How to Create an Interior Decorating Proposal

Whether you're a new interior designer who's just starting to build a customer base or an amateur decorator whose advice about color schemes and furniture layouts is always being sought by friends and relatives, the first step of any project is a detailed proposal for moving forward. This plan will enable you to keep the costs of material and labor in line with your clients' budget requirements as well as create a finished product that they'll be enthusiastic to live in, show off and enjoy for years to come.

Step 1

Take color photographs of the room(s) in their current condition. Photograph them from multiple angles--including the ceilings and floors--and at different times of day to assess the effects of natural light.

Step 2

Take accurate measurements of the space you'll be designing, and jot them down on a rough sketch of the room's shape. You'll need these numbers for estimating the amount of paint, wallpaper, flooring, molding and window treatments.

Step 3

Discuss with your client the type of "look" she wants to achieve. Pertinent questions to ask include how the room will primarily be used, the flow of traffic, favorite colors, textures and styles, whether existing furnishings and accessories will be incorporated or removed, and whether any structural modifications are needed.

Step 4

Establish up front what the client's proposed budget is for this project. People who are unfamiliar with the expenses associated with interior design often have an unrealistic expectation of what their dreams will cost. It may be practical to break a project into incremental steps that can be spread over time. While the proposal would account for all of these line items and provide the client with a benchmark to save up for each one, the working contract should only address the completion of one task at a time.

Step 5

Determine a reasonable time frame for completion. This can be anywhere from a week to several months, depending on the complexity of the assignment. If a project needs to be expedited, this should be added to the billing costs.

Step 6

Comparison shop for materials and supplies, and check their availability for the project you're undertaking. Specify in your proposal exactly what tasks you'll be responsible for. Some clients only want advice on what to purchase so they can get it themselves; others will want you to do all the legwork, installation and supervision.

Step 7

Provide sketches along with your proposal of what the space will look like.

Step 8

Set a price that not only accommodates the cost of materials and labor but that is based on your proficiency as a designer, the amount of time and energy you're going to invest and your own comfort level with the client. If in doubt, conduct research to see what other designers in your region are charging for their services.

Things You Will Need

  • Notebook
  • Sketchbook
  • Color pencils
  • Measuring tape
  • Calculator
  • Digital camera


  • As a courtesy, most interior designers do an initial consultation for free.
  • A fixed fee is generally more attractive to clients than an hourly rate, largely owing to a fear that you might dawdle just to make more money.
  • If you're not good at drawing interior design elements, there's no shortage of software to help you create images online. Some of these products allow you to take digital images of existing rooms, upload them to experiment with colors, fabrics and furniture placement, and then print out a rendering of the new space.


  • Always get everything in writing.
  • Never impose your personal taste and style on your client. This is their nest, not yours.
  • If you're a professional designer, get bids from carpenters, electricians, plumbers and others for architectural changes, and factor this into the proposal's total cost. If you're a hobbyist decorator, put the burden of major renovations back on the homeowner before you step in.

About the Author

Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images