Managing a Design Budget

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Every design project has a budget. Some are firm budgets with little to no flexibility, while others have a considerable amount of wiggle room. Budgets are a crucial starting point for any project. It is critical to have a budget in mind before you start a project, and to clearly communicate this budget to your designer.

Unfortunately, some people are reluctant to give me a budget, or they want me to give them a number. Reality is that I can re-design a bathroom on a shoestring budget or completely gut and re-do the exact same space for tens of thousands of dollars more. The materials and design we choose is dictated by your budget! What do you want? Do you want a jaw dropping room that makes a statement at every glance? Or do you just want an update to your existing space? Both can easily be achieved, the difference is your desired plan and your budget!

Once we have the budget finalized, we begin to plan the design layout or floor plan. What if anything, is staying in the space? Are we re-using furniture, flooring or lighting that you recently acquired and still love? If so, we need to know so we can incorporate these items into the design and allow more room in the budget for other items. If we do not need to replace flooring, that can be a significant savings especially on a smaller budget. It is also imperative that we take the remaining items into account when planning the design. We need to ensure the new design blends well with the existing style and color scheme of items to remain. So let us know what you want to remain in the space, or use from other areas of your home before we begin planning the design and allocating budget dollars.

After the floor plan/layout is approved, we begin to make decisions on the large and most expensive pieces. These are normally your more permanent and high impact items; cabinetry, flooring, appliances and large pieces of furniture. Typically items that are purchased with long term usage in mind. We also must allocate budget dollars for construction labour costs. I usually advise my clients to get what they really want when it comes to these items. You’re most expensive, time consuming, and permanent selections should not be compromised if at all possible. You would rather do the renovations once. It’s easier and less work to upgrade secondary items than to go back and change major design choices.

Then we begin to blend our main design choices with other selections. Paint colors, should only be chosen after major permanent items like flooring and countertops have been finalized. Countertops – again if it’s not in the budget to do granite, laminate is an option that can be easily upgraded at a later date with minimal mess and cost. Accent tile – if not in the budget, can easily be added later with minimal cost and mess. Nice lighting fixtures; high end faucets; and fancy knob pulls can all often be added down the road. These secondary choices are all items that can be upgraded if there is more money in the budget. Depending on where the most expensive items come in, we can often find something that is more mid-range for secondary items until more money becomes available to upgrade. This is where it is critical for the Home Owner to communicate what is their top priority when allocating the budget. If granite countertops are a must, but accent tile and a high end faucet can be added later, then that’s how we allocate the budget. 

Then we move on to the final details and accessories. This could be artwork and décor, accent pieces, area rugs, small furniture etc.  Whatever is required to complete the initial design. We have considerable flexibility in the budget here as well.  I can find area rugs or artwork for $5000 or $500. It’s all based on what is most important to the home owner and their budget. Once we have finalized these items we can then see if there is any room left over to upgrade some choices. This is where we might find that instead of the mid-range faucet, we can choose the high-end faucet. Or we do have money for some really nice accent tile instead of the lower cost option we had selected! This is the time when we review the selections we’ve made and upgrade where necessary and where the budget allows to complete the final design to the home owners’ specifications. 

One small note about labour costs; it is always crucial to keep a contingency budget for “unknowns”. Once we open a wall – we may find we need to move or upgrade plumbing or electrical; there may be additional work required that could not be seen until the wall was opened up to expose the “hidden” secrets behind. I try to allocate approximately 10% of the budget for this. As the project moves forward, I can re-allocate that amount if we have not run into obstacles by upgrading to nicer material selections. So I usually have a first choice and a second choice for certain materials – depending upon the budget. This way there is complete transparency for the project budget and the home owner is usually covered for any “issues” that may occur from the original budget. There is nothing worse than having to go back and ask for more money, so I try to budget conservatively with what they give me originally. It’s so much more pleasant to go back and say, we have some extra money – how would you like to spend it? 

Happy planning and happy renovating!