the #1 most dreaded question in a design consultation **guest post from Sofa and Sage**

Good morning!  Welcome to another guest post from one of my favorite bloggers, Carol from Sofa and Sage.  I actually found Carol's blog through a comment she left on Colour Me Happy.  When I read her bio she shared the same love for design and food that I did.  We've been blogging buddies ever since. 
 Carol is a professional decorator and a window treatment expert.  When I knew I would be gone on vacation I asked if I could re-post this fabulous piece she did on budgets.  I have had plenty of clients that  just won't give a budget.  So let's read Carol's expert post on the matter and discuss!

Clients are sometimes taken aback by it.  Designers are sometimes uncomfortable asking it.  We all have to deal with it.  The client-designer relationship, the project outcome, the entire process depends on it.  Here it is...

"What's the budget?"

What prompted me to talk about this today?  A friend of mine whom I've know since the 7th grade (that's a really long time), emailed me that he'd just thrown out almost everything in his dining room and wanted to start over -- would I be interested in helping....I instantly shot back an email: when do we start and what's the budget? His immediate email back: whenever you're ready.  No mention about budget.

This will be an upcoming before and after! 

I pondered this for a few minutes -- did I really need to ask him that?  He's not a paying client, did I make my friend feel awkward, and on and on ran these thoughts through my head.  Bottom line?  Yes, I need to know, and here's why...

Designers ask what the budget is for some pretty simple reasons:

1.   It tells us how much we can actually accomplish for you in the space.

2.   #1 helps us set the appropriate expectations for what can be done -- we never want you to be

3.   We won't show you the Mercedes if your budget is in line with a Honda.

4.   We don't want to waste your time or ours (kind of tied to #3).*
     *Read that as we all have incredibly busy lives, we need to make the most of our time; not if you don't have gobs of money, I don't want to work with you :)
Let me address these reasons (and there are more, but this is a blog), starting with the two rooms below.  At first glance, you'll think they probably had pretty different budgets.  But, maybe not.

Southern Accents

Maybe this room was in a new house where all the money went to furnishings and custom work. If there was a "before" picture, perhaps it was just a new room, already carpeted, and maybe the beds were inherited.  The "after" -- this gorgeous bedroom, dressed completely in custom details.

 Southern  Living
Now this room -- totally different story.  The before was actually a garage!  Lots of the budget clearly went into the basic structure -- flooring, murphy bed, ceiling beams, etc.  My guess (an absolute guess to make a point) is that most everything else was not custom,  unlike the first picture.

The budgets?  They could have been  close to the same.  But the second room couldn't possibly end up like the first because "the bones" of the room -- it's structure and basic needs, like new flooring, had to be considered.  A frank conversation about budget would help the designer in the second picture set the appropriate expectations for the client as to the end result - i.e. your room will be gorgeous in custom building, but not in custom bedding, upholstery, etc.  By the way, both are completely beautiful, don't you think?

When it comes to talking money, if you're the client, you need to be honest.  "If I like it, I'll pay for it," or "Well, let's see what you come up with," or "I don't know," just doesn't cut it.  We're not trying to sell you a car, where no one shows their hand until the end.  (Sorry car folks, but you know what I mean.)  Holding back on the budget ties the hands of your designer for all 4 reasons above!  If you say you want custom silk draperies, and you give your designer a budget that she knows will cover cotton ones,  she can let you know from the get-go what your beautiful options are.

Laura W. Glenn
I believe the client's biggest fear can be: "if I tell her what I can spend, she'll spend it all even if there's a less expensive option."  That's just not true for a designer with integrity.  Let's face it -- a beautiful room, done within budget, gets the designer not only a happy client, but most likely, referrals.  We want happy clients.  Period.  Our livelihoods depend on it.

So what about the decorator's comfort level when asking for the budget?  I think it takes a while to find a way to say it.  Maybe it's the flat out question.  Maybe it's "what are you comfortable investing in this room?"  Or maybe if  a client really doesn't know what it might cost and is looking for guidance, it's "what you're telling me you'd like in this room will probably cost about $XX -- is that doable?"

While I talk about a whole room project as an example here, the budget discussion needs to happen for anything we do, from simply windows or a sofa to that finished room.  Beautiful end results can happen at many different budget levels.  Working together, knowing the budget, makes for happy outcomes! :)

Budgets always bring up questions.  If you have one,  comment and we'll get a conversation going.

Talk to you soon,

Thanks Carol for allowing me to re-post this!  I hope you take a moment to visit Sofa and Sage and become a follower of her great blog!  If you're wondering why there is a guest post while I'm actually not on vacation click here.  

**If you would like my help becoming delighted with your home click here for services.**


  1. That is a fantastic post. It's easier to sell a client on lemon walls than to extract a budget estimate :)

  2. A great post filled with lots of relevant information. Money is never an easy subject to discuss but I do think it is best discussed up front so that both the client and designer are on the same page.

  3. I agree with the comment above from Red Door Home. I think its important for both to be on the same page.

  4. Great informative post. I'd hate to be a designer whose clients wouldn't discuss budget- would be almost impossible to navigate.

  5. I love Carol and her blog, she always give such useful information on so many levels, Kathysue

  6. You know, I think the same needs to apply to doing projects in your own home. For example, I have often started a project with no regard for actual budget - just "I want to do it cheaply." But then I find myself going to the craft store, or any store, and spending more than I had in mind...and having it hit my finances harder than expected.
    So with my studio makeover I did try and create a budgetary plan ahead of time. of course, I made a mistake in estimating, but it was a valiant effort. :)

  7. I LOVE the wooden chests at the foot of the bed. Precious!


Abby Manchesky Interiors is a boutique design firm based in Grand Rapids, MI. Combining the new traditional, vintage and a dash of the unexpected is her ideal. Contact Abby Manchesky Interiors for more information on available interior design services for clients near and far. abbyminteriors@gmail.com | 616.719.9400


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