When Jen Bailey, 33, moved in with her boyfriend, she was eager to incorporate both of their ideas when decorating their new Los Angeles home. But they faced a challenge: Bailey’s boyfriend held frequent American football parties, which didn’t exactly mix with her sophisticated tastes.
“Having 15 guys over watching football [was our] design issue,” Bailey said.
The couple turned to Laurel & Wolf, a one-year-old interior design start-up that allows customers to choose from at least four high-end interior designers who submit “first looks” of their ideas.
We are trying to change the way people think about designing their homes.
Customers choose the design they like and pay from $199 to $499 per room for design advice. Bailey and her boyfriend paid $299 for a package and communicated with their designer via an online platform that allowed them to chat and send photos during the process.
Call it high-style luxury for the masses.
While the website offered a less hands-on approach than the traditional way of working with an interior designer, said Bailey, it meant the couple was able purchase furniture to fit their $5,000 to $7,000 budget at their own pace. Choosing a designer from several options rather than signing on with one prior to seeing his or her ideas for the room was another perk, Bailey added.
Tech meets interior design
In the last few years, design-conscious home dwellers once reluctant to splurge on a traditional interior designer, which can cost thousands and take months, are turning to start-ups for quick, affordable and tech-savvy ways to add design touches and luxuriousness to their homes.
For the Pinterest generation, which is used to browsing and pinning glamorous photos of home decor, showcasing their own magazine-worthy spaces online is now a must. And with good design easily accessible online on home decor sites such as Houzz.com, there’s an increased interest in a DIY approach. Furniture and other items are also more easily sourced than ever before, as some start-ups now cater directly to the consumer by selling wares online that were once only available to the trade.
Interior design “was always thought to be very exclusive and very expensive,” said Noa Santos, co-founder of Homepolish, a New York-based interior design start-up that launched in 2012 and offers by-the-hour design advice in the home. “We are trying to change the way people think about designing their homes.”
Clients are also more educated about their likes and dislikes well before they commit to design work and are more hands-on throughout the process, often sharing photos to pinpoint a desired look, Santos said.
Interior design ‘was always thought to be very exclusive and very expensive.’
Brandon Perlman, a digital-media entrepreneur, who relocated from Miami to New York City is using a designer from Homepolish to help him downsize to a rented 450-square-foot (42-square-metre) Manhattan studio from a one-bedroom. Perlman, 33, is working with the designer to figure out how to keep an oversized custom-made sofa without creating extra clutter and to visually separate the living from the sleeping space. The designer dissuaded Perlman from installing a barn window in the studio because of its size.
“He told me I was wrong about certain things and that’s what I needed to hear,” said Perlman, who plans to pay $130 per hour for 10 hours’ worth of services.
Los Angeles-based Kimberly Winthrop, who works with Laurel & Wolf on a freelance basis, in addition to having her own practice, said many clients are looking for a less hands-on approach. Since many of her clients rent, they are also looking for affordable design advice.
“They say, ‘Just give me some pictures and I’ll figure it out’,” she said. Still, for larger, more intensive design projects, it can be helpful to speak to clients and visit their home, Winthrop said.
At Homepolish, about half of the users are apartment dwellers looking to decorate their temporary homes, Santos said. A rising rental population — in Austin it’s 42% and in Boston it’s 60% — makes services like these more in-demand. High-end traditional designers can charge up to $250 per hour, plus a mark-up on furniture and decor.
Shopping like a designer
Other firms, including Dering Hall, a four-year-old start-up in New York, are making it easier for consumers to purchase designer-quality furniture directly from the manufacturer. Products on Dering Hall’s website include furniture and lighting that’s made to order and often costs around $3,000 per piece, said Frank Ballabio, a vice president at the company.
In the past, these products would only be available in design centres targeted solely to the interior design community. “More and more the brands want to sell to consumers directly, but don’t want to alienate their trade customers,” said Ballabio, who estimates that half of Dering Hall’s customers are interior designers sourcing one-of-a-kind products for their clients.
There’s a lot more trust in what you see online.
While Bryght, a Vancouver, Canada-based online retailer works with manufacturers to allow customers to order furniture directly online, bypassing retailers and designers.
While the site, which launched in 2011, works directly with interior designers, most users are consumers buying for their home, said Bryght’s creative director Maureen Wenton. Many customers are no longer hesitant about purchasing furniture without walking into the store.
“There’s a lot more trust in what you see online,” she said.
In India, Bangalore-based LivSpace attracts tech-savvy consumers by offering the same Pinterest-ready rooms in one purchase. The one-year-old start-up allows users to purchase entire looks customised to their room and avoid the drawn out process of purchasing furniture piecemeal, said Livspace chief executive Anuj Srivastava.
For example, a modern bedroom look complete with a ruby-coloured rug and dark wood accents is one of the most popular and starts at 143,160 rupees ($2,250). A modern mustard-yellow kitchen with built-in appliances starts at 369,244 rupees ($5,800).
The idea of selling an entirely curated look for each room in the home is appealing to busy middle- and upper-class professionals — the site’s target shoppers — who don’t have time to track down each item on their own, he said. In India, “getting the same look for your home is a nightmare, because it’s next-to-impossible to find all the products included in the look,” Srivastava said.
For homeowners increasingly looking to update their home decor, offerings like this are become a necessary splurge.