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We Tried It Four Online Interior Design Sites Tackle A People

We Tried It Four Online Interior Design Sites Tackle A People We Tried It Four Online Interior Design Sites Tackle A People

Another view of the living room area “before”, with a peek at the workhorse kitchen. “We had bought a West Elm apartment-sized sofa second hand for our previous apartment that looked small in the new space, and didn’t provide adequate seating,” says Vijay.

The wood coffee table, however, was a keeper.

BEFORE: The living room in Vijay & Anita’s loft space in Philadelphia.

The sites ask additional questions about considerations such as budget, which items you want to keep, which you will toss, and whether you need lighting or storage. Are you open to new paint or wallpaper? And what are your design goals?

So how good were the final designs? We asked Jonsara Ruth, a professor of interior design at Parsons School of Design in New York, to evaluate them. “None of these feel very sophisticated,” she says. “They feel cut-and-paste. More like beginners’ school projects.” To be fair to the designers, she says, creativity may have been stifled by the “clunky” software that renders the rooms, and by the limited selection of products in the catalogues.

→ Jump ahead to see the “after” photos of Vijay & Anita’s living and dining room, now!

To my eye, design differences among the services were pretty subtle. Satisfaction with the final designs probably has less to do with the particular site than with the designer it pairs you with. As good as an algorithm might be, there is some luck involved. None of the designs made me want to spend $10,000.

Now comes the fun part: reviewing the design recommendations! Follow along as Vijay and Anita get one step closer to their refreshed rental.

She was super open to listening to my opinions and even agreed to incorporate pieces Jeff and I already have and want to keep, like our ottomans and TV stand. After sending me a final design board, she created a 3D rendering which was a great way to imagine how everything would actually look.

Not all of the sites were willing to say how they make money with such low design fees, but the ones who did said it was through a commission on the furniture you buy – just like traditional interior designers. Which explains another thing the sites have in common: after you sign up, they email you mercilessly with offers and encouragement to buy stuff.

We took a look at the highest-profile services, giving each the same bedroom to redesign, to see what, exactly, clients might expect.

Several interior design startups offer services similar to Homepolish at even lower prices, providing design advice, shopping services and some project management, with fees starting at less than $100 for the whole shebang. One even offers simple consultations – such as, “Should I buy this couch?” – for free.

Process: Homepolish is still a virtual experience in many ways, but it differs from the other sites in that the matching happens through what they call a Queen Bee, who is your design fairy godmother of sorts throughout the process. I opted for a video consultation with Crystal — although you can do in-person as well — who asked me to walk her around the space so she could get a feel for it.

Verdict: The initial concepts included large furniture pieces and light fixtures that didn’t quite take into account that I’m a renter, which I felt stalled the process a bit. But after clarifying, Nancy offered very clever ideas, like a visually light small side table and pouf for extra seating, that I wouldn’t have come up with myself. For larger projects, particularly for those who need guidance, Laurel & Wolf won’t disappoint.

Decorist seems to do the most to encourage a useful dialogue. After being paired with designer Mikayla, who specialises in “classic design”, I am sent two concepts. One has the ever-popular accent wall in grey, with the rest of the room an off-white. The other has an accent wall of subtly patterned wallpaper. With white furniture, and woven basket accessories, I can see she has taken my thought about French Morocco and run with it, but the result is too much of an Aladdin theme.

BEFORE: Anita and Vijay’s loft before working with the e-design companies

A few notes: I provided floor plans, measurements, photos of the room and inspiration ideas to each service. I also answered questions on topics ranging from how the space is used to color preferences.

What It Is: Online interior designing Who Tried It: Megan Stein, PEOPLE Home and Travel Associate Editor Level of Difficulty: 6/10

→ Jump ahead to see the “after” photos of Vijay & Anita’s living and dining room, now.

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2.) Laurel & Wolf Price: $149/room for the Classic package (Includes designer, 10 days design time, unlimited revisions, space planning, shopping list and floor plan.)

