It was only a matter of time before the internet would disrupt how the design trade has worked for decades.
In the past, interior designers ordered almost every piece of furniture or decor from trade vendors on behalf of their clients, and billed them an hourly rate plus charges for purchases—typically, wholesale plus a markup or retail minus a discount. Then, it would take the merchandise months to be fabricated and delivered.
Obviously, homeowners were exhilarated when other resources emerged, such as HGTV shows, hip housing magazines, and online idea sites such as Houzz and Pinterest, allowing them to take a more active role in home design. The latest iteration to shake up the process is online companies that employ staff designers or freelancers with the goal of simplifying the designer-homeowner partnership and allowing the act of home furnishing to became transparent, faster, and more affordable.
The process typically works like this: Homeowners begin by filling out an online questionnaire to match them with the right professional. The survey covers personal preferences based on clients choosing their favorite product and design photos. Homeowners also enter their room sizes and a budget, which covers the company’s hourly rate or project fee, plus the cost of furnishings from online sources such as Wayfair, CB2, and Crate and Barrel. The design professional they’re matched with suggests purchases and room layouts, often without setting foot on the property. “Think of it as a variation on online dating,” says Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design
Interactions with the designer can happen via email, phone, instant message, Skype, and sometimes in-person meetings. Before the homeowner signs off on a project, they are provided a floor plan or 3D rendering, which shows how to arrange the furnishings once they arrive. Since the first companies emerged in 2012, many have grown and added locations. “Most customers who come to us are too busy to do this on their own and are looking for an efficient, convenient way to gain a beautiful home,” says Alessandra Wood, vice president of style at Modsy, based in San Francisco.
Those were the reasons homeowner Carolina Poli decided to use New York–based Homepolish. While living in Brooklyn, she was building a house in suburban New York, working fulltime, and raising two young children. “I thought I could select it all myself but realized it was too big a job,” she says. Her designer Crystal Sinclair worked with her by phone, online, and in person. “The price was also much better than if I had worked a designer in the traditional way.” Some design firms also work with real estate professionals to stage rooms.
Affordable Interior Design: This New York–based firm, with branches in Washington, D.C., and London, provides online help through eight freelance designers who visit clients’ homes (unless they live far away). Founder Betsy Helmuth’s impetus was to provide affordable design that would expand her reach beyond her suburban New York based firm, with branches in Washington, D.C., and London, provides online help through eight freelance designers who visit clients’ homes (unless they live far away). Founder Betsy Helmuth’s impetus was to provide affordable design that would expand her reach beyond her suburban New York design storefront. She offers two packages that each require filling out a questionnaire, sending in photos of rooms or items customers like, and supplying room measurements. Option one is $999 for a two-hour consultation for two rooms, a shopping list of up to 16 retail items with prices often discounted, two floor plans, a “mood” or Pinterest-style board, and a final presentation. The second option is a one-hour consultation for one room at $799, shopping list for up to eight items, one floor plan, mood board, and final presentation. Additional rooms each cost $599 and come with a shopping list for eight items, floor plan, mood board, and presentation.