Forbes, February 2009
Author: By Shane Reilly
House And Home High-End Decor On A Low-End Budget Shane Reilly, 02.10.09, 05:00 PM EST Homeowners with less are finding unique ways to spruce up their spaces. Strapped homeowners intent on sprucing up their spaces are saying goodbye to marble backsplashes and luxurious spa baths and opting for less-expensive materials and furnishings instead. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies' Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity estimates that spending on home improvement will fall by an annual rate of 12.1% by the third quarter of 2009, to $110 billion. That's a drop of over 25% since the 2007 peak. "Even our wealthiest clients express a desire to have us hold back right now," says Los Angeles designer Timothy Corrigan. For designers accustomed to blank checks and unlimited timelines, slashed budgets encourage a change in practice. When a recent project's budget got cut by 20% despite a signed contract, Florida-based interior designer Cecil Hayes proposed alternative solutions. These included reupholstering an existing piece instead of purchasing a new one, and using less expensive materials, such as red oak instead of rosewood. Homeowners with smaller budgets are also exploring flooring alternatives such as tile, which can be cheaper than some woods and steel instead of nickel finishes. Designers say even token decorative improvements can have a big impact. Bold accessories like large paintings, urns and mirrors add more drama than smaller pieces. Another approach to slashing costs is to take the decorator out of the mix. This can be done by using the design staffs at retailers like Home Depot (nyse: HD - news - people ), Ethan Allen and Domain. What's more, designers with furniture collections, including Mitchell Gold and Vicente Wolf, have showrooms that offer consumers more affordable design services. If you buy Wolf's VW products, for a small design fee the staff will help you create the Vicente Wolf look in your home without the expense of hiring Wolf himself. Clearly, by going this route you will miss out on the personal touch and creative whimsy of such an experienced designer, but the look "will be in the family," Wolf says. Similarly, e-decorating services such as Instant/Space enables consumers to buy custom room plans with retail product suggestions, without paying for a designer to visit and follow up on complicated custom orders. The benefit is avoiding costly mistakes while saving money by executing the design plan yourself. The $1,495 price of a living room design is less than the price of a retail sofa, which, owner and interior designer Betsy Burnam reasons, you may have to buy again if you make a poor choice on your own. Of course, there are some areas where it's best to listen to the experts and avoid all-out penny pinching. Applying her master's in business administration from Kellogg, San Francisco designer Palmer Weiss instructs her clients to look at their design projects like portfolios, averaging dollars across a mix of expensive and inexpensive items. "I'll help you work in an inexpensive Room & Board table and make it look great," she says, "but when I tell you to spring for the $1,000 velvet pillow, you better listen to me." Other designers concur. "Never scrimp on the quality of a paint job," says Manhattan-based designer Robert Passal. "The paint can make or break a project." And Corrigan advises not to economize on kitchen and bath fixtures. "The difference in cost between a medium quality faucet and a high-quality faucet is minimal," he says, "but in the years to come you will regret having cut corners on items that you use frequently." Shane Reilly is an interior designer and the founder and CEO of Decorati. Decorati.com provides access to interior design products, information and services.