My friend is not alone. These days, even the most unhandy of us have found ourselves DIYing our way out of household troubles. Others are looking around and noticing the need for improvements, whether that be redecorating, organizing or landscaping. And working and schooling from home have presented new challenges that highlight our need to reimagine how we use our rooms.
The good news in these troubling times is that there is plenty of online/teleconferencing help to be had. And although YouTube can be a godsend, sometimes you just want or need to talk to someone face-to-face, even if it’s on Zoom.
TaskRabbit (taskrabbit.com), the site that pairs people seeking help with people (called “Taskers”) willing to do their tasks, is still providing some in-person — albeit contactless — jobs, such as pickups and deliveries. But it is also providing virtual help. You can consult with someone about minor home repairs, organizing help or assembling a piece of furniture. (TaskRabbit is a subsidiary of Ingka Group, which owns most Ikea stores, and much of TaskRabbit’s business is tied to assembling Ikea’s notoriously difficult-to-assemble furniture.)
“We’ve heard from clients who need a number of items assembled, from desks to accommodate new work-from-home setups to treadmills and ellipticals for home workouts, to barbecues and trampolines for the backyard,” says Sarah Fried Rose, TaskRabbit’s president. The company’s virtual/online appointments can be conducted with a phone call or by videoconference using a third-party service such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype.
When it comes to fees, the Taskers, who are well-vetted independent contractors, set their own hourly rates. They also choose when and how they work, so getting an appointment through the TaskRabbit site or app is relatively easy. In case you get sick, the company has waived all cancellation fees for clients who cancel within 24 hours of the scheduled start time.
If you need home repair or home maintenance help, try contacting Sheltr (getsheltr.com). Originally founded to provide yearly in-person checkups (think your annual doctor’s appointment, but for your home) to do things such as change smoke detector batteries, replace HVAC filters, clean dryer vents and identify potentially problematic issues before they become costly repairs, Sheltr has opened its figurative doors: Until the beginning of April, the service was only available to a select group of customers from Sheltr’s parent company, Hippo Insurance. Now, the company has made its services — virtual only — available to anyone in the United States.
“We know home strain is going to be a mounting issue for all of us, so we wanted to find a way to help,” says Andrew Wynn, director of home services at Hippo. Aside from helping you — a potential new Hippo customer — Wynn says the service also gives its professionals an opportunity to reach new clients and continue doing business.
All you do is sign up through Sheltr’s site and select an appointment time, and you will be connected with a certified professional. Appointments are done via video chat and last 30 minutes. Pros will help troubleshoot and hopefully resolve your problem, and if not, they will help arrange for a local service provider to fix your issue on site.
If home maintenance is not your issue, but the way your house looks is, there’s help for you, too. Alabama-based LIV Design Partners (livdesignpartners.com), which is made up of four women, consists of an architect, landscape designer, interior designer and construction project manager. Although the four have been working together for more than 10 years, they joined forces in 2018 to create their virtual-only design company.
Rebecca Marsella, the company’s interior designer, says: “We’ve been in business for two years, but all of a sudden, people are embracing technology in a way they might not have before. Now they are more comfortable designing elements of their home virtually, and since we are not limited by geography, this technological surge has been great for us.” How great? The company reports a 400 percent increase in business since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Clients are focused on two areas: repurposing interior spaces for playrooms and home offices, and landscaping and exterior architecture.
“People are in their homes and they want to use them in a new way, and they don’t want any space to be wasted,” Marsella says. Converting living rooms into shared home offices and dining rooms into school setups have been two popular requests. As for the outdoors, requests for vegetable garden plans have skyrocketed. Fire pits and meditation spaces are also in demand.
To sign up, you send the team images of the space or area you want redone, fill out a questionnaire (which includes attaching a few inspiration photos), and then you have one to two virtual meetings, during which you’ll discuss not only design concepts, but also budget constraints. In three to four weeks, the designers provide you with a plan that includes a sketch or layout and a list of needed materials and goods along with pricing. It’s then up to you to execute the plan. Exterior and landscaping plans start at $795, and interior plans start at $675.
Elsa Hoffman, the project manager who is responsible for making sure all projects meet the client’s budget, explains: “While we have a set fee for our designs, we can tweak the project to meet the client’s overall budget.” However, Hoffman says she often has to break the news that clients can’t do all they want and stay within budget. So plans — and expectations — need to be adjusted. LIV does not partner with any furniture or product companies, so it can be flexible with product recommendations.
Although not all projects can be executed at this point, the partners have found that many of their clients just want a plan; they want to be ready for when things open back up. “People are looking around at areas of their homes they have neglected, and they are now saying, ‘Hey let’s jump on this project that we have been talking about for 20 years,’ ” Hoffman says.
Decorist (decorist.com), a site that focuses on decorating only, has also seen an increase in traffic and project spending — both are up 30 percent. Decorist has always been virtual, so its designers are well-prepared for the current environment. Gretchen Hansen, the company’s chief executive, says they, too, are seeing a demand for work and study spaces, which she expects to continue as remote work becomes more of the norm.
She says that customers’ emphasis has shifted away from “comfortable and casual.” “People are now really thinking about function and considering how easy a decor piece might be to clean or how it can help them stay organized. This is very new.”
Decorist works by matching designers with clients using three tiered packages based on the designer’s experience. The packages range from $299 to $1,299 per room. Included in the fee are two initial design concepts, a final room design, a floor plan with installation instructions, a shopping list, complimentary ordering and either direct messaging (least expensive option) or a personal consultation (most expensive option) with your designer. Expect it to take two to three weeks for the entry-level tier and six to eight weeks for the most expensive. Decorist makes a small commission with certain vendors, which it shares with its designers.
Urgency among Decorist’s clients to get projects completed varies. Some people “want to take their time to get their home in tiptop shape, and others feel frustrated that their home is not complete. Home design is as much about psychology as it is about aesthetics and function. How one feels in their home is really important.”
Hoffman also cites the psychological factor: “Right now, we feel like we don’t have a lot of control, so focusing on your home gives you the opportunity to control something.”
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”
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