Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
How Much Does it (Really) Cost to Decorate?
Eight designers share secrets about the costs of assembling finished spaces—and the numbers may surprise you!
June 10, 2013
Surveys such as Remodeling magazine’s “Cost vs. Value” report detail how much it costs to complete a variety of major popular home improvement projects each year, including the always popular kitchen and bathroom redos.
But those numbers don’t reveal many of the additional expenses that give a room a truly finished look: a good paint job, built-in cabinetry, furnishings, carpeting, lighting, accessories, and so much more. Buyers and sellers who haven’t recently decorated or remodeled have no clue how quickly costs add up — sometimes exponentially.
To get an idea of what finished rooms cost to complete, we asked top designer-owners of Decorating Den Interiors franchises in different cities to show us a single room they designed. They shared before and after photos, furnishing costs, and each space’s challenges and advantages. You’ll hear where they splurged and when they cut back, as well as additional tips to guide you through the process of completing a room.
How Much: $15,630
Designers: Barbara Elliott and Jennifer Ward-Woods, Atlanta
Challenges: This room already had a contemporary design but was nested within a traditional house. Also, the room had several openings, making it tough to arrange a functional layout. Finally, the home owners owned almost nothing other than the console.
Advantages: The room already had attractive built-ins and a fireplace and had been painted a nice taupe gray. It had good hardwood floors and a ceiling fan.
Solutions: With a modest budget of between $10,000 and $20,000, the design partners focused on purchasing a quality circular two-part sectional that would offer a lot of seating and anchor the room. They also purchased a pair of side chairs to flank the fireplace, a good area rug, and upscale silk window treatments, which are visible upon entering the foyer. The designers knew these purchases would last; they cut back on accessories to fill the bookcase. The designers also completed the room in two phases—first choosing the upholstery, window treatments, rug, and one work of art, then introducing accessories and lamps later.
Tip: Splurge on pieces that provide the greatest longevity and take the most wear and tear. “The sofa was custom-made, came with some pillows, and cost $3,300, but it was well worth it,” says Elliott.
How Much: $13,049
Designer: Lisa Landry, Arlington, Texas
Challenges: The designer’s own home had a living room with limited access to the kitchen and patio, a poor circulation path through public areas, and little flow within the room itself. “When my dad, a real estate salesman, showed me the house, he said, ‘You won’t like the layout, but will like the yard,’” she says. “But I saw it and found there was no way to get into the kitchen, except through the dining room. I said, ‘Why can’t we knock out a wall?’ And I did!”
Advantages: It’s a good-sized room with a fireplace and a view of the yard.
Solutions: Landry removed the wall to the left of the fireplace for access to the kitchen, making the kitchen less claustrophobic and creating a better circulation path within the living room. A door to the patio replaced a window. She replaced the carpeting with stained hardwood flooring and arranged the furniture in a conversational square.
Tip: Make sure you use all four corners of a room so you don’t waste space. Also, create the traffic pattern around the furniture grouping, not through it.
How Much: $50,000
Designer: Theresa Gionesi, Long Island, N.Y.
Challenge: This designer wanted to remodel her own master bathroom with an old-world, luxurious look after a trip to Venice, Italy.
Advantages: Since she was the client and decorator, Gionesi knew what she liked. She also was willing to go above her original $30,000 budget.
Solutions: Gionesi splurged on marble for a custom vanity and other wall and floor surfaces. She used elegant polished nickel faucets, wallpaper that looked hand-painted, a good chandelier, and quality detailed moldings.
Tip: Gionesi says she could have cut back with less expensive tile, chrome faucets, plainer molding, and simpler window treatments and wallpaper.
What: Dining Room
How Much: $9,629
Designers: Terri Ervin, Atlanta
Challenges: While they pursued a sleek, sophisticated, and contemporary look, designers were challenged to reuse the existing shag rug, incorporate a piece of art, and find a sideboard that would look proportionate in a smaller room.
