Kate Bunn, Co-Founder, K&K Legal Consulting Ltd discusses why interior designers should ensure that they always have a suitable contract in place.
It starts in the pit of your stomach; a persistent, nagging feeling that keeps you awake at night. You know that, legally speaking, your terms and conditions are loose at best. There have been some tricky client conversations which could have escalated into legal action.
The truth is, without a well-structured client contract in place, every interior designer is only ever one project away from being sued. This is a solvable problem, however, and one that once fixed, will leave you with a newfound confidence in your business.
No business owner wants to find themselves in a client dispute. However, such disagreements can arise in any industry. Interior design is no exception. Most disputes often revolve around issues like ‘scope creep’, when clients add tasks outside the bounds of your original agreement; confusion about your role in a larger project; the obligations and responsibilities of all parties involved; and questions over intellectual property ownership of drawings. Also, problems related to payments, project timelines, and various project stages can become contentious.
As an interior designer, you’re likely aware that the initial ideas discussed with clients can change as a project develops. To protect your business, it’s essential to have an industry-specific contract. This contract should clearly define the scope of your services and:
- Outline project phases
- Set straightforward payment schedules
- Establish who owns drawings and designs
- Clarify responsibilities for third-party goods and services
- Explain what happens if something goes wrong, and
- Lay out your obligations under the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations
Including these crucial details in your contract will not only reduce the likelihood of disputes, but also guide you on what steps to take if issues arise.
Different projects require different contracts to safeguard your business. Here are the main ones to consider:
When handling residential projects, remember you’re dealing with individual consumers, not businesses. By law, certain information must be clearly communicated. While many elements of this contract mirror those in commercial contracts, crucial differences relate to consumer rights and adherence to CDM Regulations.
Commercial projects are typically larger in scale and value than residential projects – bringing increased risks. Therefore, it’s vital to have a contract that recognises these distinctions and provides sufficient protection.
Whether on residential or commercial projects, you might need to outsource certain tasks to other professionals. A sub-contractor agreement not only shields you from any shortcomings in a sub-contractor’s work, it also clearly outlines mutual expectations – ensuring both you and your client remain protected.
Whether or not you should opt for a template contract or invest in a bespoke contract depends upon various factors. Both options have their merits, but a template contract can serve you well if it:
- Is crafted by professionals familiar with the interior design industry
- Is specific to the UK legal system
- Can be customised to the way in which you work
When these conditions align, a well-drafted, industry-specific template can offer an affordable, ready-to-use solution that provides solid protection. On the other hand, a bespoke contract is recommended if you offer niche services; have specific procurement methods; or handle complex projects with distinct stages. It considers the unique way you interact with clients – addressing every potential loophole.
In the dynamic world of interior design, ensuring legal protection is as essential as choosing the right colour palette. From understanding the common issues that can give rise to disputes, to recognising the right type of contract for your projects – be it a comprehensive template or a tailored bespoke agreement – each decision plays a crucial role in shielding your business.
About K&K Legal Consulting Ltd
K&K Legal Consulting Ltd was founded by Kate Bunn and Kirsty Gibbons who have a combined 30 years of legal expertise, which they utilise to offer legal services to small businesses and entrepreneurs without the constraints of a traditional nine-to-five law firm.