While a budget might be of varying importance depending on the client, it’s essential for designers to decide whether their fees are included in that budget or if they’re a separate expense. We asked seven designers—Jenny Brown, Lauren L. Caron, Sharon Leigh Copeland, Liz Johnson, KristyChanel Lindsay, Josh Pickering and Ann Ueno—if they include their design fees in a project budget.
“When we begin a project, we ask clients for their total budget and clarify that it should include design fees. Clients generally have a number in mind that includes the design fees; however, sometimes that’s not the case and it’s good to know from the get-go. We have worked out a general percentage equation that relates design fees to the total project budget. If it seems as though the percentage is too low of a fee for us to take the project on, or to accomplish the scope at hand, we let them know immediately so that the budget or scope can be adjusted, or if not, we simply turn down the project. It sets expectations from the beginning and keeps us from creating time-consuming proposals that are out of the client’s budget.” —Lauren L. Caron, Studio Laloc, Seattle
“People tend to have an understanding of their budget as it relates to the contents of their home. Markup is always included in my budgets as part of merchandise pricing, but other design fees are not. I find that people value the price of goods differently than that of someone’s professional value, especially up front, when a budget is prepared. That’s why any fees other than markup are agreed-upon rates billed out separately as the project progresses.” —Josh Pickering, Pickering House Interior Design, Dallas
“Design literacy is one of the values I bring to my clients, and that includes budgeting. Typically, my design fee is not included in the budget. There are situations when the client is firm that they must confine their spending to a certain amount, including fees. In that event, our design agreement details how much of the total budget is allocated to each component of the project, including fees. This provides transparency so the client can see how their money will be spent.” —Liz Johnson, Liz Johnson Design Studio, Washington, D.C.
“My design fees are not included in a budget. I find that when my clients formulate a budget in their minds, they associate the number with what will actually go into the space. They also seem to feel most comfortable with the transparency that comes with their costs being broken down in this manner. This method also allows me to clearly define what spaces are covered within a specific design fee, which is very helpful in instances where clients add additional spaces into a project and I need to assess additional design fees.”—KristyChanel Lindsay, KristyChanel Interiors, Atlanta
“In theory, my fees have to be included in the client’s overall budget, as anything that is an expense is essential to include. But in terms of process, once they’ve signed with me, the client often needs guidance on the project budget. My fees are clear and separate from the FF&E budget on the spreadsheet so the client is never surprised by what they’re paying me and can budget my fees as a separate line item for the project as a whole. I have never even entertained including my fees intertwined with the project FF&E budget, as I think that leaves too much room for questioning and lacks transparency. For me, transparency about my design fees is essential for the business partnership and overall relationship.” —Ann Ueno, Ann Ueno Interior Design, Miami
“Yes, you should always include fees in your design budget. I always add styling fees, revision fees and even time for shopping. You provide the expertise. You provide extra value so that clients can spend more time enjoying what you have created with their families.” —Sharon Leigh Copeland, Matthews Copeland Interiors, Dallas
Range of knowledge
“If a client has requested a budget, they are clearly trying to get an understanding of overall costs. To exclude an estimate of one’s fee is not just misleading, but could be a detriment to the designer in the end. When I set up budgets for clients, I include a high and low range, and my hours are included in that. If anything, I try to overestimate. If a client balks or walks away, better to have it happen at the beginning of the project and not when you have already invested your time, money and energy. Decorating is expensive, and you must do your best to manage the client’s expectations from the start.” —Jenny Brown, Jenny Brown Designs, Chicago
Homepage photo: A kitchen by Studio Laloc; photo by Ellie Lillstrom