Submit-pandemic A-list designers are providing digital assist for lots much less

A renovated New York City apartment following The Expert consultation sessions with designers Jessica Gersten and Athena Calderone.

The expert

Netflix binging aside, creating the perfect home may have been the pandemic’s most popular habit.

Whether it’s organizing a pantry or adding a home office, gym or spa-like bathroom, homeowners have been updating and expanding their spaces at record rates for over two years.

Although Americans are no longer sheltering at home, the recent rise in mortgage rates has encouraged more people to stay and renovate rather than move.

Even in the face of inflation, ongoing supply chain issues, and other factors, the vast majority of homeowners carry on with their planned home improvement projects in 2023, according to a Houzz poll of nearly 4,000 homeowners conducted in October.

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At the same time, Instagram and other social media platforms have raised the bar by showcasing an endless array of desirable spaces.

For most people, decorating is a daunting task, but hiring a professional is out of reach.

Few Americans can afford the high-end look pictured online, which often comes with the help of an A-list designer and a hefty budget. The average cost of hiring an interior designer can vary widely by region, scope, and whether it’s a flat rate, an hourly rate, or a percentage of the project, although big-name designers easily charge five or six figures.

“It’s a time-consuming and overwhelming process for many homeowners,” said Wayne Gao, co-founder and CEO of Australian company Furnishd, which offers virtual consultations for $850 per room or $3,250 for the whole home. “It also costs a fortune.”

Virtual design services offer real prices

This is where virtual services can add value at a fraction of the cost, added Leo Segal, co-founder and CEO of The Expert. “It’s almost like insurance to make sure you’re making the right decision.”

The Expert was launched in early 2021 by Segal and Los Angeles-based interior designer Jake Arnold. The service offers one-on-one consultations with over 150 well-known decorators, including Arnold, Martin Brudnizki, Brigette Romanek, Ashe Leandro and Rita Konig. Prices range from $250 for a 25 minute call to $2,000 for an hour.

Of course, online design help is not new. Even before 2020, there were services like Havenly and Homepolish. Retailers such as West Elm and Restoration Hardware also offer these services. However, this is where A-list decorators come into play.

“The pandemic has supercharged interior design and created the environment to even get designers to do this,” Segal said.

Americans are also willing to pay more based on what they see on sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. According to an analysis by McKinsey & Company, consumers are now being conditioned “to believe they can get what they want, whenever they want.”

However, home upgrades are a different level of spending altogether.

“Any renovation can get very expensive,” Segal said. “You can’t really afford to make a mistake.”

For consumers who want help but may not have the funds or access to a full-service design firm, “we’re bridging the gap,” he said.

The pandemic has supercharged interior design and created the environment to get designers to do it.

Leo Seigal

Co-founder and CEO of The Expert

Other top designers have also spun off their own virtual consulting service to meet demand for a cheaper and more accessible option.

Marianne Brown, lead designer and owner of W Design Collective, now also offers virtual design help starting at $500 for a 1-hour call, in addition to the high-end remodeling and full-service projects she’s known for and who cost significantly more.

“I couldn’t even afford it,” she said, referring to the latter.

More recently, however, Brown said she has wrestled with the impact the constant stream of home improvements on social media is having on homeowners and women in particular.

“At least when Vogue tells you your skinny jeans are ‘out’, just donate a $50 pair of jeans to Goodwill,” she said. “But when Architectural Digest tells you white kitchens are ‘out,’ hire an $8,000 painter to repaint your kitchen cabinets.”

Brown advises homeowners to resist the urge to keep up with the Joneses. Rather, she says think about how you’re going to use the space and make sure it reflects your personality. “What have I always loved? Where do I come from and where did I travel to? stay true to yourself.”

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