How Do I Budget My House For Interior Design?

With a few creative design strategies, you can make your first or any home feel like your own – without blowing your savings in the process. Take a look at these six wallet-friendly ideas to get started, including one thing you can't have too many of and what to do with old hand-me-downs.

You're redecorating, and you want everything to be just right, but you need help. You don't have time to select fabrics, need colour consultation, or could use some help with your lighting. You know an interior decorator could help you with all of these things, but will the decorator's cost break your budget? How much does an interior decorator cost, anyway? Interior decorators are specialists in all aspects of room decoration. Some gain a reputation as "stylists to the stars" and command very high fees. Unfortunately, their public exposure has created the myth that all interior decorators are prohibitively expensive. Let's see what the reality is and learn:

Hiring An Interior Decorator

  • How much they cost
  • What to ask your interior decorator
  • Where to get inspiration for your project
  • Getting quotes from interior decorators
  • Interior decorator, stylist or interior designer?

Before we delve into what an interior decorator does, it is worth highlighting the difference between stylists and interior designers. Stylists primarily work for magazine's, brands and photographers, but some will be quite happy to consult for you in your home. As interior decorators, their speciality is to carefully select decorative finishes, furniture and accessories for each room in your home. Both will also pay close attention to colour and fabrics and how a space is planned. Interior designers are more involved from the beginning of a project, such as renovating or building a new home. They will also liaise with your architect and tradies to ensure each room is fitted out according to the design plans. Whoever you end up working with should listen to your brief and understand what you want, bringing fresh ideas and options to the table.

Establish A Theme

nick morrison fhnnjk1yj7y unsplashChoosing a colour palette and overall style for your space can make a big difference in making an apartment look intentional rather than thrown together. Start with an art print or piece of furniture that you love, and work from there. For example, this sunny entryway anchored around a yellow bench establishes a playful theme with bright colours, graphic pillows and layered prints. Other home areas echo the colours and leaf motif in one of the frames to make the home feel cohesive.

Add Plants. Then, Add More

You really can't have too many. Houseplants instantly enliven rooms, adding texture, colour and sometimes fragrance, and they fill up bare spots and problem areas. That awkward corner of the living room? How about adding a potted dracaena or fiddle-leaf fig to add height and green to the space. A bookshelf that looks empty and lifeless? Add a philodendron vine to trail down over the shelves.

To keep houseplants inexpensive, choose varieties you likely won't kill, such as nearly bulletproof mother-in-law's tongue and philodendron, and ask for cuttings or pups (succulent starts) from friends. Also, look for plant pots at garage sales or secondhand stores for the best deals.

Put Your Spin On Mass-Produced Furniture

A fresh coat of paint and new hardware can go a long way in updating IKEA or other inexpensive furniture to fit your style. For example, this San Francisco apartment owner transformed an IKEA Rast chest to complement her vintage-inspired bedroom by painting the drawers different shades of rose pink, coral and off-white and swapping the handles for vintage knobs. The result looks more like a great secondhand market find than something off the shelf.

Repurpose Hand-Me-Downs

If you've inherited furniture from family, friends or a previous tenant, you may end up with more of something than you need (say, mismatched chairs) and not enough of another (like side tables). Get creative with reimagining how each piece can be used. For example, can that extra stool double as a bedside table or a stand for a light in the living room? How about intentionally mixing seating around your dining table or using a bench against a wall as a bookshelf?

Work With What You've Got.

Chances are your apartment comes with some existing features you love (lucky enough to have exposed brick walls?) and others that you could do without (those 1970s kitchen cupboards). So embrace the elements you love and do what you can with your budget and rental agreement to change those you don't.

For example, the renters of this colourful apartment inherited a bathroom with brown tile walls and a blue tile floor. They couldn't live with the brown walls, so (with permission from their landlord) they covered the tile with many coats of white paint for a brighter look. Then, leaving the blue floor tile as is, they used it to set the scheme for the room – painting the vanity knobs, edges of the light fixture and wooden shelving unit blue and choosing a soap dispenser and towels to match.

FAQs About Budgeting My House For Interior Design

If you decide to work with an interior decorator, you can expect them to:

  • Meet with you and assess what your needs are
  • Review the room/s you want to revamp
  • Help you choose colour schemes, layout, lighting, furniture, flooring, curtains, paint, and more.
  • Prepare sketches, designs and cost estimates.
  • Sourcing fittings, furnishings and decorations
  • Supervise the project and the tradies working on your job

Interior decorators will generally base their quotes on the size and scope of your project. For this, they will generally charge you an hourly rate or an overall design fee, based on the amount of time they estimate they'll work on your job.

