The Online Decorator Secret Shopper Makeover: We Compared 3 Internet Designer Concepts for a Real-Life Rental Loft

published Feb 23, 2017
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BEFORE: A view of the living room in Vijay & Anita’s Philly loft. (Image credit: Carina Romano)

Moving into a new place can be a fun adventure. It can also be a little daunting when you realize a hefty amount of the furniture you had in your previous home just doesn’t work anymore and you aren’t sure where to start the refresh process. Such was the case for one of Apartment Therapy’s Product Managers, Vijay Nathan and his wife Anita. After settling into their new rental loft in Philadelphia, they decided to embark on a decor journey to make over their living and dining rooms.

Did you miss the first post in this series?

Working with three design companies—Havenly, Laurel & Wolf and Homepolish—Vijay and Anita provided dimensions, answered lengthy questionnaires about their style preferences (which they quickly came to realize were a little glam and a little “international” with lots of bright, happy colors mixed in) and did virtual (and in-person) walk throughs of their home. They diligently measured all the furniture they knew they wanted to keep, and noted all the rooms’ dimensions (the e-design companies use this information when putting together their 2-D models of their suggested design schemes).

So what did the designers at Havenly, Laurel & Wolf and Homepolish come up with? Let’s take a look, shall we:

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The designer from Laurel & Wolf suggested this design (with their existing coffee table) for Vijay and Anita’s living room. (Image credit: Laurel & Wolf)

Laurel & Wolf

Thoughts from Anita & Vijay: “We were provided with a couple of mood boards to help set the general direction and while they were perfectly nice, we didn’t really love anything. We liked how modern and sleek everything was while fitting into our industrial space. It felt like the pieces would fit in really well. However, we were missing some of the bright colors and warmth that we were hoping for. Everything was quite earthy and subdued. We worked back and forth from there with our designer, April, to look at different options for each piece of furniture. April definitely went above and beyond on our request for a “modern yet comfy couch” (that’s surprisingly hard to find!) by even going to a store in person, sitting on couches, and sending us pictures. That really impressed us. She definitely put a lot of time going back and forth with us. That being said, when all was said and done, it kind of felt like we were continually missing the mark on finding our true style. While we liked the things she chose, even after feedback, it wasn’t perfect us.”

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Thoughts from Anita & Vijay: “Similarly to L&W, we also started with a few general mood boards to get a sense of our aesthetic. Unlike L&W though, we actually loved everything we saw from Havenly. Though some things were more our style than others, we looked at all of them and smiled because we knew we were headed in the right direction. Again, we chose one as a starting place and then built off of that. We loved how bright and colorful everything was, even though some of the initial pieces were more eclectic than may be within our comfort zone! We used this stage to really home in on what colors and patterns we liked and didn’t like.


Homepolish works off of a different model than Laurel & Wolf and Havenly; its focus is on matching a customer with a local designer to work in a more traditional client/designer manner, rather than providing virtual decor recommendations. For their project, Vijay & Anita didn’t have the same luck with ease of process using Homepolish that they did with the other two companies. “After our in-person consultation, we heard back (after several weeks) with a recommended time proposal,” says Vijay. “The style points/suggestions were almost verbatim what we had discussed in person and there were no additional insights or suggestions, which was surprising, frankly. Also, the price was going to end up being far above what we wanted to spend, so we stopped the process here.”

Once Vijay and Anita decided to move on from Homepolish, it was all about the back and forth with Havenly and Laurel & Wolf, tweaking design concepts with each for both their living and dining rooms until they felt comfortable moving in one particular direction with one designer. Click through below to see how they moved forward and the “after” photos!