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© LISA BRADBURN 2017
Top Tips

Where to Invest in Interiors and Where to Save

7 November 2019

Budgeting and knowing where to invest is one of the biggest challenges in an interior design project. I often find that at the beginning of a project trying to establish a budget is very difficult, with the budget often depleted by the building costs. This is particularly prevalent with period properties where hidden issues can crop up during renovations and contingency funds disappear. By the time an interior designer is bought on board the budget is already tight. Below I outline some tips on how to direct your investment.

START WITH A HOLISTIC BUDGET

Before I come on to ways to prioritise your spend, the most important point to make is that you need to consider your interior design budget in a more holistic way. And much earlier in the process. At the very beginning set out a budget that covers professional fees, the building costs (including the kitchen and bathroom fittings), a 20% contingency and then what you’d like to spend on furniture, flooring, soft furnishings and lighting. That way you can make decisions based around your overall priorities, rather than making decisions in those early days that you regret later on. If you can prepare a whole budget you can play around with the figures and make more informed choices. You can also then consider how you might phase your investment.

PHASE YOUR INVESTMENT – DO ONE ROOM AT A TIME

Do one room properly and then move on, rather than doing lots of rooms and compromising on them all. Often people like to start every room in the house, with a view that they will add to it over time. Then you lose momentum and never quite finish it. Without adding all the elements and the layering it will simply feel flat.

I recommend starting with a vision for the entire home, even if you don’t plan to implement all the rooms all at once. It means you can come back to the designs at any point and work from that vision. It also saves costly mistakes, as the choices you make will be part of an informed decision-making process. Start with priority rooms (kitchen, living room, master bedroom and bathrooms) and do them properly. Then move on to the next rooms as you replenish your savings pot.

WORK YOUR ROOM AROUND ITEMS YOU LOVE

Most rooms will be based around a hero piece. By a hero piece, I mean items you love, not a statement piece as such. You will never regret buying emotionally led items. Invest in some handcrafted items and then mix with lower value items. Wait and save if you can’t buy it right now. In the current environment of sustainability, this is becoming even more important. These are the future heirloom items to pass down.

Good examples of hero pieces are dining tables, rugs and pieces of art. Rugs and art can also form the basis of a whole colour scheme in a room, picking out accent colours to use elsewhere. Large-scale lighting can also look beautiful and be the main feature of a room. For rugs and lighting always visit the showroom if you can as this will evoke a much more emotional response than scanning online. In my own studio, I have two items I really love – a wonderful rug by Vandra and a wood burner. These two pieces formed the basis of the room and I simply picked out the colours from the rug for the colour scheme.

DON’T SCRIMP ON THE CURTAIN AND BLIND MAKING

Curtain and blind making is an area I suggest are never saved on. Curtains and blinds are items you are unlikely to change for some time and use on a daily basis. Quality workmanship will ensure that these last and keep their shape. If you appoint a cheaper supplier you will inevitably end up with items that will need replacing. In blinds, if they are badly made it really shows. A quality curtain maker will also know what to do with character buildings, coming up with the best solution for uneven ceilings for instance.

The same applies to cushions. Bespoke cushions can be quite an investment but are often the glue that makes a scheme sing. Without them some of the other elements of the room might fall flat. Bespoke cushions are also totally individual to you and will last the test of time. If you want to save money on them select the more expensive patterned fabric on the front and then a cheaper contrast cotton or linen on the back. There are always little refinements to make your budget work.

SAVE MONEY BY SOURCING ALTERNATIVE FABRICS

One place to save money is to swap some of your fabric choices. What I often do is spend more per metre on the cushion fabric, as you need so little of it. But it can still have a big impact. Patterns and luxurious fabrics can also be used on items such as statement chairs. Then spend less per metre on curtains and plain upholstery fabrics. A typical pair of curtains needs around 15m of fabric and a sofa 12m, so avoid the expensive fabrics on these items. If you choose a plain fabric add a trim or piping, which immediately makes them feel more special.

KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS ARE GOOD ROOMS TO PLAY WITH YOUR BUDGET

The kitchen is often the most used area in a home so it makes sense to spend a good proportion of your budget here. However, there are ways to play with the budget. With kitchens consider spending on items you will touch. So instead of investing a huge amount in the cabinetry at the expense of handles, consider the other way round. You touch them every day and they need to cope with the rigour of regular use and water. The same applies to the work surface. This is definitely an area I would invest in.

With kitchens, it is possible to reduce the cost of the cabinets by shopping around. But I personally think the compromise you make by choosing a cheaper supplier is that the customer service isn’t as strong. And that can become stressful when you are in the middle of a large renovation. If you can invest in your preferred company then do. One place you could reduce your budget is on appliances. For instance, I don’t think items that are integrated into cabinets are worth investing in. So I would spend less on dishwashers, fridges and freezers and more on a beautiful range cooker.

With bathrooms, taps and shower fittings are the most important items for me in a bathroom. I recommend classic quality fittings like Lefroy Brooks, although my huge favourite is Waterworks. You can choose simple tiles to go with these fittings, drawing attention to the quality shower fittings. Spend less money on sinks and toilets. Avoid trendy tiles that you will tire of.

INVEST IN THE BEST SUPPLIERS

Surround yourself with a strong team – when you receive quotes don’t just go for the cheapest option. You are likely to regret it in the long term. Invest in the best possible suppliers and get personal recommendations. Although it’s important to negotiate to get the right price be wary of negotiating so much that a quality supplier walks away. It can also erode trust.

With builders ensure you specify as much as possible before the estimate is produced and enlist the help of a quantity surveyor on larger projects. Be cautious about provisional costs – builders will often provide provisional costs rather than fixed costs. In my experience, they almost always go up. See my article on Successful Renovation Projects for more tips on this.

Also bring an interior designer on board much earlier in the project. From helping define the big-picture vision, through to making it happen, a designer can add value at every stage. Setting a budget is integral to this process and helps you make informed decisions of where to focus your spend. Designers have broad experience of managing budgets, sourcing items in line with this budget and providing advice on where to prioritise.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you would like more help with your interior design do get in touch.