Before the fun stuff, some necessary infrastructure needs to be dealt with. Every project should have a budget spreadsheet because a realistic budget is essential if you want a finished project that doesn’t involve your eating peanut butter sandwiches for a month. The funny thing about a budget is that whatever amount you set, count on a healthy over-run as hidden damage and surprises generally accompany any remodel or refit. A budget is like water seeking its own level to achieve balance: when one cost rises, another  must be cut or found at a rock bottom price. This balancing act depends on ingenuity, having resource connections and research.

Generally, when thinking about a budget, you need to establish categories for expenditures. If your designer is putting together the budget for you, it’s a good idea to be brutally honest about your preferred and absolute top cost  before launching into things. Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 5.27.22 PMFor a preview, think about the categories the budget might include (here, for simple living room refresh): Replacement or recovered sofas and chairs, occasional and coffee tables, flooring and/or area carpets, soft furnishings, window treatments, case goods like chests, Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 5.12.52 PMcabinets or armoires, lighting, paint and wallpaper, specific pieces like bookcases, mantles and desks, and accessories to complete the story. Additional costs may be installation, delivery and storage fees.

If a larger project is planned where utilities, structural work and the like are involved, specialists, engineers, permits, a good contractor if your designer doesn’t have one, trades and inspections need their own cost categories. A project of this magnitude requires a professional designer by your side who knows how to plan for such projects and has a handful of experts on his or her speed dial.

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Renewed old table top with opaque staining.

Bespoke and unique pieces may not hang off the Wal-Mart tree, but you don’t need to spend like a Rockefeller to have a new space you love.

Damaged console table before makeover.

Damaged console table before makeover.

I’m the first to admit there are great free and reclaimed case goods that deserve a new life.

Painted and renewed console table.

Painted and renewed console table.

I’ve opaque stained garage sale finds and old tables, transforming old weathered and damaged wood into vibrant console and dining tables.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 3.57.34 PMSimilarly, you might find a fabulous antique or second hand lighting fixture in a shop that can be re-wired or inherit a chest of drawers to paint or refinish. I scooped a 1930s solid walnut vanity at a local shop. It was already professionally painted white with fabulous French dangling pulls, but it would not have been difficult for me to do it myself. It’s my desk, paired with a Louis XVI reproduction armchair that I’m about to have recovered.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 5.17.50 PMTo prepare for your budget, visit showrooms and become acquainted with pricing and styles so you have a ball park of the costs. Armed with a reasonable budget, rely on the expertise and experience of others. A designer can consult, construct a budget and draft a floor plan if you want to handle everything else.  At a showroom, a designer sales consultant can help you select the right pieces and provide advice on fabrics, materials, styles, availability, price ranges and care of your purchases. Using experts will ultimately save you money because you’ll have what you want with no surprises. There is no replacement for proper research when it comes to interior design, and we are nothing if not intrepid researchers.

I used to work part-time as a design consultant for a shop in Toronto. This allowed me the opportunity to meet a generous demographic of people seeking new furniture and furnishings. Managing expectations with respect to major purchases depends on how a person uses and how long they want to keep the item. A forever sofa is worth splurging on. Something destined to only take you through your kids’ preschool years is quite a different ball game. Having a good sense of what you really need and want will help you allocate budget dollars on the right items and avoid spending $10,000 on a sofa when a $2,000 high quality, custom sized one suits your life better.

A brief word about designer “discounts” as they are often misunderstood. Trade only distributors of fine furniture and furnishings only deal with accredited designers who set up accounts so your designer will have to take you through those showrooms and make any purchases for you. Retail stores of higher quality furniture, materials and furnishings offer designers a commission often called a discount which varies from store to store as incentive for them to shop there.  All purchases go through the designer’s account, but you are quite free to shop on your own without the commission discount. Designers may or may not pass along their commission to clients, it depends on the contract between them.