Hey everyone! This one is a long one – so you might want to get yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine depending on what time you are reading it. Little known fact about me. I am inquisitive by nature and love to find out what makes things work and what makes them flop. When I graduated from Marymount in 2009 fresh with my MA in Interior Design and with all of my ASID and IIDA designations in place – the logical place to end up was in a top design firm in the Washington, DC area. Well….I had already had enough of firm life after at that point being in law firms for 11 years. I knew automatically that was not going to be my dream interior design work environment. I loved hotels and restaurants, but just had no interest in a large design firm. When completing my MBA five years prior (yep, I went back to back graduate programs – nope, I don’t know what I was thinking lol), I knew that all roads were leading to online EVERYTHING. I knew interior design would be no different, so I decided early on that online interior design was where I wanted to be. By the time I left my law firm in 2014, I already had clients under my belt, and I was comfortably settled into design. Not long after that came the Laurel & Wolf’s and the Havenly’s. I still have my unsolicited online recruitment email from Laurel & Wolf. I never bothered to respond to them because I kind of thought how tacky of them to try to recruit an established independent interior designer onto their platform at the (at that time) ridiculous pay they were offering. I remember thinking that they would be no big deal and simply moving the email to my “Keep this for a Needed Laugh” file. Well, we all know what happened to Laurel & Wolf (Home Polish, too), but we still have Havenly and Modsy trying to hang on.
Back in September, I finally got curious. I needed to know what tempted clients to try their services over a professional interior designer. Was it just the sleek marketing or were those services truly simply better than going the traditional interior design route? So I contacted Modsy, quickly completed their software training, testing, and onboarding and OMG….. what I learned…… Payment to the designer aside – this really is not about that or the lack thereof – this is about the treatment of the client and the interior design process or lack thereof of that.
Red Flag Number One. The first thing that really bothered me about the experience was the application of a client’s budget. Without revealing their proprietary numbers, it is no secret that when you purchase a Modsy package – you can specify whether you have a low, medium, or high budget to guide the process of completing your room. In many cases, clients would state please do not go over a certain dollar amount. Let us use the example of $2000 as the number value here. You would then be placed in a tier of low budget and we had a table to refer to for each tier. The table would have furnishings listed individually and would state a price range of what items we were to place in the design per that budget. In most cases, a stated budget of $2000 would result in a completed room with a final total cost of $8000 or more. While we were encouraged to stay in the referenced budget for the main items such as a sofa or coffee table – we then incorporated other items such as throw pillows that were $50 or more to a room with a $2000 budget. If clients needed to specifically address concerns, such as storage options, we devoted another large part of the budget to that. The overall thought was that as an online platform, purchases – no matter if they were out of budget or not – could be made later and at a time when the customer maybe had more money to allocate to those purchases – especially if it were something the customer really wanted to purchase. This made utterly no sense to me. You are absolutely guaranteed to upset a client using this type of reasoning. But more about that later.
Red Flag Number Two. Modsy has a turnround of about 7 days from payment until you receive your first set of designs. As an initial designer (oh, you did not know that there were several layers of designers that your project goes through during the completion of your room? Oh yes, there are levels to this. We will get back to that, too.) we received your design from the pipeline most of the time on the same day it was expected to be released back to you, the customer. We were encouraged to complete your two initial designs within a 2-3-hour timeframe to meet that 7-day goal. To help in that goal, prearranged templates are built into the software so that items can be simply and quickly swapped out to change the look here and there for both initial designs. You know what happens with a 2-3-hour design? It ends up looking exactly how a 2-3-hour design sounds like it would look. You cannot possibly produce your best work within an unrealistic 2-3-hour deadline. And if you do want to take more time to appropriately address a client’s concerns, you end up on a late room list or considered a slow designer. Once the design is sent to you and the inevitable rating is low and the request for changes comes in – the design is next sent (at that time) to a redesign specialist to send you a few words, change a few things in the design, and send it right back off to you as if they were the same designer that worked on the first run. Every designer gets a star rating for each design. Two designs per room required to be completed in 2-3-hours with a completely blown budget…..? What could possibly go wrong with that, right? Not. Done. Yet.
