Budgets & Interior Office Design
A long, LONG, time ago, when I was in interior design school, my projects were stunning. I worked on a commercial project for a fake travel agency (do they even have those anymore?), and I specified all sorts of designer commercial furniture. I filled the lobby with a variety Saarinen and Eames chairs. Desks were topped with marble and leather inserts. Guest chairs in the offices? Obviously, I’m only giving them the best! All of the fabrics I chose were at least $100 per yard.
Then, I started a real job. With real clients. And real budgets. It shook me to my core. What do you mean I can’t put ten designer pieces in the lobby? Your budget is only how much??? Are you seriously trying to fit 12 people in this 10’ x 10’ office? (Okay… this question isn’t really budget-based, but it always makes me chuckle.)
Anyway, I’ll be honest… I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years, and I still struggle with this. Today, I spec healthcare furniture, and not only are budgets still incredibly important, but I also have to spec higher grade finishes and fabrics that can stand up to harsh cleaners. Even though budgets are always top of mind, I’ve come up with a few ways that help me maintain a client’s budget without pulling my hair out.
1. Ask your client for a furniture budget before you start specifying any furniture
There are all sorts of clients out there. I’ve worked with clients that are able to give me a range for their furniture budget. Then, there are clients that have no clue how commercial furniture is priced. In cases like this, it’s time to educate your client. I find it’s best to get an idea of their interior design aesthetic, find furniture pieces that match that aesthetic, and put together a “good – better – best” presentation with price ranges for each piece of furniture. Once you show them that presentation, you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if they are a $ or $$$$$ client
2. Be Transparent
I believe, as designers, it is our job to keep our clients educated and informed through every step of the design process. That’s why they hired us, right? A LOT of clients think buying commercial furniture is like buying the flat-packed stuff that you pull off a warehouse shelf and build at home. They don’t realize a commercially rated guest chair is never going to be $20. This is a great time to go back to the “good-better-best” presentation and gently set expectations. Teach the client that the reason the commercially rated chair is more expensive is because it must meet certain standards and that it’s warranted for more than 10 minutes. Unless your client is willing to go shopping for new furniture every year, they probably need to budget for commercial furniture up front.
3. Be Flexible
This one is hard, but you have to pick your battles. I’ve worked on projects where the client wanted to bring over some existing furniture (that didn’t match ANY of the interior finishes) to help save some money. Instead of trying to convince the client to increase their budget, I found spaces for their existing furniture that were a bit more hidden or out-of-the-way. Maybe the warehouse doesn’t actually need brand new desks. Maybe we can re-use those tables and chairs in the staff break room. If the area isn’t client-facing (and the furniture isn’t damaged or unsafe), I’ll try to reuse existing furniture in those “hidden” spaces.
4. Stay Organized
I’ve built up a list of go-to manufacturers that work with my client’s interior design aesthetic and budget. However, it takes time and LOTS of research (again, I’ve been a furniture nerd for almost 20 years). If you’re new to the design game, ask your coworkers for recommendations. They may have already built a list of their favorite manufacturers.
If your coworkers don’t have a manufacturer list or if your client is asking for something new and different, build time into your projects to research. When you’re researching manufacturers online, bookmark your favorites. Over time, you’ll have an incredible library of your favorite manufacturers.
5. Keep a stash of your favorite (budget-friendly) fabrics on hand
I work in healthcare, which means there are a TON of not-aesthetically-pleasing vinyl fabrics that I sift through every day. Every once in a while, though, I’ll find a gem. It’s priced really well, holds up to harsh healthcare cleaners, and it looks and feels GOOD! Once I find something like this, I reach out to the manufacturer, order every single colorway, and I hold on to those samples like my life depends on it. When I feel stuck because my budget isn’t working out, I’ll pull out my sample stash and start swapping things out to bring my budget down.
6. Keep the entire budget in mind
In other words, don’t get stuck on each furniture piece’s individual price. The overall budget may account for a guest chair that’s $200. But… if you can find a guest chair that both you and the client like that’s $150, you can use that extra money towards some nicer accent pieces. Maybe you can actually afford to put that designer piece in the lobby!
As much as I’d like to go back to my “the sky’s the limit” of college, budgets are here to stay. However, if you stay flexible, transparent, organized, and in-the-know, your “client on a budget” can still end up with a stunning space. And, if you ever find that magical “no-budget” client, let me know.