A Room with a Review: On-Line Decorating Services Explained

A Room with a Review: On-Line Decorating Services Explained

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.


homepolish 1

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.
Sara’s space before
Sara’s space after
  • 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.
Sarah’s space before
Sarah’s space after

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

Samantha Fisher Interiors

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. 

Samantha Fisher Interiors

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.

Living with Pets

Living with Pets

Our family is full of animal lovers. We share our home with a dog, two cats and a white snake named David Coverdale.  We’ve also served as a foster family for Operation Kindness, a no-kill animal shelter and have temporarily hosted around 50 dogs, cats, puppies and kittens. In fact right now we’re on call to pick up a Hurricane Harvey animal victim that needs a temporary home.

As much as I love animals, I also really appreciate a clean welcoming home that smells good.  That can be a tall order.  Here are a few of the ways we’ve set up our home to help make pet ownership easier and some of tricks we use to address the inevitable challenges.


Wash and brush your dog regularly – This is my number one tip to help your house smell good. It’s easier to clean your pet than your rugs and furniture and will go a long way towards keeping your home clean and with less fur. Regular grooming and a ‘summer cut’ is a good idea for fluffier breeds. 

oriental rug
Photo credit Bunny Williams

Flooring – Wall to wall carpet soaks up inevitable pet-related stains. If at all possible, opt for other hard flooring options. On hardwoods, use an electrostatic mop.  They are faster and more efficient than a vacuum.  Area rugs with a pattern hide pet fur & stains are less noticeable. Bunny Williams suggests buying rugs with the same color background as the soil where you live.  

Couple Of Dogs

Furniture – If you’re fine with your dog being on the couch, buy her a throw blanket to put where she lounges.  Dogs naturally love to burrow in blankets and it’s easy to throw them in the wash when needed.  Textured Rubber gloves are also great to remove fur quickly from your furniture. 

Consider furniture upholstered with leather, outdoor fabrics or slipcovers that are easily thrown into the wash. And you might use your pet’s coloring as ‘inspiration’ when you choosing furniture or flooring.  If you put in a black floor and have a fluffy white dog you’ll forever be dealing with white tumbleweeds of fur.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
photo credit Stephanie Sterjovski

But if it’s important to you that your dog not get on the furniture, prioritize training that behavior. Have a dog bed near where you’re family hangs out, so they can have their own spot in the middle of their people and reward obedience with lots of love and treats. If you don’t want cats on the furniture — don’t get a cat…


Decorating – Pets, like children, can tump thinks over with reckless abandon.  One way to reduce the odds is with Museum Mounting Putty.  A dime size piece under your vase and it will take a lot more effort for it to be knocked over.  One $4 package can secure items throughout your whole house.

Stains – Clean up stains as soon as you notice them with an enzyme cleaner. This one is my favorite and from the reviews I’m not alone. The enzymatic bacteria in the spray feed on ammonia crystals and organic matter until the smell and stain are eliminated. This reduces the chance that they will go in the same spot again. 

Pests – Even with regular preventative medicine you can still have an issue with fleas & ticks. This year in Texas it was especially bad since we did not have a freeze last winter.  Often our fosters arrive dealing with pests and we’ve had several issues with fleas in our home.  I really like Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Home Spray.  It’s plant based made with peppermint oil and it smells great – and it works.   I’ve sprayed it on carpets and upholstery and have and no issues with staining. Spray everything and vacuum; then repeat the next day. I also have a supply of Capstar on hand to give my pets as soon as I find a flea. It’s much cheaper to buy a box from Amazon than one at a time from your vet.


Outsmart vs Training – Thinking through your pets personality and how to create a home that addresses their needs is time well spent.  Each pet is different and sometimes it’s a compromise between training the pet and adjusting your home. 


For example, we had issue with our dog eating the cat’s food.  In this case we had to outsmart our dog. We installed a cat door from our pantry into a bottom cabinet where we made a cat food station. Problem solved. 

Exercise & entertainment: Different breeds need different amounts of exercise,  but they all need a stimulating life. Keeping pets happy helps prevent unwanted behaviors. In addition to regular walks and a rotation of entertaining foster friends, we bring our dog along with us when we can.  A well behaved dog is a joy to have along.  Many shelters offer free or low cost training classes that will teach you the owner as much as your pet.  You’re going to have your pet a long time hopefully, and it’s worth the time and effort to invest.

mudroom dog crate
picture from Your Dog Supplies Store

A Pet Room – While our dog alternates sleeping with our daughters every night, when we foster animals they stay in our mudroom with a crate.  We’ve set this room up to be as impervious as possible with easy to clean floors and walls. It’s a safe place for pets to hang out and not cause mischief while we’re out.  Shiplap, wainscoting or bead-board are great options for easy clean up on walls.  Scrubbable wall paint is a good idea in general, but especially here.


Benefits of having pets – While they are a lot of work, I honestly believe we receive more affection than we give to our pets and our fosters.  My daughters learn responsibility and have the opportunity to get their head out of their own troubles by helping others.  It’s a reason to take a walk & put down their screens.  Studies show that owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety. Simply patting a cat or dog lowers blood pressure. And I think an animal-friendly house is more comfortable for humans, too.

If you’re interested in fostering here in DFW area consider Operation Kindness, a wonderful no kill shelter in Carrolton, Texas. The could use help especially now as they start to deal with dog and cats dislocated from Hurricane Harvey.   



Have you heard of the Japanese term wabi-sabi?  Wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in the acceptance of imperfection and temporality.  For example, it’s being comfortable with a little peeling paint, worn wood or the wear marks in an old oriental rug.

