Would you use an online interior design service?
By Linda Merrill, Networx
These days, we look to the internet for nearly every question and need that comes up, including decorating ideas. There is no doubt that there are hundreds of thousands of websites that offer inspiration and design tips. There is a wealth of knowledge available, and yet, it can be tricky to apply these inspiring images to our own situations. It's not unlike when we bring a photo of a celebrity to our hair stylist and ask for the same style. Will that style work on your face and with your hair texture? And more importantly, will you have a comb-wielding stylist always at the ready out of camera range to fluff and buff you? Sometimes, we need a professional to step in and provide a more custom plan to meet our needs and desires. This is where "e-decorating", also known as "virtual decorating", comes into play.
What is "virtual interior design" and how does it work?
There are many professional interior designers who are now offering this service in addition to their regular in-person service offerings. While it varies designer to designer, the basic concept is that you are not only the client, but also the designer's on-site assistant. Rather than meeting in-person, you provide the designer, based on their instructions, with photographs and measurements of your space. You will also be asked to provide detailed information about what you are looking to achieve, preferred design style and a budget range. Your designer will take all of this information and create a custom plan created specifically for your space. Most likely, all the furnishings, fabrics and accessories will be available locally or online at retail outlets. The designer will send you some form of finalized project planner (the deliverable) either via email or snail mail, which you can then take and implement either fully or in part as you wish. The plan, which always requires 100% payment up front, usually comes "as is" and any additional input from the designer is billed separately.
Who does this work best for?
The best clients for this type of service are those who love the process of interior design but are less certain about their ability to pull together a cohesive look. You should be able to take clear photographs and understand the importance of recording accurate measurements of the floor, walls, window openings and any other information the designer requests. And you should be able to clearly communicate what you're looking for and your likes and dislikes. As with data-entry, it's a "garbage in/garbage out" situation. The more complete and accurate information you provide the designer, the better they can serve you. This is not a good service for those who prefer more personalized attention, like to see different options or don't have basic computer and digital photography skills.
How and why do fees vary and what the "deliverables" are:
As with traditional interior design services, the fees are based on the "deliverables" provided as well as the experience level of the designer. Both Betsy Burnham's instant/space and Tobi Fairley's InBox Interiors deliver a beautiful physical presentation box filled with design planners, fabric, paint and wallpaper samples, floor plans, shopping lists and installation instructions. I offer a Jump Start! Virtual design planner that delivers a digital "look book" with all the same information as the other services, delivered electronically; the fees for this service are priced accordingly. However, fees should never be the only factor when selecting a designer.
How do I know if the designer is any good?
As with any service, a little research will go a long way. You should always consider the designer's portfolio and professional standing when choosing a designer. The best virtual design plans will come from designers who either currently, or have in the past, provided in-person full design services and have a wealth of demonstrated experience. While these services are not "design on a dime" inexpensive, you do get what you pay for in most cases. Professionals who offer virtual design services in conjunction with traditional "in-person" offerings take all their client projects seriously and will always offer each client - whether in-person or online - their best work for the best result. After all, our names are on every design we create.
Linda Merrill is an interior decorator who works with Boston-area remodelers.