Soundings | Prioritizing your remodeling budget

Published by Soundings Magazine for The Sea Ranch

Budgetary constraints can quickly take the fun out of a home remodeling project. Clients with limited funds often feel they need to spread their money evenly over a project, motivated by the idea that they are getting the best that they can afford. This tactic can be likened to a modest amount of frosting being spread thinly over birthday cake. You succeeded at frosting the cake, but not in a very appealing way. As a kid, I very much preferred a cupcake or smaller piece of cake, as long as it was piled high with frosting. To achieve the look of a cake piled high with frosting, we’ve developed a design and budgeting strategy that prioritizes certain elements that will have a big impact, while economizing on the secondary fixtures.

We have a project currently underway in Healdsburg, which like most projects, has an ambitious scope for the budget. Of particular importance to this client are the light fixtures. While their taste gravitates toward the high-end, it soon became clear that we didn’t have enough budget to use expensive fixtures everywhere. Our approach was to create a hierarchy of room importance, and then to identify focal points within these rooms to splash out on. The client felt the entry and main living space, which combines the living, dining and kitchen areas, as the rooms which should have the best quality lighting. Within those rooms, we determined the dining room chandelier and the pendants over the island to be the focal points. We opted not to have a focal point fixture in the entry, rather spending extra money on a wood ceiling.

For these two focal point fixtures, we allocated more than half the total lighting budget towards these fixtures. The light fixture in the dining room is a custom fixture, a collaboration between San Francisco artisan John Liston, and my team. We’ve also designed a pendant variation of the dining room fixture for over the kitchen island, which creates continuity and dialogue between the two rooms. These fixtures will be a mixture of cast glass, handcrafted metalwork, and high-tech LED’s that dim to a warm, rich glow that replicates candlelight.

The remainder of the lighting in the home is a mixture of inconspicuous and inexpensive fixtures. For the entry, we used black metal cylinder flush-mount ceiling fixtures, priced at roughly $30 each, mounted in a straight line down the center of the room. These fixtures themselves cost less than recessed lights, and also take less labor to install. In the living and dining room, we used a dimmable double LED tape in hidden in coves along the base of the vaulted ceiling. The effect is to wash the ceiling with light without highlighting the source of the light. The secondary lighting fixtures in the kitchen are the same flush-mount fixtures as we used in the entry, paired with LED under-cabinet task lights.

On a smaller scale, we applied this same strategy with another client who was remodeling their bathroom. The client fell in love with an unglazed mosaic tile from Italy that cost $85 a square foot. The cost to tile the whole bathroom was breathtaking, both in materials and in the extra labor required to lay the small mosaic. We designated a focal point wall in the rear of the shower shower, that was visible when you walked into the bathroom. This wall was to be our focal point, tiled in the expensive Italian tile. The other walls of the shower and floor were tiled with a larger scale, unglazed tile from DalTile that cost $10 a square foot. The combination worked because both tiles are unglazed, the sizes are different, and the colors compliment rather than copy one another.

To apply our strategy on your own project, keepin mind the following:

• Prioritize the most important rooms in the house. (ex. Living / Dining Room)

• Within those rooms, pick a focal point (ex. dining room chandelier, shower wall, or design feature) • Allocate a large percentage of your budget on those focal points, reserving the rest for secondary fixtures.

• Select secondary fixtures for their price and utility, but most importantly for their inconspicuous design. You don’t want to lessen the impact of the focal points by drawing attention away from them.

• Don’t try to match high and low, rather select fixtures and finishes that compliment.

Chad is the Creative Director of Framestudio. He applied this approach when he and his partner James remodeled their home on Timber Ridge Road. To this day, he has never disclosed to James the cost of the kitchen faucet.