trade tales | Mar 24, 2023 |
5 ways to tackle an unrealistic budget

Money will always be a delicate subject. And in this industry, the true value of interior design often clashes with client misconceptions about costs. That’s why we asked five designers—Robin Gannon, Alison Downey, Johanna Barger, Helena Brana and Daniela Holt Voith—how they successfully command conversations around budgets.

5 ways to tackle an unrealistic budget
Robin Gannon©Robin Gannon

Define Your Own Scope

“Clients often come to me with a budget number that they pull out of the air. It’s not actually based on any kind of project scope—it just sounds like a good amount to spend! So much of what we do is educating our clients, and we’ll tell them why that number doesn’t work. Sometimes that’s just what their budget is, and they’re not a fit for us. As a firm, it’s important to understand what you do and what you do well. You can’t sacrifice the quality of what you do simply because of somebody’s budget.” —Robin Gannon, Robin Gannon Interiors, Lexington, Massachusetts

5 ways to tackle an unrealistic budget
Alison DowneyCourtesy of Downey Interiors

Align the Stars

“The project budget is always part of our initial conversation before moving forward. As our fee is commensurate with the budget, and [considering] clients don’t always understand the vast range of options when it comes to price points, we take the time to educate them from the get-go. In order to determine a realistic level of investment—we tend to use this term over ‘budget’—we prepare a project plan that includes a high and low total reflecting the items we anticipate will be used. If the client doesn’t feel comfortable moving forward, we need to determine whether the project is a fit. When a project doesn’t align with what’s needed for a successful outcome, it likely won’t be a good experience for anyone involved. That said, we wholly respect a realistic budget that is set at the beginning of the project. We work hard to be as accurate as possible and guide the client when they are veering off course. It is our job to check in with them, let them know where things stand financially and ensure they are well-informed.” —Alison Downey, Downey Interiors, New York

5 ways to tackle an unrealistic budget
Johanna BargerCourtesy of Johanna Barger Design

More Isn’t Always More

“Design is a very creative field, but it is also a business—my business. And I never shy away from budget discussions. I take the financial aspect of the process very seriously, and one of the first discussions in our initial meeting is cost expectations. Many clients do not have a sense of the financial commitment it takes to create what they see in magazines or on social media. Part of my service is to educate the client through direct, transparent conversations about numbers while also realizing their design aspirations. Budgets are a reality, and rarely is one unlimited, nor should it be. We all need parameters. Together, the client and designer can determine what is appropriate for this project. Based on these considerations, budgets may need to be increased, or sometimes a client’s budget needs to be reduced. Other times, we need to consider breaking the project into phases to find the most satisfactory solution.” —Johanna Barger, Johanna Barger Design, New York

5 ways to tackle an unrealistic budget
Helena BranaCourtesy of Brana Designs

Efficient Filtering

“Transparency with our clients is one of our founding principles. We discuss clients’ budget expectations very early in our communications and estimate costs based on our experiences with comparable projects. [Not all] clients are the right fit for us, and it’s better for everyone to find out early to avoid disappointments later on.” —Helena Brana, Brana Designs, Corona del Mar, California

5 ways to tackle an unrealistic budget
Daniela Holt VoithCourtesy of Voith & Mactavish Architects

On Your Mark

“We talk budget early, and head on, to see if there is a match between what we can do and the client’s hopes and dreams. It’s not always a comfortable conversation, but one easier to have sooner rather than later. We seek to set client expectations not just about budget, but also about schedule and fees. We can design a beautiful, functional project for a client based on all the listening in the world, but if it’s not in the budget, it’s a nonstarter. As much as you never want to walk away from an opportunity, if there’s no consensus, it’s better to part ways amicably.” —Daniela Holt Voith, Voith & Mactavish Architects, Philadelphia

Homepage image: Helena Brana uses leather seating and a statement pendant to give this breezy California home a warm Spanish twist | Courtesy of Brana Designs

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