GWU students start design business ZOOM Interiors

June 26, 2013

Amelia wants a new room. Mature, bright, somewhat trendy. She wants her gymnastics medals on the wall and her desk clean. She wants a place where 10-year-old her can grow, where those medals can give way to bigger medals — and to accomplishments as yet unimagined.

ZOOM Interiors — a design business run by three George Washington University 22-year-olds, two undergrads and a recent graduate — took on the responsibility of guiding Amelia’s room from tweendom to teendom.

Beatrice Fischel-Bock, Madeline Fraser and Elizabeth Grover met in 2010 and took nearly all their interior design classes together. The trio, united by a similar aesthetic, realized there was a design void for young customers who needed help decorating dorm rooms or first apartments on a budget. (And for those, such as Amelia and her parents, looking for a youthful sensibility and a quick turnaround.)

“We wanted to take control of the market of 18- to 35-year-olds who want their first semi-professional apartments [decorated] quickly and cheaply,” Fischel-Bock says in a coffee-shop meeting, “which is luckily basically all of D.C.”

They began conducting informal design trials while studying abroad in London. They would rearrange rooms for friends, advising them to buy furniture if necessary. “It really made us realize how far we could go for little to no budget,” Fraser says.

Think of ZOOM as an Internet-age “Trading Spaces” sans the panic — and the chance of hating it. A client’s first contact with the company is through its Web site, zoominteriorsdesign.com, which guides them through the process with questions about personal style, preferred palette and price range. A budget — from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand — is determined at the outset. Twenty-four hours later, the client gets a response and, soon thereafter, a ZOOMboard, an online collage of what their room would look like with ZOOM in charge.

The bargain-hunting is done by Grover, who rummages through wholesale sites for deals and thinks of ways to refurbish the client’s furniture. “That’s what fuels this business,” she says. “There’s no other place to find stuff cheaper than the Internet.”

ZOOM’s clients pay a flat $149 fee for design and a 15 percent service charge in addition to the cost of any new furnishings they opt to buy. (For those outside the region, ZOOM will order furnishings and provide a step-by-step installation packet.)

The process takes an average of three to four weeks, depending on the response time of the client. “Everyone wants things fast now. That’s why we’ve become so successful online so quickly,” Fischel-Bock says. “We know people don’t want to drown in details. We give them what they want quickly and efficiently and cheaply.”

And, she points out, they experience immediate results. “We’re in the age of instant gratification, and it makes sense that we leave and also feel instant gratification in that the room is totally done,” Fischel-Bock says.

Relying only on social media and word of mouth, they have redecorated more than 40 rooms in four months. A spot on the Hallmark channel’s “Home & Family” led a woman in Florida to ask the team to renovate two new wings of her mobile home; Instagram tags led a sorority at Duke University to ask for a house revamp.

The money they make is going directly back into the company; the trio say building a trustworthy brand is their short-term goal. “To see the reaction in the client and that it’s changing their energy about the room and their lives is enough reward at the moment,” Fraser says.

The ZOOM team redecorated Amelia’s space in four hours. She now has the bedroom of her dreams, created by three young women who are making theirs come true, too. A wall of medals hangs above her bed, posters of Gabby Douglas encircle a mirror, mementoes and memories are framed and, yes, her desk is clean.

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