Fast, Cheap, or Good – You Can’t Have All Three

Spanish mediterranean chic interior design dining room, Palo Alto interior designer.

Fast, cheap, or good. In our fast moving society, we are sometimes lulled into thinking that if we see something we like, we should be able to have it right now — and for cheap. I have witnessed this mentality in meetings with potential clients. They review my portfolio and say, “I love your work! I want my home to be this beautiful, to only cost this much — and I want it right away.”

To which I say, “Really?!”

Here’s the LMB wisdom… You can have it beautiful, you can have it relatively soon, OR you can have it in the budget you want, but you cannot have all three. (Thanks to my dear friend Andi who schooled me in this theory)

It’s called the “Iron Triangle” theory of project management. The three sides are: Budget, Time and Scope. Each one affects the other and all three together determine the quality of the result.

If you don’t need your space to look like what you see in a shelter magazine, then the project will most likely cost you less, but still may take time to put together. If you want your project to be beautiful AND happen fast then you must be willing to spend the money to purchase the higher quality pieces that make for a beautiful space. Even so, the constraint of time may lead to compromises as customized and handmade pieces and unique, rare, or antique items may take longer to procure.

Patience can be a challenge.

While occasionally it might be true that your dream home design elements could be acquired with a credit card and a few clicks, this conditioned attitude can set us up for failure when we desire something more… something that can only be had with thought, consideration and curation.

Plus, aesthetic decisions are hard for most people.

That’s why good designers are worth our weight in gold; we know how to make good decisions about what looks good together. (And often we can come to those decisions more quickly.) Clients also have to trust us — this is key — not only on questions of aesthetics, but also trusting us on when it is worthwhile to have patience.

Like anything worth having — healthy relationships, a fit body, wisdom — creating a well-curated authentically designed home takes time; and the secret is to embrace the process, let go of unrealistic agendas and perfectionism and watch the results unfold. The reward is getting to play, work, and love in beautiful, personalized environments that are possibly even more fantastic than what we had imagined, that mirror the values we want to live and inspire us to be our best selves.


  1. Andi March 18, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Great post. One I will forward onto clients many times over!


  2. John Fryer March 18, 2014 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this and as a home inspector with a building background, the “iron triangle” theory applies to construction and remodeling projects as well, and it points to the shortcomings of many “flips” in the real estate market.

    A good architect, engineer, and sufficient time are key for an excellent result in a remodel or addition. The budget is a factor, but it should only be a driver in so much that it limits the scope of work- not the quality of the people hired or the amount of time it takes to complete the job.

    I’m saddened to say that most of the “flipped” properties I inspect suffer from the lack of design professionals and they are primarily driven by cost and time alone. The lack of design, the short time to execute the project and the desire to keep costs low result in the major problem, which is the lack of quality.

    That lack of quality in flips can be a very high-risk proposition, especially if they have made changes to the outside of the home like siding or stucco replacement, windows, doors, decks etc… Defects in these areas can lead to leaks that can be costly to fix later on.


    • admin April 5, 2014 at 9:13 am - Reply

      John thank you for your poignant words. You speak so eloquently about an issue that constantly frustrates my need for integrity and authenticity in home construction and design. Right now we are working with a client to remodel his childhood home for resale. It’s unique because he is putting heart and soul into making it a solid structure instead of slapping on mediocre finishes just to sell it quickly. I would love to see more home owners take that higher road and instill value into the homes they are selling.

      Thank you for your comment, my husband Scott speaks highly of you and I appreciate your perspective.

  3. […] Reality TV shows that depict a room makeover in a day or a weekend do a huge disservice. If you embark on a design project with the expectation that it will look amazing and feel high quality, and last far into the future, AND will only take two days to execute, you will likely be disappointed. […]

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