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There are a few cultural shifts and changes from the past year that feel especially poignant and important when I look back on it: the (long-awaited) respect for hard-and-necessary professions like teaching and service industry work, the prevalence of working from home, and the ability to say things like, “Ya know, I think I’m going to stay in tonight” without judgment. But there’s another thing that occurred to me when I was thinking about how staying home and social distancing have affected, well, everything: The meteoric rise of e-design.
Companies like Havenly and Modsy have offered accessible online services for years, but the world of online interior design is more ubiquitous and or diverse than ever. Designers big and small made the “pandemic pivot” into e-design work, offering virtual services alongside their more traditional services. Meanwhile, newcomers like The Expert (a high-level advice platform co-founded by celeb-favorite designer Jake Arnold) brought even more variety into the fold, making it an industry-altering trend.
So what is e-design exactly? Though it can differ from pro to pro, most virtual design services offer video calls coupled with things like shoppable mood boards and product lists to help clients implement their designers’ vision all on their own. You won’t find some of the traditional perks of working with a designer (like CAD drawings, project management, construction oversight, and install days), but you will get to tap coveted tastemakers for their knowledge and vision — all at a price point that is often more accessible than traditional interior design services.
Still, like a lot of things on the internet (I’m looking at you TikTok), e-design can be hard to get a handle on. When you have just an hour with a pro, you want to make the most of it, and figuring out how to convey your home’s needs and style virtually can be tough. I’m about to help you navigate this new, stylish world. I went straight to the source and tapped some favorite pros who offer e-design to get all their tips and tricks for getting the most bang for your buck during your session. Students, grab your notebooks.
Do your designer homework
Just like you would when hiring a designer in person, it’s important to do your research when you select an e-design pro to work with. Don’t underestimate this task, either — because their services are virtual, your pick isn’t dependent on location (as is sometimes the case with traditional interior design), so you’ll have a big selection to choose from.
Comb through the Instagram feeds and portfolios of a few pros that catch your eye, paying close attention to the way they work with color, pattern, and shape. “You always want to go with a designer whose aesthetic fits in with your style and vision,” says Velinda Hellen, who owns and operates Velinda Hellen Design and offers virtual services alongside her lead e-designer Grace DeAsis. “Starting with a single room or project can be a great way to ‘date’ a pro and make sure you vibe well together.”
Walk-throughs are key for a lot of designers as they first kick off their projects. Not only does it help them get a tangible feel for your home, but they can also identify needs and important factors (like lack of light or neighbors too close for comfort) that can impact their design. Because e-design doesn’t have in-person availability, it’s important that, as the client, you come to your virtual meeting as prepared as possible.
“At The Expert, we have clients fill out a survey prior to their session, which includes what phase their home is in, topics they want to discuss, and rooms to review,” explains Jake Arnold, interior designer and co-founder of The Expert. Whether or not your designer gives you a questionnaire ahead of time, it’s a good idea to go into your meeting armed with the knowledge Arnold mentions, plus other important must-haves like measurements, pics of your home, and information on existing pieces you’d like to work around.
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t be number shy during your e-design meeting. “Clients should always feel like they can be honest about their budget,” says Joy Moyler, owner and designer of Joy Moyler Interiors and pro on The Expert. “With that out in the open, your designer can then serve you better and make recommendations for the best products, materials, and furnishing to suit your project and your wallet.”
Another e-design essential? Imagery. All the pros I spoke to said they love when clients bring things like Pinterest boards to the table to help convey their ideas — but don’t expect your designer to replicate said shots. “Inspiration imagery is key and plays an even bigger role in e-design,” says Giana Shorthouse, a stylist and interior designer. “I recommend using Pinterest to collect inspiration and sharing the board with your designer. The more imagery we have, the better. As the pros, we can identify the common threads and hone in on a concept for you, but we first have to have a clear understanding of what you’re attracted to and what your end goal is.”
You may go into your e-design meeting all about an English-inspired kitchen and come out with something completely new based on your designer’s feedback and inspiration — and that’s kind of the goal.
“Remember, you’ve selected your designer because you trust their vision and aesthetic,” say Aymee Kuhlman and Molly Kidd, co-owners of the interior design studio Light & Dwell. “They may pitch an idea that you’ve never thought of, and we love when a client has an open mind. Know that your designer always has your best interest in mind — they won’t steer you wrong.”
Bring your knowledge to the table
Just like you’re relying on your designer to bring their taste to the table, they’ll be looking to you to color your home (and even local area) for them. If you’re working with a virtual pro that isn’t actually located nearby, they may not know about your favorite local kitchen decor shop, the contractor that can totally nail your dream backsplash design, or the flea market downtown where you always score the best wood furniture.
Likewise, you’ll want to advocate for your house, too — if your ceilings slope or a mudroom door opens right into your designer’s proposed kitchen dining nook, bring it up. “When it comes to knowing how you use your space, you’re 100 percent the expert over your designer,” says Hellen. “You know important things like the quirks of your home, where things need to be stored, how many people need to be seated, what heirloom needs to stay, and more.”
Here’s the thing about e-design: A lot of times, you only get one chance to talk to your designer (or one, maybe two, revisions on a mood board). Because of this, it’s important to write down everything they say, so you can execute on their directives properly.
“Come prepared to take notes about your designer’s suggestions during your call,” says Arnold. “If you’re video chatting with an expert, you can even ask if they’re ok with you recording your session together via Zoom.” Think of your notes as a helpful roadmap to guide the execution and installation of your design plan — because, when it comes to e-design, both of those things are on you.
Among the many things the pandemic has made a bit harder: product fulfillment. It’s not unusual to have to wait two, four, or even six (!!) months to get a larger decor item, so time is of the essence once you get your mood board or design scheme from your pro. You’ll want to act fast — not only so you can finish pulling your room together, but also to ensure there’s stock available.
“Be ready to place your orders when your design is ready,” suggests Shorthouse. “With e-design, designers are limited to sourcing from major retailers, but stock and inventory changes quickly from day-to-day, so any lag time between receiving your final design and placing orders can mean that some of the items selected by your designer may no longer be available. It can end up being a wasted investment on your end — you’ve paid the designer to make those selections for you based on your timeline, and you’ll end up having to spend more money to go back to the them to ask for additional selections.
One of the great things about e-design is the sense of pride it can give the homeowner (that’s you!) once everything is pulled together. Sure, your skilled pro helped you narrow in on your inspiration, pulled together your vision, and pointed you in the direction of some really awesome things to buy, but you had a hand in the execution, too. From building shelves and hanging curtains to perfecting the perfect pillow chop, you’re the glue that brings the whole scheme together. Tout you and your designer’s hard work by shooting some photos once your space is styled up — your designer will probably appreciate it too, since they rarely (if ever) get shots of their e-design projects.