What’s the Design Project Budget?

Filed under Budgeting, Return on Interiors

Everybody is focused on the money. You and your clients. At the beginning, during and end of your design project the obsession with money never ends.

I certainly understand why. We’re talking about your livelihood and your clients’ hard-earned money.

But, there is absolutely NO WAY you can answer, “What’s the budget?” at the onset of ANY project whether it’s a remodel or interior design and furnishing project.

So, what can you do? You can give an ESTIMATE. The caveat for any design project from a new build to a high-end kitchen remodel is that the final number will change—and can vary widely—based on the finish selections. But, before you can even develop an estimate that is in the ballpark, you need to get your arms around what your client wants.

When you have your first meeting about the design project, your client usually isn’t crystal clear about what they want. It’s only through (sometimes) a lengthy discovery process that involves you asking a ton of questions that you can start to understand what your client is after.

What questions should you ask to help determine the project budget?

There are questions from two different buckets—Lifestyle and Design—that must be asked at the beginning of any design project. There’s no need to fret, because Return on Interiors created an extensive list of questions for all different types of projects! Take a look at a few sample questions below:


  • Why do you want to remodel the kitchen, redo the living room, add on to your home? What’s the purpose or goal that you’re trying to achieve with this project?
  • How do you live in the space?
  • Who lives in the space?
  • Who would you like to live in the space?
  • How would you like to live and function in the space?
  • How often will you be living at the house?
  • Will you be entertaining in the space?
  • Do you have special tech needs? (Believe me, the answer to this question can make your costs BALLOON!)
  • What do you like about the current space?
  • What do you not like about the space?
  • Will you live here for the next 10 years or are you planning on selling the home?
  • Do you prefer to invest in quality products? How do you define (what are your expectations) for quality?


  • What enhancements are you considering?
  • What existing items should be incorporated in the design?
  • Do you want a prettier space? A more functional space? A more organized space?
  • Is there a style that you are looking to achieve?
  • What quality finishes do you like?
  • What is your favorite room in your house? Why?

This conversation helps you and your client develop a Scope of Work and your Client Proposal.

It is always important to emphasize that the budget that you create after this consultation is merely a framework and WILL change because FINAL pricing depends on finishes, fabric selections and other choices made along the way. There is NO way you can lock in every number at the beginning of a project. No way!

Scope of Work and Client Proposal

As you create your Scope of Work and Client Proposal, remember, your client is working with you to design a space (kitchen, new home, rooms, bathroom, etc). They aren’t asking you to select IKEA furnishings. They want your expertise as a DESIGNER to DESIGN. If it was easy, they would have never called you in the first place.

That’s why you shouldn’t forget to include a design fee and a price RANGE for furnishings in your scope of work. Why a price range? Well, each room design is a balance of:

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Timeframe
  • Project location
  • Customization
  • Finish/fabric

There are several methods to help explain to clients what they might need. I include a list of items my clients will probably need with a range of prices. Other designers provide this information in a low-medium-high framework (think economy-business class-first class) based on square footage. There are other designers who use programs such as Studio Designer to put in every item needed for each room with low and high price ranges.

While the final decisions about finishes and fabrics are one of the biggest reasons for design project fluctuations, here are some others:

  • Your client changes their mind
  • Your timeline gets extended (time = money!)
  • Selections may not be available during your timeframe
  • Selections are damaged
  • Unknown pre-existing problems are unearthed

You’ve been there before, so I know you’re picking up what I’m throwing down!

In addition to the in-depth ROI questionnaires (don’t forget to grab yours!) that are a handy tool you can use to extract all the detail you need about the design project from your clients, the ROI Design Budget Worksheet helps you and your clients easily keep track of all the expenses of the project. I often give a budget worksheet to the client, so they feel in control of their budget. Those that LOVE Excel just go to town!

Now it’s your turn! Please share any other ways you determine your design project budget.

Click Here to Download the ROI® Design Budget Worksheet