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Instant/space clients receive a linen-covered box containing a scale drawing of the room, an inspiration board, a shopping list and swatch books with suggestions for paint, fabric and furniture.
Instant/space clients receive a linen-covered box containing a scale drawing of the room, an inspiration board, a shopping list and swatch books with suggestions for paint, fabric and furniture. (By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
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"There's value in hiring an interior designer. You're paying for education, expertise and knowledge of things like spatial relationships, balance, scale and rhythm. Those are aspects integral to interior design that you can't cover by looking at a picture and filling in the blanks. It's not just about making pretty."

But for some, pretty is enough.

Bloggers John and Sherry Petersik of Richmond offer a Web-based decorating service, even though neither of them works in interior design or has any formal design training. Since they started offering their service last year, they've created virtual makeovers for more than 50 clients.

"You'd be surprised how many people don't care about our experience," says Sherry Petersik. "They just like our aesthetic. The proof is in the pudding. They've seen it, and that's what they want."

What the Petersiks' clients also want are affordable furnishings. The usual suspects on the bloggers' resource list include budget-friendly retailers JC Penney, Wal-Mart and Target.

But these services are not for everyone, cautions Linda Merrill, a designer and blogger in Boston who offers a wide range of Web-based consulting. She says those who use these services would rather spend money on furnishings than on a designer's time. "If you have a modest budget, you don't necessarily want to take 25 percent of that and pay a decorator."

According to several designers, virtual clients are typically 30-something women or young couples who are in their first home or have just remodeled or had a child. They are design-savvy people who want to make sure they do it right and avoid costly mistakes. They want help that takes them beyond what they can find flipping through the Pottery Barn catalogue.

"Most are $1,500 to $2,000 sofa people," says Southern California designer and blogger Megan Arquette, who started her Room-to-Go service 2 1/2 years ago. "They're done with the baby thing, so now they want their house to be cute and pulled-together. They would love to do it on their own, but they need help. They want a grown-up house, but they don't necessarily have the resources to hire an interior designer."

By eliminating the full services of an interior designer, clients avoid the costs of hefty retainers, hourly fees and furniture markups, which can accumulate quickly.

Web-based design also feeds the ever-growing need to have it now. "Everything is electronic," L.A.-based designer and blogger Vanessa De Vargas says about her service, E-Decorating. Her Web-based clients receive a design plan via e-mail with prices and links. "You get it, you click on it, you buy it."

With a design plan in hand, homeowners can work within their own timeline and budget, doing part of the plan now and another part in two years. They can commit to as much or as little as they wish. If they don't like something in the plan, there's no obligation to go forward or any awkwardness about having to say no. "It's more private in the sense that no one is in your house, and you don't feel you're being judged," De Vargas says.

But the comfort of privacy may ultimately undermine the design. "You take the personal interaction out of the equation, and there's a big part of the design that's missing," Baglino says.

He suggests that those on a budget find a local design school grad who will have the skills, just not the experience.

"There's no substitute for one-on-one human contact," he says. "You need that to create an outstanding design."

Even Kavulla, who had success with Web-based design in her New York apartment, agrees.

"Certainly there are things you can't account for unless you're in the space, but in terms of cost, we got what we paid for," she said. "It's not a perfect service, so you're not going to get a perfect product, but it's 10,000 times better than doing it on my own and making expensive mistakes."

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