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New to the Business of Interior Design? 29 Essential Interior Design Business Terms Explained

Interior design terms you need to know to set your business up for success.

Houzz Pro

With over 78,000 interior designers employed in the U.S., it’s vital for professionals just entering the industry to get up to speed fast. The first step in forming a credible interior design business is mastering the basic interior design terms. When you’re starting out, and especially in today’s booming climate, it’s crucial to know what you’re talking about. Houzz Pro wants to make sure you know your terminology — and well — because it will mean more credibility, improved communication and happier clients. 

Here are 29 essential interior design terms you need to know to set your business up for success:

1. Proposal/Quote 

You may have heard this one before, but it never hurts to refresh. A quote or proposal is a list of each item that has been agreed to by the client, outlining the cost, dimensions, warranty details and sometimes even the freight charges involved. When using Houzz Pro, you can take advantage of our built-in pre-sale workflow, which helps you build your proposals with ease and style.

2. RFQ 

This acronym stands for a request for quote, the process of finding out the cost of curated supplies or services involved in a specific task. For example, a designer may send an RFQ to a warehouse for a custom piece of furniture or to a general contractor for the total fee for a certain type of installation. 

3. Acknowledgment 

In the design world, the proof is not in the pudding but rather in the order acknowledgment. It occurs after a quote has been received and confirmed and proves that the order has been received by the supplier. In addition, it often outlines the estimated date of the item’s arrival.

4. Specs/Spec’d/ Specified 

When communicating, it pays to be specific. These three terms mean the same thing and are used when an item, color or finish is selected  and conveyed by the designer to the fabricator or general contractor. Other things that can be specified include dimensions and environmental factors. 

5. Purchase order (PO)

As any designer knows, getting the purchase orders right is a crucial part of success.  Purchase orders include measurements, specs, drawings, details and style numbers so the supplier can provide an accurate price as well as create the correct piece of furniture. Make sure you clearly detail as much information in your POs as possible to avoid errors and product waste.

6. Lead time

Waiting is an inevitable part of the ordering process. Lead time refers to the estimated time an ordered item will take to make and-or reach the warehouse or client’s house.  When you make use of Houzz Pro Project Management software, you have the ability to track and update the process for your clients to see, using Daily Logs and Project Timelines. 

7. Sidemark 

Just about every order has its own label. The term for this label is a “sidemark,” and it usually includes the designer’s name, the name of the project, the intended room for the piece and a description of the item. It might read something like this: CBI-WALTERS-LR-SIDECHAIR. Because designers use warehouses to receive and store furniture until the install date, sidemarks are important for keeping track of what goes where during concurrent projects. 

8. Swatch/Sample/Memo

A swatch or memo refers to smaller versions of a larger pattern, print or finish. Clients often like to browse through paint swatches or fabric samples to help them visualize a design.

9. FF&E 

This is a handy term for furniture, fixtures and other equipment. Whatever isn’t part of the original structure of a building, or is technically unattached to it, is considered FF&E. Think couches, tables, lights, carpets, electronics and so on. 

10. Finish schedule 

How do you coordinate things when there are many variables and people involved in one task? A finish schedule, in the form of a graph or chart, clearly outlines size, shape, style, color and installation instructions so that whoever is involved in any step of the process can see the original idea or intent of the task at hand. 

11. Paint schedule 

Painting can be complicated. When numerous colors have been chosen for various rooms, a paint schedule makes it easier to keep track of things. It outlines which wall is to receive which color and texture, and with what finish, for every room of the house.  It’s useful for helping general contractors make sure they create the design they were asked for, as well as for budgeting and ordering the correct amount of paint and other supplies. 

12. Soft goods 

As the name implies, this refers to the soft and cuddly side of decor — the non-furniture items made from fabric. Think linens, pillows, table skirts, bedspreads. Be prepared to chat long and hard about thread count!

13. Case goods 

This refers to room furnishings used to encase other things, such as a closet, chest of drawers or bedside cabinet, and it can also include headboards, tables and footboards.

14. Installation

Installation refers to the act of fitting and attaching ordered furnishings such as beds, cabinets, wallpaper and artwork in the rooms. You’re often able to order the installation service with the products, and a specific “install day” will be decided upon.

