Skip to main content
Before and AfterBlueBrown

How to get a Designer Living Room on a Budget

By 12/14/2010March 4th, 202342 Comments
 Interior Design by Maria Killam, Photography by Anna Beaudry


Recently I completed this interior for two newlyweds, a Doctor and a Lawyer.

Janelle is just finishing her internship in medical school and next year she will be practicing medicine full time.

She found my blog and hired me to help her choose colours and design her space and finish it! It’s the accessories that make or break a space in addition to giving it atmosphere and that’s what she was clear she couldn’t do herself.

Interior Design by Maria Killam

One of the best features of this townhouse was the three tall windows (below) with all the amazing green trees right outside! She needed millwork on either side of the fireplace (the photo below is the only original ‘before’ photo I have, I think I deleted them accidentally). 

The Main wall colour is BM HC-26 Monroe Bisque (above). Janelle said everyone wanted to know what the colour was for themselves. When you get the colours right, that’s usually what people say. The adjoining Kitchen and small great room we painted BM HC-147 Woodlawn Blue, as this colour was a great way to create flow from the living room.

I arrived with a few designer fabric books with samples so we could discuss possible colours for her sofa & upholstered chairs.
Chocolate brown and blue are her favourite colour combination and Janelle immediately fell in love with the blue, yellow beige and brown plaid fabric (below) that I said could be two chairs, and we also found a velvet in gold for her sofa. Once I priced out what the custom sofa and chairs would be she said she would do a little shopping of her own first to see if she could find anything in the colours we had selected.

Janelle found a sofa in a colour at Pier 1 which was close to what I had selected and then called me to order the drapery and chairs. The drapery was also more reasonable because it was a solid fabric in 100% cotton.

The reason why designer fabric is so expensive is first the quality is so much better and second, they make less of it, but you get get exactly the colours you need in the pattern you want (like the two chairs, above).

Then came installation day (above).

The custom chairs and drapery arrived and we scheduled a shopping day. We needed coffee tables, a sofa table, area rug, a sideboard (not shown), lamps and accessories for the bookshelves and tables.

We chose everything together in one day of shopping–the best way to have a designer look on a budget, you are there to say whether you like what we find and you can return the occasional accessory that doesn’t end up working out.
And if we are buying an inexpensive area rug (for example) you need to understand that the ‘perfect’ piece in just the right colours probably cannot be purchased off-the-shelf for a greatly reduced discount, so you have to be willing to take what will work in the space (because it fits your budget).

Here was what the space looked like when I arrived to style the room (above).

We couldn’t find toss cushions in the right colours on our shopping day so we ended up getting them custom made.

Take a look at the after photo again (below) to see the difference the right toss cushions–designed for the furniture–look like. Even with the great new lighting and coffee tables, the pillows instantly give the living room a designer look.  It’s why I don’t apologize for the cost ($800 for 6 cushions) anymore.

They are like art that totally finish the room.

Here is the breakdown:
Sofa: $800.00 Pier 1
Sofa table: Homesense $169.00
Pedestal End Table: Martha Stewart $299.00
Coffee Table: Urban Barn $399.00
Area Rug: $299.00 Homesense
Sideboard (not shown): $500 Scan Designs
Custom chairs, Fabric from Robert Allen $1075.00 each Total $2150
Extra Long (101 Inches) Drapery for the Living room and Dining Room: $2440.00
Drapery Rods: $910.00
Toss Cushions: $800
5 Lamps: $720.00
Accessories were from all around the city, total approximately $450.00
Total cost for Accessories & Furniture (not including mill work):
$9936.00 + taxes & Design Time
Dining room table and chairs (below) were existing.

My sweet friend Lauren from Pure Style Home (who is now famous by the way she is in Decembers Better Homes & Gardens with her house all decorated for Christmas, better get yourself a copy) recently wrote a fabulous post on clients and budgets called: Reality Check: What does it Cost to Furnish a Room?

