Online interior design services offer high style at low prices

Add interior design to the ever-growing list of things you can accomplish online.

Without physically stepping foot inside your home, designers from across the country and around the globe are now at your disposal, for a fraction of the cost and the time to meet with a designer face to face.

The internet offers multiple sites, including Decorist, Havenly and Laurel & Woof, that connect customers with designers.

Agnieszka Wilk developed the Decorilla platform three years ago after having trouble decorating her home while living abroad. "There were no online resources," she says. "I wished I could work with someone remotely, but I had no access to anyone."

The platforms generally work like this: You pick a package based on the experience level of designers and the room(s) you want to redesign. You answer a style survey, tell your designer the stores where you like to shop and pieces you have that you would like to keep, and upload photos and dimensions of your space.

A designer will take that information, visit your Pinterest page, message you with questions and assemble an initial concept. You will tweak the design together, then your designer will present you a final design, furniture layout and shopping list.

Just as it would be in person, the focus is on choosing a designer. Decorist, for example, has more than 300 on call and pairs them with clients based on compatible styles and room specializations. Designers can apply directly online, and Decorist also reaches out to specific professionals in key markets.

Designer Amanda Boldin, who has five years of design experience, used Decorist to launch her own business.

"They've promised to help build my brand, and they've really stuck by that," she says. She takes on three to four projects at a time, mostly one-room makeovers, and she also meets clients face to face in her hometown of Crown Pointe, Ind.

She likes the balance of the personal relationships she builds with clients in person and the quick work she makes of online clients. The difference between the two, she says, is that the online process runs more quickly and smoothly because all the information and inspiration she needs, as well as 180 vetted vendors from which to source products, is right there on the platform.

"It's so convenient. I don't have to drive anywhere or take photos or measurements," she says.

The more anonymous path is what drew Dena Sanders to online design services. The Waldo-area resident wanted someone to help her pull together her living room, but she also wanted to avoid any awkwardness that might result if she didn't like the designer's concept.

Sanders started the online process through Decorilla, which allows customers to choose concepts from two designers and if neither is chosen, you get your money back. "I thought, 'If I don't like it, I can escape,' " she recalls, "But I ended up loving it."

She also appreciated that Decorilla didn't try to upsell her and would give her any design or product she wanted, "from Ikea to Liberace." She calls the service "design for the middle class."

"I loved my designer; she did great," Sanders says. "She figured me out and made everything cohesive. My room has a rhythm and flow that looks curated, not just bought."

Sanders' designer lives on the East Coast and helped Sanders source goods locally so the commission stayed in KC. They sent about 40 emails back and forth to complete the design, with Sanders heavily involved in picking art and visiting stores to see items in person.

From start to finish, the process took about six months — longer than usual for an online service — because of Sanders' travel schedule and her insistence on personally reviewing items in a store. She did encounter one misstep when her first upholstery pick for a sofa wasn't to her liking after it arrived, but she moved the piece into another room and reordered with her second pick, which turned out better.

Nichole Loiacono, a Kansas City designer, once worked remotely with a client in D.C., and things went well, she says. But, while online design probably saves time and money, "it sounds like a one-size-fits-all.

"I feel so passionate about designing a room that's unique and tailored to the client," she says. "This is like going to a big box store. It's so important to get to know your clients to understand their personalities. When you design purely online, you miss that connection."

She also notes that problems such as making sure a sofa fits through a door or up a staircase would fall back on the homeowner. Same goes for matching colors.

"Is that fabric sky blue or aqua?" she asks. "It's so hard to tell how it really looks on a computer. Hopefully, clients are close to a showroom so they can see and feel samples before they order."

When Boldin designs for clients on Decorist, she strongly recommends they order samples and swatches before clicking the convenient "Buy Now" button provided with her shopping list. "Things can look so different in person than they do on a screen," she says. "That goes for any project."

3-D and virtual reality add-ons can help customers who don't have access to stores feel more confident in buying those big-ticket items. Decorilla sends customers a headset for viewing their newly designed room virtually and understanding how the space will feel before it's done. "It prevents a lot of costly mistakes," Wilk says.

Saving money is one of the biggest reasons to choose online design services: You know the designer's fee upfront, and the platforms typically partner with retailers to offer breaks on pricing when you buy.

Time savings is another benefit. In one evening, you can upload your objectives, photos and measurements, and in two weeks, have everything you need to order up your new room.

Boldin says one caveat to the speedy process is a lack of time to be creative. But the tradeoff doesn't seem to be hindering sales. Decorilla, for instance, is growing by 400 percent annually.

"The interior design market is expanding because people thought they couldn't afford it," Wilk says. "Now they realize it is accessible."

Several platforms make designers easily accessible online. Which one you choose will depend on your needs.

▪ Havenly asks you to take a style survey and choose a designer based on the results. Havenly offers the cheapest service, starting at $79 for a mini spruce-up package and a complete design for $199 per room.

▪ Decorist connects you with designers who fit your style profile or allows you to choose your own, from classic ($299 per room) to elite ($499 per room) to celebrity designers ($1,299 per room). You can upgrade your package to include a 3-D rendering for $99. Decorist also offers Design Bar, in which you can submit design questions and get answers from professionals in 24 hours for free.

▪ Laurel & Woof delivers three looks tailored to your space from three designers; from those, you choose the designer you want to work with. Prices range from $299 to $499 per room based on your designer's level of experience.

▪ Decorilla offers custom concepts from more than one designer, starting at $445 per room for the least experienced designers up to $1,000 for published designers, or custom help for $75 an hour. Packages include 3-D models, and you can add on virtual reality for $99.


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