Three interior designers walk into a bar. The bar has seen better days. The floorboards are irregular and jutting up in places, the chairs are wobbly and the lights are flickering.
The owner of the bar, upon learning that the trio are designers, confesses that although he doesn’t have a big budget, he would really like to fix his place up.
The first designer says, “You need a new look. This whole scheme is really dated. I could come up with something better. I have endless options for you. Here’s my name card.”
The second designer says, “There’s no helping this place. I would rip everything out. Back to the drawing board, but I’d help you make this place amazing. Pick any style you want, I can design it. Here, scan this QR code to check out my professional website.”
The third designer looks around, smiles, then says, “I helped my uncle transform and update the look of his small deli in only three days for a budget of under $5000. I specialize in fast makeovers.”
The bar owner leans in to the third designer and says, “What’s your number?”
The third designer understood having a niche and used it to make a sale. If you are looking to get more prospective clients through the door and win more design bids, you might consider having an interior design niche as well.
Specializations in the Interior Design Industry: Commercial vs. Residential
Let’s define what a niche is.
A niche is an area of specialization.
In interior design, there are several ways a designer or firm may choose to specialize, and for most design students, this specialization is something that we begin in design school.
It is often in the final year of a college level program that we are asked to decide whether we will focus on the residential or commercial market sectors.
Next Step: Your Design Focus ‘Subcategory’
As a designer, once you have decided between the commercial and residential sectors, the next thing to do is to hone in on a subcategory within your sector that you want to serve.
This is your ‘market’. Within the commercial and contract design spheres ‘market specialization’ often focuses on interior design for a particular industry, such as hospitality or healthcare, offices, etc.
When it comes to residential design, this is where specialization tends to get lost, as it’s hard to know before you begin designing who your target audience might be and what type of homes they have.
Clearly, a little more research and planning is needed.
The 4 Types of ‘Niche’ in Interior Design
There are 4 types of design niche which can each apply to either commercial and residential design specialization
1. Market Niche
A market niche focuses on the industry to be served.
Think about it this way: If you were opening a new spa or a dentist’s office and you needed an interior designer, it would make sense to hire an interior design firm that specialized in just this type of interior design.
One reason for this is that particular niches or markets have very specific needs with regard to fit-outs and equipment.
For designers who’ve done those types of projects before, they will know how to get the best deals on the items the owner will need to buy, as well as have the knowledge for how to manage the project and understand the relevant code, the possible pitfalls, etc.
A one-size-fits-all designer, no matter how talented they are, just can’t spread themselves that thin.
Trying to market to everyone, you may end up marketing to no one, or doing so many odd jobs that it’s hard for your firm to explain just what it is that you do.
Some market niches in both sectors are:
|Apartments and rentals||Exhibitions and shows|
|Homes for the elderly||Public, museums, libraries, etc.|
|Kitchen and bath||Restaurants|
|Luxury condos and townhouses||Retail|
2. Client Niche
Our second type of niche is the type of client.
There can be some overlap, since if you specialize in the residential sector and specifically on homes for the elderly (as an example), your client type might be seniors.
However, this is not necessarily the case, as the person hiring you may not be the end user.
What types of clients could you think about offering services to?
If you already understand your sector (residential or commercial), think about where you will be prospecting your clients and how to best get their attention.
Think about their habits, their needs and their preferences when deciding how best to serve them.
Here are some ideas:
|Residential real estate agents (you might do show homes or staging)||Exhibition event organizers|
|Families with children||Bar and nightclub owners or developers|
|First home buyers||Country club property management|
|Multigenerational families||Commercial property developers|
|Newly emigrated or frequent travelers; those with more than one home||Commercial real estate agents|
|People of a certain ethnicity or language groups you might have an ‘in’ with||Commercial retail developers|
|People of certain occupational professions||Dentists and doctors|
|People with pets||Hair salon and spa owners|
|Property investors or Airbnb hosts||Hotel and hospitality developers|
|Single professional men or women||Small business owners|
|Work-from-home professionals||Small retailers|
3. Style Niche
The style niche is well utilized by many successful residential interior designers today.
The simple reason is that having a style niche helps you to stand out from your competition.
It also serves as a way to attract brand new customers to your brand.
Many designers today are finding their clients using social media, and having a definitive look helps to give your studio a cohesive style story, which really helps you to look more professional.
Although as designers we are trained to be able to design almost anything with the right input, it is our style which may draw the untrained eye to our skills as designers, since that is the ‘face’ that non-designers see.
Many of the most famous decorators and designers gracing our magazines and on television today are known for their signature style.
Although some of them may not have started out using only one ‘style’, it is what they have become best known for and it is this signature look that represents their brand.
Ultimately, a designer’s signature style is what people are willing to dish money out for.
People like knowing what they’ll get, rather than have it left wide open.
