The State of Design & Build in the Market

Over the last ten years, more and more businesses have moved towards hiring Design & Build firms for their fit-out needs rather than organize and co-ordinate the whole process themselves. The benefits of design & build such as lower costs and faster build times are well known and the reason why this model of fit-out is so popular, but what is the state of Design & Build in the market currently? We spoke to John Kneller, Operations Manager of Horton Interiors and Jonathan Mullan, CEO of Insite PM for their thoughts on Design & Build in today’s market.

What is the status of Design & Build in the market? Has there been a shift in customer preferences towards a one stop solution for fit outs?

John Kneller (HortonInteriors): There has been a definite shift towards Design & Build, especially compared to 15 years back. The preference towards Design & Build is the result of more demanding client expectations. Greater supply chain capability and improved confidence by consultants in the abilities of the contractors in the region have played a key part in the increased take up of this practice.

Jonathan Mullan (Insite PM): More and more clients are accepting Design & Build as a pragmatic and logical approach to their fit-outs. More experienced clients, especially one who have a need for consistency, such as fitting out multiple branches of a brand, are showing a preference towards Design & Build.

In your experience, what can be some of the risks of Design & Build as a fit-out model? Are there any ways to mitigate them?

John Kneller (HortonInteriors): Going for a pure Design & Build solution can be risky. There is a chance that the client can be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous company and receive an unsuitable fit-out. Such situations ruin the name of Design & Build and can undo all the progress that has been made for the acceptance of this model. One way to help prevent unsuitable contractors from taking on contracts that they can’t deliver on is the creation and enforcement of Client Requirements Documents. These are largely performance related ‘output specifications’ that protect the client against an unfit finished product.

Jonathan Mullan (Insite PM): Design & Build, if properly administered can provide clients with exactly what they need at a lower cost and during a shorter timeline. However, the administration of this contract is extremely important, particularly with regards to material specifications and contract terms in order to ensure that the client receives a suitable fitted out space as per their needs.

In your opinion, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of the Design & Build model?

John Kneller (HortonInteriors): Time and cost savings are the two biggest advantages of hiring a Design & Build firm for a fit-out. In addition, the development of the design being the purview of the contractors means that the client is theoretically only paying for it once. Of course, there are risks with Design & Build set ups, such as unfit products being delivered to which the clients have limited avenues for recourse. OST then becomes a disadvantage due to rework & litigation distracting all concerned parties from the original intent of the agreement.

Jonathan Mullan (Insite PM): One of the advantages of Design & Build is a certain level of design flair and detailing that a quality interior design brings to a space. However, over the years we have seen many designs implemented poorly due to either a lack of knowledge on part of the designer or a lack of experience on the part of the contractor. We’ve noticed a shift where some contractors have started to employ in-house designers or sub-contract the work out in order to ensure that any designs that have been proposed are actually doable. We have also noticed that some clients simply wish to place all the responsibility on one firm’s shoulders, and this makes Design & Build very appealing to them, even if they already have a fully detailed design in place. This is not a good thing for the contractor as they are simply executing an already prepared design, robbing them of the chance to add value to the fit-out. Design & Build is an extremely valuable service that is being provided in the industry but it is not to be offered lightly or undertaken without understanding both design and construction. Lack of knowledge on one or both sides will ultimately cause the project to suffer.

What are the major challenges facing Interior Design firms in the market today? How is the market different now than it was five years ago?

John Kneller (HortonInteriors): Clients are a lot more demanding, with the expectations for service delivery remaining unchanged. Clients are also a lot more ‘street-wise’, closing down loopholes that Interior Designers had been able to use to recover some of the lost revenues during expected reworks. As we can see, the market is very different now as it was from five years ago. High expectations for both price and service and increased competitiveness have made the market extremely cutthroat.

Jonathan Mullan (Insite PM): Budgetary constraints are the key challenge in today’s market, particularly the increased cost of construction. For example, for a café fit-out the cost of a coffee hasn’t increased significantly however the property rent and cost of a construction fit-out has. Interior designers need to recognize and acknowledge this in order to support their clients’ business model as best as possible. The market has also become saturated with not only interior designers but architects, engineers and contractors. It is more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd especially when clients are focusing their attention on prices since interior designers are constantly measured on innovation and design. The real challenge is to make a budget friendly, simple, trendy look whilst maintaining quality. Designers are also facing a challenge in that clients may think they are saving interior design fees by going the Design & Build route. However, in reality, quality comes at a cost, the only question is whether you pay it upfront and get your fit-out done right the first time, or spend it after everything’s done and try and get it up to scratch during a rework.

As we can see, the prevailing understanding in the market is that Design & Build as a model is here to stay, though the market has gotten much more competitive. Increased competition, higher costs and extremely high client expectations make it a challenging prospect for anyone in this field. Knowledge and experience is critical in order to provide value to a client for a design and build project. This is why it is critical to choose an experienced fit-out company if you choose to do a design & build for your fit-out.

What should you look for in a Design and Build firm?

When selecting a design and build firm, it’s important to do your homework. Here are some things to ask before settling on one.

1. Look into their company history, how long have they been in business, who have they worked with before?
2. Ask to see their portfolio of work.
3. A contractor is only as good as their last project, ask to see their most recently completed build and talk to the former client to find out their experience with the firm.

Looking to renovate or relocate your office? Want a hassle free experience? Contact our experienced team at Horton Interiors and let us take care of everything! Call us on +971 4 388 1 163 or send us an email at and we’ll be in touch.