How to create a budget

One of the main questions I get from new clients is how to set a budget for an office design project.

So here’s a quick rundown of the major aspects of an office design if you’re buying all new furniture. You’ll see low and high numbers which reflect the size of the rooms/areas specified and the grade of furniture.

We tend to use residential grade furniture from Article, West Elm, CB2 and IKEA for a number of reasons but mainly because of price. It usually doesn’t make sense for a small startup to pay $5,000+ for a contract grade sofa, even if it has a 10 year warranty.

Another huge factor is delivery times. Many of the above vendors can get us pieces in 2-4 week instead of 10-16 weeks for contract grade. Time at a startup is like dog years, so I’m not going to make my client wait four months for sofa since they may very well double in size during that time.


This is the biggest ticket item for any design, especially if you’re making ergonomics a priority. In general we spend approximately $600-1800 per person for an ergonomic desks setup.

Our standard is:

      • Ergonomic task chair that it has to be adjustable (up/down + tilt at minimum), with arms, mid-back support and casters, $200 - 800

      • Height adjustable sit/stand desk, $300 - 600

      • Under desk storage, $200 - 300

Don’t dismiss the storage opportunity that under desk storage units provide. Unless you happen to work with all OCD minimalists, everyone has stuff - whether it’s backpacks, coats, papers, or a celebratory bottle of whiskey. So get them something to put it in so it doesn’t all end up piled on or under their desk.

Reception + Lounges

Reception lounges are the first place that visitors see when they come to your office. They are an opportunity to make an impression about your company whether they are a client, interview candidate, or investor.

Many people find the open office challenging, our solution is to breakup the density of desks by interspersing lounges throughout the space. And an added bonus is that they provide casual meeting or workspace.

Budgeting between $1,200 and $4,500 for a lounge would include a sofa, armchairs, coffee table, side table, laptop tables, rugs and a plant or two. This is a fully design lounge, so one could scale back a bit from there but we like to provide plenty of surfaces for people to put food, drinks and laptops on. Laptop tables make working from a lounge more ergonomic than balancing your computer on your knees. Rugs and lamps anchor the space, setting it apart from the other areas of the office. Plants serve as decorative elements, help with acoustics and clean the air.

Conference rooms

The cost for conference rooms can vary vastly depending on if you’re looking to have power integrated into the table, or if you’re looking to have semi-ergonomic chairs. Depending on the size of the rooms, budget approximately $1200 - 5000 for tables, chairs, whiteboards, TVs, conferencing systems, and acoustic panels (to prevent conference call echo chamber hell). Make sure to include the installation costs for all of these items when creating your budget - most tables and chairs need to be assembled.


Dining areas and cafe spaces are a great place for community, and they often serve double duty as All-Hands spaces and casual work areas. For tables and seating (chairs or benches)


This is a tricky one to price out since there is so much variation. But we like to 10 - 30 % of a project budget depending on how much you want to do.

Painting is the most expensive due to high labor costs, especially here in the Bay Area where most counties require employers to provide a living wage for workers.

We use vinyl for most artwork in the space since it’s easy to have large pieces installed and can be pulled off the wall, without leaving marks, when you leave. The companies existing brand is often a wealth of material for us to use, and putting up the companies Values, Vision or Mission helps to remind your team of why they are doing their work.

Additional Costs to Consider

On a related note, assembly and labor are an important cost to include in the budget. It is also something to consider when deciding on which furniture pieces you’ll be purchasing.

I am not ashamed to say that we often use Ikea furniture in our designs - they make some simple, beautifully designed, reliable pieces that work well regardless of the budget. However, the reason you pay so little at Ikea is because everything comes flat packed. When you’re purchasing something from Ikea for your home it’s not a big deal to spend an hour on your Saturday afternoon putting together a table. But when you have to pay an installer or TaskRabbit, that adds a lot to your costs. There are items that we often purchase from other vendors, even though they are slightly more expensive, just because they’re already assembled. The hourly rate for an installer sometimes negates the slightly lower cost for some IKEA products. (And no, you shouldn’t be assembling everything yourself, unless that is part of your job title).

Additionally we always add a +20% contingency to a budget to capture taxes, shipping, delivery and installation/white glove service. Working this in from the beginning allows you to stay on, and even under, budget which makes everyone happy.

Rough Order of Magnitude (ROI)

For a twenty person office that is buying/replacing all furniture, the ROI would range from $20k to $60k. A fifty person office would range from $50k to $150k. A good rule of thumb is to budget at least $1000 per person for furnishing an office.  

This is meant to be a starting point for you to then get more specific with based on what your company needs and can afford. And don’t forget to have fun with it!