4. Lifestyle Niche
A lifestyle niche is often about championing a certain cause or ideal that resonates with particular people.
You might offer turn-key design or one-day home makeovers.
Perhaps you design with largely reclaimed and vintage materials, marketing to those who want eco-friendly designs.
You might specialize in giving people all the latest technology with ‘smart home’ installations.
Or you might cater to a particular lifestyle, such as people who are outdoorsy or who enjoy gaming and indoor sports or indoor-outdoor entertaining.
When it comes to lifestyle, usually once you’ve hit upon a great idea (such as a great way to store outdoor equipment or you’ve designed the ultimate home library, home office or walk-in closet) your success becomes your calling card and it’s often word of mouth from there.
Why have a niche?
A niche really is like a calling card.
It tells people that you are a professional who does at least one thing really well.
Many designers hesitate to pick a niche because as creatives we don’t like to be boxed in, or we feel that we’d be limiting the potential of the project to go in a completely different direction, which might be equally appealing or advantageous).
Perhaps we are afraid that having settled on a niche, we might grow to hate it or become tired of it.
What to do?
My suggestion is to pick a few niches that are complimentary to test them out.
You could pick one lifestyle and one style niche, or a couple of client niches and a couple of style or lifestyle niches.
Knowing who your clients are is an ever evolving process, so don’t be afraid if it changes over time.
It’s only by getting started somewhere that you can ever figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what you should do instead, if anything.
I’d say that finding the right clients should be your top priority, so make that your first niche to nail down.
But having found your clients, you’re probably not going to rock up and say, “I design homes for families”, and that’s that.
Here, adding a lifestyle or style niche to your client niche can really help.
“I design comfortable, modern and flexible homes for urban families with small children.”
That’s a good niche.
“I am known for my mid-century modern-inspired apartments for work-from-home professionals“.
“I specialize in home offices and home studios“.
Another good niche.
“I am in the luxury condo market. We cater to young professionals.”
“My signature style is contemporary urban glamor.”
As I mentioned before, don’t be afraid to combine a few niches until you figure out what’s right for you.
Try to figure out who is underserved and then what their needs are .
What needs fixing?
Who needs help?
Once you’ve identified an area where you can do the most good and be the most useful or helpful, you’re good to go.
–If you see that small stores don’t have a lot of options where you live when it comes to design help, you might hone in there.
–If you think that the world would be a more beautiful place if more dentist’s offices had an organic modern style, or you secretly want to see tropical minimalism take over the world, there’s a niche.
If there’s a particular type of job you really enjoyed doing before, see if you can break down the reasons why you enjoyed it.
Was it the type of client you had?
The type of interior?
Did you work with a style you’re especially good at?
Did you get a lot of positive feedback?
Try to do more of those types of jobs, and once you know what your niche is, don’t be afraid to turn down work that doesn’t fit with your vision.
Better yet, forward that client to another designer you know who would be perfect for them.
When it comes to developing your niche remember, even if you have to start out by doing some jobs purely for the great photographs, it can be worth it to get your name out there.
Can you have more than one niche?
In order not to confuse your clients, I would recommend having no more than three niches which are complementary to one another.
Can you change your niche?
Absolutely, it’s an evolving process.
You might find that over time that the nature of the jobs you work on changes or the type of clients.
Your niche might grow to include other aspects you didn’t consider earlier, or you might niche down even more as your vision becomes clearer.
The reason to start creating a style niche, as an example, is so that your instagram account and your website can advertise for as well as draw in fans of the style that you are promoting.
Sure, your niche won’t appeal to everyone, but the better quality customers are going to be those who were drawn to you and to your work and your style long before you draw up your proposal for them.
Delivering on a particular style vision can make your job easier, too, as you can source from just those retailers and suppliers whose products support your style vision, and as you continue to decorate and design with your signature style, you will only get better at it and garner more ideas for how to keep moving your style needle forward.
Put your clients first
As designers we know that design projects are not about us, but about our clients.
Even with a design style niche, we are still going to be designing for real people with real problems, needs and concerns, likes and dislikes.
No two projects are ever going to be the same, and that’s a good thing.
Help your clients, and thus your business, by taking a little of the guesswork out of working with a designer. Win over your fans by leading the way with your style vision and then delivering that personalized version to them as your clients, just a little further down the road.
Your portfolio is your calling card.
People expect to get what they see, so give them something to see and to really be inspired about.
It helps to remember what drew you to love interior design in the first place.
What is it about interior design that just makes your heart sing and inspires you endlessly to keep creating?
When you can put that sentiment into a sentence or two and express who it is you want to share that with, you’ll have your niche.
Happy niche hunting and many happy return clients!
We are on a mission at Design Baddie to make basic interior design information accessible and free to all! We will be giving away our future introductory interior design e-books absolutely free.
Sign up below to be notified of new releases!