Decorating 101: how much Will This Cost Me?

  • (Diamond Custom Homes, Inc./Houzz)

  • (IN Studio & Co. Interior Design/Houzz)

  • (Burns and Beyerl Architects/Houzz)


Have you just moved into a new house, and you’re ready to decorate. Or you already have in your house for a while and give the place a whole new look. And you want to do it yourself. The big question is: What will it cost you?

There is no magic formula for figuring out how much you can expect to spend on decorating. (Believe me — I asked.) But there are steps you can take to find out what the project would cost and where the money should be spent.

Related: 15 Ways to Decorate Your Room for Free

Make a Budget

Assuming that you’ve figured out what you want your house to look and have taken the decision to decorate the house yourself, you need to come up with a budget. Instead of trying to guess what the project would cost, to start with an image that represents what you ‘re willing to spend. Make a list of the rooms you want to decorate, and a list of the items that you need to buy for each room. (Don’t overlook wall treatments, flooring, lighting, accessories and labor.)

Enter this information on a spreadsheet and assign costs to each item. Some basic research in stores and using catalogs and Houzz. Sure, you can spend $500 for a bank or $5,000 for a sofa. But what are retailers charging for the quality and style that you want? Then plug that figure into your spreadsheet; do that for each of the items on your list.

To Spend On

There are a number of areas where you need more money to spend, and some areas where you can cut back. Most experts agree that the chairs should be a priority. “I don’t like scrimping on a good upholstered piece,” says Woodland Hills, California, designer Alana Homesley. “If you have a quality sofa can last you for 30 or 40 years.”

Claudia Juestel, owner of Adeeni Design Group in San Francisco, agrees. “Buy the best mattress you can afford and the best sofa you can afford,” she says. Even when they are working with a small budget, Juestel will order custom upholstered pieces, because they will get used more than anything else in the house and will last for decades.

A dining table is a good investment piece that can adapt to a variety of settings and last a long time. Although not as durable or transportable, window treatments can make a big impact on a room’s appearance. “There is nothing worse than a room with bad window treatments,” says designer Allison Caccoma, who is based in San Francisco and New York. “That’s a really good investment.”

Do not pinch pennies when it comes to flooring, either, Juestel says. Quality of the materials influence the overall appearance of the house and will often reward you when it is time to sell.

Finally, never cut down on labor, advises interior designer Amy Luff of Viva Luxe Studios in Bristol, Virginia. Always use a licensed contractor which “will be able to provide you with good subs,” she says. “The people who run your project, are very important.”

What to Save On

Where do you get it? It might sound like the pro’s suggest you spend money on everything, but there are plenty of areas where you can save. Lighting, wall finishes, rugs and accessories are areas where you can get away with spending less. “You can go with a sea grass rug instead of a wool blanket and still have a wonderful room,” Caccoma says.

There is even some leeway when it comes to that sofa or dining table. While designers advise buying the best that you can afford, consumers have access to more furniture options at a range of prices is wider than ever before, thanks to the Internet. There is little middle ground between low-end furniture and the stuff that you see in the designer showrooms, Luff says. Now “you can find a huge variety of looks for a variety of prices,” she notes.

The fabric on that upholstered piece need not be fancy. “Don’t pick the most expensive fabric,” Juestel says, “because you can save money by buying fabric that feels good, is reasonable and durable.”

Saving money does not necessarily mean compromising on quality. Instead of placing a particleboard desk or cabinet, consider looking for a used wood one at a thrift store, antique shop or flea market. “You can always have more in vintage,” Juestal says. The quality will be better, and you can paint it or refinish it, or send it for restoration. And when you no longer want, you can resell it — something you probably can’t do with that wooden version.

Juestel recommend the same approach to the lighting. “A cheap light fixture will always look cheap,” she says. If you can’t afford to buy the quality piece you have your heart on, check the Internet for a good facsimile. Or buy a vintage décor and have a different wiring. “You can do a lot more for your money,” says the designer, noting that you can easily pay $4,000 to $ 8,000 for a new chandelier, but a tenth of that for a vintage.

Accessories usually come dead last people in the budgets. That’s OK, designers say, but don’t wait until the end of the decorating process to start accumulating that you want or need to have a room. Keep your eyes open, from the beginning, so you will have time to attend flea markets and estate sales, and search for items that are unusual or have a special meaning to you. (Taking your time also increases the chance that you might score a deal.) Incorporate your own treasures and collections, if you have any, and include antiques, even if you live in a modern space.

What Rooms to Spend

Some designers recommend investing in the spaces that are most public — your living room and dining room, for example — and scrimping in places like bedrooms and the living room. “You can always save on the back of the house and splurge in the front of the house,” Luff suggests.

Other experts say that you should spend the most money where you spend the most time. In other words, if you live in your living room and rarely use your living room, invest in the comfort and durability your living room furniture first.

How Long Will You Be Staying?

If you do not plan to stay in the house for long, don’t invest a lot of money in things like window coverings, custom rugs, wallpaper or other items that can not go with you when you move. Choose normal-size furnishings that can work in a variety of settings — not items scaled to that particular home. Avoid buying oversize sectionals, corner cabinets or towering armchairs, as they would not fit in your next house — or even by the door or elevator.

Plan to Go Over Budget

Even the best plans can go wrong. “I’ve never run into a project where you don’t have surprises,” says Luff. Be prepared and have a little cushion in your budget.

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