December 2, 2010

Reality Check: What does it cost to furnish a room?

Money talks can be a little awkward.  I don’t relish talking about money and I don’t like telling people how much money they should spend…  but it’s part of my job.  Often when I’m called into a project, clients don’t know how much they should spend on a room.  Budgets are a very tricky thing and I often have to help them figure out where they should be at on their budget.


People often fear telling a designer their budget because they fear she will “spend it all.”  Well, guess what?  We will!!!   A designer’s job is to know the client’s budget and do as much as she/he can with that budget.  If a client tells me she has $45,000 for a room, I’m going to use every cent of that $45,000 to get her the best quality she can afford.  Similarly, if a client has $18,000 for a room, I’m going to use all of it too so that she can have the best she can afford.  Is the client who spent $18,000 getting the same thing the client who spent $45,000 is?  No, definitely not.   If a client really has $15,000 to spend and tells me he has $10,000, he’s only shooting himself in the foot  (This hasn’t ever happened, I promise 🙂  because I’m going to make decisions and present based upon a level of quality & value that’s lower than what he can really afford.

When clients ask me “how much should my room cost?” it’s difficult to answer.  I can do something with almost anything, but the results will be totally different in different budgets.

We’re lucky that we live in a time where good design is accessible at affordable prices.  But…  we have to be careful that we’re comparing apples to apples when comparing goods.  For example- the ikea sofa, the Pottery Barn sofa and the Lee Industries Sofa…  All are at different pricepoints and at different quality levels.  Quite frankly, you get what you pay for.  If a client comes to me with a lower budget for the living room and wants it completely furnished, I can’t spec a Lee sofa for her even though it’s the better sofa.  I have to go with a sofa at a lower pricepoint.

I thought it might be interesting to see what a tyical bare-minimum living room budget would look like at 3 different pricepoints:  low- medium- and medium-high    (I’m not going higher than that into high-end because the sky can really be the limit.)… NO thrift/ flea purchases are in here either..

LOW                                      MID                          MED-HIGH
Sofa                           $500                                     $2200                             $3500+
2 Chairs                     $250                                      $2600                             $4400+
Wool Rug 8 x 10        $350                                      $2000                         $5000+
coffee table                 $100                                     $750                                $2000+
3 occasional tables       $100                                    $1200                              $3900
2 table lamps               $100                                     $300                                $900+
2 floor lamps             $80                                      $600                                $1600+
4 curtain panels-          $25                  off the rack    $400                               $1800+
Curtain Hardware        $40                                       $750+                             $1000+
2 natural woven shades   $50                                    $240                              $750
light fixture                $20                                        $350                              $1000+
throw pillows              $125              off the rack     $500                              $1000+
Art & accessories-  $50                                     $3000                             $5000+
SHIPPING/ DELIVERY- x                                        x                                    x
electrical, installations, labor – x                                x                                     x
hardware, wallpaper,etc.-  x                                       x                                     x
TOTAL                  $1,850.00 +                           $14,140.00 +                       $31,850+

…And then think that I didn’t put in items like wallpaper, installations, SHIPPING (this is BIG!!!  10-20% of the cost of the project), labor, paint, archictural details, special treatments on furnishings, etc. so add in thousands more $$$$)

The low is pretty much based on Ikea’s prices, the mid is kind of a Pottery Barn budget and the mid-high is a mix middle & high-range custom and trade-only items.   Again, I can’t stress enough that even the “med-high” can go waaaaaay up from there & that even this can be “tight” if the client is really looking for high end antiques & upholstery, etc.

Even if the same designer were to do rooms with these 3 different budgets, the rooms would be completely different and you would know by looking which was which.

{ikea…  notice that putting Ikea stuff in a room that’s already architecturally interesting (the horizontal paneling)  adds some oomph to it…  I really like the general idae of this room but with slimmer-profiled furnishings and a truly crusty & old gold oval mirror, some natural textures and a better light fixture, it would be much betta and put it into another league.}
{pottery barn…  same here…  no pattern either.}
[Houe Beautiful…  see the difference?  It’s all in the lines & the quality.}

… There’s never any judging when a client tells me his or her budget…  there’s just serious brain scrambling to figure out how I can get them the best room for the money we have.  There are times when clients tell me what they want and then tell me their budgets and I have to be honest and say, “For that amount, you’re not going to be happy with what you get”  because what they want and what they want to spend are so far off.  In this case, I typically recommend that we create an entire plan that the client will be happy with that he or she can then implement in stages to offset the costs.

In my own home, we were able to do things for less by going to thrift stores & flea markets & by using craigslist and by doing everything ourselves, but we wanted a certain level of quality with certain items (our sofa, rug, lighting, fabrics.)  We were able to save by finding an amazing sofa for a steal on craiglist and having it reupholstered (pic below), but it still cost us $1500 or so and it took a lot of TIME.  If I had done it for a client, the amount of money they would have had to pay me for my time to find the sofa on craigslist, go pick it up, and have it reupholstered would have considerably reduced its savings and possibly not even have been worth it.


{our craiglist lee sofa- photo by Helen Norman}

When furnishing a room from scratch, it can feel scarily expensive.  Most people begin the process after they move into a new place & realize they need furniture…  they’ve already spent so much purchasing the house and now they have to furnish it.  In the initial “budget talk” many of my clients are blown away when we do simple calculations and come to an average pottery-barnesque-priced living room that costs over $15,000 without including things like wallpaper and special treatments and SHIPPING…

I like to use vintage and flea market finds to stretch my budget {and add style you just can’t get with all new items.}  If you’re willing to do things yourself and seek out cool items and refinish them and rework them, you can really stretch your budget.  If you don’t like to do things yourself, paying your designer to do it isn’t necessarily going to save you any money because she will have to upcharge the items or bill you hourly, but it is going to give you the mix of old-and-new results you want and I highly recommend it…  It’s a valuable service worth paying for.  My clients are never happier than when I come in with a good vintage find for them that they never would have chosen or found themselves that makes the room.

What are your thoughts on budgets?

xoxo, Lauren

If you’d like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

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