SCENARIO: YOU’VE GOT A NEW PLACE, and it’s a fresh canvas. White walls, white trim, lovely floors, lovely light, lovely everything. The only issue? It’s rather empty. After schlepping several carloads of castoffs to Goodwill, you’ve narrowed down your belongings to a clean-lined sofa, a matching pair of armchairs, that midcentury credenza you scored on Craigslist and some art that holds personal meaning. And even though you’ve got an overwhelmingly expansive Pinterest board titled “The New House!!” and an RSS feed jammed with the latest 28-best this and the 34-best that, you’re flailing. You’ve gone so far as to start shopping online, placing items—a kilim rug, a linen duvet, a marble-topped table—in phantom “carts,” but never feeling sure enough of yourself to enter those 16 digits. Because that would mean commitment. And that, as we all know, is terrifying.
Sound familiar? (It’s almost too familiar to this writer. Because, you know, been there, marble table and all.) If so, this is probably fairly familiar, as well: the desire to turn over those white walls and lovely everything to a designer who just gets it—who knows what you’re after and how to magically, almost effortlessly, make it all come together. Who makes commitment far less terrifying.
And whose going rate is roughly twice your mortgage.
Until, say, four years ago, you’d have been stuck. But something’s happened to the design industry, folks, and that thing is the internet. OK, sure, the internet’s been around for a little longer than four years, but that’s when tech-y startups began popping up with solutions for homeowners big on ideas and not so big on budgets: online interior-design services. In a nutshell: You upload photos and dimensions of your space, as well as links to inspiration (hello, Houzz and Pinterest). You collaborate with a vetted designer and presto, change-o! You’ve got a custom mood board, a how-to layout and a list of impeccably curated ready-to-order products to fill your once-empty room. They’ll even handle the ordering for you. All you’ve got to do is answer the door when the Crate & Barrel delivery man arrives and have a screwdriver on hand.
The numbers in support of these services are astounding. In March of this year alone, Denver-based startup Havenly, which was created by a pair of sisters who struggled to find reasonably priced design help, registered 25,000 new users. Leura Fine, founder of Laurel & Wolf, was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list this year, and for good reason: Launched in 2014, her company has since secured upward of $25 million in funding. And the startup Homepolish—which allows clients to purchase top-notch designers by the hour, and, unfortunately, is not yet afoot in Arkansas—has 888,000 Instagram followers and has collaborated on the design of more than 10,000 homes since its founding in 2012.
But it’s not just Bay-area tech firms jumping on the online interior-design wagon. It seems traditional full-service designers—here locally, the likes of Katie Henry and Tobi Fairley—view e-services as an opportunity to tap into audiences they hadn’t reached before: transient apartment dwellers, say, or folks who admire the designer’s aesthetic but don’t live in pop-on-over range (like a Southern belle hankering for a SoCal vibe). These designers know, however, that this convenience comes with a caveat: If you’re after custom everything, and if you’re looking for more of a collaborative, conversational kind of relationship, you can’t beat a full-service designer, who’ll handle everything from idea to install.
If you’re not, though, know this: The world is your well-designed oyster. And just in case you’re currently having a hard time finding your way out of that white-wall, empty-room haze, here are five services to turn to that will help cast the net.
$79 – $199
Yep, you read that right: For $79, Havenly offers a “mini” session, in which your designer sends along two concept boards and a list of product suggestions, and offers complimentary buying service (meaning, they’ll take care of all the ordering). It all starts with an online style survey: Are you eclectic-Scandinavian? Or “Boho,” perhaps? Then you choose the type of room you’re needing help with, name a budget, upload a photo of the space, along with its dimensions, and add links to online inspiration. Bonus: Even if you don’t sign up for the service, you can still shop dreamy moodboards curated by Havenly’s designers—turns out those killer Dorothy Draper-style chests you’ve been searching for are just a click away. (havenly.com)
LAUREL & WOLF
$399 – $599
With the largest network of vetted designers (more than 1,000!), this service, created by longtime interior designer Leura Fine, prides itself on being able to satisfy even the choosiest of clients. And here’s why: You get to pick your designer from among the ranks. It’s kind of like Match.com. You say you’re interested, see who’s interested back and get to choose the lucky suitor. Once you’ve landed on your match and have your mood board in hand, you’ll have 10 full days of open communication to fine-tune that final design. In other words: Cue the collaboration. (laurelandwolf.com)
Upload photos and dimensions of your space, like this Laurel & Wolf client did for her master bedroom, and you’ll receive a custom moodboard (right) and all the instructions you need to make it a reality (below).
KATIE GRACE DESIGNS
$750 and up
Perhaps you’ve stumbled across Little Rock-based designer Katie Henry’s Instagram feed—chock-a-block with inspiring behind-the-scenes shots from clients’ projects—and thought, Wish I could hire her. Good news: For $750 per room, you’ll get a phone consultation, a design board, links to suggested items and two revisions. Not only is it a good way to spruce up your space, but it’s also a way to do so on your own time: Add a piece here, save up for that piece later. No pressure. (katiegracedesigns.com)
TOBI FAIRLEY DESIGN
$1,350 and up
Tobi Fairley, that longtime darling of the Little Rock design world, is seemingly everywhere these days, what with her national-design-magazine mentions, burgeoning furniture and fabric lines, and long list of across-the-country clientele. But with the designer’s Inbox Interiors service, you can still get a dose of Tobi’s signature bold-and-bright aesthetic, no matter where she’s traveling. Send photos and dimensions of your space via email, and you’ll receive a box loaded with a lookbook, a shopping list, sketches and elevations, even paint and fabric samples. Think of it as a happy medium between completely digital and 100 percent full-service designing. (inboxinteriors.com)
EMILY HENDERSON DESIGN’S E-SERVICE
$2,000 and up
Perhaps you watched along as she became an HGTV star. Or maybe you’ve admired her quirky style from afar these past few years, following along on her standout design blog. In any case, you probably never knew this: Those photos you’ve been pinning from her Pinterest page? They could be photos of your own home. Because even though she’s way over in LaLa Land, her e-services mean she’s just a click (and a couple grand) away. Well worth it, we’d say, for a chance to live in one of her eclectic, mega-watt spaces. And if you don’t have $2,000 to shell out for a room design but have, say, a couch you just don’t know what to do with, try her “Design Agony” service, where you email her a burning design question, and she responds with a quote and advice on how to tackle it. (stylebyemilyhenderson.com)
Fans of a California-cool aesthetic will find a friend in designer Emily Henderson, whose e-services include a space plan and mood board