Lauren even priced out what a low, medium and med-high end living room would cost with the Low at $1,850 (pretty much IKEA) Medium: $11,490.00 (mine falls right into this range) to $25,150 and up. She also shows the difference between the look and feel of all three with some great images.
I also love her explanation of how to create a budget as clients are often reluctant to say how much they want to spend (and sometimes just don’t know what it realistically costs to furnish a house).

Janelle had some fabulous wedding photos and we created an entire wall in her great room similar to this one in the Yaletown Loft I decorated last year.  I should have taken an after picture of it because the wedding party in chocolate brown and blue matched the blue on the walls perfectly!

Interior Design by Maria Killam, Photography by Anna Beaudry
So if you add up the money you have spent on your own, the dreaming and scheming to get it exactly right. You might find that a designer look costs less than you think.
If you would like to create a living room that fills you with happiness when you walk in the door, contact me.
Related posts:
New to this Blog? Click here  Become a True Colour Expert
While you’re here, subscribe to this feed so you don’t miss out!
1 pin


  • Maria, this is simply beautiful — kudos! I'm glad you mention the toss pillows — custom DOES make all the difference. I find that many clients just don't see the need for them at fist, never mind the expense, but when they understand the value to the overall decor, like art, as you said, they being to see how the right texture, pattern and color help support the other elements in a well done space. I often suggest that a client think of the total room or project budget as one number, because if you break it down into the smallest pieces, like custom cushions, they can loose their overall perceived value as a supporting piece. It's the attention to detail that takes a room like this one from really nice to really gorgeous! 🙂

  • Jennifer Duchene says:

    Maria I love the look you created and the explanation that goes along. Its true that getting a look that works takes an eye for pulling in the right objects.
    Knowing where to spend like the custom pillows (fabulous) and drapes and where to save like the tables and rug makes all the difference and brings real style.
    It does pay to hire a designer. We save our clients pain and dollars! and create delicious rooms, to boot.

    Jennifer Duchene
    Home Makeover Mixtress

  • lynne whiteside says:

    The BM Monroe Bisque is a very versatile color, I've used it on exterior trim and was very happy with the result.

  • Inspirational Sketchbook says:

    Maria, Well done! Your room is a masterful mix of color and is so well grounded with the dark bookcases. Beautiful. I, too, linked to Lauren's posting. It is something we all need to share with our clients. Best, Roxanne

  • Heather says:

    very nicely done. love the votives on the fireplace. my kids playroom is woodlawn blue, I LOVE it. thanks for sharing these beautiful photos

  • Red Door Home says:

    You have created a beautiful space. Your clients must be thrilled. I especially liked that you used a variety of price points in your design.

  • Noelle at Gray Paint Decor says:

    Oh my goodness, it looks stunning! You are so talented!! I love the flexibility in the process that allowed her to find a lower priced sofa once she knew from you which direction to go, but still get custom chairs, pillows, and curtains. And great styling!

  • Christie says:

    Did you see the recent post on this topic on Mrs Blandings blog ? Her customers are advised that low / med / high prices are, per sq foot, $50, $75, $100…. A 2,000 sq ft house at $100 per foot … OMG!

  • Margaret Ryall says:

    In the real world putting a room together requires decisions regarding expenditures. I never skimp on pillows because I see them a mini works of art that can tie a room together beautifully as you have done in this room. A room comes to life with the finishing touches, often the most difficult aspect of design for the average person. I enjoy your detailed posts about your client processes.

  • SuhaelAmrita says:

    Stunning! I love the play of light in the room. The natural sunlight looks the best.

    Brings in freshness with the rose decor…I am inspired to do some little shifts at home, thanks to your beautiful post! 🙂

  • traci zeller designs says:

    So pretty, Maria! Custom details like those pillows can make all of the difference in a room … It's like the jewelry for the room!

