Carolyn McLaurin, a Las Vegas stay-at-home mom, and Amber Hoover, head of marketing for a San Diego-based real estate investment firm, don’t know each other. However, both have something in common when it comes to home design: Each needed help designing or updating a small residential space and turned to an online design service to get the job done.
Online design is a growing trend that is likely here to stay, but it’s too early to say how much it will bite into the more than $11 billion spent annually in the U.S. interior design industry. Given the growth in the number of these types of websites in the past few years, though, the early guess is that online interior design will remain a reliable homeowner resource for years to come.
Inside the experience
McLaurin moved to Las Vegas five years ago. She described feeling “completely overwhelmed with an empty house and furniture that didn’t fit right.” So over the past four years, she has been decorating and updating one room at a time with the help of online design site SwatchPop!
The website works as an a la carte service. The first service is $49.95, then each added offering is $29.95. Services include, but are not limited to, furniture selection, room layout creation, wall decor, window treatments, paint/wallpaper and lighting.
McLaurin started small, first asking about suggestions for sections of a room, then expanded her requests to entire rooms. She has spent about $50 for small room tweaks and up to $300 for more complex projects.
“It’s so easy. You send them pictures, tell them what you’re looking for, and a couple days later, they send an email and there’s a layout and a shopping list,” she said.
Hoover needed design expertise for a small one-bedroom model unit in a Las Vegas assisted-living facility owned by her employer. Hoover was strapped for time, too. She opted for Havenly’s online design platform.
Havenly starts with a free limited-time consultation — good for quick design fixes — then moves to its $55 “mini” package, which is good for updating an existing space. It offers one-on-one time with a designer via messaging text or phone.
Clients also get three initial ideas within two days. Input from the customer leads to design tweaks and, ultimately, a final design concept and a shopping list. Havenly’s $169 “full” package is great for complete makeovers and offers expanded services such as layout visualization, custom floor plans and multiple design revisions if needed.
“I had a living room and dining room in one area. It was more like a studio,” Hoover said of the space she was working with. “I didn’t have the time to source the items by myself. … We found a designer available who seemed to fit our aesthetic.”
Hoover received an email with a floorplan and layout. She made a few revisions with the designer through Havenly’s online platform and completed the design process within a couple of weeks. She also took advantage of Havenly’s shopping service to have all the pieces delivered to her site.
McLaurin, however, prefers to shop around for her items to get the best deal. She purchased some of her items from SwatchPop! vendors.
“I want the flexibility to be able to click on their link but also do my own research,” McLaurin said.
McLaurin and Hoover both say they spent quite a bit of time early on answering questions through online messaging and quizzes while reading designer bios and perusing their samples to find the best designer for their needs.
Wayfair gets into the game
In August, online furniture retailer Wayfair launched its Wayfair Design Services platform. Addie Yzaguirre, a designer based in Houston, contracts her services through Wayfair. She works with about six to seven clients each month.
“It’s a good outlet for me. You can set your own schedule and take on as many clients as you want,” she said.
Wayfair offers two plans, starting with an introductory offer for $79. Just like Havenly and SwatchPop! Wayfair asks plenty of questions and uses messaging so designers get as much information about the project as possible. It also offers 30 minutes of phone time with the designer.
Its $149 “classic” plan, for more involved full-room makeovers, offers up to 60 minutes of phone time along with the unlimited messaging found in the introductory plan.
“Most of the people have conversations (with the designer) at the start of the project,” said Blair Kenary, head of Wayfair Design Services. “There are lots of nuances that come through in the call that are hard to capture in an online form.”
A different kind of niche
Proponents say these online services are not taking away from traditional design experiences. If anything, online services may be introducing more people to working with designers who may not have considered it in the past.
“It may be intimidating for some of these people to bring a designer into the home. This also gives you the option to do it yourself. This is really an entirely different type of client,” added Heather Hess, a Las Vegas-based designer who contracts with SwatchPop!
“We talk to customers all the time to learn about their shopping experiences … and we hear over and over again that the prospect of doing a whole room is a daunting, frustrating, time-consuming process. This is a way to help move the process along,” Kenary said.
Gillian Grefe, Havenly’s senior manager of brand, added: “There’s that void of a professional to just pat you on the back and say ‘you’re doing great.’ … This is good for someone who needs a little extra help; maybe they have a few pieces of existing furniture but still need professional guidance.
“Honestly, the experience is just so much fun. Someone being able to articulate their aesthetics and then to see a rendering, it’s just a great experience,” she added.
Tips to get the most out of online design
Before you try an online design service, our sources offered the following tips:
— Start with small requests then work your way up to larger projects.
— Give the service as much information as possible and as many photos as you can.
— Be clear about your budget. “They’re not miracle workers,” Carolyn McLaurin noted.
— Some services offer phone consults, others don’t. If you expect a phone conversation, find out if it’s part of the service before signing on.
— Give information about the function of the room, too. If you have children and pets who will both be in the space often, for example, this information can influence design.
— Enjoy the process.
— By Brian Sodoma