The cost of hiring an interior decorator depends on your budget. If you only have a few thousand dollars to spend, your designer will work to that budget and source products and materials to suit. But, of course, if you have the luxury of splashing out on new furniture and accessories for every room, you'll find you can easily spend many thousands of dollars. Some interior decorators offer a free initial consultation, so you can see if you'd like to work together before signing on the dotted line. Otherwise, all their services are chargeable. Expect an experienced decorator to charge anywhere from:

  • $200 to $300 for an initial consultation
  • $150 to $200 per hour for sourcing, selection, purchase and installation of furniture, lighting, soft furnishings and window treatments
  • $150 to $200 per hour for selecting paint schemes, flooring and other hard finishes

The key is to identify how much work is involved and how long they need to impact your home.

When it comes to hiring an interior designer, make sure they are right for your job by asking them:

  • How do you charge?
  • What are your rates?
  • What training or experience do you have?
  • Are you a member of the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) or other professional bodies?
  • Can I see examples of your work?
  • Can you provide a written quote?
  • What is included/excluded in your service?
  • When can you start on my project?
  • Are you insured to work in my home?
  • How Much Does It Cost To Furnish Your House?

Many potential clients are as keen as the proverbial mustard to have their homes professionally furnished and decorated. Still, they are unsure about how much the whole process can cost. So, even though money conversations are always a bit awkward, we think it's important to be transparent about how much it costs to give your interior a makeover, whether you do it yourself or with our help.

It depends on how much you need to purchase to make the impact you're dreaming of.

Do you need to buy everything? or do you already have pieces that you can incorporate into the new look? For example, are you furnishing one room or several? Is your house enormous or compact? We spoke to the design team and they came back with the following investment averages based on three different kinds of homes.

  • House type 1
    • Three-bedroom, one living room, property valued at less than $1 million.
    • Average investment to have the whole house FURNISHED. – $35,000
  • House type 2
    • Three-bedroom, two living rooms, property valued at $1.5 – 2 million.
    • Average investment to have the whole house FURNISHED. – $55,000
  • House type 3
    • Three-bedroom, two living rooms, property valued at $3 million or more.
    • Average investment to have the whole house FURNISHED. – $250,000

As you can see, the investment required to furnish your home varies broadly, and even if you're out to furnish your home on a budget, you'll still need to allow around $20,000.

But what if I only want to furnish one room?

Lots of our clients start by overhauling just one room in their home, and this can be a more accessible way of beginning the home makeover process. Below are the ranges that we typically work within for different rooms to give you an idea of what you might need to budget:

  • Master bedroom: $2,500 – $33,000+
  • Guest bedrooms (each): $2,000 – $28,000+
  • Home office: $2,500 – $10,000+ (no upper limit stated)
  • Formal living room: $7,600 – $93,000+
  • Dining room: $3500 – $17,000+
  • Outdoor living space: $3,000 – $25,000+

Things To Consider:

When you work with the decorators, you're buying it all at once. Normally when you purchase furniture and décor independently, you do so a piece at a time. For example, thinking of a nice armchair, and suddenly it's in your living room, and your bank account is a couple of grand lighter. Then maybe a few weeks later, you find a rug that would go perfectly with it, and you treat yourself to it. In the meantime, you buy new cushions for the couch, a gorgeous floor lamp for that dingy corner, and a mirror for the wall.

Then, once all the new stuff is in, you realise that actually, your couch has seen much better days and you start to save for a new one and maybe a new entertainment unit too because the old one doesn't go with that coffee table you saw last week when you were out and now have to have.

Do you see? It adds up even to dress a living room with the basics items (we haven't even started thinking about wall art or window treatments etc.), it adds up. A living room like the one we described can very easily set you back more than $10,000, but when it's done for a year or so, it doesn't seem like such a sting. When you work with a designer, who will ensure that your living room becomes the haven you've been dreaming of, you'll be purchasing it all at once, which can make it seem like a heftier outlay – when it's the same cost you would've spent anyway. Finally, make sure everything works together to create a cohesive look and feel. When you buy furniture and décor a piece at a time, it's easy (and very common!) to end up with a collection of great stuff that doesn't work together.

What that means is that although you've found and purchased things that you love, they won't make your heart sing once they're in your home because they don't work the way you thought they would. It would be best if you had the unique advantage of seeing the whole room as it will look once the new furniture and décor is installed, so there are none of those "NO" moments once everything has been delivered.

If your budget is limited, know how to allocate it wisely, invest in high-quality 'forever' pieces that will elevate the whole feel of your room, and complement them with less expensive items to create the look you're going for. Then, differentiate between essential and nice-to-have items to spend wisely your money.

