One Room, Three Price Tags


Thumb through design magazines and you’ll see lots of photos of beautiful rooms. But you’ll rarely (if ever) read anything about how much those rooms full of gorgeous furniture cost.

Money: It’s the dirty little secret of interior design. So we set out to quantify exactly how much it costs to furnish a room these days. To do that, we asked local designers Penny Lorain and Jennifer May of Lorain & May Design Associates to design a hypothetical living room, complete with price tag.

What we learned is that you can spend a little or a lot—or something in between.

“It’s like buying a car,” explains Lorain. “You can buy a Ford, a Toyota or a Lexus, depending on your budget. It’s the same thing with furniture.”

They came up with a plan for a casually elegant room that includes a sofa, entertainment center, coffee table, rug, accent table, lamp and two leather armchairs. They selected well-designed pieces (all available through designers only) in three price ranges: low, medium and high.

The cost to furnish our hypothetical room ranges from a low of $7,700 to a high of $33,000.

What accounts for that price difference? Quality and choice. At the low end, the materials and workmanship are not as fine as at the high end. And you have fewer choices in terms of wood finish, fabric selection, trims and hardware.
Here’s how it breaks down:

At the low end, you’ll choose from two wood finishes (light and dark), two cushion options (light and firm) and about 240 fabrics. The midrange sofa offers more choices in fabrics and wood finishes. At the high end, the choices are virtually limitless: You can provide your own fabric (known as “COM,” for “customer’s own material”) and ask for design extras such as nailhead trim. The pricey sofa also has more presence and style than the less-expensive versions.

Accent Table
The low-end table is painted resin with a black-walnut finish; the midlevel table is made of cast ceramic. The high-end table from a top manufacturer was designed by noted artist Robert Kuo in copper repoussé.

The low-end version is machine-made from olefin, a durable manmade fiber. The midrange rug also is made by machine, but of wool. At the high end, you get a hand-knotted Tufenkian carpet made of wool and silk. It is thicker and softer than the lower-end versions, with a subtle iridescence from the silk. About 2,000 hours of human labor go into each 8-by-10-foot rug.

Entertainment Center
The low-end piece comes in one finish—
you don’t get a choice. The hardware is silver-toned, and the back is made of Masonite, not wood. The midrange piece is more solidly constructed and will wear better and longer; the hardware is nickel. The high-end piece features top workmanship and comes in many finishes and configurations; you can practically custom-design your own piece.

Coffee Table
The low-end coffee table is an inexpensive import in a basic design. The midrange table is made of reclaimed solid elm and features antiqued steel pulls and a black steel base. The high-end piece is highly designed, with a solid wood base and a cracked-coconut-shell top.

Leather Chair
There’s a big difference in leather quality. At the low end, the leather is highly pigmented (which scratches easily) and firm, not supple. At the high end, the chair is made from top-grain, aniline-dyed leather hides that are extremely supple and wear well. Choice of leather color varies enormously, too, from a handful of choices at the low end to dozens at the high.

The low-end lamp is ceramic with a basic shade. The midrange version features a hand-tooled wood veneer over a chrome base with a raffia shade; the high-end lamp is platinized silver with a celadon finish and a hand-tailored silk shade.

Low $7,774
Medium $18,162
High $33,435