Ideas from the Front

Office Design on a Dime


When family law litigator Carie P. Pyland devises a trial strategy for her clients, she draws on the facts, relevant case law and personal experience. But nothing in her Dallas practice prepared her for the assignment she received this past spring: helping design her law firm’s new office space.

Luckily, expert advice was right at her fingertips, courtesy of the building manager. He was able to hook her up with the management company’s in-house space designer, who met with her and took it from there.

Whether you’re looking for an office face-lift or moving into brand-new digs, using help that’s practically at your doorstep is just one way to save money on office interior design. And it’s just one of many ways to create a signature space without breaking the bank.

Robin Page West also used the services of a space planner when her Baltimore firm moved into a new office building. Although the planner was not on staff, she was able to use the service gratis by negotiating it into the terms of the lease.

“Some larger buildings that have these space planners on staff or on retainer might sweeten the pot by letting you use them. However, you have to know to ask,” she says. The space planner helped West decide where to position existing furniture and equipment, and she provided assistance in selecting finishes, paint and carpeting. “Having a space planner made our move much easier and saved us time and money,” she says. “The planner used her knowledge and her computer software to finalize a design. After our employees approved the layout, we were ready when the movers arrived.”

Keep Your Old Favorites

Because Pyland’s firm simply moved from one office to another in the same building, the space planner was able to save the firm money by reusing existing materials. “We had elaborate woodwork from built-in cabinets that was removed and reutilized in our new office space,” she says. The firm was also able to reuse the marble from its old conference room table to top a new version.

West also saved money by working with pre-existing materials. Rather than investing in new art and decorative accents, the space planner used souvenirs from the firm’s international clients, such as a Greek sculpture and vase, Japanese decorative bottles, a Russian chess set and wood-carved camels from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. It’s also possible to reuse furniture, even when the firm decor is changing or being upgraded, by reupholster­ing and refinishing, says Annette Springer of A. Springer Interiors in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill. “I helped refurbish a desk for one client for $700,” she says. “That desk would sell for $4,000 new.”

Saving on labor is another way to significantly cut costs, says Springer, who has designed spaces for law firms of varying sizes and with varying budgets. “This is your most expensive number. If you have any hands-on experience–or know someone who does–use that talent,” she urges. In situations where space planning or interior design costs are prohibitive, she suggests hiring an in­terior designer by the hour rather than by the project.

“It’s money well-spent to have a designer come in who can roll out your design ideas in a short period of time,” she says.

No matter how you make the most of those design dollars, Springer says it’s important to make a budget before­hand and stick to it. Crunching the numbers ahead of time will help determine furnishings and other accessories.

But there is one area where Springer encourages her clients to splurge, and that’s on high-quality, well-constructed office furniture. “Buy something that’s heavy duty, since you will open and close desk drawers all day,” she says. “Otherwise, you’ll have furniture that has style but will eventually wear out.”

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