  • Donna says:

    How pretty Maria! I love those colors..I'm feeling a similar style there to my own, though theirs is more modern. I actually bought fabric..yards of make a new dining room tablecloth to coordinate with the living room couch and to make extra wide curtains so they will leave more open window and still pull all the way together. They are cocoa, blue, and tan/gold plaid (but with obvious squares..not so stripy as her plaid.)

    I love what you've done with this house. Wow..the price tag! But the IKEA thing would work for someone like me. Someday though..Tim's little computer company is going to get sold…we just know it. They are on the verge of making it 'big'. Even Microsoft has talked to them. So who knows?! Ten years of hard work is finally beginning to pay off. Then maybe we can consider a larger decorating and painting budget.

    Great post–it's very helpful and I love what you've done with the accessories. The paint is still just magic to me. You are really amazing!

  • Laura@Developing Designs says:

    No need to apologize for one lil' thing, cuz it's all fabulous! Thank you for taking the time to walk us through this amazing transformation (it is quite obvious even if you only had one photo) step by step. You have created a space with spending on quality and custom where needed and it shows by doing so you have created a space that looks custom from head to toe. Love it! xo

  • Greet says:

    Dear Maria,
    I just love this interior! I love the colors, the furniture you have chosen!
    A beautiful creation! You are sooo talented! I think your clients are so happy with this design and with a designer as you!!
    Gorgeous!!! It really is!

  • jvw home says:

    Beautiful job!
    Love the pillows, and I agree,they're like the "icing on the cake"!

  • Kings Creek Pottery says:

    What a beautiful room- I love the before, during, and after photos! The colors and yes- I can now see what the "extras" do to help tie the room together.

    I plan to share this blog post with my husband so he can get a feel for what things cost. Why is it that he can spend big bucks on exterior house stuff, but when it comes to interior he freaks out at the cost?! (big sigh) Your Blog post should -hopefully- help!

    Thanks again,

  • A Color Specialist in Charlotte says:


    Btw, love those two colors. I've used them often myself.

  • Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home says:

    Beautiful room Maria! It is true that people really don't have an idea of what it will cost to furnish and decorate a room. They also seem to want it done yesterday! 🙂 Husbands (generally) don't have a clue about cost and get upset that you are spending too much money. Just break it to them gently over time and show them the difference between furniture that is made well and cheaper versions.
    A good way to do this is to take the price and divide by how many years it will potentially last. That puts the price into more perspective. Great design is worth the cost. Mediocre design is just that! Mediocre.

  • Erin @ The Impatient Gardener says:

    The room is beautiful. I'm sure your clients are so happy with it. I will say that the price tag shocked me a bit though, since this was supposed to be a room "on a budget." But now that I think about it, I guess if I were doing my entire living room in one shot, it would probably cost about the same (well, OK, probably a little less, but not much).

    I guess that's part of the reason why I've never done a room all at one time. It doesn't seem so bad if you spend the same amount of money over a longer period of time. Of course you have to be able to live with that feeling of "it's not finished" that I hate.

    Give and take.

    Good job.

  • Erin Elizabeth says:

    Monroe Bisque is one of my favorite neutrals – along with Manchester Tan!

  • DesignMeSilly says:

    Beautiful room! Great idea, posting the step-by-steps. I like the light over the dining room table!

  • Sheila Zeller says:

    Love what you did with the toss cushions – from drab to fab!!!

  • angie says:

    Well aren't you clever breaking this up for us like that, Maria 🙂

    Scatter cushions are like works of art. No wonder they make things look fab! Well done as always.


  • Susan says:

    Looks amazing Maria, your clients must be over the moon. It truly does have a designer look yet feels very comfy and relaxed at the same time.

  • Christine says:

    The room looks great but since when is decorating ONE room for $10,000.00 "on a budget" ???

  • Nichole@40daysof says:

    I love these rooms and great post! It's so helpful to see what a room like that really costs.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Christine,
    Well I guess budget is relative, however if you are not going to decorate your entire house with IKEA, then this price is what you could expect to spend for a 'designer' look.

