Creating a Successful Interior Design Portfolio (According to our Elite Ambassadors!)

An effective interior design portfolio requires more than just beautiful pictures. To accurately showcase your capabilities, style and experience, it would behoove you to include additional details which set you apart from other designers and help clients determine if your talents are a good fit for their project.  

Our Circaphiles ambassadors are letting you in on how to build a successful portfolio, from which projects to select, how to organize your work, what skills to highlight, awards and testimonials. *Hint: be sure to spend some time researching their sites after reading…we guarantee you’ll be enamored!

interior design by liz caan


Established in 2005, Liz Caan & Co. is a nationally recognized full-service interior design firm located in Newton, Massachusetts. Liz and her team specialize in creative transformations, from ground-up renovations to smaller redesigns, and our wide range of projects traverse both town and country. Their cross-disciplinary practice carries a signature aesthetic synonymous with relaxed luxury and new traditional. Liz’s work has been published in titles ranging from Elle Decor to The New York Times and can be seen in the book New England Modern (Gibbs Smith), available in bookstores this Spring. 



Sara is the mastermind behind the design. Since its establishment in 2017, BANDD/DESIGN has successfully executed over 145 residential projects, many of which have been recognized and published around the world. High-quality, approachable design is the driving force behind everything BANDD touches. In conjunction with her passion for interior design, Sara launched BANDD/DEVELOPMENT 2021 from a growing love for renovating and building beautiful homes throughout the Austin area and nationwide.



A boutique design firm located in the Baltimore / Washington DC area, Laura Hodges Studio focuses on creating beautiful, tailored spaces while fully expressing every client’s individual style and taste. Principal Laura Hodges is known for an international aesthetic along with a love for unique and dynamic environments. Influenced by a Norwegian grandmother, British mother and Jamaican father, Laura developed an early appreciation for travel and diverse cultures, having traveled extensively to over thirty countries — from Greece and Morocco to Thailand and Peru. Laura Hodges Studio’s signature aesthetic is clean, tailored, and eclectic, incorporating unique vintage and antique finds, curated art and natural elements. 

interior design by laura hodges

Q: What do you consider the most important aspect of a successful interior design portfolio?

Liz Caan:  Professional photos (always) that showcase the depth and breadth of the projects the designer has worked on… whether it’s a room or an entire custom build. I think that a short description can be helpful and allow the designer to explain the level of their involvement, point out the design direction/objectives and highlight challenges and creative solutions. Detailed shots showcasing interesting or important details are also helpful to show your level of work and how you solve problems. I think showcasing photos by project is the most logical, and it also shows flow and how you were consistent and thoughtful about materials choices, the palette, etc. to a potential client, editor, etc.

 interior design by sara malek barney

Sara Malek Barney: The most important aspect is to invest in professional photography. Since your portfolio will be the main draw to your website and other marketing and advertising efforts, I think it’s an important investment. You should also include a short description of the project, so your audience can connect to the story.

Laura Hodges: I think the most important aspect of a successful portfolio is the professionalism and clarity of the branding as it comes across to a viewer. Each of the elements, from the photography to the website design, should speak to one another and portray the same overall design vision so that the viewer/reader understands who you are as a design firm and the level of work you will perform for their project. I think that even if there’s only one project to show, the way that you show it and the style of photography as well as the overall look and feel of the website will go further to show your client who you are than multiple projects that don’t show a clear aesthetic.

Q: What’s the best way (and when) to ask clients for a testimonial?


Sara Malek Barney: Ideally, you would ask for a testimonial after the final install. Once they’ve had their “reveal” moment, and they’re happy with the results.  


Laura Hodges: I actually don’t ask clients for testimonials! I feel that this industry is a very intimate one, where our relationships are built on trust and transparency. I ask clients to develop that trust with us directly and typically our new clients come through either press or a referral, in which case they already have a testimonial from a previous/current client. 


Liz Caan: I think you can just politely ask. I would ask after the project is complete, the punch list is taken care of, and they have had some time to live in their new home. I think after the first few months is a good time as they are still in their ‘honeymoon’ period. Honestly, though, you should be able to ask anytime. It’s also a great opportunity to check in and see if they need help with anything else.

interior design by liz caan

Q: How often do you update your portfolio — from complete overhaul to regular project updates?

Laura Hodges: We update our portfolio with new projects every time we have a photoshoot and we shoot only the projects that I feel will tell a new story for our firm. We might adjust the layout of the website every once in a while but we aim to have a consistent aesthetic across our website and social media. 

Liz Caan: Not often enough! I think we photograph about 3-4 projects a year, then we try and get them published… which takes another year sometimes and then once published, we put them on the site. I did my last overhaul/new website in 2019… added a small update/refresh in 2022. I am getting ready to do another complete overhaul in 2024. It’s quite expensive and requires a lot of thought and planning…. especially if you want to incorporate video, etc.

Sara Malek Barney:  I honestly don’t feel it’s necessary to completely overhaul our portfolio. All our designs really capture our clients’ personalities, so they’re all very unique. I think it’s important to see the range of our creative design, so I tend to add new projects as we grow.

interior design by sara malek barney

Q: Requirements for featuring work — do your clients sign a contract up front? who owns the rights to the images? what things do you wish you would’ve known early on about building your portfolio?


Sara Malek Barney:  Our clients agree to allow their projects to be photographed during all stages of the project. And they understand we will be using those images for business purposes such as press, publications, online, marketing, etc. If the client has additional photography taken, the designer + firm will be given credit if it is released publicly.

Liz Caan: I own the rights to the images with the photographer. It is in our contract up front with clients that we can photograph after the project is completed, however, some clients are not on board with that. We don’t pressure them. I would rather have a client relationship than a photo, but it is important to document as much of your work as possible. Content is key these days. If a client is adamant about no photos prior to working with them, then we really think hard about whether we should take the project. Photos are our only content, so it’s important we get something out of the work…. even if it’s just social media content.

From the start of my design career, I always hired a photographer to document every project. Fifteen years ago, the photographer would send the photos to editors, and they would publish them which made it so easy. Now it’s a different story. There is a lot more content and fewer publications. Social media is now really important, and you need a lot of content to stay relevant, so I would have probably done more detailed shots and vignettes if I had known how useful they would have been to me now.

Laura Hodges: We talk about photography in our contract and also ask our clients to allow us to photograph closer to the time of the finish date as well, just in case anything has changed and they have any concerns. Our photographers generally own the rights to their images unless we outline an agreement in advance.  

interior design by liz caan

Q: What’s the best way to find a photographer who “gets you”?

Liz Caan:  Interesting question… I start by looking at the work they have done. Then, if I reach out, I try and have a Zoom with them and I ask a lot of questions about some of their work to see if I think they would be a good fit. I always make sure they are friendly, low in ego, and someone I can hang out with for a couple of days or more. I also try and be as real as possible about the project and what I am looking to portray and how I want to potentially market it. Sometimes I share the Design Directive Docs (internal) that we use, so the photographer really understands the project, and we can discuss ideas about how to capture the essence of the project prior to the shoot.  A healthy dialogue is always helpful, and honestly a great photographer can elevate your work.

Laura Hodges:  I would talk to any photographer you’re considering and interview them to get a feel for how you’ll interact with them on the day of the shoot. You’ll want to make sure you have a good rapport with them so that you feel comfortable asking for the shots you’ve planned. 

Sara Malek Barney:  I have worked with many photographers over the years and have curated a list of go-to contacts, but on occasion I will also ask for recommendations from other industry professionals. I highly suggest finding someone whose style you like, check out their website/portfolio to see if you like their artistic style.

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