Red Flag Number Three. Modsy (just as I am sure almost all platforms do) has wholesale and partnership vendors for furnishings and décor. Most of the time, it is evident that customers are not coming to Modsy to purchase furniture. They simply need room furniture layout suggestions because when you are living in a space for certain amount of time – it can be hard for some to visualize how to change furniture around in their space. That is where a service like this can be helpful. However, if they do want to purchase furniture, having the same furniture in the templates such as West Elm or CB2 just is not a good idea. For one thing, every room ends up looking the same. I really do like their Ravine Home collection for sofas and chairs, and we were pushed to include those instead of the more popular brands when we could. Since it is their brand, of course it would net them the most profit. Not mad at all about that, but it still does not negate the fact that in between the templates and the restriction of vendor usage to their partnerships – everything seemed so…..similar. There was no uniqueness about it. To the point that we could save a block of items in our practice rooms and paste them into a paying client’s room (that is how we mostly met the 2-3-hour turnaround time) and sent the room off as completed. This would NEVER be done with a client that contacted you for services. I was appalled.
To Sum. Everything I learned about professional practice in class and in ASID or IIDA was completely shattered in daily practice on this platform. What I hear about Havenly has not been much better. The entire point of interior design is to provide a client with a space that is unique to them; falls within their budget; all while using an organic process to arrive at a solution that they love. Not throwing together pieces within a tight timeframe just to encourage a customer to spend additional money on an overpriced presentation of stuff that is not what they asked for. The most brutal part of working for these platforms? The rating system. Every Monday morning, designers would receive a Looker email that let them know exactly what their rating was for each room they completed during the week. Again, I ask – getting rated for two designs that you are pushed to get out in an unrealistic timeframe with an overblown budget when a client specifically asked you to stay within a certain range. What could go wrong with that? Right? Right??! Well, if you went below a certain rating number you were placed on probation. Some designers were let go. All this for following the platform rules for completing rooms. What the…..?? I personally never sweated the ratings because in my mind, I knew the ratings were not about me because they were not truly reflective of my work. I would never do in my professional practice what they were requiring us to do to push or sell items for them. You will always be disappointed with a process like this because there is no uniqueness to it. And I know that ordering the furniture through them is problematic as well with as many items that would go out of stock not 10 minutes after placing them in a design. These platforms just do not compare to working with a professional online interior designer.
This is why it never surprises me when I get a client that just had a design completed by one of these platforms. The platform special price lures them in, but what they do not understand until after the fact is that the reason interior designers charge more – even for an online interior design solution – is because for us, you are paying for the process that we have developed and honed. The phrase “if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur” is totally appropriate here. We are not bound by unrealistic turnaround expectations, we set our own realistic turnaround for each client. We are not limited to pushing out templates or using a partner vendor when another vendor with no affiliation would be the better choice. We know where to source to get the items you will love. Full disclosure, while I am a Like to Know It Influencer and an Amazon Associate, it might surprise you know that I do not personally believe in affiliates and affiliate links. Whenever I post a design, people ask where I found something. Until I joined these programs last year, I would not reveal the sources because I felt bad revealing the links of a project that a client paid me for to someone else for free. Something about that just felt wrong to me. Now I get a release from the client to post the project online (sans their personal information) that automatically includes a release for me to post the links in my Shop my Likes. Unless I have used the item in a project or I genuinely love the item, you will rarely if ever see me just pushing items for sale in social media or on my blog. I am an interior designer, and my first love is space planning with my second love being finishes. It is not my goal to spend my day pushing products to you for purchase so that I get a residual. It is my goal to design an effective space for you within your budget. And honestly, this is what sets professional interior designers apart from the online platforms.
I offer virtual consultations, online interior design, and if you are local – I also offer traditional in-home interior design services. If you are a realtor, ask me about my virtual home staging service and how together we can get a home listing sold faster at a fraction of the cost of traditional home stating services! Please let me know what you think of this design in the comments and be sure to check back regularly for more design inspiration! If you find you need any design assistance, please contact me at email@example.com (yes .co) for a consultation.
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