Rooms are like a puzzle. Sometimes it’s a trick laying it out in a way that works for all the intended purposes. I regularly stage houses for friends and clients, and I love a good puzzle. For me it’s great fun to rethink a space with a friend, trying to make it flow. Most often we use existing furniture and just rearrange, repurpose & edit. Add some new pillows, throws, a potted plant or a lamp and voila – a fresh space.
But lately I’ve been curious about the new on-line decorator trend and thought I’d do some research. Here is the skinny on the current top 5 & some tips to keep in mind if you decide to go with them.
Concept – Take an on-line test to determine your style. Read designer bios and pick the one you’d like to work with. Upload a picture of the room you want to address and answer some questions. Your designer then makes you a mood board to be refined with your feedback, and she’ll recommend items for you to purchase. At the higher level of service, you get design ideas for your space in 3-D and access to your designer for post make-over support. You can buy decor and furniture they recommend directly though them or you can buy it on your own. While they do partner with Domino as a source for decor, they also pull from a wide variety of vendors. I was also very pleased to hear they don’t pressuring you to buy and are fine reusing what you already have. After the initial input, it takes about a week for them to get back to you with their design recommendations.
Cost – To try out their services, you can do a “Design Quickie” which is a free chat with a designer for 30 minutes. They offer two packages at $79 & $199 per room.
Concept – Upload a picture of the room you want help with. Answer some questions about your goals, budget, likes/dislikes. They match you up with a decorator or you can choose one from their bios. You get two design concepts and then the opportunity to tweak it to get just the look you are wanting. Your final design includes a complete room design, custom floor plan, set-up instructions, and shopping list. I liked that the shopping list included a range of items from places as common as Lowes, to some unique tile shop. Likely you’ll find some vendors you’ve not heard of before, but fit your style. Here is a link to an ‘unpaid review.’
Cost – Prices start at $299 per room
Concept – There are three levels of service with a style board, shopping list and instructions for how to layout the room. Pick items from their catalog and their decorators will place the order and advise you on them. If you find something at a lower price, they will match it, so it’s worth a quick google search.
Cost – Three levels of service ranging from $59 – $249. At the time of this posting, they are offering a 50% off special.
Concept – They offer a one hour consultation via video or in person if you live in one of 15 cities (Dallas is one!). You’ll get a proposal for your space and an estimate on how many hours it will take. You have to decide how many hours of design time you want to buy. You also get designer discounts on furniture and decor, and they will place the orders for free.
Cost – $130 per hour of design time with a 10 hour minimum. So a one day session would be $3,900.
Concept – You answer a style quiz and provide pictures of the space you want help with. They select a designer who offers you design proposals. If no design is chosen, you get your money back. If you do decide, your designer helps source the best vendors for your decor items, select a paint color palate and position the furniture. They also provide a detailed 3D image of your new space.
Cost – Bronze, Silver or Gold packages ranging from $445 – $599 or hourly custom packages
Tips if you Decide to Try
I talked to several people who used these services, all of which feel pretty similar in concept. Here are the top tips I kept hearing from clients and friends.
- Look for coupons. All of these services regularly offer 40 or 50% off design services or free shipping, etc. If you can be patient, wait for a sale.
- Over-inform. Be as thorough as possible on the intake forms. The more they know, the more efficient they can be at advising. My sister-in-law Kelly Williams created a Pinterest board for her designer and provided pictures from every angle with detailed measurements of everything.
- They ship for free, and will happily take it back if you don’t like it. But in the fine print, you pay return shipping. I heard from people who were stuck with $250 return shipping fees.
- Double check measurements before you buy. I heard this from everyone. Even though there were 3D images, pieces were sometimes significantly off in scale when placed in the space.
- Many companies will price match. Dana Batte-Walker recommends going directly to the source site before you buy. If your item goes on sale at West Elm for example, it may not be reflected at the on-line decorating site.
- Consider the vibe you’ve got going in the rest of your house. Sara Vollbrecht commented that once she’d done one room, it made the rest of the rooms around it look blah.
Ultimately she ended up using Havenly for 5 rooms so the whole house flowed together better. Maybe it’s is a warning too – this service may be addictive!
On-Line Design verses Live Design
Everyone I interviewed for this post mentioned that it was tough for the on-line designers to get the scale of the space – thus the advice to double check measurements for yourself. A designer who can come to your home, walking through your space won’t have this issue. Also, they can help make sure the rooms flows together. When you need to make costly and permanent decisions quickly, it can be money well spent to get the help of a live designer.
A few years ago we bought a duplex in the Uptown neighborhood of Dallas. It was located on great dirt, but the house had some seriously funky elements. And not ‘funky’ in a good way. We were converting it to a single family home, living in the smaller top half while we remodeled the bottom of the duplex. The best decision we made in the process was hiring Dallas interior designer Samantha Fisher.
We were on a budget and could not afford to have her completely oversee the renovation, so we hired her on an hourly basis. We tried to be very efficient with our time together. I got together pictures of all our ideas, and we walked through the house talking about what options we had. She quickly saw what we were trying to do – helped us think through our ideas, while providing plenty of great design ideas of her own. She came over a couple times through the process and in the end, our only regret was that we didn’t implement all her suggestions. Her wise counsel paid for itself in that we avoided many mistakes and missed opportunities.
I called Samantha this week to talk about on-line verses hiring a live decorator. “If you’re on a budget, some of the on-line decorating services can be a beautiful thing. But some of these on-line sites talk about doing houses where the budget is upward of 50k. In that case, why not hire someone locally?” She noted that what she offers clients is less mass market; it’s more curated and custom. “When I’m working on a project, it’s often the trip to the antique store for that funky awesome chair, unique art or vintage lamp – that’s what makes the space. You can’t find that mass market.”
I could not agree more. I’m always up for a trip to an antique store, thrift market or estate sale. Good luck making your space for your people!
Credited for the feature image goes to Homepolish.