I learned a lesson recently, and not for the first time (fool me twice, shame on me). I have taken multiple approaches to resolving this ongoing problem, but never the one that was truly needed. Vague-much? I would like to tell you a story about what happened so that it doesn't happen to you because when I accept a project, it is because I like you. I feel that we have a connection and that our project can be fun.
Once upon a time, there was a fairy-interior-designer...
It had been a while since I took a project off the island, and I was so glad that this client reached out. Everything started perfectly. She showed trust, was happy to come to me to learn more about the process, and respected that process. One of the first questions I was asked was "Do you have a contractor you work really well with?" Of course, I have a few contractors I work particularly well with and recommended the one that I have worked with off-island the most. Meeting up with him at the job site was an exciting reunion as we finished each others' sentences with ideas and thoughts on things to check.
The goals were clear, the aesthetics were understood, and we just needed to fine-tune the details and have it drawn up in a way the contractor could use to estimate and build. Uncovered through programming, the function was already there- what the owners' desired was the aesthetic to match the function. Knowing that function was in a good place, there was no need to reinvent the wheel and develop a new layout, so finishes kicked off schematic design.
The thing we were not 100% clear on was the client's budget. I was given a range, and the range was tight but realistic. So we moved forward. This was my error because it is so important that budget and realistic costs are clear and understood by both the designer and the client from the beginning. At the end of schematic design, we got a ballpark number, which surprised the clients, but we moved on ahead regardless... sure that we could find solutions to bring the cost down to something more comfortable.
Once these schematics were approved, we moved on to design development, finalizing the finishes and fixtures and completing the design. During the design development phase, we are typically refining the details... making sure the finishes are what is wanted and what works for the space, working to make the design fit the budget, and ensure that all measurements are accurate.
We worked diligently and respectfully of the budget range, but alas, the expectation was that this project would fall on the lowest end of the range, and could not exceed this total. What this means is that the project halted here.
Why would I share a story like this that did not end in blissful success? Well, once I was given the minimum cost and the maximum budget and saw that they did not align, I began to suggest alternative methods to get this look without exceeding the budget. There are always solutions and ways to work within your budget. It is not unusual for the first bid to come in higher than what was expected. This is the point when we step back and look at the goals and priorities. Sometimes we lose some of the lower priorities in order to meet the overall goal.
Moral of the story? Do not be afraid to tell your designer your true and complete budget. Be very clear about this right from the start. A designer that does not verify and make very clear of this is doing you and themselves a disservice.
I admit that I did myself a major disservice in not requiring a clear and upfront number, but working off a range. I make mistakes with every project. Every single one. Every professional makes mistakes in their work. The important thing is that I accept responsibility, work to correct them, and learn from my mistakes.
My lesson in this is that I will not walk into a client's home without a clear and realistic budget. This is a courtesy, not a demand, and I guarantee we will all be the better for it!
I provide budget articles, cheat sheets, and references to all my potential clients. It is so important that these are read, and that we fully understand what furnishings and construction today cost before we move forward in our design, because the design fee... that's the least expensive item on the list by a long shot.