3.) Decorist Price: $299/room for Classic package (Includes two initial design concepts, final room design and floor plan, online shopping list, complimentary purchasing service, direct messaging with your designer.) I also received a 3D rendering, which is available for any project for an additional $199.

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Of course, many of the catalogues these services represent, such as West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Crate and Barrel, for instance, also have design services that are sometimes free. But you get only a limited selection through them, not choices for many of them, as the third party services do.

“Homepolish on the other hand is very different. Instead of everything being done electronically, it is more of a match-making service. The nice part about this is that they match you with a local designer and send them to your house for a one-hour free consultation. This is great because you can meet the designer in person and have them experience your space in real life. However, the service itself is actually very different than Havenly and Laurel & Wolf. Based on the assumed needs of your project, Homepolish sells you a package of ‘hours’ at a set rate (that we were told was less than what a typical interior designer would cost). You can use these hours however you want—have them do research, go shopping with you, etc. and you can use their trade discount. However, it’s not as electronic or affordable of a process by any means.”

→ Click here to keep reading to see the different design options & discover which online design company Vijay & Anita decided on.

The first designs come with specific questions to direct my response, such as: “What do you like about this concept? What do you not like about this concept? Is the overall direction and style good? If not, what specifically would you like changed?”

4.) Homepolish Price: Rates start at $130/hr (Includes customizable options depending on your needs.)

The result again features an accent wall, this one in grey, which must be having a moment. That aside, the Havenly designer, Andrea, does the best job of zeroing in on my taste on the first try, although I don’t think all of the items work – such as the bed with a headboard too tall to accommodate the poster over it.

Process: As one of the first sites I tried, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After taking their style survey, I was matched with a several designers and could then choose one based on their profiles. I was worried about picking the wrong person, and could see how someone who doesn’t look at celebrity homes for a living could feel overwhelmed. That said, my success with Jessica makes me confident that you can’t really go wrong. Based on my initial preferences, she presented me with three design boards. I chose a few things from each to give her a better sense of my taste and what I was looking for.

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Havenly offers the most variety in selecting a designer as a standard part of the setup, giving you several to choose from after you take the quiz. (Others allow you to choose from many designers by skipping the quiz or by paying extra.) Designers have up to 17 badges designating special expertise (the aforementioned Colour Connoisseur, for instance). It gives profiles and portfolios for the designers, and when they will be available.

Verdict: I love that you can pick and choose from different options as opposed to having one finished product, but I would have liked to see the design portrayed in the context of the room. Unlike others, however, we were sent multiple ideas for art placement, which is helpful because the struggle of a gallery wall is real. Crystal made it clear that if I needed assistance ordering, with delivery, or with anything really that she was available to make the process seamless, which I’m sure any busy homeowner would be #blessed to have.

But if it is, as Ruth says, beginner level, it’s a level higher then I possess. If I had an empty room, and didn’t have the time or inclination to find and buy everything to pleasingly fill it, any of these services would be a vast improvement over what I might do myself. 

Process: After providing the necessary info, I was matched with Baylee who turned out two style boards depicting rooms I would move into, like, yesterday.

Verdict: For a basic upgrade — which is exactly what I was looking for — this site checks all the boxes. Choosing a designer yourself is a little bit of a risk, but I felt like Jessica kept things within my tight budget and captured Jeff and my youthful aesthetic. I also love how Havenly has “Alternates” (see below for example) for many of the items, so you can truly personalize the design.

Modsy is best for people who find it difficult to picture a finished room from a two-dimensional drawing. Modsy creates fairly realistic-looking 360-degree virtual rooms. With your computer and mouse, you can spin the room to any angle. It lets you digitally swap furniture around yourself, using the style editor tool. If you have the higher-end package, a designer will do it for you.

Not knowing where to start but with a desire for a grown-up home, Vijay and Anita had heard of a new trend popping up in the interior design industry they were intrigued by: e-design, online interior design services that are gaining great popularity, as they let you work with a pro without even needing to leave your couch, all for a pre-determined fee (the companies make money from both the fee and from affiliate deals if you purchase recommended decor directly through them).

