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Hospitality Design

Cheap isn’t always Cheerful with Design and Construction

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

By: Candice Logan, BAA-ID, CID, Studio Manager/ Senior Designer at Hager Design International Inc.

We often hear the term “Cheap and Cheerful” in relation to fashion, furnishing and interior decor but when it comes to interior design, cheap is rarely cheerful. You may get the initial cheery high from saving money up front, but long term, it can cause grief and cost more money down the road.

As an experienced interior designer, I have worked on many facets of design from multi-family and hotel projects to restaurants. A common challenge with projects is contractors or owners cutting costs without getting their designer involved. Value engineering is a large part of what we do to support the project, if and when owners want to save money due to unexpected project expenses. As designers, it is essential we maintain the design intent, product integrity and most importantly, customer safety.

From a residential perspective, I would recommend cost savings in more decorative items like toss cushions, accessory tables and maybe a feature wall tile. With furniture, a sofa for example, going cheap with a young family of 4 means you will be replacing that piece in 3 years versus a good quality sofa that will last about 10 years.

Consider what materials are going into the product as well. Typically it’s lower in price because it’s lower in quality. Cheap foam will fail quickly, loose its shape and need to be replaced in a year or two. More concerning is the potential toxic chemicals that are at times found in low grade foam, fabric and wood. No thanks!

With home renovations or even new builds, make sure you hire contractors - or buy from developers, that have good references. We are always drawn to the lower price but, truly, you get what you pay for. This is where cutting costs results in shabby finishing details and could be putting your health and safety at risk. For contractors it’s a touchy balance bidding on a project because they know clients always look at the numbers. A good contractor will offer a reasonable number without cutting significant corners and work with you on a feasible budget.

A big part of the leaky condo issue in the 90’s and 2000’s in Vancouver was because of unqualified workers building multi-unit condos. They were the cheaper bid and got the job. Unfortunately, it cost homeowners a lot of money – an average cost of $21,040 per unit (1), and created moisture related health issues like mould (2). Since then, the government has mandated a building envelope specialist be involved in all new developments (3). With the wide reach of the internet, homeowners should do their due diligence and research trades, developers and contractors prior to signing on the dotted line. Don’t hesitate to ask for references too. If there is a negative reaction to the request, you don’t want to use them!

Hotels are often large, complex projects with a significant amount of moving parts. In 2019, at the peak of the season – August, Canada’s hotel occupancy average was @ 78.5%. (4) With that amount of traffic, hotel rooms see a lot of people and there is significant wear and tear and abuse to the hotel room.

In most cases, owners acquire a Brand for marketing and quality assurance. This means major hotels brands we know and love won’t sacrifice quality to save money and, in turn, the owners must adhere to the brand standards. This is a good thing for their customers

Smaller independent companies not relying on Brand support, need to ensure they have quality contractors and specifications as they are important for the longevity of the build as well as the customer experience. As interior experts, we understand that a 2-3 star hotel should not have a $25,000 FF&E cost per room. But, we also know that you still need to have casework, finishes, fixtures and lighting that are durable, safe and regulated.

A project I worked on a few years ago, a contractor changed the shower sliding door for a “cheaper” spec brought in from overseas, with no safety certification for glass saving the client almost a quarter million dollars. It wasn’t until the site inspection, I noticed it was not the correct specification. This was addressed in my report to the owner. They chose to proceed with the cheaper door. Within 3 months, most of the shower doors were falling off the hinges and had to be replaced, costing the client a substantial amount of money and sacrificing customer satisfaction. Had the contractor worked with the interior design team on value engineering options, this costly mistake could have been avoided.

In interior design, there are three key specifications that must adhere to regulatory ratings. First – lighting must have a CAN/UL listing and/or wet/damp rated (UL or ETL in USA), secondly - Flooring has a dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) rating per area, high traffic public, wet etc. The minimum slip resistance is 0.42 and wet areas are a minimum slip resistance is 0.60 DCOF. Manufacturers will always have this information and if it’s not readily available, they will get it. Last, but not least, number 3 is flame spread. Depending on the item (furniture, fabric, wall vinyl, wall coverings etc), flooring, and the location of the item, flame spread ratings vary. As a commercial interior designer, I constantly review these types of product specification details, and work with reputable commercial vendors who supply us with items suitable for high traffic use in commercial environments.

These three specification details are non-negotiable and this is why it’s imperative that contractors coordinate any cost saving changes with the designer. Often, cheaper products don’t meet the minimum requirements as listed above.

In short, the more research you do on products, developers, and contractors, the better – especially before you sign off on anything. With renovations, a good contractor will always work with you on cost savings as will your designer. On large scale projects like restaurants or hotels, the general contractor should collaborate with the designer on value engineered items making sure the client and the intended design outcome isn’t sacrificed.

Cheaper isn’t cheerful on big ticketed items and there is always a reason why the cost difference is significant.


Candice is a very experienced senior designer with creative and management skills that contribute daily to the clients and team members of HDI. This blog is based on her many years of experience. Candice can be reached at


2. Leaky Condo Issues Prompt Human Rights complaint. Lesperance Mendes, 2018

3. Role of the Building Envelope Professional. Kayll, D. G., 2001

4. Monthly occupancy rate of hotels in Canada 2019-2020 . S. Lock, Feb 3, 2021

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