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Real Life Interior Design Budgets Demystified

TV lounge with gallery wall and pineapple fabric on draperies
TV Lounge With Bubble Gum Blowers Gallery Wall. Designed By Veronica Solomon. Photography By Colleen Scott

Ok, so let's address the big white elephant in the room, also known as the BUDGET. This is a very difficult question for clients when they are asked "what is your budget for the project?". Some designers have even cleverly asked the question in other ways like: "how much are you planning to invest in your project?". The usual answer is "I don't know".

Many years ago I would get really frustrated when clients would not give me a straight answer, until I realized that they were telling the truth. How could they possibly know what a project should cost if they don't design their home on a regular basis? Heck, even as a designer, it is hard for me to tell what a budget might be until I start specifying the materials and products and hire trades. The range for design and decorating is very vast and therefore I believe you, Mr. Client, when you tell me that you don't know what your budget is for your project. That's what I am here for. A part of my job, and my commitment to you, is to help you establish an appropriate budget for your needs and your wants. I know these needs and wants from the conversations I have with you and visiting your home for a consultation.

For the same reason, I hope that when you ask me "what will it cost to design and decorate my home?", you will also understand that I will give you a budget range at best, based on a similar size project that I have done in the past, but the actual costs could be so much different when we get to the specifics. You promise not to hold me to any budget range I give you before I specify materials and products :-). This is because no two projects are ever alike, and every budget has to be established based on the uniqueness of your project. A budget is affected by many factors like time, the level of detail, the quality of the materials, the experts involved, legal requirements and so much more.

But I understand that you may be at a point where you are planning, researching and gathering information, and an intelligent guess is better than nothing at all, so I hereby bring you this post about real life budgets and how you can plan for your design project and be prepared.

Because I cannot disclose what my actual clients spent on their projects, I will use mood boards and to illustrate a couple different scenarios and what they would cost in real life.

Before I get to that, I would like to breakdown the line items that you must consider when determining your budget for your project. A lot of these items are overlooked when a client thinks about how much they want to spend, although these items are essential for the successful completion of a project. Clients tend to only think about the key pieces when a well designed room has a lot of layers. It is always wise to factor in a contingency budget so you are prepared for any potential issues along the way - namely having to reselect a material because the initial choice is discontinued. On a tight timeline, you may have to spend more to keep the project moving along. But there are so many other things that could affect your budget.

Depending on the type of project, your budget should include:

The consultation fee

Design fee and fees for architectural service

Fees for permits

Cost for dumpsters, haul aways

Equipment leasing

Measure fee

Materials cost

Labor and installation costs (construction)

Professional cleaning

Cost for trades services (painters, wallpaper hangers, upholsterer etc)

Cost for furnishings, window treatments, accessories and accents

Cost for freight and shipping

Cost for receiving, storage, white glove delivery

Installation costs (art installer, custom drapery installer)

Sales tax

Cost for incidentals

So you can see that there is a lot that goes into developing an appropriate budget for a project.

Let's start with a dining room that I pulled together on this mood board for this purpose. Let's assume that this room was strictly decorating. A blank slate that needed a wallcovering, furnishings, art, lighting, window treatments

Dining room mood board with yellow chairs and black grasscloth
Moodboard for dining room with black grasscloth wallpaper. Designed by Veronica Solomon

This room is stylish but you may notice that it is not over the top. This would be considered a middle of the road room. Great quality products, nothing super high end, a good mix of lower end pieces as well. The total cost on this dining room is $40,515.72 all in. Let's break it down.

** Please note that some costs are estimates. Prices are shown at full retail. A similar project with us would be less as we share discounts with clients on products purchased through wholesale, to-the-trade sources**

The grasscloth is $96 per roll. I would assume around 8 rolls for a standard size dining room plus labor and supplies - $2000.