“We did a bit of online research and decided on three companies to try out: Laurel & Wolf, Havenly and Homepolish,” says Vijay. “These came up the most in our search and had service packages that fit our budget and what we were looking for.”

Laurel & Wolf — The Classic package, $149, includes being matched with an interior designer to work one-on-one for a single room Havenly — The Full package, $199, pairs you with a designer for a full room makeover, including an action plan, room visualization and shopping lists Homepolish — $390 flat fee for 3 hours/1 day that can be used in any way you choose to work with a recommended local interior designer

After chatting, Crystal presented me with a proposal that outlined the work, and gave a recommended design time frame. In this case, it was 10 hours. What really stuck out to me about this service was how I felt like I could easily communicate with her — she was very responsive, and definitely dedicated to making this small space totally gorgeous. From the initial call, she created a multi-page presentation that outlined her ideas. As with the others, I made some suggestions to her and she came back with a variety of options, with these two being our favorites.

Living in New York City has its perks: proximity to the best museums, unbeatable shopping, Shake Shack. But one thing it’s desperately lacking is space. My two-bed, one-bath apartment is certainly not the smallest I’ve seen, but the combined living room/kitchen leaves just a little to be desired (like legroom, for instance). My roommate and fellow PEOPLE editor Jeff Nelson and I struggled with how to make the eight-foot-by-ten-foot space, which contains our kitchen on one wall, feel homey with such a tight layout.

I went back to Nancy who then revised the look based on my suggestions to create this final product. One aspect I really liked is that each item had a corresponding number, making it simple to critique certain pieces instead of writing a long paragraph where I might have forgotten something in the shuffle.

Verdict: The 3D rendering (above) is unreal, and would be incredibly beneficial to those who struggle with visualizing. I can see how only having two concepts to choose from could be limiting, however they do offer more intensive packages for those looking for something a bit more involved.

Enter, the growing roster of online interior design services, which pair users with a professional interior designer and help them outfit their space, completely online. With a bevy of celebrity clientele and a range of packages for those who have small budgets, like myself, I was curious about how successful these tools are.

I am assigned to Lexie. As with others, the initial designs include many au courant elements, including an accent wall. I think accenting the oddly sloped wall draws attention to an unfortunate feature. Lexie responds by suggesting a wall colour between kelly and hunter green. With the red in my tribal rug, which I intend to keep, the whole thing appears a bit… Christmassy? The next option is plum walls that will, she suggests, pair well with teal. Having lived through the Miami Vice style craze, I veto the use of pink or teal. I feel uncomfortably fussy, but we end up closer to something I might like. 

To begin, the couple had to do a little “on-boarding” with each company. “Laurel & Wolf and Havenly were pretty similar in that they asked you to fill out an extensive profile about your space, your vision, and your style preferences,” says Vijay. “With Havenly, you had to first choose a designer to work with (the package we chose was for one designer, but they have other more expensive packages for multiple), and then fill out the profile. With Laurel & Wolf, you fill out the profile based on your style, then they match you with a designer. Both were quite involved and we felt like they were trying to ‘get to know us.’ Homepolish on the other hand was extremely fast; they seem to rely mostly on the matchmaking process and then letting the designer figure out the rest from the initial consultation.”

Vijay Nathan—Product Manager for Apartment Therapy Media—and his wife Anita moved into their rental loft in Philadelphia last year, bringing along with them furniture pieces from previous homes that no longer felt quite right. Some things they loved, others they knew were now placeholders and in need of replacement. “We came to our marriage with furniture that had served us well when we lived apart, though most of it lacked personality and longevity,” says Vijay. “In our new place, the open floor plan posed a bit of a challenge as the furnishings we brought into this apartment were not enough to fill the space in a meaningful way and didn’t have a cohesive style.”

After that, she presented my final board (above). Although some of the furniture pieces are probably too big for my space (for which my admittedly bad floor plan drawing is at fault) I honestly would buy everything in this room. She also incorporated our current ottomans and TV stand, which made it instantly more comfortable.

