Even if you don’t have a big budget, there are still ways to make your project look like a million bucks. We have been working on many projects for non-profit organizations and some TI work where the build out budget leaves little room for expensive embellishment, or perhaps because of the “times”, clients are hesitant to spend money on their interior finishes or just want to save money.
Here are some tips you can incorporate in a lower budget project and still make it look like a million bucks:
1. Have an organized and well thought out plan and be creative. Since you have to use gypsum board and studs no matter what, create forms and volumes with them that “create architecture” even in the simplest space. Use “window” openings or reveals in the gypsum board wall as decorative elements. Openings without glass can create an inexpensive screen separation or change the profile of your portal openings to something other than rectangular.
2. Color, for the most part, is free. Once you have articulated your space as described above, feel free to add expression by changing color to reinforce your massing. Whether you use bright colors that are shocking, a combination of elegant neutral tones or a mix of neutrals with an accent, it’s easy to articulate the space and create focal elements with color.
Be sure to pick your vinyl base first! Be careful that less expensive elements such as vinyl base (which may come in limited colors) do not contrast your color scheme therefore calling attention to them. Blend everything out except what you want people to look at.
3. Mind the ceiling. Once I was told that any project with a wall-to-wall acoustical tile ceiling is not worth photographing, and this is true. The ceiling plane is usually the most visible part of your interior, so you should never ignore it. Explore the possibilities: Can you leave it out altogether or in some areas? You may get some free textural interest from what is above; but be careful of your client’s tolerance level for things rustic. Can you step the ceiling to vary the heights without having to add fire protection sprinklers or another added expense? Make sure that ALL ceiling mounted devices are organized perfectly, and create patterns with these if possible; this takes coordination with your engineers, so let them know ahead of time what you want, as they will not want to move things around once they have completed their drawings. If you have to put in soffits for certain conditions such as doorways, use the opportunity to make a statement, and avoid soffits that are 4 inches or the wall thickness.
4. Floor it. If you need to use an inexpensive flooring material, pick one that is a good background and avoid using more expensive flooring in the lobby and abruptly changing to a cheaper carpet in the back. This will avoid “the buck stops here” effect which makes your less expensive floor look worse by comparison. Instead insert an area rug of carpet into a background of the less costly flooring at seating areas to create an island. Use modular flooring material such as VCT or other tile to create patterns on the floors or change size or color to create area rugs.
5. Use lighting to create emphasis. There is no need to have an even foot candle level throughout. Avoid 2 x 4 fixtures and prismatic lenses if you can, but even those can be grouped to create luminous areas over tables and desks. Cove lighting using inexpensive fluorescent strips will light the ceiling or vertically light the wall. If you can, splurge on one expensive lighting fixture in a prominent spot that can serve as “jewelry” in otherwise subdued environment, much like a jewel dresses up a black dress.
6. Splurge on at least one expensive fabric on the furniture. Nothing says cheap like patterned fabrics that have dull colors. Keep most of your fabrics simple, solid and subtle, but splurge on one rich fabric. Use it even just on the seat of an accent wood chair and make sure that it stands out in contrast to the others. If throw pillows are practical, use this feature fabric on one or two of those, or cover the visible back of a banquette. Always use the best textiles you can afford, and be careful: just because a fabric is graded in or on quick ship does not mean it is your best value. Companies sometimes charge more for fabrics they stock. Compare using even the same fabric as a COM.
7. Organize wall mounted devices. Place light switches and outlets into orderly compositions. Be careful of wall mounted fire alarms which always end up drawn in the center of the most prominent walls where a piece of art or company logo should be. Have a detail in your drawings organizing switches and other devices and stack them vertically. Select colors that blend with your wall finishes and avoid devices on walls with a featured material or color.