How To Budget Your Redecorating or Renovation Project

Budget.  It’s the least sexy part of a renovation or redecorating project… 

One of the first questions I ask my interior decorating + design clients is “What’s your project budget?”

The most common reply is…
I don’t know…. $1,500 maybe?  $5,000?  I have no clue what it’ll cost.”

Well, $1,500 isn’t even enough to buy a good quality sofa and the toss pillows to decorate it up… but it might be just enough to accessorize.  

If you have $5,000 but tell me you want to rip out the floors throughout the entire main floor, don’t count on getting all new living room, dining room, and bedroom furniture also… even from really inexpensive stores like Ikea.

Seeing what it actually costs to pull together a room can feel quite shocking…

But if you sit down and add up what you spent on everything in your room now over time — not just the major pieces but every little book, lamp, blind, and detail — you’ll quickly realize that to get a Pinterest-worthy room it may cost more than you think.

This is not to say that you have to buy extremely expensive pieces to make a room look good.
However it’s important to know your budget before you begin any redecorating project.

So let’s break down some of the most common renovation costs, shall we?

Just this elevation alone costs about $800, not including the bench and a couple art pieces that the client  already owned.  It was done from Amazon and inexpensive artwork.  Things add up!

 

The first step in budgeting is to determine what level of quality is appropriate for your project.

Some people want budget pieces like big-box stores.  These pieces will typically be of MDF or inexpensive woods and will most likely require assembly. Fabrics will typically have lower rub counts (I talk more on determining fabric quality in my blog on expensive mistakes when buying a sofa here).  

Other people will always go for the best of the best that will last for decades (even lifetimes) and are willing to wait and save to buy something once, rather than have to replace it again in 5 years.  This is certainly the more eco-responsible thing to do!  Fast furnishings are a HUGE problem for our planet.

Most people I find fall somewhere in the middle.  They want good quality pieces that will last for decades, but they may mix in lower quality pieces and maybe one or two super high quality investments.

My thought is that you can buy the best that you can afford.  And, if you can’t afford good quality pieces for the things you’ll use every day, it’s better to wait than to buy fast furniture because in the long run quality is always less expensive.

We have a handy budget guide that breaks down what to budget for the different areas of your home.  I broke it down by item so that you can easily adjust to what your project will entail.  Each item outlines an average of what to expect to spend if you choose low-quality, good-quality, or high-quality pieces.  Get that free guide here.

Here’s an example of mixing high and low.  The sectional, toss pillows, and coffee table are both great quality pieces and are in the mid-range of our budget guide scale.  The carpet and side table are inexpensive finds.  Adding a thick felt rug pad under an inexpensive carpet is a great way to make your budget stretch further.

 

The second step is to design your layout right down to the last detail… and if you’re doing a renovation, you need to do this before you hire trades or a contractor

Contractors and trades aren’t mind readers.  They aren’t designers either.  And one of the fastest ways to blow your budget is to get quotes before you’re clear of exactly what needs to go into your project.

For example, if you’re doing a kitchen and you want a pot filler or a fridge with an ice maker, that requires plumbing.  Not something contractors will typically include in their initial quote unless you ask for it… but it can be a big line item.  This will mean sacrifices you weren’t expecting — either the plumbing goes, or you’re taking that budget from somewhere else.

Don’t think this only happens in the kitchen… every single room in your home requires decisions that will eat into your budget (or worse, force you over your contingency) if they aren’t planned for.

To do this, grab a piece of graph paper and sketch out your room to scale.  Google the average size of certain pieces if you need to.  Don’t forget to think about all of the details like elevation changes, layers of lighting, and the little features you’d love to have like motorized blinds or a console with lamps behind your sofa so that you can communicate what that vision looks like when you get your quote.

If this feels hard, consider our CD Decorating Guide.  We’ll measure your space and create a to-scale 3D Photorealistic rendering along with a shopping list to complete your space.  The cost will easily make up for itself by saving you the headache of budget swaps later on in your project!

 

This is an example of one of our photorealistic renderings.  We’re able to make sure that all drawers would have enough room to open, there would be enough space behind the dresser to draw the curtains, and specify to the electrician to wire additional lighting in for pendants beside the bed since the nighstand real estate was so small.

 

The third step in budgeting your project is to figure out what your construction budget and furnishing budget is.

When doing a build or renovation project, most homeowners make the mistake of telling their contractor their entire budget then being left with little to no funds to furnish and put the finishing touches on the space that really makes it all come together.

This is because they fail to break their budget down into construction and furnishings!

Here’s a side-by-side of a room that has beautiful finishings.  The homeowner had their contractor knock down walls, lay new floors, repair and paint the walls, and put up beautiful new lighting.  It’s a stunning shell, but all that was left in her larger living area was her sofa and chair.  It didn’t feel very done.

A year later she brought us in to finish the space.  We added curtains, accessories, accent furniture, storage, and artwork to really add the old/new craftsman mix she was after.

Again, our free budget guide is extremely handy for figuring out what your furnishing budget and basic materials should be!

 

Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating? 

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

But Heather, how do I actually know what construction will cost?  

After Mike Holmes came on the scene, many people are just so afraid that they’ll be ripped off by their contractors.  It’s important to go in with a basic knowledge of what things cost so that you can judge what consistutes great quality work and what is just plain B.S.

We got 3 quotes for doing our bathroom renovation.  The first came in at $42,000.  Being a designer I knew that this was a ridiculous quote — it didn’t even include a custom shower, just a shower kit from a big box store!  