All of the sites required me to make a rough drawing of the room’s floor plan with measurements, and to take photos of the room and furniture.

Process: After filling out a design brief, I was matched with Nancy. She first created a concept board where I could give thumbs up or down on items and leave comments with my thoughts on each.

I wanted to incorporate a Moroccan-inspired theme, such as layering tribal-print rugs (Washington Post)

The third concept is closer, but still not there. To her credit, Mikayla requests a phone call. Although the other services also offer the option of calling your designer, Mikayla is the only one to proactively contact me. With an in-depth explanation of preferences, such as why I want a three-tiered end table (top shelf for a reading lamp, middle shelf for magazines, bottom shelf for books), she returns a design much, much closer to what I want.

The services all have a few things in common. For one, a quiz. To determine your personal style and to pair you with a simpatico designer, the sites ask you to select from pictures of things such as rooms, furniture and decorative items, pointing out what you like. They then label your style. The quizzes variously determined me to be “traditional”, “eclectic with a touch of glam” and “contemporary”.

Based on my answers, she created a first go take on style board. Although beautiful, it felt like a lot of furniture, and there were a few pieces that didn’t quite fit.

What I’d buy: We loved the gold floor lamp. In fact, it’s on its way to our apartment right now!

The Modsy designer makes only the changes I had said I was open to, which is good and bad. I am comfortable with the result, but by not pushing my boundaries, the room isn’t much different from what I have. Modsy does offer one radically different design in grey and white. It looks great, but reveals a problem with these services. Most of my house is already grey and white. I want the bedroom to be a radical departure from the rest of the house. Having not visited my home, no online designer could know that.

Before settling on a company, Vijay and Anita thought it best to set their budget for each room they wanted to work on, as well as outline their design needs and desires. They had some challenges they needed to address in their new home (like general space planning) but on top of that, they weren’t even sure what they wanted the décor of their loft to look and feel like.

After being matched with their designers at each company, Vijay & Anita completed initial consultations, taking notes along the way.

Modsy creates realistic 360-degree virtual rooms, allowing you to swap furniture and change colours (Modsy)

Havenly’s questionnaire asks questions the other don’t, asking me to rate patterns, materials such as acrylic, wood and steel, and to name my favourite clothing. Presumably, this gives designers more insight into my lifestyle.

Overall Verdict: Each service has its strengths, and you really can’t go that wrong. My number one suggestion, however, is to be meticulous with measurements and photos. As you can tell, these layouts differ from one another, which is a direct result of my not submitting clear enough information. But overall, each grasped my style, took my small room (and strong opinions) in stride, and presented a group of designs of which my New York apartment is not worthy.

The designers were faced with a room about 18 by 13 feet, with an 8ft ceiling at the windows that rises to 14 feet by the bedroom doors. Walls are a medium-dark red, with a brown trim so dark it appears black. Large bi-fold closet doors eat up one wall, an art deco armoire fills another, and there is just room for a queen bed and bed stands on the long wall opposite the closet. It would be a challenge.

“Both Laurel & Wolf and Havenly were similar in that the first step was awaiting the designer to create some loose ‘mood boards’ of your space based on the information you filled out in the profile,” says Anita and Vijay. “This was definitely one of the most telling signs of the process because it’s how you know whether the person you’re working with is able to turn your words into reality. It’s also the basis from which you start to give all of your feedback. After you receive the mood boards, you’re encouraged to give a lot of feedback on what you like, what you don’t like, and why, including specific pieces you may like or not like.”

Just as the Internet is vast, so are the varieties of companies that offer these virtual design services, from small independent design firms to websites that specialize in the new model. That being said, how do you choose? It’s hard enough to pick a new sofa, let alone a designer to help you pick that sofa. So Vijay tapped into his built-in design support system—the AT editorial team—to ask our opinion on which way to go. Because we were also curious about how it all worked, we decided that one company simply wasn’t enough, and encouraged him to try on a few for size, comparing the services along the way.

