Contract's 2007 Salary Survey

Commercial interior designers and architects are not likely to get rich quick practicing their craft, but at least salary prospects are still looking up for the short term. These are the findings of Contract’s 2007 Salary Survey, an annual undertaking that has emerged as one of our most popular features—despite the fact that only 16.8% of respondents to the 2007 Survey listed salary and benefits as the most important criteria in determining overall job satisfaction. Each year, Contract surveys a random cross-section of design firm leaders (who also happen to be readers) to determine current salary patterns by job title, across a variety of parameters including region, firm size, annual dollar volume specified, and annual square footage specified. Among all the interesting trends that designers follow in their daily practices, these trends might hit closest to home, even if how much compensation actually matters to designers is a matter of debate.

If you are a firm principal or partner and you are making less than $100,000 per year, you share that circumstance with 41% of designers with similar job titles. Below that $100,000 mark, the largest percentage of principals/partners (15%) are making between $80,000 and $99,999 per year, with 12.1% making only $60,000 to $79,999. A small percentage of principals/partners (3.2%) are making less than $20,000…$650 below the national poverty guidelines for a family of four as set by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, so let’s hope these individuals are investing profits back into their firms. An equal number of principals and partners (41.2%) make in excess of $100,000 per year, with 22.8% of respondents listing those titles pulling salaries in the $100,000 to $149,999 range, 11.2% listing principal/partner salaries in the $150,000 to $199,999 range, and 7.2% listing salaries of $200,000 or more.

Marketing and business development professionals make substantially less, with 23% of respondents reporting that these job titles fall in the $40,000 to $59,999 range; 18.7% of respondents reporting that they fall in the $60,000 to $79,999 range; 12.9% indicating the $80,000 to $99,999 range; and only 6.5% of respondents reporting salaries for marketing and business development professionals exceeding $100,000 per year.

So much for the business side of things. On the design side—the quality that 59.3% of respondents found most valuable in an employee—the largest percentage of respondents (35.2%) report that their senior designers are paid in the $60,000 to $79,999 range, while 21.1% report senior designer salaries in the $40,000 to $59,999 range. Only 8.5% report salaries in the $80,000 to $99,999 range and only 2.8% in the $100,000 range. Intermediate designers—the group that seems to have evaporated into thin air according to many a design firm—most commonly fall in the $40,000 to $59,999 salary range according to 47.2% of respondents. Junior designers who are making in excess of $40,000 per year should consider themselves lucky. According to the overwhelming majority of respondents (53%) junior designers typically fall within the $20,000 to $39,999 range.

Good project managers are always in demand and project/business management skills are ranked second by respondents (behind design skills) as the quality most valued in employees by design firms. As such, they are paid more or less on par with senior designers. Some 21.9% of respondents place project managers in their firms in the $40,000 to $59,999 range, while 32.6% place them in the $60,000 to $79,999 range, and 14% in the $80,000 to $99,999 range , while 2.8% of respondents report that project managers in their firms make in excess of $100,000 annually.

In addition to all the reported salary levels, 50.8% of respondents indicated that they expect salary levels to increase in the coming months, and only 0.5% expect them to decrease, while 19.8% anticipate no change. One important caveat: Though signs of trouble in the residential real estate markets have been obvious for months, this survey was completed before the recent mortgage industry crisis, which is now beginning to show signs of softening the commercial real estate market.

The above findings represent averages across all parameters, but it’s interesting how results change based on specific parameters. For example, responses indicate that firms with a lower dollar volume specified show the largest percentage of senior designers in the $100,000 or more salary range. There’s a substantial jump in the percentage of respondents from firms with higher annual dollar volume specified and higher annual square footage specified who report marketing and business development professionals making in excess of $100,000 per year. And some junior designers in the Northeast make up to $80,000 per year. Using our salary survey charts, readers can hone in on the specific parameters that describe their own firms, and determine whether it’s time to go ask for a raise…or go job hunting. The comprehensive 2007 Salary Survey results can be found in the tables that follow.

2007 Salary Survey Tables

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