Before Internet use became so widespread, homeowners often hired a designer to help arrange their possessions, choose paint colors, window treatments, and more. And then they waited… and waited… for everything to arrive… typically months.
These days there are new, faster options that are upending the old decorating traditions. The biggest: Sometimes, the design professionals don’t even step through the front door. Instead, client and homeowner work together online. And going this route can also be useful to stage a house so it looks great before it’s time to sell.
When Kim and Zak Alexander, for example, moved with their toddler and cats into a 1960s ranch-style home with a Mid-Century vibe in Dallas more than a year ago, the thirtysomething couple knew they needed help. “The layout was significantly different than our prior home—bigger and more open. Our furniture didn’t work,” says Kim.
The couple initially thought that hiring a designer wasn’t in their budget. They decided otherwise when they learned about one of the growing number of firms that match professionals to homeowners for a single room redo or entire house, and for a small or big budget. In the Alexanders’ case, Kim read online about Decorist out of San Francisco. The firm paired her and Zak with designer Melissa Schenck-Thomas, who works near Ashland, Oregon.
Within months, the couple had a stylish main living space that incorporated their couch (West Elm) and dining table (CB2), and additions such as pillows, artwork, and Benjamin Moore’s “Gray Owl” painted walls.
How it worked was straightforward and affordable. Zak purchased a $299 consultation for the living-dining room for Kim. The couple filled out a questionnaire to define their style and wish list, measured the room, set a furnishings budget—$6,000, and shared what they wanted to keep. Melissa drew a floor plan, and developed two design boards.
Since the couple liked items from each, she revised the layout, and uploaded a shopping list from a variety of retailers, which the couple could purchase at their own pace. Total timetable: two weeks. It took several more months for furnishings to arrive and the couple to put all in place, but they stayed close to their budget. “We went over only by $200 for a rug (Wayfair) that Melissa thought would make a difference under the dining table,” says Kim.
Besides having gained a completed space, the couple found the partnership broadened their aesthetic. Afterward, they purchased packages to redo their master bedroom and bathroom.
Many other homeowners like this new way of decorating for other reasons:
- It removes the mystique that had existed in how designers once charged—sometimes by an hourly rate and other times according to whether purchases were made wholesale or retail. Most charge a flat or hourly consultation rate.
- Completion time is also faster since many source furnishings primarily from brick-and-mortar and online retailers versus the trade-only vendors of the past.
- Many will work with homeowners who like scouting furnishings themselves, after seeing ideas online at sites such as Houzz (www.houzz.com/) or Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/).
- All work partly or fully through email so geographic proximity is usually less critical.
The number of these types of firms is growing. Here’s more on four:
Decor Aid. Founded by Sean Juneja and Markus Weber, this New York-based firm was launched three years ago and has completed more than one thousand projects since. To ensure quality, the partners sign off on every project, have centralized operations, and vet all contractor staff. Though its largest designer cohort works out of New York, it’s expanding to other cities since its model is for designers to visit a site rather than work as some competitors do just online. “We think seeing a client’s home makes a difference,” Markus says.
Every project starts with a free consultation at the home, and then homeowners who proceed pay $150 an hour. An upfront proposal is presented. “It’s all about transparency, so there are no surprises,” says Sean, who, like Markus, started as a designer. Clients can purchase furnishings through the firm at the firm’s trade price or a 40 percent discount from retail or if retail, about 20 percent discounted.
HomePolish. This interior design start-up, also based in New York City, works with freelance designers who find the partnership a way to expand their clientele. Since it opened in 2012, it has increased its design network to 600 nationally, who visit clients’ homes in person or work by video if the client lives far away. The business also has an in-house staff of 65. Each project starts with a firm rep, one of its “Queen Bees,” matching a designer to a job for a complimentary consult. This occurs after a homeowner has filled out a questionnaire regarding needs and style.
