Managing Scope Creep During a Renovation

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Shares Her Tactics for Managing (or Embracing) Interior Design Scope Creep

How to manage scope creep

Many of you know by now that I do some of my best work watching old movies in my den. I’m normally inspired by set designs. However, tonight’s screening of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House got me thinking about the design process, especially concerning renovation scope creep. Scope creep is a common problem in the design industry that can result from poor planning or unforeseen structural challenges. Many designers shudder at the phrase. However, I think there’s a positive side to scope creep (if you acknowledge it early and embrace it). In many cases, homeowners want to increase the scope of work because they start to see just how dramatic of an improvement is being made in their space. And sometimes, more is more! 

Scope Creep

What is Renovation Scope Creep? 

Scope creep is the tendency of a design project to expand in deliverables (and budget) either accidentally or purposefully. In Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are quoted $7,000 to renovate their Manhattan apartment. But Grant shoots that down because, for just a little bit more, they could have a brand new house in Connecticut. They fall in love with a 200-year-old farmhouse and decide to renovate it to save even more. However, they overpay for the land, the house has to be demolished, and a new well needs to be dug. By the end of it, their budget project totals $38,000. This seems like a dream price today. But remember, this comes in at over five times the initial quote for renovating their apartment. 

No one likes going over budget, but the film has a happy ending. The shot pans out, and everyone is enjoying the new home. So, is scope creep all that bad if it gets you what you want? It’s not anyone’s intention to do a larger project than planned. We set goals and budgets for a reason. As designers and builders, it’s our job to help you reach these goals while staying within budget. However, it seems that inevitably, the homeowner adds new items and the scope grows. 

What Causes Scope Creep During an Interior Design Project? 

So what causes renovation scope creep anyway? Sometimes, it’s caused by surprises discovered in the walls of an old house. Unexpected items need to be repaired or replaced. This may not be fun, but it builds a solid foundation of what the homeowner really needs. Other times, the client starts learning more about themselves and what they want through the design process. They see the value in the changes being made, and they want to tackle the untouched spaces that pale in comparison to the shiny and new. In both cases, there is a ripple effect. If you change one thing, then you need to change another to maintain function or aesthetics. 

Here are some real-life examples of scope creep I’ve encountered on the job. 

  • A client mentions their bath water takes 20 minutes to get hot. The builder discovers that a new hot water heater is needed. 
  • We design a new lighting plan for the home, and the contractor informs us that a new electrical panel is required to support the plan. 
  • A client wants to remove their recessed can lighting and replace it with a more visually appealing chandelier. The entire ceiling needs to be sheetrocked, textured, and painted. 

The costs of materials and labor add up quickly. An unplanned change or addition can quickly rack up expenses that weren’t originally anticipated. Many clients don’t realize the impact of their changes through the process and just how quickly opting for a new light fixture can increase the entire scope. 

Scope Creep - Light Installation

My Tips for Managing Renovation Scope Creep

So, how do you get everything you want while managing your budget and timeline? My advice is to design exactly what you want without compromise, price it, and sit with that number. Let the cost of each improvement sink in. It will quickly be clear which aspects of the project are the most important to you. The only person who can decide the value of the investment is the homeowner.

As designers, it’s our job to offer our expertise with the best intentions, ensuring the client gets as much as they want in their project within their budget. Just remember, we aren’t magic. We want to show the client everything that is possible in their home, but budget is a factor for everyone. While we always have options to adjust the plan, sacrificing too much makes the whole renovation futile. Sometimes, you simply just have to creep on the scope to get everything you want from your project. 

Austin Interior Designer

Embracing Scope Creep: No One Ever Regrets Doing Too Much

Can scope creep be a good thing? Everyone has a budget, even multimillionaires. The trick is to align the true budget with the true cost. What often remains unknown until work begins is just how much the homeowner values the changes to their space. If they have a mindset that the work they are doing is an investment in their daily life, they often find more money to invest as they see the value unfold through the renovation process.  

It might surprise you that the biggest regret we hear from our clients is, “I wish I had done more.” No matter the type of client, no one has ever expressed remorse for doing too much work in their renovation. Remember, the cost of labor is never going down, and project startup costs are high. Not to mention, the renovation process temporarily inconveniences folks. So, phasing projects is never as financially smart as doing everything at the same time. Don’t regret missing your chance to truly achieve everything you want in your space. 


Sometimes, it pays to embrace scope creep like Mr. Blandings.

Austin Interior Designer