Are Startups the New Interior Designers?

Last Thursday night, we were thrilled to join forces with the movers and shakers in home decor. During a lively cocktail party and panel discussion, we approached the delicate topic: Are Startups The New Interior Designers? With a mix of startups and designers in the crowd, it was a thought-provoking and insightful discussion!

Leaders from Homepolish, Dot & Bo, Laurel and Wolf, MACK, and Popsugar joined us in downtown San Francisco at Shooting Gallery, a white walls art gallery with a cool, approachable vibe.

Venue: Shooting Gallery

Homepolish, a service that matches local design talent with clients at affordable hourly rates, promoted the human touch element, describing how in-home visits from designers are still a critical component of the design process.

Laurel and Wolf, on the other hand, operates solely as an e-decorate service, connecting clients with designers from all over the country and providing design consultation solely online.

MACK offers an out-of-the-box solution for decorating a home. Their experienced design staff curate and put together entire room collections, which you purchase at the click of the button. Where Homepolish and Laurel & Wolf provide easier access to designers, MACK eliminates the need for a designer.

Janette Crawford (Homepolish), Tamara Mack (MACK), Alex Farkas (UGallery)

On the product side, we were joined by Dot & Bo, a fast-growing online retailer of home decor products. Do you have to see a painting in person before you buy it? Nope! Do you have to sit on a couch before you make the purchase? Not anymore! With ecommerce moving towards free shipping and easy returns, even the traditional “try before you buy” product categories can migrate online.

Regardless of each startup’s approach to the home decor industry, several common themes prevailed throughout the night:

1. The industry is ready for disruption. The traditional word of mouth model of interior design is outdated, and today’s consumers are ready for something new.

2. Democratization of the industry hinges on price transparency and standardizing the process of working with a designer. Companies like Homepolish are going so far as to pass the trade discount on to the client.

3. Traditional designers are benefiting from the changes, too. New business models take on the marketing and administrative tasks, meaning more of the designer’s hours are billable.

4. Styles move faster in the age of social and online mass media. A product or trend can catch on, disseminate, and disappear much faster than before, and design bloggers and online publications are the new trendsetters.

5. The role of the designer will never be irrelevant. In fact, it may be more relevant now than ever. As consumers have more access to products and design information through tools like Pinterest and Houzz, the overabundance of choice can be paralyzing. A designer’s role is shifting from sourcing products to narrowing down the scope of choice.

6. The jury is still out on whether in-person interaction will remain a critical component of design. With new online-only models paving the way and new technologies, like 3D video and room planning software, becoming more sophisticated, there is room for startups to try new approaches and shake up the industry.

A big thanks to Maggie Winterfeldt-Clark of Popsugar for moderating the event. And thank you to all who attended the event last week. We hope to share a glass of wine with you again soon! 

Moderator Maggie Winterfeldt Clark (Popsugar)

Catering by La Boulange