This site is optimum for people in a hurry. The designers take a room from concept to completed drawings in 10 days, including initial consultation and revisions of what are commonly called “inspiration boards”. Those are a sort of montage drawing with the elements – furniture, fabrics, paint – that go in your new room. It is not a photo-realistic, literal image, like some others offer.

I felt she really grasped my personality, and even incorporated art pulled from my Pinterest board, which was a cool surprise and made me feel like I had some semblance of taste. She provided lengthy explanations about why she chose each product, and from there I rated the two concepts and made tweaks.

Each site then pairs you with a designer. Modsy, Laurel and Wolf, and Decorist chose my designer based on my quiz and questionnaire. Havenly narrowed the field to a group of designers categorised by icons indicating their specialities, such as “Colour Connoisseur”, “Pattern Mixologist” or “Couples Therapy”. All of the sites say they vet their designers, but how isn’t clear. Some designers will have academic or industry credentials, such as an American Society of Interior Designers membership, and others just a portfolio.

1.) Havenly Price: $149/room for Full Package (Includes designer, 3 initial ideas, 1 design concept and two revisions, shopping list, concierge buying service, 2-3 weeks design time, 4 weeks post-design support, 3D room visualization, floor plan.)

More about: | interior design | Furniture | home renovations | Decorating | home improvements

The Online Decorator Secret Shopper Makeover: We Tried Out 3 Internet Design Services to Redecorate this Rental

The catch is that these companies work strictly over the internet. You won’t personally meet the designer who will decorate your home. The design is based entirely on photos, measurements and guidance that you provide online, or in some cases, by phone.

Laurel and Wolf is best for a quick result, but create ‘inspo boards’ rather than realistic photos (Laurel and Wolf)

To get the scoop, I tested four of the top options out there: Havenly, Laurel & Wolf, Decorist and Homepolish. Here’s how they proposed upgrading my impossibly teensy home.

The long, open living area floated in the space, though Vijay & Anita tried to define it with a sofa table.

What I’d buy: Jeff loves this rustic TV stand, and I’d love to wake up to that leather pouf any day of the week.

What I’d buy: We haven’t ruined our current area rug yet and therefore can’t justify purchasing a new one, but if someone *happens* to stain it I wouldn’t be mad about subbing the black tassel one in as a replacement.

What I’d buy: “Ugh” really sums up Jeff and my outlook on life, and we look forward to incorporating that art piece into our gallery wall. We also love the updated bar cart.

When filling out the questionnaires, I set the design goal to refresh a bedroom, keeping the existing wardrobe, poster, rug and curtains. The bed and end tables could go, and I had been experimenting (and failing) with layering tribal rug patterns. I was thinking loosely, not literally, of French Morocco. I set the budget to $10,000.

The Insta-perfect Hackney interiors fair you won’t want to miss

Though each of these sites offer a few different packages, below is what worked best for the Nathans:

“We really hoped to figure out our style as a couple,” says Anita. “We also wanted to find some investment pieces that would serve us well in our current space and beyond. Our apartment is a retrofitted paper mill, which means we have some gorgeous natural finishes, but that also means it’s a very open floor plan that left us struggling to define specific areas like the living room and dining room. Plus, since all the finishes are pretty industrial—cement floors, steel beams, exposed brick—it needed to be warmed up and cozy-fied.”

A few years back, the interior design industry was shaken by an internet upstart called Homepolish, which connected style-challenged homeowners with interior designers for a three-hour consultation at a comparative bargain price of $350 (£250), and $130 an hour thereafter. Now, the shaker is getting shaken.

Cheryl Durst, chief executive of the International Interior Design Association, an interior design trade group, says she is confident that online services won’t replace interior designers, and in fact might be the gateway to bringing in more clients. In the meantime, Durst says, “from a convenience standpoint, these sites are incredible”.

There are reasons, besides design quality, to consider an online designer. They offer the same sales and discounts as the catalogues they represent, but consolidate the purchasing and shipping for you. You can buy from multiple stores using the one site.

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