Visiting a Design Center: Everything You Need to Know

Exterior of Boston Design Center in Boston’s Seaport District

Design Centers are typically large buildings full of showrooms or stalls for home design product vendors to display their goods. Wallcoverings, fabric, custom furniture — almost everything you need to decorate your home can be found at a Design Center. Access to these specialized shopping centers has traditionally been exclusive “to-the-trade”. However, more Design Centers are welcoming the public.

This is due in part to the changes brought about by the internet and expanding access to information formerly held by professionals. In addition, consumers now expect to find just about anything (both information and products) online. Buyers who are educating themselves online are demanding access to previously guarded trade secrets, and to showrooms where they can see products first-hand. However, a smart consumer also knows when hiring an expert is the best choice.

Let’s break it down:

What does it mean to be “to-the-trade”?

Can the public visit the Design Center?

What will you see when you get there?

Courtesy of Duralee

The basics: what does “to-the-trade” mean?

“To-the-trade” refers to showrooms that sell their goods exclusively to members of the professional trade. The “trade” is comprised of architects and designers that are members of professionally-run businesses. Selling to the trade is not meant to limit the public from purchasing their goods. Rather, these vendors will typically remove the sales tax when selling to a member of the trade. This is done with the understanding that the sales tax will then be passed on to the client when the designer “re-sells” the item.

Courtesy of Duralee

Can the public visit the Design Center?

This all depends on the particular design center and individual showrooms within. Most Design Centers will allow the public to visit the showrooms as long as they are accompanied by a licensed member of the trade. However, Design Centers are more recently allowing members of the public to browse the showrooms on their own. Some showrooms are able and willing to add sales tax and sell direct to the consumer as well. If the Design Center is open to the public, you can certainly enjoy the many benefits of them on your own. If the purpose of your visit is to purchase goods, it may be beneficial to have a member of the trade accompany you. A professional will be able to answer questions, guide you through the seemingly endless showrooms, and keep you from becoming overwhelmed by the volume of choices.

Courtesy of Duralee

What will I see at these showrooms?

A trip to the Design Center is very different from a trip to a mall or other large shopping center. The location functions as a place of business not only for vendors but also the designers who shop there. Many Design Centers have meeting spaces available for trade members to conduct their business and hold meetings with clients. The showrooms display gorgeous pieces that represent the latest trends, and their staff is dressed in the latest fashions. Your visit is meant to be an immersive experience into the world of interior design.

The showrooms redecorate frequently, so visiting often is a great way to keep up with the latest trends and makes for a fun leisurely tour for the interior design hobbyist.  However, what you see in the showroom is only a small sample of the products the vendor has to offer. Most items you see are completely customizable and everything from the fabric to the shape of the piece can be altered, resulting in a truly one-of-a-kind piece.

Courtesy of Duralee
Courtesy of Duralee

If the purpose of your visit is to shop, make sure you are prepared by having necessary measurements and any photos from magazines or other inspiration pieces with you. It is very easy to become overwhelmed with the number of vendors available and choices that need to be made when you find something you would like. The staff in these showrooms are very knowledgeable as to what can and cannot be achieved with their products. However, accompanying a professional when shopping will help greatly when it comes to understanding design terminology and confirming your decisions, ensuring you get exactly what you want.

These showrooms act like a resource library for trade members. Vendors will often lend out fabric swatches, wallpaper samples, and furniture sketches for designers to show their clients. If you are visiting without a designer, they may charge a deposit for the sample or may not let you borrow it at all. This may seem restrictive but the rules are in place to ensure that both showroom examples and product samples are available, so that every designer and customer is able to get exactly what they need.

Courtesy of Duralee

All of Babel’s interior designers are members of the trade and would be glad to accompany you* through the Boston Design Center, which is just a short trip from any of our four design locations. Having a trusted source to answer all of your questions will enhance your experience. Visit one of Babel’s four showrooms to meet a designer and get some ideas before heading to the endless, inspiration-filled showrooms at the Boston Design Center.

*Hourly fees apply


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