Good Design Doesn't Have to be Expensive

It’s easy to design a space on a budget, but the tricky part is determining the best fixture and finish choices for your budget.

As an interior designer, I work with both budget conscious clients and clients where money is no object in the design of their dream home. Clients often ask what is the greatest benefit of working with a designer. Of course there are many reasons, but I feel that one of the most important is the designer’s ability to focus on the best design choices for a specific project. Especially for my clients on a budget, I stress that good design is not necessarily expensive. I always explain that, for the same cost, one can make good or bad design choices. It’s with the help of a designer that the client can gain an overall focus of the project and narrow down best choices for the client’s needs.

Recently as I was called into a project mid-stream by a potential client who had spent a lot of money on some very poor design choices. The project was a home that had been purchased by a young investor with the intention of ‘beautifying’ the home and then immediately reselling the property. The challenge was that the investor’s expertise was with investing and not with interior space planning or fixture and finish selection.

I provided a consultation to the investor and was somewhat skeptically hired to re-work the kitchen and adjacent family room. Of course my first task was to return as many of the fixtures and finishes that I possibly could, including the stock cabinets and light fixtures from Home Depot, faux travertine floor tile from Lowe’s and the assortment of other poor finish choices that had already been purchased.

To make a long story short, working with a significantly lower budget than what had already been spent on the poor design choices, I was able to re-work the spaces and finish them with high quality alternatives from other sources. I always consider it a challenge to take on this type of project: Working within a tight budget to accomplish the most bang for the buck.

With this project, I was able to achieve semi-custom cabinetry by using out-of-the-box Ikea cabinets, built-in with my own crown molding (purchased elsewhere and not from Ikea) and then sprayed by my painter with a bright-white Benjamin Moore paint. I always like to accentuate the focal point of the room with the costliest finish details, which in this case were the counter tops and the center island. So, atop the custom painted Ikea cabinetry, I used a good portion of my budget on the cararra marble counter tops and a center island, which I had built out of inexpensive poplar and then laminated with a visually textural zebrawood.

Home Depot lighting was replaced with a less expensive contemporary alternative. And a stacked glass tile, which I purchased from Lowe’s for about $10 per square foot, was laid vertically as the backsplash. A stainless Viking appliance package added the final touch to the kitchen. The end result was a stunning space and kudos from the skeptical investor. After this home sold with multiple offers in just days after being on the market, I think I now have a new client for life.

The moral to my story is that it is easy to design a space on a budget, but the tricky part is determining the best fixture and finish choices. And so, this is where my blog comes in. With my many years of experience, I’d like to share my lessons learned, tips, trials and tribulations; all this in an effort to educate the reader about making the best design choices for his or her own space. In my opinion, it is never about the money spent, but always about the best design choices. I hope you will enjoy my blog and use it as a resource for your own design needs.

Robert Frank is a local resident and owner of Robert Frank Interiors, a full-service interior design and construction company located in San Marino, California. Robert Frank Interiors works in collaboration with clients to create beautiful, functional spaces that reflect their lifestyles and personalities. Visit us on the web at