By Oliver Davis
The skill set required of an interior designer is very broad. Aside from all the obvious things (design acumen, drawing skills, encyclopedic knowledge of product lines, project management) something often overlooked as a core competency in this industry is the ability to direct spending appropriately. You see, no project, regardless of how grand or elegant, has an infinite budget, and many of my highest spending clients still have to agonise over decisions on where to spend money and where to save it without compromising on aesthetics. Below is my guide to how to achieve the look of a high-end fit out by prioritising your budget allocation on certain items.
Where to spend
Rugs: Rugs are always my starting point when decorating a living space or bedroom. They act as a foundation piece upon which to layer the colours and materials of everything else in the room. Selecting the right one is vital, and can be expensive. Formal spaces require something hand-knotted in wool and silk, with other natural fibre options including nettle, hemp or aloe. A cheaper option for less formal spaces, and one that I rely on repeatedly because I love the look, is sisal. It is more durable and feels textured under the feet, whilst still being soft enough for the kids to play on.
Lighting: A natural focal point of any room, lighting is not a place to skimp. The artisanal quality of handmade lighting can be breathtaking, and can completely transform the vibe of a space. I love big table lamps with bases in fine natural materials, such as woven leather or alabaster, and I always go for silk lampshades and diffusers. Coach lanterns in glass and metal make for impressive pendant or sconce fittings, as does anything in crystal.
Feature cushions: Abundant scatter cushions are vital for sofas, armchairs and beds, but can become expensive when fabric is purchased by the metre. Earlier this year, I had a client who held off ordering cushions until the project budget was almost drained, so I had the majority of them made in a cheaper, neutral fabric and then chose something very special for two or three feature cushions. These caught the eye with colour accents and a stunning textured material, and the overall effect was very impressive.
An interior designer: It may sound crazy, but sometimes paying an interior designer can actually save you money overall. Designers can offer access to those elusive trade-only suppliers, who represent a whole new world of product options that aren’t available to the general public. Many also have good relationships with high street retailers and may be able to negotiate a discount on certain items. Above all else though, they can offer a big picture vision for your home and help you to avoid the trap of ending up with a collection of hotchpotch products that looked great in the showroom but somehow don’t work together in your space.
Where to save
Beds: Many clients assume it will be necessary to trawl through designer showrooms and purchase expensive bedframes for their home. But if you want something that looks even more refined and is a fraction of the price, purchase a simple mattress and base ensemble, and dress it up with a separate bedhead and valance. For a contemporary but elegant look, I go for square, upholstered bedheads set quite high on the wall, sometimes with visible nail head detail around the edges.
Coffee tables/consoles/dining tables: When your budget is tight, the trick is to find hard furnishings that are relatively inexpensive but still well made. Many people resort to replica designer furniture, which often looks cheap and doesn’t stand the test of time. I recommend instead visiting some of those larger warehouses that stock imported 19th Century antique furnishings from Japan and China. For very reasonable prices you can find products that are beautifully restored and quite neutral in their design aesthetic. Just steer clear of anything too decorative and detailed unless that is the look you are going for. Bonus points for incorporating genuine antiques into your contemporary space!
Raw materials: I once received an amusing call from a client ordering me to call off the search for marble slabs, as she’d just dropped into a small showroom having a liquidation sale and talked the salesperson into selling her enough gorgeous Carrara marble to do her kitchen, the counters in both her bathrooms, as well as the cabinetry in her living room, all for $500! Don’t be afraid to inquire about a bulk discount if your project requires re-flooring, tiling or cabinetry.
Decorative accessories: With the rise of online retail, you have at your fingertips an overwhelming choice of bowls, trays, vases and jugs that won’t break the bank. Alternatively, you might like to peruse vintage shops and estate auctions, where it’s highly likely you’ll stumble upon a few affordable gems. This is your opportunity to finish off the space in a way that truly expresses who you are and what you like.
– Oliver Davis is creative director at Oliver Davis Design, a residential interior design firm in Melbourne.