Another quote came in at $22,000.  And a third at $15,000.

That’s a huge range!

The first quote was from a contractor with a great reputation of doing really fine work.   But is it really $20,000 better?  Especially given we were providing the finishing materials… 

The lowest quote was from someone we didn’t know.. but saving that much money is certainly tempting!  Though I’m not sure worth it when water and old plumbing is involved.  Often contractors will give the lowest possible price for the job with no buffer built in, then you’ll be constantly hit with surprises as the job goes along.  While I’ve never worked with this contractor and his quality of work could be great, the fact that it was that much cheaper felt like the classic bait and switch we see all the time in the industry.

The middle quote was from someone we’ve worked with in the past.  Someone we trust.  Not everyone has the luxury of working with someone who has already proven to be skilled and reliable though!

Of course, if you hire a designer they’ll come with a lot of that knowledge.  And we’ll even bring in trades we’ve worked with and trust from past projects.

But not everyone can afford full service design.

Knowing that, Homewyse.com has an incredible list of materials, installation costs, and maintenance costs.  You can play around with low/mid/high and really get a sense for what your wish list might convert to in dollars and cents.

Keep in mind that these prices are an average.  You may find that your actual costs are higher or lower than this, but it at least gives you an idea of what to expect.

Another great rule of thumb is pricing out materials and multiplying that by 2 or 2.5.  Many contractors use this as a formula to quote their labour costs into materials costs — especially for exterior renovations.  It’s not super accurate but could give you an idea before you begin collecting quotes.

 Here’s a rendering design we did for a client.  If you were looking at this photo and trying to determine a construction budget you would include the flooring (materials, underpad, installation labour, and subfloor repair if required), fireplace (framing, insert, cladding, and mantle plus running a gas line if required) the millwork for the built-ins, windows, paint, drywall framing around the millwork and patching, plus electrical.

When doing the furniture budget, this space looks finished and pretty because it includes layering pieces like the vases, books, plants and pillows.  Don’t forget to set aside an art and accessories budget!  They make a much bigger impact than you may think!

Add your contingency 

Even if you’re a seasoned renovations pro, if your plans call for flooring, electrical, plumbing, or anything structural there’s simply no way of knowing what might come up.

Things may have been done by previous homeowners that aren’t to code or sometimes things aren’t in places that would be logical.

I always recommend a 20% contingency.  You might not need any of it however it’s better to plan those funds and shrink your budget than budget everything you have and not have enough to finish the project off or to have to borrow from other parts of the project and compromise on the things you wanted most.

 

Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating?  Let us help you make your home stylish, comfortable, and a reflection of who you are.

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

What if there’s not enough money to do everything?

I often say that 80% of my job isn’t making things pretty… it’s problem solving.

Unless you’re planning on hiring a designer with a project management team, you’ll be called upon by your contractor with every decision along the way.  You’ll need to put on your problem solving hat — and the budgeting phase is no exception!

There are a number of different ways you can go about managing your project’s budget:

1.  Do it in phases.  If you compromise on furnishings or finishes just to get a completed space you’ll never be fully happy with the job.  It’s better to break the project into two phases.  I know it’s so hard to wait, but it’s always worth it!

2.  Do some of the work yourself.  Often labour costs are as much as materials costs.  For example, an inexpensive luxury vinyl plank can be $2.50-$3.50 per square foot.  Installation will run you another $2.00-$2.50/sq ft.  So you can save 40% on your floors by doing the installation yourself.  

You should never do things like electrical or gas yourself unless you’re fully licensed.  No matter how many Youtube videos you’ve watched on the subject it can be dangerous to DIY so those are jobs best left for the pro’s.

3.  Mix in lower end finishes.  We already talked briefly about the irresponsibility of fast furnishings when it comes to your wallet and the environment.  They aren’t built to last more than a few years.  However, on pieces that are more decorative and you’ll rarely use it can be great way to get the look you want on a lower budget.

Here are the pieces you want to avoid skimping on:

  • Flooring – while you can certainly cut costs by purchasing click and lock floors, always spring for the best floors that you can afford.  Low quality flooring always brings down the look of any space.
  • Sofa and mattresses – these are pieces you’ll use every single day.  A good quality sofa will run at least $1,600-$2,000 (double that for a sectional).  If it’s less than that, they’ve skimped somewhere and you’ll really notice a few years down the line.  
  • Lighting – Yes, you can get a chandelier from a big box hardware store for less than $100.  But unless it’s for the powder room or a small bedroom it’s almost definitely too small.  By spending just a bit more on lighting you can make the whole room look more expensive.  (Here’s a tip:  Take the width of the room in feet and multiply it by two.  That’s how many inches you want the width of your light fixture to be.  For example, if your room is 15′ wide you should look for a light fixture that’s minimum 30″).

If it feels overwhelming, save yourself the headache and hire a pro.

It’s only natural to get overwhelmed by something you rarely (or never) do.  Lebron James stunk at dribbling a basketball the first time he tried as well, so no one expects you to sail through it.

We do budget management for our full-service decorating and design clients every day — so we’ve got the practice and skill to take the weight off of your shoulders.

Many people avoid hiring a pro because they feel it’s an added cost.  However, because you’re far less likely to make a mistake choosing finishings or leaving out line items in the budget, usually it ends up being less expensive when you hire a designer than if you had done it yourself.  We have deep relationships with contractors, trades, materials sources, and vendors to stretch every dollar from your budget far beyond what it costs to work with us.

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