Interior designers are increasingly going online, offering their services at a fraction of the cost and time it takes to work with a traditional decorator.
We're all for saving time and money, but do online design services really work? And how, exactly, can someone help you design a room without actually stepping foot in the space?
Here's what you need to know if you're considering getting virtual interior design advice:
No, you don't need to be a tech savant. All four platforms we looked at offered simple, easy-to-navigate eye candy with each click. You'll still need to upload photos and measurements, so it's good to know your way around a smartphone's camera and measuring tape.
It starts with a style quiz. Most sites begin by asking you to choose images that most appeal to your personal sense of style, and your likes and dislikes, unless you already know your style. Here's where your budget starts to come into play, so it helps to have an amount established in advance.
Then you select an interior designer. Based on your answers, Homepolish and Decorist match you with a single designer. Havenly gives you a whittled down selection of designers based on your responses. Laurel & Wolf offers a little extra by asking three potential interior designers to create initial looks based on your project needs, but it will also cost you an extra $100. (Essentially, they're competing for your business.) If you happen to have a specific designer in mind, each platform lets you choose someone outright. All designers are vetted by their respective websites.
What does my money get me? Here's where you need to pay close attention to what your design package actually gets you. Havenly offers a $79 per room rate that will get you two concept boards and product suggestions, but you won't get a room rendering with all the furniture laid out. (It's a good option for those who only need a bit of a nudge in the design department.) By contrast, Laurel & Wolf and Decorist offer $299 packages that come with a floor plan with setup instructions and a furniture shopping list. Ditto for Homepolish's $349 package.
What if I want personalized service? Like everything else in life, designers with more experience are usually priced higher. Decorist charges $299 a project to work with designers who are just getting started, $599 for those with more than five years of experience and $1,299 for published designers. Havenly charges a flat fee depending on the project scope, not designers' experience. Laurel & Wolf charges $499 to work with its more experienced designers. Homepolish charges $349 for three hours of work and $130 per hour after.
How will I work with designers? Of the four, only Homepolish offers a complimentary consultation in Los Angeles and other major cities (and video calls everywhere else). After which, clients work with designers over any available means— email, Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts. The same goes for Decorist, sans the in-person meeting. Havenly designers start with a phone call, then everything is done through their website's messaging function. Laurel & Wolf projects are all done through the website. (This is why online services are so much cheaper, as designers save time by skipping on-site consultations and installations.)
Where do I buy all the stuff? Each site offers a shopping service, but the differences are worth noting. Homepolish clients are offered discounts with retail partners. Decorist and Havenly's shopping lists include items typically sold only to design professionals and passes part of the discounts to its clients. Havenly offers payment plans. Laurel & Wolf concentrates on products customers can purchase on their own. Returns and exchanges may be tricky given that these e-design sites are a third party, so ask before you buy and be prepared to do some legwork if you want to return anything.
Will I regret it? Only you can answer that. But e-design is an increasingly popular way to make that long-delayed makeover finally happen — as long as you're prepared for less hand-holding. If worse comes to worst, each site makes a point of being eager to please. This also falls into the "ask before you buy" category: If the design turns out to be a mistake, most sites offer a money-back guarantee once all other options are exhausted.