Ways To Create A Designer Home Interior On A Budget

While money makes this easier, an ever-growing number of affordable furniture and lighting brands can help create an interesting and beautiful interior without resorting to copies of big-name items. Don't forget that it's not just about the objects and furniture you own but the overall design of a room as a whole. Finishes like paint, wallpaper, flooring and fabrics can emphasise quality beyond their price – adding to the overall look and making the interior scheme more convincing.

Take Your Time

Take your time to develop a good theme for your room or entire interior look. Browsing through quality interior magazines and websites will provide initial inspiration and focus your ideas. After a few hours, you should know which designer looks you love and those you hate. Next, assess what makes them look successful. Is it the use of chrome? The abundance of earthy textures? The slick use of colour or perhaps a combination of several factors?

Bright coloured cushions and furnishings paired with a neutral backdrop will create a contemporary interior that you can change around with seasons. Bright coloured cushions and furnishings paired with a neutral backdrop will create a contemporary interior that you can change around with seasons. 

Create A Mood Board

Once the key component is confirmed, you can mock up your version in the form of a mood board using cut out images or ones downloaded from online sources. Online research is the fastest way to see where you can find pieces with similar detailing, finishes or shape. There are now many aggregated websites that show products from a huge number of manufacturers.

A Little Bit Of Diy Goes A Long Way

While expensive designer looks use costly materials and finishes, there are often much cheaper alternatives that will provide 90% of the same look – all you need to do is spend some time and look for items that have the same feel as a designer piece - be it a lamp with a chrome base or a basic bentwood chair given a great paint job. Powder coating drab metal components in smart metallic finishes or bright colours is another way of converting everyday items to look more expensive.

Look For Bang For Your Buck

With each material choice, consider all options. Some materials are far more expensive but make little difference and can also be high-maintenance. Stone, for example, is generally a luxury material, but certain stones are less than a quarter of the price of commonly used varieties. Engineered stone also looks extremely similar to pure stone and will be stainless easily.

Since this zone is 'snack central', the benchtops and splashbacks are in Smartstone Statuario Venato – a more practical and affordable choice than natural marble. "It looks like the real thing, but I don't have to worry about staining from beetroot or wine," explained the owner of this delightful family home in Brisbane with pops of colour. 

Invest In Showstoppers

It's often wise to invest in a couple of showstoppers that lift the level of your room or interior. These can be materials like a stainless steel bench or a solid timber floor as furniture, lighting or art pieces. The general aim is to lift the more ordinary objects to the level of the key pieces. For example, quality taps generally cost only marginally more than the standard varieties and can add a touch of 'designer' to a plain and simple bathroom or kitchen. Good handles on doors and kitchen cabinets achieve the same effect. It's all a matter of choosing where to skimp and save and where to splurge.

Buy Vintage

alexander mils lcphgxs7pww unsplashBuying vintage doesn't appeal to everyone, but a good secondhand item will add instant NY chic to an interior in the mix. Thrift shop finds we are a great way of adding charm and wit to an interior scheme and are generally as cheap as chips. Some may need a little clean or a new lick of paint – others may require a new lampshade, but the essence remains that they are a personal and unique feature that doesn't cost the earth.

Group Objects Together

Displaying multiple objects of the same type is an interior designer' trick of the trade' that can be appropriated by the budget decorator and recreated with cheaper items while still achieving a great outcome. Indoor plants look particularly stylish grouped in threes or more, like the charming setting on the back deck of this fresh and tropical white home in Queensland. 

Scale Is Important

Remember, scale is a highly important part of interiors. Large furniture clutters small spaces unnatural and makes everything seem out of scale. Equally, using small sofas in a large room will look like a sorry excuse for a sofa - so don't opt for a two-seater to save money when the room demands something bigger.

Look For Showroom Sales

Remember that you can save a lot of money by buying fabric remnants and ends of wallpaper rolls and keeping a keen eye out for showroom stock sales and discontinued models. You can save up to fifty per cent this way and still get the real thing. On the other hand, creating a designer look on a budget takes extra time precisely because the 'money no object' mantra doesn't apply.

Get Inspiration Online

Look to Pinterest and interior design websites for inspiration and advice. Next, scour affordable homewares sites like Temple & Webster and Zanui to find designer-look furniture and homewares at affordable prices. Finally, eBay and Gumtree are great for sourcing vintage designer furniture or items that can be easily upcycled. It all comes down to finding a look you love and asking how you get it for less.


In the digital era, you are spoilt for choice when getting inspiration for any interior decor job. A decade ago, you may have been stuck looking at interior magazines - which are still out there. Still, you can start by looking at apps like Pinterest and Instagram and following interior designers, stylists and decorators you admire. Don't be shy to shop around and get quotes from many local interior decorators. This will give you an idea of what they charge and if you 'click', and if they can deliver on your project.

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