How to Define Your Interior Design Budget

  • When you decide it’s time to purchase a new car, the amount of money you want to spend is probably at the top of your list of decisions to make.  The amount of money you’ll be spending usually dictates what kind of car you’ll buy, if it will be new or used, compact or full size, cloth or leather seats, etc.  At that point you go to the dealership and start negotiating with the sales person.  The sales person knows approximately how much money you’ll be spending on this new car and realistically you’re negotiating small amounts of money at that point.  But when you call an interior designer in for help why do people hesitate to share their budget.  It becomes a mind reading game if you don’t give the designer some budget range, at the very least.  If there isn’t a budget, then where do we start?  Just like a Lexus costs more than a Ford Fiesta, there are all sorts of furniture and fabric grades.  Maybe you think this is an assumption the designer should make but that’s just not fair to the designer.  He or she can waste valuable time making the perfect selections for you only to realize once presented, that the unknown budget has been busted.  I’ll admit, there are some that believe budget is an arbitrary number that is meant to be abused.  But if you’ve done your homework and selected the right interior designer, then he or she is going to respect that number and honor it like his or her parents.   It’s important to not confuse the word “budget” with “blank check”.

    Your budget should be the amount of money you are willing to spend to achieve the result you are looking for.  Whether it’s a lump sum of money you have set aside specifically or money that you have built into your monthly allowances, you are comfortable with this amount of money you intend to spend.  Then please share this number with your designer.  It’s critical to a successful relationship with your designer and thus a successful design.  Do you have to tell your designer the exact number you’re willing to spend?  I’d say no.  Actually I think it’s a good idea to hold back some percentage just in case… just-in-case you see an antique armoire you can’t live without, or a plug needs to be moved over 2 feet so that antique armoire will work, or termites have decided to take up residence in your walls.  The point is contingency budgets are a good idea.  We have one and so should you.

    Then there is the fairy tale of TV design show budgets.  Please do remember the projects you see on TV are not real. There are typically 2 budgets. The TV show itself has a budget that usually includes labor costs and the side deals they have with vendors who are getting free advertising, which aren’t shared with the viewer.  And then there is the 1000 dollar, redo-the-whole-house, no-way-this-is-even-possible budget.  Another facet of TV design is you can’t do a close-up inspection of the quality of work on a completed project.  I’d bet these projects would never pass muster with my clients on a cloudy day, much less a sunny day.

    Please do consider the quality of work you’ll be happy with when deciding on a budget.   As an example, I can have a mural painted by a master and spend a large sum of money.  Or I can have my neighbor’s 3-year-old paint a mural and spend next to nothing.  Both technically are murals.   The point is, if you expect perfection and top of the line quality, then share that with the designer.  It impacts the bottom line.  If you’re willing to settle for something less than perfect and go cheap, speak up.  But don’t go cheap on your budget and then expect perfect masterpieces and top-of-the-line merchandise.  That expectation is not realistic today.  It used to be.  But today there are too many choices and options for labor and merchandise.  Just remember you get what you pay for.  If you pay cheap or nothing, you’re usually getting cheap or nothing.   If your expectations are high, then your budget should follow suit.

    Once you’ve decided how much money you will spend, decide exactly what you want to accomplish with this budget.  Are we doing the kitchen only?  The kitchen and the adjoining breakfast?  Then it’s your designer’s job to allocate how much should be spent on each area and share with you.  If you don’t get some sort of spreadsheet with a line item break down before one dollar is spent, something is wrong.  And it is just good business to know exactly how much items will cost before anything is purchased.  In our practice, our clients get a written purchase contract (in addition to a written letter of agreement for the design fee) on anything costing over $500.

    Lastly consider we all have budgets.  That shouldn’t be a foreign word or something you feel you have to apologize for.  If you have a small budget but high expectations, consider doing things in phases.  A good designer doesn’t have a problem working this way.    After all what better than to have a client for a while.  That’s a good designer’s goal anyway…to make our client so happy that they’re clients for life!

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