Advantages: The owners already had a glass top for the table, though they wanted a new base. Although Ervin spent under $10,000, she knew she could go higher if she needed to.
Solutions: Designers focused on investing in quality upholstered seating — chairs and a banquette with crystal button detailing (a splurge at $30 a yard) lent a luxurious look. A $900 crystal chandelier created another focal point splurge, alongside an antiqued pewter table base and custom framing for artwork. They cut back on window treatments by designing simple panels, hung outside the bay to play up the room’s 9-foot-high walls. They also used red pops to tie everything together.
Tip: Have a vision; here, it was an updated contemporary dining room that would fit with the adjacent living room because of their similar colors.
How Much: $93,200
Designers: Judy Underwood and Cliff Welles, Bonita Springs, Fla.
Challenges: These designers sought to replace a French-country style kitchen with a more contemporary look that would attract guests when entertaining.
Advantage: The budget was generous, considering the size of a 12-foot-square room. However, the average price of an upscale kitchen now hovers near $105,000, according to Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value” survey.
Solutions: Though the kitchen was demolished, plumbing lines and wiring were left intact to save money. The budget was divided among custom wood cabinets, concrete countertops with recycled glass pieces (the prime “wow” at a steep $130 a square foot), glass basketweave-tiled backsplashes ($65 a square foot), top Bosch and Marvel equipment, and 6-inch maple-plank flooring instead of builder-grade tile. They painted the walls a sophisticated pale silver color.
Tip: To accomplish this effect for less, choose semi-custom cabinets, a good (but not top) exhaust hood, and granite countertops ($40 to $50 per square foot).
What: Master Bedroom
How Much: $28,575
Designers: Kathie Golson and Adriana Serrano, Orlando, Fla.
Challenges: This was a cavernous room that needed to be completely overhauled, except for the existing shades. The goals were to stay close to the $20,000 budget, offer good places to sit and read, have enough storage, and produce clean-lined space without being overly trendy.
Advantages: The clients were willing to increase the budget to get the desired look, including spending more on built-in storage for clothing and a TV.
Solutions: The designers painted an accent wall behind the bed black for drama and to bring down the high ceiling. They found quality window treatments with sequins for added pizzazz and used different gray paint shades for the three other walls, ceiling, and trim for a more interesting look. Different pillows were brought in for a seasonal change of colors and patterns. Because the husband swims, the designers upholstered a bench in a practical marine vinyl so he can sit and put on or take off shoes without causing damage.
Tip: Decorate in stages if need be. Because the clients weren’t sure about the black hue, the designers offered to repaint the wall if they didn’t like it.
How Much: $27,255
Designer: Lynne Lawson and Laura Gonzalez, Columbia, Md.
Challenges: This was an odd-shaped room with an assortment of disparate furnishings. The room lacked a sense of purpose.
Advantages: The room already contained a fireplace and a bar.
Solutions: Designers developed an “urban lounge” aesthetic, grouping dark furniture in three areas. They paired “mood” lighting, existing artwork, patterns, and a few sparks of red.
Tip: Develop a vision or theme for a room, which will help narrow design choices.
How Much: $9,400
Designer: Sarah Hermans, Philadelphia
Challenge: The house had to be “resale ready,” so designers were asked to make the 12-foot-square balcony of this show house look homey at a modest cost with no extreme color choices or remodeling changes.
Advantage: The balcony was already a nice size, with ample room for seating and tables.
Solutions: Designed with English country house ambiance and a touch of France in mind, this balcony would give home owners a place for morning coffee or an after-work glass of wine.Designers painted the rubber floor in a white and khaki checkerboard pattern that runs diagonally to expand the feeling of space. They borrowed Summer Classics patio furniture in a resin that resembles more expensive wrought iron, using colorful fabrics for pop. They kept woodwork a fresh white and used lively gold-colored curtains and cushions for drama and a touch of the indoors.
Tip: Splurge on seating and cut back on curtains and pillows. Include enough seating so an area can be used, rather than just looked at.