Personal Finance

Online design firms take decorating mainstream

Key Points
  • Thanks to a slew of virtual design firms that have popped up in the past few years, there are now ways to score some decorating assistance for a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-person designer.
  • From Havenly to Homepolish, here's what you can get and what it will cost you. We tried a few ourselves.
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From putting together the perfect outfit each morning (hello, personal shopper app) to cooking a gourmet dinner when you get home at night (thanks, meal delivery kit), there's no shortage of shortcuts to improve your lifestyle.

Yet only recently has the elite world of interior design become more available — and more affordable — in a similar fashion.

"The classic interior design model may be out of reach or not the way you want to shop," said Lee Mayer, the founder and CEO of Havenly. "So many of us are used to consuming online, and having the flexibility of working with people in synchronicity."

A slew of online decorating options have popped up in the past few years, including Havenly, Modsy and Homepolish. These start-ups offer services to virtually decorate your room, most without even setting foot inside, and for as little as $20.

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"We should have a place to live in that makes us feel better every day," said Noa Santos, CEO of Homepolish. "It's far more than a trend — it's an evolution of how we think about our well-being and our home."

To that end, here's a look at some of the services currently available and what they will cost you:


What you get: If you'd like some quick advice on a piece or project, for just $19 you can have a "consult" through the app or site. Alternatively, a $69 minidesign gets you a concept with up to two revisions or you can opt for a full design package, which costs $179 and includes one design concept with a revision, a custom floor plan and a 3D rendering.

The range allows for flexibility, "whether you need the perfect lamp or to pull a whole room together," Mayer said.

How it works: Complete a questionnaire, or style quiz, and choose from a few designers. A Havenly stylist will deliver a list of curated products complete with accessories, sourced from suppliers such as Crate and Barrel, Target and Pottery Barn. You can order directly through Havenly, which is how the company profits.

It's best for customers who want to do it themselves, but need some validation or help making the right choices, said the company's head designer, Shelby Girard.

The idea is that you'll have a "partner in crime," Mayer added. "But the designer is doing the hard part — finding the furniture and delivering something that works for you."

We tried it: Feedback plays a big role here, so the closer you work with the designer, the more likely you are to be happy with the result. Ultimately, I liked the selections and affordable price (see the final concept for a living room below).

Source: Havenly


What you get: The classic design package costs $299 per room but you can upgrade to senior designer for $599 or a "celebrity designer" for $1,299. The packages include two initial design concepts. After you provide feedback, you'll get a final design including a custom floor plan, set-up instructions and shopping list.

How it works: Take the style quiz and provide details about your room and how much you want to spend and includes likes and dislikes and inspirational photos. You can choose among their designers or they'll match you up based on your style and budget. The entire process takes two to three weeks.


What you get: Modsy is one of the less expensive options in the bunch and operates entirely online. Starting at $59, you'll get a realistic 3D design of your room filled with "shoppable" pieces of furniture from well-known retailers — again, think Pottery Barn or West Elm.

How it works: Take a few photos and measurements of your space and run through another style quiz. A stylist will then send two custom design plans of your room in 3D, complete with furniture and accessories. You can keep making revisions to your design and swap out furniture (or incorporate pieces you already own) until you settle on a look. Then, order what you want directly from the site.

We tried it: The 3D rendering was impressive and the overall design seemed like it would be easy to implement. I particularly loved getting a chance to see a visualization of a bold wallpaper I had my eye on (see below).

Modsy designs
Source: Modsy


What you get: Homepolish skips commissions and product markups and instead charges an hourly fee or a flat fee. The rates run from $140 to $300 an hour, depending on the designer. A minimum of 10 hours is required. You'll end up with a finished room, with furniture from a wide array of sources, even including trade-only vendors.

How it works: Homepolish pairs you up with a nearby designer, whom you'll meet in-person at an initial consultation. If you're in a remote location, you can also opt to work together virtually. Then, you set the parameters in terms of time, price and plan.

If it's a large-scale project, Homepolish will also source contractors and architects for complete renovations or new construction and manage the details down to the place settings and flowers.

"It's meant to be an end-to-end experience," said Homepolish's Santos.

However, "the spaces we deliver should feel complete but never really finished," he added. "It should evolve as your life evolves."

More from Personal Finance:
Buying or selling your home? Is your agent working in your best interest?
Forget home equity: Here's how homeowners are paying for that new kitchen
There's no place like home, and retirees say they'll renovate to stay

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