    In my world $800 for a sofa is a huge bargain, the drapes are extra long so they have to be custom and once you buy the fabric, lining and pay for labour, that's the price tag, even though the fabric was quite reasonable.

    If you read Lauren's post, there's a big difference between, low, med and high design even if it is styled well.

    Thanks for your comment, I'm sure others might think the same thing.

  • Annie, bossy color says:

    Maria, I LOVE this interior – what a fabulous job you did! And the breakdown of the process and the costs are so helpful to everyone. Thank you!

    And good for you for not apologizing for the cost of the pillows. I'm getting better at that. It's no coincidence that something custom often "makes" the room – and custom costs! That's why your room is unique!

    Thanks again for a wonderful post.

  • ddu says:

    I first spotted Woodlawn Blue in a Metropolitan Home article about designer Daryl Carter, who had painted his breakfast room that color. I used it in my bedroom for a soft, restful color, but I think the painter mixed it wrong because it looks mint green. Yikes! One day I'll get you to spec another color so I can sleep at night! Best wishes, Donna

  • Mindy@FindingSilverLinings says:

    Hi! Beautiful room transformation!
    I just posted a few how-tos on decorating for the holidays on a budget. (Under a few bucks!)


  • Kelly says:

    What a beautiful room Maria! I really love it. I always tell my clients, the cost of custom is well worth the price if you want a gorgeous look like this.

  • Jürgen says:

    Very interesting, Maria!. It was great to see how it has developed step by step process.

  • Lazy Gardens says:

    Christine –
    "On a budget" doesn't necessarily mean "as cheaply as possible". A budget is "a sum of money allocated for a particular purpose".

    I've done landscapes where the total budget was $1,000 and some where the back yard was allocated $15,000.

    Whatever it is, unless it's ludicrously low, you should be able to improve the client's surroundings and not exceed the budget.

    Using off the shelf chairs, ready-made long curtain panels (hard to find, but becoming easier), less expensive hardware, non-custom pillows, and lower cost lamps would knock $4-5,000 off the furnishings.

    Only the client can say if that would have been an acceptable trade-off between looks and price.

  • Patricia says:

    Hi Maria, I am so happy to see you stepping out of colour and into context. As someone who has watched an helped nurture your career along, I am so pleased to see this part of your talent take a bigger role. I love the design work you are now showing. Keep it up!
    Patricia from Textile Trimmings

  • Things That Inspire says:

    Thank you for directing me to Lauren's wonderful post! I commented on it based on my own experience. I also think about something you once said – that clients should realistically think about spending 20% of what they paid for the house on interiors.

  • AB HOME Interiors says:

    Great post Maria. I have been out of the blogging scene for a few weeks because life in the office has been so hectic! I loved Laurens post. I will definitely refer back to it. So many people watch HGTV and think a room should cost $1K. Not taking into consideration the 40 people behind the scenes, 3 designers and project managers. Unfortunately we have come into an age of Wal-mart thinking and every one wants everything for next to nothing or worse, free.

    Too often I get clients that think ten thousand dollars is more than enough to furnish there whole house. Why people don't research ahead of time I will never understand.

  • Amy says:

    Your design is beautifully done, but I also think the photography is fantastic! Do you take your own photographs or do you hire a professional?

  • Maria Killam says:

    This room was shot by a professional photographer.

  • joanne says:

    beautiful room.. what color trim did you use for the Monroe Bique?

  • Debbie says:

    The custom pillows look nice but not $800 dollars nice IMO. Yikes ! not for us average homeowners.

  • Cindy Sue says:

    Maria, it is a beautiful room. I love how you show the symmetry not only with the furnishings, but with the color as well(wink wink how could you not you’re Maria!). I am learning a lot from you, taking my time, absorbing what you share and trying to get it right for our home(a kitchen and dining reno, which seems to constitute a redo for the rest of the house, haha). My biggest challenge at this point, one of two actually, is coming to the decision of the atmosphere I am trying to create, I found I have many that appeal to me, oh my.

Leave a Reply