8 Budget-Friendly Steps to Transform Your Office Design

Devon Bohm
January 24, 2020

With the days of utilitarian office spaces behind us, today’s office is about more than the work that happens within the space: it’s about the people who inhabit it. The office and its design features have become a statement about both your brand’s vision and values, and the type of employee you want to attract. However, not every office has a dream budget to go along with their dream design goals.

Kaitlyn Payne is the owner and principal designer of Basicspace, a “small, full-service interior design firm,” and often works with commercial clientele. One of Payne’s main goals is to work with her clients throughout the entire project life cycle, from concept to execution. Her experience has made her an expert in balancing budget with beauty and how to make whatever amount you’re working with work for you and your office space.

1. Find your purpose

You know something about your office space isn’t working, but before you begin a redesign, you need to figure out exactly what that is. Have you outgrown your current space? Do you need more meeting rooms? More social spaces? More storage? A better seating plan? Are you not presenting your best self to your clients? Could this be an opportunity to reflect the company values? Do you need more natural light?

Whenever Payne begins a new project, her first step is always a complimentary, hour-long walk through of the space. She comes in to say, “Let’s talk about your goals, let’s talk about what’s not working and what you want to change, let’s talk about your company and how they work day to day together, the ins and outs of your space, the history of it.” It’s this mix of the practical and atmospheric that makes your office space unique, and will help you figure out what’s best for your office life.

Having trouble figuring out where your goals lie? Try what Karen Weeks of OrderGroove did for her office’s renovation: create a team to help generate and solidify ideas. This can get your employees excited for the redesign, bring different perspectives into the planning process, and creates a more transparent process that takes the entire office’s needs and priorities in to account.

2. Set a budget

When you know why your refresh is needed, you’ll have a better idea how much money it will take to accomplish your goals. While each company’s process for procuring money for a project is different, one piece of advice is the same across the board: you need to have an established budget before you begin the project.

A set budget will allow you to methodically tackle all the steps listed below and prioritize your biggest needs and most important goals. A clear budget allows you to better see where cuts can be made throughout the process. Payne also reminds her clients to always take the length of their lease into consideration—how long you’re planning on staying in your current space should be a determining factor in how much money you’re planning to spend.

3. Consider hiring a designer

Payne’s interior design company, Basicspace, is a service provider on Managed by Q's platform. Basicspace provides a rarity in the design world: a single person who helps facilitate your project from start to finish. Payne was educated at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston to focus on “interior architecture more than interior decorating,” and she recognizes how interconnected the worlds of architecture and interior design are. Years working for architecture firms trained Payne in complete project management, which means that she is in a unique position to plan everything from electrical rewiring to the color of throw pillows.

Do you have a smaller than average budget? Payne’s quick to say that “I try really hard to work with everyone’s budget within the reality of how much things cost. 9 times out of 10 I can work within my clients’ budgets.” And, if your budget just can’t quite stretch to a designer’s full time service, some, like Payne, may be willing to work with you in a more limited capacity. Payne sometimes has to say: “okay, maybe I can’t help you with everything, but here’s what I can help you with, and identify the parts of the project where I can make the biggest effect.”

Designers like Payne can seem like a complete luxury, but their advice can be indispensable and save both time and money. While many of us are perfectly capable of picking out paint for an accent wall, there are certain practicalities—like speaking with contractors and electricians in their own lingo, or how to strategically set up desks so the least amount of rewiring needs to be done—a designer like Payne can handle more effectively. And that’s not to mention the access designers have to wholesale decor and furniture retailers and other money saving, industry-exclusive information.

4. Prioritize and plan

Whether or not you have a designer, the practical considerations of any design project have to be considered first. Payne refers to the first real step post-consultation as “schematic,” meaning a full overview of your office’s layout, suggested new layout, and your plan of attack on a conceptual level. This should include accurate measurements and blueprints for all walls, ceiling, doors and door swings, and outlets, as well as a proposed and realistic timeframe to complete the project. You should also compile the financial estimates for any major structural changes so when time comes to decorate you have an accurate idea of the money you will have left to work with.

While hiring a designer with an architectural background like Payne will simplify this process, there are tools at everyone’s disposal to help. When Justworks, a one-stop company for all your payroll, benefits, HR, and compliance needs, went to redesign their office, they utilized “software like Sketchup or Adobe Illustrator” that “can help give you a birds’ eye view of the area and help plan for the best office floor plan based on the space that you have. Luckily, most of these tools might already come with your work, or you can find similar ones for free or low-cost online.” Friendly to the layman, and the budget.

5. Decide on an aesthetic

Once you have defined your purpose, outlined your budget, and have a concept of the schematics of your office, you can focus on the details of decorating. Payne recommends creating a mood board to bring together both aspirational and practical visions for your space and settle on an overall look and feel. She sees this as phase in the process where the “furniture and décor, all the materials are aesthetically forming.” Working with Payne, the OrderGroove team used Pinterest boards to gather images that had the right look and feel for their office—light, but with pops of color, storage space to reduce clutter (often cleverly hidden in useful pieces of furniture,) and, above all, a flexible, adaptive workspace with a myriad of options for teamwork and creativity.