Homeowners can buy design help at $130 an hour with a minimum of three hours for $390, or a more in-depth 10-hours at $1,300. Designers’ suggestions include a detailed shopping list, says Orlando Soria, Premier designer, whose own work included transforming a Hollywood Hills, Calif., home from 1970s retro-McMansion to modern, glam abode, including its gray-inspired kitchen with elegant marble, Caesarstone, and tiles.
Decorist. Based in San Francisco, Decorist was launched three years ago by Gretchen Hansen, a consumer marketing executive, who got stumped in decorating her home. “I’m a huge lover of vintage furniture and bought two bright pink velvet chairs with chrome frames by Milo Baughman. After I dragged them to an upstairs room, I was shocked how terrible they looked,” she recalls. She called a designer friend to help, who sent back photos of a rug, table, and pillows to add. Gretchen followed through, and realized, “if someone could help me through photos, I could help others.” She focused on those who didn’t think they could afford a designer or who found the process daunting.
With a roster of 450 freelance designers, the firm handles a variety of projects but only online. Homeowners fill out a questionnaire, measure their room or rooms, decide what they want to keep, how much to spend, and share images of what they like. The firm assigns a designer who develops two design boards. A final board is presented, along with a floor plan, and shopping list. Three price levels are available: a single room for $299 by a “classic” designer with fewer than five years of experience; $599 for an “elite” designer with at least five years, and $1,299 for a “celebrity” designer. For an additional $199, a client can receive a three-dimensional board to better visualize results. The firm’s “concierge” team will handle shopping, if desired. In addition, a potential client can pose a question for free to test the waters, and receive an answer back within 24 hours.
Affordable Interior Design. With its design focus in the tri-state New York area, Affordable Interior Design was founded by designer Betsy Helmuth to provide online help through a choice of two main packages: $695 for two hours of consultation and a shopping list of six to eight items, or $795 for the same two hours and a list of 14 to 16 items. The items can include anything from a light fixture to paint chip colors and carpeting.
Example: One couple asked to replace furnishings that didn’t work because of their baby. For $750, plus $5,000 in shopping, Hellmuth switched out a fragile glass coffee table and dining table with sharp edges, added a rug, artwork, dining chairs, and accessories. She employs four other freelance designers who develop plans and shopping lists after they visit a client’s home. She also consults on smaller jobs such as paint projects for $395.
Captions and photo credits:
Decor Aid. Designer Alex Catacherea helped clients in a Connecticut suburb gain the living spaces they wanted when they relocated from a small apartment in New York City. He incorporated some of their large-scale seating in the living and family room, and added additional pieces for a warm, inviting look. Photo credits: Decor Aid.
Two other projects from Decor Aid reflect casual updated living spaces with fireplaces as a focal point; one on Central Park West in New York City with loungy sofa seating and great views, and the other in a suburban Westchester, N.Y., home with hints of 1950s Danish modern, now popular again. Photo credits: Decor Aid.
Home Polish. Jennifer Talbot did a whole-house transformation, including a kitchen when a couple moved back to Chicago and bought a 1920s home. Photos, Dustin Halleck for HomePolish.
Creative director and staff member Orlando Soria transformed a Hollywood Hills, Calif. home, including its kitchen in light grays and elegant materials, from Caesarstone on perimeter counters to gray tiled backsplash, and marble island. He gave the living area a clever treatment for its crescent-shaped window and introduced a light wood coffee table for a “beachy” look. Photos, courtesy Tessa Neustadt for Orlando Soria project.
Decorist. The company was started after founder Gretchen Hansen had trouble figuring out how to use two vintage pink chairs she bought for her home office. Photos for Gretchen Hansen, courtesy, Aubrie Pick.
Clients Kim and Zak Alexander hired the firm and worked with designer Melissa Scheneck to get a hipper open-style living room-dining room for their family of three. Photos: Alexander photos, David Nix.
The firm also offers clients a 3-dimensional rendering to help them visualize the results as this image shows. Courtesy, Decorist.
Affordable Interior Design. Founder and designer Betsy Hellmuth transformed rooms with a large sofa, rug, ottoman, and window treatments, as well as the adjacent dining room after visiting the home and understanding what it needed. Photo credits: Dov Plawsky.