Ask Vicente: Setting the Budget

Name: Kathy
City: Cameron Park
State: CA
Country: USA


Just started following your blog. I am curious to know how many collaborative hours it takes to pull a project together for presentation. Therefore, how do you get a deposit or retainer from your client up front before knowing the total cost of said project?

Vicente Responds:

Kathy, You don’t ascertain the budget, the client tells you the budget. You don’t design the project until you have the contract, which stipulates the budget. In this office, it can take off and on from two weeks to a month and a half, depending on the scale and how many items need to be estimated. I try to do each segment of the process in concentrated time, whether it’s to do construction, then furniture, then fabrics – with each of them, I sit and work on it, pull back, take some time to work on something else and then I go back to the next one. I do one segment at a time, take a couple of days, then I go back to do furniture design, take time, then I do fabrics and colors. Each time I go back I revisit and look at what i’ve done up to that point with fresh eyes. It’s like cooking – you cook, then you taste, you add a little more, cook some more, taste a little more, etc. The estimating – getting all the prices together – is something that needs a good amount of time as estimate sheets need to be written out and come back from suppliers. None of this happens until we have a signed contract and retainer and we’ve gone through a questionnaire with the client to find out likes and dislikes so I know what my perimeters are.


  • Excellent answer and so very smart! I like hearing about how you work and the timr frames involved.

    Art by Karena

    September 05, 2010
  • I read recently that, on average, it takes about 20 hours to decorate just one room. I use that as a guideline when trying to determine what my costs will be on a project so the client can add that to their budget. Then, as Vicente says, you tweak and go back and forth until you have a total cost of items, time spent etc for the final presentation.

    September 06, 2010
  • Gary Nelling

    Vicente – Roughly what percentage of your clients give you a budget that is insufficient for their desired scope of project, and at what point do you identify and address this? How do you verify a sufficient budget accurately enough from a meeting and questionnaire to commit to a specific project scope in your contracts before any work is performed? Or is the budget a given and the scope a variable? I sometimes find myself in a chicken-and-egg dilemma of being asked to estimate or commit to project budgets before I have been able to do any as-built documentation and preliminary design from which to do cost take offs. Help! – Gary

    September 07, 2010
  • Parker Bennett

    Ditto on Gary’s response. I don’t feel like you fully answered Kathy’s question. If a client says their budget for a 2,500 S/F apartment (including a kitchen!) is $100K, then do you: 1) take a retainer/fees based on $100K and adjust it when actuals come in, 2) stick vehemently to the $100K and adjust the scope/quality of materials, or 3) say “goodbye” to the client?

    September 08, 2010
  • Parker Bennett

    PS – “goodbye” because $50-100K for a well-designed kitchen alone is realistic…

    September 08, 2010
  • Denise

    I, too, would love to hear more on this topic, in particular in response to both Gary and Parker comments.

    Vincente, thank you so much for your beautiful work and blog!

    January 29, 2011

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