Some of this comes from the deep-rooted culture of frugality. In Japan there is great virtue in simplicity and economy.  In the west sometimes this idea gets interpreted into a sort of trendy minimalism. While I’m very attracted to the concept of having less ‘stuff,’ the faux-spiritualization of minimalism is off-putting. But wabi sabi is different than minimalism. It encourages repurposing, recycling and taking care of the things you already have.  It can’t be mass produced.


I just got back from a trip to Tokyo.  There I found a perfect example of wabi-sabi at the Tokyo National Museum.  It is a glazed tea bowl that has been named “Bakohan.”  And it’s broken.  What makes this little tea bowl so special to the Japanese, a national treasure even?  In great part, it’s the beauty of the intricate and loving repair made when the bowl cracked centuries ago.  Appropriately, a Japanese word for “beautiful” utsukushii evolved from an original meaning of “being loved.” 

Photo credit – @myrimi

I love the concept of wabi-sabi and find it very freeing, especially when thinking of my home.  There is a commercial version of perfection in the home can feel cold and unwelcoming.  It’s also unattainable or at the least unsustainable.  Living, being loved, and having a purpose — these things leave marks.  Wabi-sabi is about embracing those marks.

This approach isn’t an excuse to not clean your house or see something inadequate through rose-colored glasses. But it is a concept that makes peace with the natural processes of time and age. It’s accepting weather and wear and change. It’s a perspective that finds grace for life’s imperfections. It’s the opposite of what the commercial world is selling us, but I think that’s ok. 

Photo credit @myrimi  for the feature image of handmade Japanese pottery by Babaghuri. One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram.


Company’s Coming | Ideas to Keep Cool in Dallas-Fort Worth

Company’s Coming | Ideas to Keep Cool in Dallas-Fort Worth

Our first family of summer house guests arrive this weekend. The challenge? How to arrange a week’s worth of fun activities – taking into consideration the consummate Texas sunshine and without spending a fortune. Dallas friends, do you have company coming to visit this summer? Wondering what to do?  I did some research and here’s what I came up with.

Get excited.  You can visit top Dallas attractions (all but one is under air) at the fraction of their price. Have you heard about the Dallas CityPASS ticket booklet? It’s valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use. Cost: $48, adults (a value of $81); $32, kids 3-12. It includes admission to:


Perot Museum of Nature and Science


So CityPASS is a great start. But wait there’s lots more….



Trinity Audubon Center   $1 admission in August. Hiking trails, nature center and for $15 per person a guided Night Hike Owl Prowl Thursday, Aug 10th from 8-10 pm.



Dallas Arboretum Live local music at twilight on Thursdays July 14-28. And in August, $1 admission all month along with $2 hotdogs, root beer floats and pies and $4 ice cream sundaes.



Klyde Warren Park  has free concerts with local bands Thursday nights… and food trucks of course.  From July 13-August 10th the public is invited to build a Ninjago-theme giant mosaic with 79,320 Lego bricks.  We love this award winning urban space!



Dallas Museum of Art   General admission is free. The Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion exhibition goes through August 27th showcasing 45 of her exquisite outfits from 15 collections. 


DAD_VisualArts_Nasher_05Nasher Sculpture Center – considered one of the foremost collections of sculpture in the world.  Friday July 21st is the next ’til Midnight at the Nasher. A free evening with outdoor concerts by Sudie and Bryce and then a showing of one of my favorite movies  Sing Street.



Dallas World Aquarium A world truly class aquarium. $20.95 per person, $14.95 for children, and since it’s all indoors, it’s great no matter the weather.  




White Rock Lake Paddle Board & Canoe Hourly canoe, kayak & paddle board rentals on White Rock Lake. This is a popular activity so get reservations ahead of time for sure. 

Just outside of Dallas:


Dinosaur Valley State Park –  1.5 hours away in Glenrose, Texas – $7 per person over 13. Bring swimsuits & wade over actual dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy riverbed where the first sauropod trackways were discovered.

buerger lake

Burgers Lake   Bring a picnic for a fun day at a spring fed lake with lots of water slides etc. $15 per person 


Ft Worth Stockyards Touristy, but fun and free.  Watch long horn cattle run down  main street at 11:30 am and 4 pm. 

Kimbell Art Museum  Free and always inspiring. The exhibition A modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection is here through August 13th. 

Where else would you recommend taking visitors in DFW?  I’ve got 48 hours until the first guests come ya’ll.  


Creating Gemütlichkeit

Creating Gemütlichkeit

When we lived in Germany I learned the word gemütlichkeit.  It does not easily  translate into English. It’s a combination of a great space plus people and it represents a mix of feelings that people long for in every culture. It’s coziness and warmth, peace and friendship, belonging and community.  Space plus people combined in a way that nurtures and restores.

A few years ago my husband and I got a table at Oktoberfest in Munich and invited dear friends to join us. The Ochsenbraterei Tent definitely had gemütlichkeit.  Gemütlichkeit is 5,000 people singing in unison the old John Denver song “Take me home, country roads…”


But it’s not all about a massive party.  This concept of gemütlichkeit translates into smaller settings like our homes.  It could be sitting around the dinner table with your family or your favorite neighbors.  It could be on the back patio with an old friend.  This is something I try to create in every home I work on and really this is the heart of this blog.

Creating gemütlichkeit does not require a big budget, big space or an immaculate, Instagram-worthy home. It does require purposefulness — thinking through the needs of your family and those you love.  It’s creating a place where people feel deeply that they belong there.

My head is full of ideas on home and entertaining for future posts, but foremost the key component in creating gemütlichkeit being relaxed.  You can have the most perfect space and absolutely no gemütlichkeit. We’ve all been there.  If the meal you are planning is going to stress you out, then it would be better not to make that.  And if you don’t like your space and it’s preventing you from having your neighbors over, then it’s worth being purposeful to change it.  All of us need more gemütlichkeit in our lives and my hope is that this blog can encourage that.