Utilizing free resources like Pinterest, creating a mood board will help you know exactly what you’re looking for, saving time and money in the long run. Simultaneously, it allows another opportunity for your employees to contribute and even vote on ideas to make sure everyone is on board with your vision, from color palette to seating plans. With your employees’ priorities taken into consideration along with your own, the actual purchasing of new pieces becomes a collaborative effort that will be more likely to keep everyone happy.

6. Consider function versus beauty

A Pinterest board isn’t an entirely realistic plan for an office—so before you rush out to buy new furniture, first take stock of what you already have. If your cabinets look a little dingy, can they be repainted instead of replaced? Assess what in your office can be repurposed and what really needs to go. In this world where you can buy or sell anything online, you can both sell your gently used pieces to pad your budget and scoop up new ones. Radish Lab recommends using the app IFTTT (If This, Then That) as it “allows you set up alerts for sites like Craigslist so you’ll get an email when someone posts something up that matches a search you’ve made.” This will allow you to save time, bolster your budget, and better estimate the purchases you’ll actually need to make.

Payne’s biggest tip for keeping to budget is twofold. First: “Cut back on anything hidden away or utilitarian. A coffee table or a storage credenza hidden over in the corner or a filing cabinet. Those are things that don’t need to look that nice. Alternatively, a couch is used everyday, all day long, so the wear and tear it will receive means it’s worth spending more money on.”

Second: “You know how they say, ‘It all adds up?’ It’s not: ‘What big thing can we cut to save us money?’ Every little thing you’re doing needs to brought down a level to save the bigger amount of money.” It’s about determining what’s needed to give the right impression, while being realistic about the needs of the day-to-day life in your office: cut back on the nonessentials, invest in what’s used the most.

And remember, you don’t need to sacrifice creating a beautiful space to stay in budget. In conversation with Good Housekeeping, home stager Cheryl Eisen suggests creating your own large-scale art piece for an accent or even gallery wall. Pieces can be sourced from your company’s own logo and photographed events, or websites like Creative Commons that have a database of free art. Then your choices can be cheaply printed and put into store bought frames. Or, Payne assures us that there’s always a less costly option to make an impact: “Instead of wallpaper, wall decals. Those can be done by anyone. You can still do a feature wall, but instead of the labor of putting up wallpaper, just paint it a different color.” With your purpose, budget, priorities, and aesthetic goals in check, finding the places to cut will be easy.

7. Check in

Perhaps the most important thing to remember during a redesign is that you’re not working in a bubble: you’re working for the people around you.

While looking for feedback from your whole office might seem like a way to invite too many cooks into the kitchen, Payne recognizes why so many companies are looking for a redesign: “Specifically with tech startups, it’s a very competitive space. You’ve got to have all the nice things to keep the really talented employees.” By keeping all your employees involved, you’re doing what a designer like Payne focuses on whenever she walks into a large scale project: “When I walk in to an office and design for an office of 200 people, it’s almost like I’m designing for not just the company but those 200 individuals. They all have a say.” By consistently surveying the people whose space you’re affecting, you may be able to stop potential missteps or hear new, budget-friendly ideas. Sometimes some extra help in the kitchen can make all the difference.

You can also find small gestures to keeping employees involved. For example, Payne recommends utilizing Poppin, “a company specifically for office spaces and they have affordable trays and desk accessories. I always think that’s a fun way to get everyone involved. Have your employees pick what color they want for their desk. That’s a very small thing, but once everybody has it on their desk it starts to look uniform and neat and organized.”

8. Remember: It’s a process

Don’t forget that a redesign is a process—it doesn’t have to happen all at once, especially when you’re working with a tight budget. Having your priorities in order may mean that while the office was rewired so teams can better cluster together, more plants may need to wait for another fiscal quarter. The key is to keep a running list of what else can be done in time—more pops of color, elevated lighting, more shelving—so that when the money is available you’re ready to put your new plan into play.

And then, there’s always the details you couldn’t have anticipated (at least not without someone like Payne to remind you): clean up, ordering new types of light bulbs, and putting all that new furniture together, among others. That’s where Managed by Q can step in.

In Payne’s own words, “Just one of the benefits of working with Managed by Q is that they have this whole toolkit of people—anything and everything you can think of you can find on their platform and then the client’s billing goes through one portal. That process is so seamless. They have from beginning to end anything that you’d need.” While the nuances of a major redesign (or even a smaller refresh) may seem overwhelming, having these basic steps in mind will help ensure a smooth transition. Whether or not you can hire a designer, and no matter how small your budget, there’s always a way to positively impact the impression your office leaves for both your clients and employees. And it’s only a few steps (and some careful consideration) away.

Photography by Jeff Mertz

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