The Online Decorator Secret Shopper Makeover: A Real-Life Rental Before & After in Philadelphia

published Feb 26, 2017
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(Image credit: Carina Romano)

It’s a funny thing what happens when you move into a new home. All of a sudden, the furniture pieces that worked so well for you in your previous abode just don’t feel…right anymore. Sure, some things transition seamlessly, but others end up feeling too small or too basic in the new space. Vijay Nathan—Apartment Therapy Media’s Product Manager—and his wife Anita would certainly agree.

If you’ve been following along with the couple’s rental loft 2.0 journey, it’s time for the grand finale…the big reveal of their (mostly) new and improved living and dining rooms. Last post, we saw a variety of mood boards provided by the designers they worked with both at Havenly and Laurel & Wolf, sites that offer professional design services for a fraction of the cost of hiring a private interior designer. They shared their likes and dislikes, but ultimately decided to move forward with the plan from Havenly.

Did you miss the earlier posts in this series?

As a reminder, here’s what the designer from Havenly proposed to Vijay and Anita after learning that they craved rich colors, fun art, plenty of seating to ease entertaining, all with a touch of glam:

“We both were sincerely excited by the colors and concepts in our Havenly designer’s proposals—if there was one item we didn’t like, she magically found an alternative that we both agreed on,” says Anita. “Asking for a sleek version of glam that works within a raw space like ours, with pops that represent our Indian heritage was a tall order, and yet they managed to deliver! Though we didn’t buy every single piece or use the recommended design 100 percent, it really helped put us on a good path for our future.”

The Big Reveal

The Dining Room – Before

The Dining Room – After

Thoughts from Anita & Vijay: “The rug was the first thing we saw that we knew we had to have. We struggled with defining the space and this made it, especially with our huge dining table. We also really liked the idea of a big art piece above the buffet, though we opted for a pair of large prints from Etsy instead of mirrors or a mural. Now, we feel like we have distinct areas in our house, each with their own personality, but also very cohesive. It matches our lifestyle and we love it.”

A Side-By-Side Look:


The Living Room – Before

A too-small sofa and rug needed replacing in the old design of the couple’s living room. Though they love to entertain, they didn’t have enough room for guests to gather.

The Living Room – After

Thoughts from Anita & Vijay: “In the living room design, we loved the idea of a bright rug paired with a bold, yet subdued navy couch and using those pieces to create a defined living room space. While we didn’t end up going with a large media console or bookshelves, we ended up using the back wall as a secondary console area and instead of a woven hanging, we added a round mirror and art, which helps balance the other rectangular and square shapes.”

A Side-By-Side Look:


What’s Next

At the end of this months-long process, Vijay and Anita now have a home they are proud of, and discovered their design style along the way. “We’ve bought the furniture needed to make the space both inviting and functional and now, it’s just about filling in the gaps with some more artwork and decor pieces, which we’ll pick up as we continue to live life,” says Vijay. “This whole experiment was so helpful for us and led to a much more attractive, cohesive design than we could have pulled together ourselves. We have already recommended this process and Havenly in particular to at least two friends (who, coincidentally, ended up using the same Havenly designer we used—shout out to Luanne R!).”

Interested in working with an e-design company? Here are a few tips from Vijay & Anita:

  • Prep is key: “The most useful thing we did was measure our apartment, and measure the furniture that we were hoping to keep. When you’re putting together floor plans online and playing with the boards that are proposed, having a true sense of spacing and proportions is so helpful! Have an honest conversation about which pieces you absolutely want to keep and which pieces you’re willing to part with before even bringing in the designer.”
  • Money matters: “Knowing your budget per room is so important. Most of the services do a good job of working within your budget (albeit hitting just the limit), so giving them a realistic expectation of what you want to spend is crucial.”
  • Know your goals: “Be realistic about what your goal of this process is. You may (or may not) end up with a complete design in which you want to buy every single piece. But, for an affordable price, you’ll get a professional’s eye on your space to help point you in the right direction for the future.”
  • Have patience: “This is not an overnight process. Sometimes waiting for a response from the designer took a few days and there was a lot of back and forth, but in the scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal given how long we took to pull the trigger on some of the big-ticket furniture pieces!”
  • Be a savvy shopper: “All of these services could definitely improve on making it easier for us to buy the products directly through them. I have absolutely no issue with them getting an affiliate fee so long as we’re paying the lowest price possible! However, the internet makes it a little too easy to do competitive pricing. (Simple example: a rug that Havenly recommended as “trade direct”, was something we actually found on RugsUSA for less than half the price).