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

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

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Arlyn Hernandez
Feb 22, 2017
BEFORE: Anita and Vijay's loft before working with the e-design companies
(Image credit: Carina Romano)

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."

BEFORE: The living room in Vijay & Anita's loft space in Philadelphia.
(Image credit: Carina Romano)

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).

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.

The long, open living area floated in the space, though Vijay & Anita tried to define it with a sofa table.
(Image credit: Carina Romano)
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.
(Image credit: Carina Romano)

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.

"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."

The Companies

"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."

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

  • 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

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."

BEFORE: A detail from the dining room.
(Image credit: Carina Romano)
(Image credit: Carina Romano)

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

"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."

"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."

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

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