Updated: Aug 19, 2019
The budget conversation can be one of the most awkward things for an interior designer to discuss with their clients, but here at Casa Vilora Interiors, we understand that it is too big a part of the project, and our relationship of working together, to not be crystal clear on.
Because we believe in transparency, educating our clients throughout the process, and making the design process as stress-free as possible for you, we are very comfortable discussing a budget with our clients from the very beginning.
There is a huge difference in what a design budget is and what a client would like to spend. They are usually not the same thing in my experience, and I have been doing this for over 12 years.
Most designers will ask a client what their budget or investment is for the scope of work they would like to complete, and most times clients don't know, or they throw out the number they would like to spend. This is where a good designer will help educate a client about what an actual budget should be and set clients' expectations.
You see, you want your designer to come to the table with their grand visions and ideas, and often times that creative range can be suppressed by a less than ideal budget. We are usually not out to spend your last dime, but instead want to honor your vision, help you realize your dream of a beautiful home, and creating a space where you are inspired to live your best life every day
We know that clients don't manage design budgets all day; but we do. We know that they rarely go shopping for a full turn-key design with all the beautiful layers of furnishings, fabrics, window coverings, accessories and styling; but we do. We know that most clients don't think about all the hands that touch their products; from the artisans, factory workers, freight carriers, receivers, delivery people, but we do. And we know that they don't have the resources, skillset, knowledge and abilities to bring it all together; but we do.
This is why we don't expect a client to know what a budget should be for their project; but we do. We are the experts in managing budgets, and we enjoy working with clients who are open to this honest and important conversation.
When we ask the budget question, it is to open the conversation, and get your thoughts about what the project will cost out in the open. The number a client has in mind is usually only based on what they would like to spend and not substantiated by anything other than that. It is usually not based on research nor their own experience with a similar project. Of course we want to respect what you have to spend, but we would be doing you a grave disservice if we took that number, which is usually much lower than it should be, and try to create a space that will not be its best
Several years ago, I was not as confident speaking to my clients about a good budget for the vision they expressed to me. I would be so eager and excited to get the job that I would take a less than ideal budget and operate at a loss to create the space I promised the clients. Once I gave the client my word that I would deliver a certain finished space, I would even give up my fees to make it happen.
Can you see that this would not be a very sustainable way to operate a business long term? Can you see how a designer could go out of business if they operated that way? Fortunately for me, I learned quickly that this is not the way to honor my clients' budgets.
Now I take the time to educate my clients as to what an ideal budget should be based on the scope of work. If they truly cannot afford to spend that amount, I will provide expert advice about reducing the scope while still maintaining a beautiful design
That may mean phasing out the project and only doing one or two rooms at a time, or it may mean offering the client just a design plan only that they can implement themselves if they are pretty hands on, or it may mean consulting with us on an as-needed basis and only pay for that time. We don't necessarily walk away from a smaller budget, but will help you prioritize and best use the money that you have to spend to get the biggest impact right away
Never will we take a less than ideal budget and then leave a client with unfinished work. Everything is spelled out for you from the beginning as to what we will be doing with your budget, and we get to work once you approve it - no surprises.
As a consumer you must be leery of any individual who presents themselves as a designer, and promises to design your home on the cheap. You are risking them disappearing with your money, or leaving you with unfinished or undesirable work. Do your research.
I have been on two new consultations within the last month where that was the case. In one case the client paid $25,000 for a full kitchen remodel, flooring, paint an entire home among some other things. The client called me in after the designer basically left a lot of unfinished work and she's not been able to move in, and is actually carrying two mortgages as a result of extreme delays. It saddens me when I hear about situations like this where someone in the same profession as me would do that to a client. But there are two things at play here - the designer was dishonest in his/her dealings if he/she just took off without honoring their commitment to the client, and he/she lacked communication skills and the courage to educate a client on what an ideal budget should be.
I had to be the bearer of bad news in this situation. There was no way $25,000 even be close to an ideal budget for the scope of work that the client described to me. I actually thought the client was lucky that the kitchen was about 80% complete. And the kitchen was actually done well. A gut kitchen remodel will run at least $50,000.
What I believe happened in this case is that the designer ran out of money and started to bring in subpar laborers to finish the work. It was bad. Had the designer taken the time from the beginning to educate the client on the fact that her budget was not sufficient for what she wanted to do, they could have made some much different decisions upfront and save all the heartache and stress. The designer staked her reputation on her lack of confidence and lost. She will forever get a bad review from this client. The client cannot be blamed for having a $25,000 budget. It was up to the designer to educate her on what that budget would allow.
I've had to have that conversation many times. The result is that the clients will either decide that they want it done now and increase their budget, or they will do it in phases. Very rarely does a client decide not to work with us after having the budget conversation. Most people just want the truth and want to understand how their money is being spent
This is why we provide a detailed budget breakdown from the presentation meeting. Our clients are able to see every single piece going into their homes and the costs before they agree and pay us for any product. That is the value we bring. We are skilled designers with creative solutions, but we are also great stewards of your money. We are consumers too, and we like to have this assurance as well.
