Welcome to the Age of Digital Home Design

Derek Abella

No showrooms, no flea markets, no chatty consultations over coffee. Can you really design your space from your laptop?

It might seem counterintuitive to consider redecorating at a time when it’s ill-advised to let anyone into your home, but it turns out a lot of us are doing just that. The design industry has made a frantic effort to adjust how it’s done business and to embrace the virtual world in a way it may have resisted in the past. After the failure of certain high-profile start-ups—most notably the online decorating service Homepolish—the industry is determined to get it right this time, riding today’s demand for all-digital services.

Welcome to the next phase of online decorating.

Related: These Brands and Apps Make It Easier to Renovate Your Home Virtually

Furniture makers including Roche Bobois, Ligne Roset, B&B Italia, and Molteni & C have revamped their websites to accommodate the increased traffic they’re seeing. Molteni is offering e-commerce for the first time in the United States; others are revealing retail pricing that was once only provided with an in-person visit. In the past, the brands had already offered some version of design services (some required a minimum purchase) but now do so online, often asking the client to walk them through the space via Zoom or FaceTime and to take measurements. Product selection takes place via video appointments with showroom staff who work with clients on mood boards and (often 3D) layouts. Natuzzi has even developed an app that allows clients to view layouts of an interior using virtual reality on a computer or a mobile device.

Julianna Morais, VP of design for Henrybuilt, a Seattle-based company known for warm, minimalist custom kitchen systems, has found a silver lining in this new way of communicating. “We always ask for photos of their space, but live video is much more helpful,” she says. “You get a better sense of their taste because we get the ‘grand tour’ more often, with a ‘walk and talk’ that yields a greater depth of information and understanding.” In addition, she’s found that the company’s extensive digital resource library, detailing options from finishes to accessories and hardware, is getting more traffic than ever before.

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams has offered design services for more than a decade that include most of the above, with faster delivery since it makes most of its own furniture and is based in North Carolina. During the pandemic it’s been delivering fabric samples to clients’ homes, then FaceTiming from the curb to discuss them in real (albeit socially distant) life, and real light. MG+BW’s services once required membership in its Comfort Club, but are now complimentary, with no minimum purchase.


Derek Abella

For those who want faster and cheaper help and who don’t want to commit to a single brand, there are sources like Modsy. This interior-design service, with prices running from $89 to $499, is completely online and very easy to use: Upload photos and measurements of your space, take a style quiz, schedule a call or chat with your designer, and within a week you’ll have two suggested layouts complete with furniture, accessories, and art (plus a selection of alternatives) that can be purchased with one click. The company’s new app has “effortless measurement technology” that captures dimensions and details by using your phone’s camera, and there’s no limit on revisions.

Related: Architects Share Predictions for the Future of Design After COVID-19

The Perfect Room is the new luxury entrant in this category: It’s the brainchild of L.A.-based industry veteran Kathryn Ireland, a designer on Million Dollar Decorators. Ireland’s site features rooms designed by other boldface names in the business, including Kardashian favorite Martyn Lawrence Bullard and Shabby Chic founder Rachel Ashwell, that users can shop by simply clicking on a shot that appeals and perusing a list of items to create that look, all from to-the-trade showrooms not open to the public. The Perfect Room also provides design packages ranging from a simple quick fix on an existing interior ($175) to assistance with more involved multi-room projects ($1,499) with digital floor plans, mood boards, fabric and paint samples, and a shopping list that was planned by top-notch designers, who, if you’re lucky, might include Ireland herself. “We listen and become an editor for our clients. That’s what the Perfect Room is all about,” says Ireland. “We’re taking years of experience from designers who are truly fabulous and well-known.”

Of course you can still hire an interior designer in the traditional way, communicating via FaceTime. A quick survey of talents including Kelly Wearstler, Nicole Fuller, Roman Alonso of Commune Design, Young Huh, and Mikel Welch found they’ve been servicing existing clients as well as signing new ones. “Good decorators inspect goods in person and have in-person meetings with clients. If you were someone who was just browsing the Internet, it was kind of suspicious,” says the New York–based Huh. And while Huh admits she thought it would be “hard to sell expensive product over the Internet, because you can’t see the depth of quality and the craftsmanship,” she’s solved that by sending boxes of samples, paired with detailed layouts and mood boards, directly to her clients so “they can touch and feel while I explain why this fabric or rug, for example, is so extraordinary.” Nicole Fuller, another New York–based designer (her clients have included Zac Posen and Steven Klein), does the same, with the added touch of including hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes with her sample packages.

Related: These Color Schemes Are Breaking the Old Rules of Home Design

Mikel Welch, a onetime designer on Trading Spaces, says he’s revamped his business model due to the pandemic— and is loving it. “It’s taken a lot of the annoying nuances and placed them in the hands of the client,” he says. “I had a consultation with an ongoing A-list client last week and he had to give me a measurement of the space he’d taken himself. This would typically never happen. A celebrity measuring for the designer...I’ll take it any day!”