Editor’s Letter: Crunching the Numbers

Editor’s Letter: Crunching the Numbers

Welcome to our annual Money Issue, where compromises lead to creativity as we dig into what great design actually costs.
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Your results may vary. Property in Portland, Oregon, doesn’t cost the same as in Portland, Maine. Good plumbing contractors charge different rates in Sacramento and Santa Fe. And whenever we ask anyone anywhere for the grand total of what their home project cost, the math is hard to pin down. Do you count the garden they finally finished three years after the renovation? Or put a price on the afternoons they and their friends spent DIYing some final touches?

The numbers are slippery, but in our weekly Budget Breakdown column and here in our annual issue about what good design really costs, we gather as much info as residents are ready to share in order to tell stories about where people choose to save and to splurge. We include hard costs likely to be fairly consistent across geographies—and add in other relevant line items, like permitting and approvals, that definitely will not. We don’t demand receipts, but we do use the numbers to celebrate the ingenious design strategies—and often tough decisions—that people arrive at in order to realize their visions.

On the savings side of the equation, Emilie and Seth Welty, an architect couple in New Orleans, salvaged many of the materials that went into their boxy new build overlooking the levee along the Mississippi River. The terra-cotta roof tiles used as cladding came from Facebook Marketplace, and a renovator across town gave away the spiral staircase that now connects a deck to the backyard below, to name just two acts of architectural thrifting. When I visited recently, Haute Depot details, including the subtly dramatic turn of the handrail on the stairs and the thin metal balusters enclosing the terraces, stood out, and the entire place had an unfussy but thoroughly thought-through atmosphere.

We also decided to look at a few places that might make you want to say, "Not no…" In our Modern World section, we survey kitchen and bath fixtures and appliances that give hardworking spaces a little something extra. Do you need a $5,000 faucet that distributes carbonated water on demand? Maybe not. But if you like fizzy water as much as I do, you might consider it for a second. And because appliances concealed seamlessly inside cabinetry still signal high-end style, we’re providing a little game based on work by some of our favorite designers. It’s called Find the Fridge, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

All of the stories in this issue capture the trade-offs everyone has to make between big-ticket must-haves and places where simple quality is enough. I hope they offer some inspiration, present what’s possible with a little creativity, and ultimately show that great design doesn’t have to break the bank.

Head back to the March/April 2024 issue homepage

William Hanley
Editor-in-Chief, Dwell
William Hanley is Dwell's editor-in-chief, previously executive editor at Surface, senior editor at Architectural Record, news editor at ArtNews, and staff writer at Rhizome, among other roles.


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