15. Customer’s own material (COM)

Sometimes customers will come to you with their ideas. This is where you’ll have to curate your vision, products and materials to create the look they’re going for. COM refers to curating or adjusting a specific product or item with the material or color palette of the client’s choice. High-end furniture is usually priced with the assumption that the fabric will be decided on and paid for separately. Some clients love this freedom of creation, and it also means more individualism and custom items for you and your portfolio

16. Cutting for approval (CFA)

In the design world, get used to “trying it on for size.” A cutting for approval is a small piece of product stock used for color and tactile reference. When selecting an item of furniture or a flooring material, for example, you might want to order a CFA of the fabric or flooring so you can get a feel for the actual stock you’d receive  before ordering. CFAs are widely requested by interior designers to compare a material to the original display item and confirm that the quality meets expectations.

17. Interior designer software

The move toward desktop and mobile solutions for interior design business management has accelerated quickly over the last decade. According to Mordor Intelligence, the interior design software market was valued at $3.8 billion in 2020. As part of its interior design project management solutions, Houzz Pro aims to help professionals manage their projects, communicate with their clients and create designs in a more efficient and seamless way. From CRM and project timelines to proposals and 3D floor plans, Houzz Pro knits it all together as one interior design business management software powerhouse.

18. Floor plan 

From a bird’s-eye view, a floor plan is a scaled drawing of the dimensions and relationships between rooms, spaces and other features such as walls and windows. Use Houzz Pro Visualization Tools to craft your floor plan in the simplest, most convenient way possible.

19. Space plan 

Think of this as a designer’s architectural plan. Similar to a floor plan, a space plan shows where all the furnishings are to be placed within the space. These are done at scale to show the realism, relationships and compliance of the design.

20. 3D floor planner

Nothing can beat the realism that comes with 3D. A form of interior design software, 3D floor planner tools, like the one included with Houzz Pro, allow you to create a digital model that shows the layout of a home or property in 3D, giving both perspective and height. They’re easy to use and highly effective at impressing and pleasing clients. 

21. Dollhouse 

When viewing a 3D floor plan, many clients love to see it in “dollhouse view.” Imagine peering through a real dollhouse: This perspective gives the viewer a more realistic feel for the house in terms of height, depth, perspective and dimensions.  Using Houzz Pro 3D Floor Planner tool, viewers can choose to view the plan in dollhouse along any point of the design process.   

22. Above finish floor (AFF)

This term is typically used in denoting the height of electrical outlets, light fixtures and  switches. The average AFF of a light switch is 48 inches, while a chandelier might be hung at “65" AFF.”

23. Customer relationship management (CRM)

Credibility takes years to build and only seconds to break. Keeping track of your clients and responding to them quickly helps build your reputation and credibility as a business professional. Since initial contact and subsequent communications now occur mostly online, client relationship management can be enhanced using Houzz Pro’s built-in tools.

24. Estimates

Estimates are the projected costs and profitability of your projects. Mastering them is key for two reasons. One, it will help you gain a better understanding of how much money you’ll be taking home at the end of the day. Two, it will help you be more accurate in conveying costs, so that clients are never blindsided and will learn to trust you. 

25. Incentives

An incentive is something that motivates or encourages someone to do something. In interior design, it most often involves payment. Sending an invoice online is an incentive in itself, as it speeds up the payment process. However, further incentives such as early-payment discounts and late fees can be used to increase your cash flow by helping you get paid on time.

26. Software as a service (SaaS)

SaaS is technically defined as software delivery that allows data to be accessed from any device. It is also a licensing model in which software is used on a subscription basis. This is another feature that makes the Houzz Pro mobile app an easy way to keep all your interior design business management tools at your fingertips. You can message your clients and access your entire communication history wherever you’re working using various Houzz Pro integrations.

27. Project timeline

Like to have all your ducks in a row? Good. As a design professional, wanting to be in control will come in handy. You’ll love working with a project timeline, which is a visual list of tasks or activities placed in chronological order. It lets you and your clients view the entire project in one place from beginning to end. It also helps you understand and project similar time frames for future projects. 

28. Scope creep

Sometimes life happens and unexpected changes occur. Scope creep is the term for when uncontrolled events alter a project’s scope, at any point after the project begins. Scope creep can be avoided by planning ahead. Houzz Pro helps you stay on top of change orders, client communications and invoicing so you can stay on top of your scope.

29. B&P

The business and professions code is the set of guidelines stipulated for registered businesses and professions. Make sure you research and understand the B&P for interior design in your area.

Knowledge is power, especially in the design world. Get the marketing and business tools you need to stand out, win more clients and manage projects with ease. Try Houzz Pro for free today!

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