Not really hired, but last year I agreed to open my 90 year old apartment for a tour of historic downtown homes. I did a TON of work in the six months leading up to the tour (it was actually a terrific incentive, I would totally do it again), but four hours before the tour was due to start, my incredibly fantastic neighbor, who is an interior designer, showed up at my door with a cup of coffee for me, and then proceeded to pretty much redo my entire apartment. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, and I wish I had before and after pictures. I swear he managed to make more impact in four hours than I had in six months! I have since had him suggest changes to the layout, etc - lots of small stuff that has made a huge difference. It's one of things where price and quality vary drastically, and there is not always a correlation, but it's definitely worth looking into.
Some furniture stores have design services, and sometimes they're free. Before you hire one though, look at their portfolio, and figure out if the designer's ideas are something you would be comfortable with. And find out what their prices are, and how many hours they think they'll need.
I hired one and it was the best move I ever made. She helped me with paint colors, furniture choices, carpeting, flooring, furniture placement. lighting fixtures. I told her I was on a (small) budget and I can do alot of things myself. So, she came over for 3 hours looked at what I liked and we went room by room and she gave me ideas and things I can change myself. We then went to Home Depot for another hour and she showed me things I should buy for lights, paint colors, kitchen/door hardware, bathroom fixtures, etc. Everything that I would need to change stuff myself. I think I spent a total of $250 for her time/suggestions and it was worth every penny. She wrote everything down and gave me a summary of item #s at Home Depot of the stuff we picked out.
My taste/style (I didnt even know I had one !!) is completely opposite of hers, but she showed me how to recognize my style and now I have a better idea of what I like. She said a interior decorator pro identifies your style and steers you to what you like (not what she likes)
It definitely wasn't the fancy whole enchillada that you see in magazines, it was the more DIY version of interior decorating ideas from a pro.
Houzz.com can definitely give you some great ideas!
I have used a decorator in the past--he did it as a favor to me, and I know when he charges, he is quite expensive. I got his input on lighting, paint colors (I picked, he confirmed), siding color, stone facade selection, etc. The house was a total re-do. I did not get help with furniture. His input was invaluable, and the house looked amazing (in my opinion!).
I've had three. One retired so I wasn't able to use her again. One worked on just commissions for furniture and work that I had done, but since it was a long distance house, she oversaw all the remodeling, painting etc, and kept the workers on a timeline. She was worth her weight in gold. The most recent one helped with a new house we built, and he works strictly on a retainer, plus whatever he sells to us. I had definate ideas of my own, but they all worked well with that and seem to be able to take cues from the owner. I found they all did things that I would never have thought of as far as furniture arrangement and accessorizing. We have a lot of artwork and the current designer did amazing arrangements with it, that left us speeechless.
Just hired one (a fellow boarder at my barn). My problem is I couldn't decide on paint colors. She picked the samples and I agreed. The living room is now a lovely aubergine with white trim and white fireplace. The room already had oak trim and and oak mantle, and it looks terrific. The dining room is now a gray-green on the bottom and taupe above the chair rail with white trim. The great room will be terra cotta with white trim and fireplace. I have to say that her eye is terrific--no way I could have done this on my own. She also found a great painter. I believe hourly rate for designers is $50-$100 an hour, but well worth it.
My cousin is an interior decorator (well now a handbag designer but she still has the occasional client) and she's done what another poster said for my mom- basically gone through my parents' house and shuffled furniture around the rooms and between rooms, and went with my mom to home improvement places to suggest fixtures. One of her places to scout for decorative accessories is Tuesday Morning, if you have one in your area.
In the days before pinterest (and houzz, though I haven't allowed myself much time there yet!) I kept accordian files of pages from magazines of design/decor ideas (yeah, so i was 16 years old, what of it lol). But instead of just pulling pages, i had color coded sticky notes on each page describing what exactly it was that i loved about each room. (I was a very cool teenager, lemmetellyou) instead of just saying 'so relaxing!' I'd write 'monochrome, cool colors with pops of tangerine, calming but not boring' for example. Look for the little details, too!
Writing it out made a pattern of my preferences more obvious to myself, but it can also help you describe what you like to a decorator, too.
Now I (occasionally) go on pinterest and try to include that same commentary on the things I pin.
Spend some time browsing decor and think about your preferences. When you go, WOW, what is it that grabs you? Same with rooms that you don't like, why don't you like them? Think of it as critical reading versus flipping through a magazine in a waiting room.
MrB's attempt at talking like a horse person, "We'll be entering in the amateur hunter-gatherer division...."
Don't under estimate recreating magazine rooms too. I did our master bathroom this way and it's still my favorite room in the house (well maybe the master closet I just re-did beat it out- which I got ideas from houzz.)
Also, try using websites like southern living.com or kitchen & bath magazine which I think is bhg.com. In my current house, the master bathroom is long and narrow, and did like the outdated design. Found the same layout, but more modern design on Southern Living and used it with the cabinet maker and contractor.
"You gave your life to become the person you are right now. Was it worth it?" Richard Bach