Designers Discuss Tips to Keep Projects on Budget

Kitchen & Bath Design News recently posed the following question to dealers and designers in the kitchen and bath industry: "What tips to you have for keeping projects on budget?"

The first thing I like to do is help my clients understand how important it is to establish a budget ahead of time, and then share it with everyone involved.

Once that budget is established, I have them cut it in half, delegating about 50% to 60% to product and materials such as cabinets, countertops, etc. – the pretty stuff – and leaving the rest to contractors and installation – the nuts and bolts. This formula is a pretty useful tool to help stay on budget. You don’t want to get all the way through the design phase and make all your selections without having a realistic conversation about what it costs to install them.

I also like to reiterate another benchmark to my clients. In my neck of the woods, if you spend about 15% of the retail value of your home on your project, you’ll get about 90% to 100% return on investment. This information can help clients determine if they’re spending an appropriate amount on a project, keeping in mind how long they intend to stay in their home.

Also, when you’re talking about budgets and a client has a particular number he/she wants to spend, decide what overall look they’re trying to achieve and what component is most important. Is it the look of the cabinets, or the countertops? Is it that big commercial range? Pick the most important treasure to get to where you want to be dollar wise to also help stay on budget.

Jenny Rausch, CKD, owner

Karr-Bick Kitchen + Bath

St. Louis, MO


There are several things we do to help stay on budget. First, we are very specific in identifying the scope of the project right the beginning … no sugar coating to get the job.

Once we’ve secured a job we develop a Gantt chart for large projects to help determine if we’re staying on task to eliminate delays that can adversely affect the cost of the project.

Regular site visits are also key. I am on site the first day to review everything with the contractors. I stop back again several days later, especially during the demo process, to identify any potential issues.

Communication with contractors and subcontractors is also important. I ask my contractors and subcontractors to call me if they find something outside of the scope of the original project. I don’t want them to go ahead and take care of any problems without first reviewing them with me because that will add to the cost of the project. If an issue arises, we review and discuss it. Then we bring in the customer and explain the issue, as well as the best, most cost-effective way to address it.

From that point, we create a change order, identifying its purpose and the cost associated with it. We then have the customer sign it, with the understanding that it’s over and above the original scope of the project and corresponding budget.

Kate Hendrikse, owner/designer

The Kitchen & Bath Design Studio

Sheboygan, WI


These days it’s very important to stay on budget. Things are tight so we really concentrate on making sure we hit our clients’ budgets, while making sure they don’t lose any functionality or aesthetic value.

We stress the importance of finding and working with a designer who will educate clients to see what’s driving their choices. There likely is more than one way to get the look a client wants – some are more expensive, some more economical. For example, cabinetry construction, embellishments and details all affect cost so it’s important to work with someone who approaches a project in terms of here’s the budget, here’s what is desired and here’s how we can get there. We show clients similar projects that can help get them back on budget but still accomplish everything they hope to.

Liane Buchholdt, designer

Columbia Kitchens of Maryland

Jessup, MD


Typically when we establish a budget for the whole job we create allowances at the very beginning based on what may or may not be important. Is it the appliance package or cabinetry? Or, does a client want to be cost-effective in these areas, but wants a killer backsplash. We associate a price with all the items mentioned. Then we go back through to determine if the overall number is right where they thought it would be. If it’s too high, we make edits and prioritize. Maybe they don’t need x, y or z, but they really want a, b and c.

We’ll keep this final analysis in the job book throughout the entire project. I do a lot of pre-shopping to select products and materials that fall within the categories, trying not to show them anything that would take them off the path. If I know we don’t have an Ann Sacks tile budget, I won’t suggest that clients go take a look to get ideas. If they bring in something they saw in a magazine, I show them what it does to the overall budget.

I hold onto this original budget sheet and make notes along the way. Sometimes we revisit the conversation multiple times.

If I’m going to be a good steward of my clients’ money and help them stay on budget, which is part of my job, I have to continue to bring it up and help them remember where they want to be.

Brooke Sammons, designer

The Kitchen Source

Dallas, TX