design consultations and assessments instead, and never do any hands-on work.

Though the redesign niche is narrow and there are no specific figures available on the number of redesigners nationwide, it appears that the industry is growing rapidly, if the interest in membership organizations like IRIS is any indication. In 1999, IRIS had just 19 members; today, it has more than 600. Similar growth can be seen in the number of TV shows that focus on redesign. HGTV has three programs that emphasize redesign, including Decorating Cents, Design Remix and Free Style. TLC's Clean Sweep also features redesign elements, like the repurposing of furnishings in newly organized rooms.

Home Staging

There's yet another career path related to redesign you can pursue if you'd like to rearrange rooms for profit. Home stagers focus their talents on redesigning homes to prepare them for resale, both to help increase the homes' value and to make them more salable. HGTV's Designed to Sell, which debuted in 2004, is based on this premise.

Home stagers typically work for realtors, but it's also possible to market staging services directly to homeowners, as Lori Matzke, owner of Center Stage Home in Minneapolis, does. Her consultations consist of a thorough room-by-room assessment with a detailed analysis of the home's strong points and trouble spots, followed by advice on how to show the home to its best advantage. For an additional fee, Matzke, 41, will provide a written assessment that homeowners can use as a roadmap for staging the home themselves. She also rents furnishings and accessories to homeowners who need to fill underfurnished areas, replace less-than-perfect possessions, or stage empty houses. She picks up many of these items at thrift shops and consignment stores, so the return on her investment is good.

Though renting bric-a-brac and love seats can help increase your bottom line as either a redesigner or home stager, Matzke says the way to make really big money in this industry and still operate sans staff is by training others to be redesigners or stagers, too. That's how she pumped up her income to more than $250,000 in 2005. But of course, before you can train anyone else, you need training in the industry yourself, including hands-on experience.

Both IRIS and the Interior Arrangement and Design Associationoffer training programs. According to Sandy Dixon, 55, an IRIS-sanctioned trainer and owner of Interior Arrangements in Evergreen, Colorado, IRIS redesign training is based on a seven-step layering process that can be applied to any room. "The system works whether the furnishings and accessories match or not, or whether there are many or just a few items to work with, because it's the architecture of the space that determines what furnishings, art and wall hangings work best," she says.

Dixon, whose company's sales exceeded $100,000 in 2005, recommends IRIS training for another important reason: It gives a fledgling business owner the best chance of success from the business side, as well as the creative design side. "You need to know all the right things to do when running a business, like promoting the business, making presentations to customers, setting up a website and generally finding your niche," she says. "A good training program can help you do all this the right way."

And the training does work. "IADA launched my career," says Joseph, whose 2006 sales are projected at $125,000. "Being certified by an organization like IADA carries weight with customers and connects you to valuable resources like publicity and business referrals."

Finally, it helps to have a knack for organizing when you embark on a redesign career, says Moona Masri Whitice, owner of Perfectlyou Decor in Southwest Ranches, Florida. "When you move furniture around, you have to deal with the clutter that is in it and on top of it," says Whitice, 39. "As a result, a big part of my redesign business involves organization. You'll find that if you divide your time 50/50 between redesign and organization, you can do very well in this industry."

Bringing It All Home
Though redesign may be one of the hottest careers in home design these days, there are other creative ways to feed your inner designer. Some other home design careers include:

Interior design: These designers create interior space layouts, recommend furnishing and accessory schemes, scour merchandise and furniture marts for the perfect items, and then orchestrate the steps necessary to marry these items with their intended rooms to achieve total harmony. Many interior designers hold four-year degrees from accredited universities, but it is possible to get hands-on training from an experienced decorator.

Professional organizing: Organizers tackle homes and offices and turn them into models of efficiency and order. Some organizers are space specialists (i.e., they prefer specific spaces such as closets or home offices), while others offer specialized help to the chronically disorganized, or people with physical disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder. Some organizers offer other related services, such as time-management assistance and packing and moving assistance.

Preservation/restoration: Experts in the field of preservation/restoration not only need to know the difference between lime plaster and plaster of Paris, but they must also have a deli-cate touch when it comes to restoring historical buildings and objets d'art. The job requires a healthy knowledge of and respect for historical buildings and historic periods, and it helps to have a talent and ability for construction and renovation.

Faux painting: While a true artist who understands composition, color and texture makes the best faux painter, just about anyone can learn the basic techniques, says Brian Bullard, owner of The Decorative Arts Center in St. Louis, a faux-finishing school. Armed with brushes with fun names like cat's tongue and chiqueteur, you, too, can lie on a scaffold a la Michelangelo and paint trompe l'oeil woodwork.

Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer and author who writes on business topics.
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