Great interior design is everywhere these days. We can flip through the pages of shelter magazines and see one striking living room after another. Plug in “kitchen design” on Pinterest and you’ll come up with thousands of images. Peruse Houzz or watch a segment on HGTV and your head swims with possibilities.

Yet the process of re-creating what we see on screens and in magazines can be overwhelming — so much so that we crave a professional to guide the process. For decades, hiring an interior designer was something only affluent homeowners did, after all, you could spend thousands on a consult. For most people, that’s out of the question.


Now a number of services are offering interior design expertise online — in hopes of reaching a greater number of design-savvy shoppers.

Gretchen Hansen is part of that target audience. Three years ago, she fell in love with two chairs designed by 1970s Modernist Milo Baughman. She lugged the chrome-legged chairs up the stairs of her San Francisco house and arranged them.

“They looked awful, the scale was wrong, the color was wrong. The style didn’t seem to fit with our traditional house,” says Hansen. She called an interior designer friend in a panic. “I sent her a photo of the chairs and three days later she came over with a rug, a table, and a couple of pillows. All of a sudden the chairs worked, it was a magical transformation. I asked her, ‘Could you design rooms for other people based on photos?’ ”

A light bulb went off for Hansen, whose background is in consumer products marketing. She started researching and conducting surveys.

“Eighty five percent of the women we talked to felt that having the inside of their home be well put together was really important,” she says. “They were spending more and more time online researching ways to make it look better and they were more stressed because of all the choices.” More than half of the women surveyed said they would hire a designer if they could afford it.


Two years ago, Hansen launched Decorist. The site offers access to designers who fall into three categories with different price points. Classic costs $299 per room; Elite, where the designer has five or more years of experience, runs $599 per room; and Celebrity, where well-known designers including India Hicks and Celerie Kemble will tackle your project for $1,299.

Customers answer questions about style and budget and send photographs and measurements of the room. The designer then creates two design concepts. The customer selects one, and a final plan, which includes a floor plan, set-up instructions, and a shopping list, is refined by the designer.

Other services follow a similar platform.

Havenly, started by Harvard Business School graduate Lee Mayer, offers a full design package for $199 per room and a “mini” for $79 that includes two to three design ideas and a shopable design concept. Within 48 hours of submitting room photos and measurements, your selected designer will send along ideas and their initial thoughts on the space. If you don’t like the concept, you can select a new designer.

“After that, you work online with the designer, and the process can be as collaborative as you want it to be,” says Mayer.

Once the design is complete, the Havenly designer (Decorist has a similar process) fills an online shopping cart with the furnishings and accessories needed to make the scheme come together and you can check out in one place. Most stores are recognizable, like Pottery Barn and West Elm.


Local interior designers like Needham-based Dina Holland sometimes offer online services as a component of their business.

“When I go to the Boston Design Center, I sometimes think that it’s an antiquated way to do interior design. It’s presuming that clients have all this time to go look at all the options with you. People do so much shopping online, they want to be able to do this online too,” says Holland, who began offering online design to her clients after the birth of her sons.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to schedule face to face meetings with clients. I started doing this because it was flexible; I could put in a few hours here and there.”

Hansen, of Decorist, launched the site with fewer than 15 designers but now has 400. She thinks that the flexible schedule is a big part of why designers join.

Online interior design is for the client who needs motivation and a little direction, says Holland.

“It’s for someone who doesn’t need her hand held for everything — they can handle the installation and the shopping on their own.” Holland’s room pricing begins at $500 for small areas up to $1,450 for large rooms.

Holland strives to get a design plan in place in about four weeks — her package includes an online source list, floor plan, and design board — however, if the client is particularly motivated, she can often have something in two weeks.


“There is a much quicker turnaround time with e-design,” she says. In a traditional dining room design, it could take three months to have a custom table made. Last year, I had a client come to me in October and say she needed a new dining room by Thanksgiving and we did it all in six weeks.”

Newton interior designer Liz Caan says that online platforms are giving busy young families access to interior design for the first time. Her firm offers online clients “Design to Go” kits that arrive in a clear acrylic box tied with a ribbon. Along with a master plan, the box includes a detailed schematic furniture plan, a book of fabric materials, a paint schedule, and furniture swatches along with a shopping list of resources.

“We’re giving the benefits of our resources,” says Caan. “It’s a great way for people to experiment using an interior designer but [not] jump in with both feet.”

Jaci Conry can be reached at jaci@jaciconry.com