Where to spend and where to save on your interior design project

Top tips to make your interiors budget go further

We all have a budget when it comes to creating our dream home, whether we’re building brand new or renovating.  Because even those people with extremely generous bank balances, have limits as to what they’re prepared to spend on their interior design project.  So the question is, how do you allocate your budget? – where to splurge? and where to save?

There are hundreds of decisions to be made on every project and inevitably, cost is an important factor in almost all of them.  So how do you decide where to economise, if you know your budget won’t stretch to all those dream items on your Pinterest board?

First off, get the practicalities right.  I know, I get it – roofs, drains, wiring and plumbing aren’t sexy and won’t contribute to an Instagram worthy interior, but ignore them at your peril.  It’s not much good your bathroom looking fabulous if you discover 5 minutes later that the old pipework actually has tiny pinholes in it and really should have been replaced.   Don’t be tempted to “gloss over the dross”!  If needs be, get the structure sorted properly and decorate cheaply – I’m thinking big tubs of trade white paint here – because you can always go back and re-decorate.

When you embark on an interior design project, there are fundamentally two approaches you can take.  One is making sure you can completely finish absolutely everything, furnishings and all, within your budget in one hit.  The other option is to take a little longer to completely finish.  Just to be clear, I’m not advocating moving in when the kitchen is only a table and the bathroom still needs plumbing in (unless you really don’t mind roughing it!), but there can be scope to phase work as and when funds allow, if you’re prepared to be patient.

When I was building my house I set my heart on a balcony with a single 3m long glass balustrade supported only by a channel at the bottom.    Of course, a wooden balustrade would have been much cheaper, but that would have spoilt the view.  Instead I waited and some 8 months after moving in, the balcony was finally installed.  I’m glad I waited and the balcony and the view of the creek beyond still bring me joy every morning.

Next, I recommend prioritising the most important rooms in the house.  Typically this will be the main living room, kitchen and master bedroom, though if for example you work from home, your office might be equally important.  So splash out on some fabulous wallpaper in your bedroom, but maybe just paint a feature wall in the guest bedroom instead.  If your budget can stretch to a  bespoke kitchen, don’t feel you have to go the whole hog in the utility room too – high street cupboards might do just fine in this hardworking room that you’re probably not in a rush for your friends to see.

From an environmental and sustainable point of view, you should of course try to adhere to the principle of “buy right, buy once”.  However I think there are circumstances where it can be worth buying twice.  Let’s say you’ve fallen for a fabulously expensive pendant light for your stairwell.  Rather than buying a cheap imitation of it, I’d get the biggest cheap-as-chips round paper lantern I could find – the type I used to have as a student – and use this as my stop gap, until I could afford the real deal.  When the time comes to take down the paper lantern, take it to a charity shop.  

Talking of which, I’m a great fan of charity shop furniture as a short term solution if needs be.  I still have some secondhand G-Plan units in my studio, which I think are much nicer storage than white plastic mass produced flat pack furniture..….

Sooner or later, most clients tell me that they’ve found something absolutely amazing, which they’re dying to use, but which is hopelessly out of their budget……  This is the moment when you need to think creatively.  So if you’ve fallen for a divinely expensive fabric, have it made up into a couple of gorgeous cushions for your bed, rather than trying to use it for the curtains. 

Think in terms of the quantities required – if you’re choosing the flooring for a huge open plan room, then it really needs to come in at a sensible budget.  But in a downstairs loo, the floor might only be 2 sq metres, so indulging your love of handmade caustic tiles might not break the bank.

Do be generous when it comes to the parts of the house you touch – no-one wants their hand to find the sharp, poorly finished edge of a cheap door handle or tap – and I always make sure the doors I specify are solidly built and heavy. 

Finally, if you’re feeling a little sad that you can’t afford something, remember, it’s a privilege to be in a position to create a wonderful home and something many can only dream of.  Don’t get disheartened when you feel your budget is lacking; start thinking creatively instead. 

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British Institute of Interior Design KLC Alumini House and Garden Houzz