If you think interior design clients in the high-end don’t pore over their budgets, think again. A background in accounting might be the last place you would expect to look for a key element of managing an interior design company, but interior design is as much a matter of numbers as it is colors.
The majority of residential designers I work with have virtually no knowledge or training, and quite often, no sense for numbers. Colors they are great with. Numbers? Well, they didn’t get into the biz for that.
I have given dozens and dozens of design presentations to clients who came to me to take on a residential interior design project. The projects have ranged from single rooms needing high thread count fine linens that match the colors on their walls or carpets, to full residential design with drawings, space planning and project management of construction trades. What these design projects have in common, whether it is just design direction or a full-on project, is client attention to the budget. How much is it gonna cost!
Early in discussions, long before any presentations, I try to get a feel for the task ahead and ask lots of questions. What is the space used for? Is your taste modern or traditional? Do you have pets? Are you familiar with high-end furnishings? Have you worked with an interior designer before? Pretty soon, I get an idea of the scope of the work, enough so I can inquire about the client’s budget.
I think this moment gives many designers the jitters, especially in the high end. They hesitate to ask about price for fear of scaring off a potential client. I beg to differ.
Most of my clients are busy professionals who come to me in search of a partner who can take the job off their hands and allow them get back to running their own business. I call them one or twice a week and we spend a few hours in designer showrooms considering products I suggest. Otherwise, they leave the project in my hands to manage.
Mostly executives, professionals and business owners, my clients would find it unusual not to have early discussions concerning budgets. They give me an idea of what they are prepared to spend, understanding that I can use the figure as a tool in my sourcing of their products, not so I can figure out how much to run up costs.
For instance, I can suggest to a client a fabric to cover architect Denver Colorado a chair that costs $50 a yard. Or I can offer a similar fabric that costs $100 a yard. I have access to a 6,000 square foot fabric showroom to source from so there are endless choices. Or I can spec a dining table to seat eight for $5,000 or for $25,000. I try to keep design billing as low as possible and to cover my costs with discounts I arrange from designer showrooms. The public can’t shop there without a professional designer. And the way I work, clients never pay more than the product resells for in retail. I just save them the trouble and leg work of finding the products.
It is my job to take a list of often over one hundred items, linens, art, furniture, rugs, lighting, etc. and measure that against an estimate of how much the client indicated is an affordable range for the scope of work. The aforementioned table may wind up costing $12,500 and the fabric for the chair may be $60 a yard. Numbers are so important because the cost of the overall package has to match the beginning budget as closely as the design matches the concepts that were approved by the client.
I am not going to recommend red when the client asked for blue, nor a table for 4 when they live to entertain larger groups, and especially not an invoice for thousands of dollars more than we agreed upon. Of course, substitutions occur, but I get a client to sign off on the details and the cost of each and every item, one by one, so there is no confusion.
During an interior design presentation, color boards get examined, fabric swatches handled and looked at in good light, and drawings for space planning are discussed to see if they make sense for the way the rooms are to be used. A lot of the concepts must be left to the imagination of the client until they have been created. Budget is not one of them.