The table is 128" long with all the leaves, and 88" without. It retails for $3319

I would go with maybe 6 or 8 chairs in this room. Each chair is $795. Let's assume 6 chairs $4770

The sideboard measures 82.5x19.5x32 and retails for $3449

The rug is a wool 8x10. Retails for around $800

The chandelier is around $4000

The art is $1098 each $2196

The mirror retails for $2148

The lamps are $397.82 for both

The florals are about $389 each. Three would be $1167

The sconces are $780 each. Both $1560

Estimated accessories for styling the space would be roughly $1200 (could be much more for table settings)

Product total $27006.82

Other costs

Estimated design fee would be roughly $4500

Sales tax would be roughly $2228.06

Electrician cost roughly $700 (just for changing light fixtures. No major electrical work)

Freight and shipping costs roughly 10-14% of total $3780.84

Installation costs roughly $500

Receiving, storage and delivery costs roughly $1800

So the above dining room is a prime example of how things can add up pretty quickly. Each item is carefully chosen to create not just a stylish space, but very functional as well.

If I were to present this dining room design to a client, and the client loves it but thinks it might be over what they are willing to spend, we would then have a discussion about what items we can replace with a lower end version and still come close to the look and feel. In this case, perhaps we would paint the walls a matte black instead of the grasscloth. The texture would be different, but the overall feel would be the same.

Please understand that a designer's job is not necessarily to save you money, but to ensure that your money is spent well. Our job, and why you came to us in the first place, is to give you our very best. I call it our "A" design plan. This means, while we consider budget, we are also considering the things that will make the room sing - even if it pushes you over budget a bit. We show you what we think is perfect for the room. We can then have the discussion what you love to the point of spending a bit extra, or what can go. Sometimes the perfect piece is a lower end piece. In this example, the lamps and rug are perfect, and you can see that they are very reasonably priced. This is how we work your budget - mixing high with low for a dynamic look.

You want to work with a design firm who will stretch you just a bit, to bring you the very best - things you have never seen before, and would not have thought of in a million years. But they should also be open to making adjustments as necessary to accommodate what you can afford. Be aware of working with a designer who will project their money history on you. It is very limiting and stifles the creative process. It is a delicate balance presenting a client with their ideal space while respecting their budget. It requires experience and lots of resources to guide you through this process

Here is an example of a lower end dining room. The pieces selected are fair quality and will last a good long time if they are well cared for. This room is roughly a budget of $22,911

** Please note that some costs are estimates. Prices are shown at full retail. A similar project with us would be less as we share discounts with clients on products purchased through wholesale, to-the-trade sources**

Dining room moodboard with horse triptych
Dining Room Moodboard with horse triptych. Designed by Veronica Solomon

Here's the budget breakdown

The dining table is 76w and can comfortably seat 6 people. It retails for $1575

The chairs retail for around $2100 for 6

The rug retails for around $2900. It is a wool 8x10

The chandelier retails for $900

The sideboard retails for $1680

The lamps retail for $278 each. Both $556

The horse triptych retails for roughly $850

The mirror retails for $378

The floral and greenery both retail for $650

Accessories would be roughly $800 (depending on tableware)

Total cost for products $12,389

Other costs

Estimated design fee would be around $4000

Electrician cost would be around $500

Painter and supplies would be around $700

Sales tax is roughly $1022

Freight and shipping cost is roughly $2000

Installation costs roughly $500

Receiving, storage and white glove delivery is roughly $1800

Keep in mind that in both examples, no custom window treatments were included. This is usually an essential element that I include in all projects. Assuming there is just one window and the privacy layer is already there (shutters, blinds, shades) a good range for a pair of custom fixed drapery panel is anywhere from $1500 on the very low end to $4500 on the upper end. This typically includes all material costs, fabrication and installation.

Bubblegum blowing gallery wall. Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Anna Wintour
Bubblegum blowers gallery w all designed by Veronica Solomon. Photography by Colleen Scott

Hopefully these two examples help to shine some light on what a potential budget should be for whatever space you would like to design. Construction costs for any remodels would obviously be additional

Please reach out to us anytime, if you need help developing a budget for your next design project, or head to our FREE downloads and download the Budget Estimation Worksheet and complete the budget exercise

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