The other consultation I was called in for where the designer "skipped town" on the client was a young lady who hired a designer who also did not provide her with a clear picture or the design plan in the beginning. This young lady actually had a healthy budget for what she wanted, and the designer in question misused it on things that made no sense for the style direction the client expressed to me that she had asked for. As a result, money was wasted on things that did not add value, and were executed in a subpar manner, and the space is now sitting unfinished.
That designer as well, seemed to run out of money and stopped returning the client's calls or he/she would randomly show up with damaged products that she clearly got at deep discounts.
For months these clients have been inconvenienced and basically lied to and they still did not get to see their visions come to reality. Now they want it done right, and I am honored to say that they have made the right call by reaching out to us.
They may pay more upfront, but that is because we are professionals and we know what it will take to produce the results that our clients expect - even results that will far surpass their expectations. We have proven this time and time again. The scary situations that these clients have shared with us will only make us do an even better job for them, to help bring back the trust that they may have lost for the design profession.
In both cases, I was very upfront and honest with these clients about what their budgets should be to undo some of the damage and redo it the right way. Though it was hard for them to hear, they understood the difference in having this conversation now. They understood the value that we bring.
A professional design firm like ours wants to bring you the best, and therefore we have established relationships with top vendors who produce high quality products that will look beautiful and last a long time in your home. We manage every detail of your project from the design phase to successful installation into your home for a turn-key finish.
But I want to also make it clear that we are a business too. We are not just your designers. We take pride in the role of being your designer, where we make sure every item we select for you works perfectly for your aesthetical and functional needs. But we are also the retailer that you purchase your furnishings from. Like every other retailer, we make a profit as well. If you are a consumer who has an issue with designers making a profit, then you will continue to run into designers who will take your money and not deliver what you expect.
A design firm has many expenses like every other businesses out there, and a part of how we create revenues for ourselves is that we sell the very same products that we present to you during the design phase. Instead of collecting a design fee, creating a design and then handing it to you to go do it on your own, we also bring you the convenience of purchasing and managing the products for you; even using the services of receivers and white glove delivery personnel. This part of the design process works very much the same way as any retailer or business person out there - perhaps just like you work in your own business. We buy at the lowest price we can and sell at a fair price below retail. This means that you the consumer saves money from retail costs and we make a bit for the health of our business. Win/win
It is a pretty simple concept, but I am amazed at how many consumers think that designers should not be making profits on the products we sell. Some are still of the mindset that this is a fun little hobby we have, and may not respect the fact that we are savvy business people as well.
Some clients also understand that we operate from a natural gifting. It is something that we are born with, much like artists, and therefore some people still believe that a price tag should not be placed on natural talents. I obviously disagree, but where they may be missing the point is that these natural skills have to be developed and honed through education, setting up a business structure, hiring employees, and investing in the business, and all of those things cost money. If you have a designer who is only spending money and not making money, you might want to reconsider working with them. That is not sustainable and sooner or later it will start to show. As a consumer, you should want to see your designer be successful just as you want success for yourself.
You can feel secure in knowing that they have the right systems and processes in place and they will take care of your needs. They are not cheating you by making you aware of what your budget should be for what you are asking for. Keep in mind that you are paying us for the grand visions, ideas and skills that you don't have, and therefore you should allow your designer to be creative and bring those ideas to the table without limitations. You can then work backwards from there if the cost of those ideas exceed what you want to spend.
I have seen clients take offense to a designer presenting them with a price tag higher than what they had in mind. That is like walking into a Tesla dealership and take offense to the fact that the prices are not the same as the Toyota dealership. With a Tesla, you are paying for the innovation, technology and creme-de-la-creme design. Most consumers understand this about most products. Interior design is no exception
This is why it is extremely important to us to show you a full design plan from the beginning with all products and their pricing to arrive at the budget.
Surely the budget in some cases will be more than you want to spend. At that point we can make decisions about what to remove or find alternates for to get closer to what you have to spend, while still maintaining the integrity of the design. It should always be an open conversation, and a good designer should be flexible enough to make changes and meet you where you are. It should never be a point of contention, and no, you have not hired the wrong designer if they are bringing you brilliant ideas with a price tag to match. Again, a good designer may be able to help you find great alternatives that will be less, with a great end result
The next time you decide to call in a designer for your home project, be open to the budget question, and understand that he/she will have a better grip on what your project will cost than you do. What you want to spend is likely not the budget for the project. Keep an open mind and have fun.
We provide design services both locally and well outside of our local area - even internationally. We are happy to chat with you about your next project. You can book a FREE discovery call HERE
Wishing You Beauty And Inspiration!