Hiring an interior designer versus using an online interior design service

When we first moved into our century home, I felt really overwhelmed at the idea of decorating it. I realized immediately that most of our very dark modern furniture looked out of place in the traditional Dutch Colonial, but I didn’t know where to start with purchasing furniture and décor that would make sense in our new century home. So I decided to get some help. Over the past three years, we worked with both a local interior designer and an online interior design service in our home. Below, I outline our experience hiring an interior designer versus using an online interior design service.

Overview

Interior designer overview

When we first moved into our home, I reached out to a local interior designer recommended by one of Brian’s new co-workers. Working with Linda at Blulens design was lovely. She and her team met with us one-on-one on numerous occasions. They took time to get to know our tastes and to really understand how we would use each room. She considered our lifestyle and budget and then made recommendations for design and furniture.

Linda and her team created designs that we loved usually on their first attempt. When there was a piece or a finish that I wasn’t in love with, she was able to adjust her designs easily. She introduced us to amazing furniture brands that we had never heard of before and was able to recommend some great local contractors and professionals to do work on our home. We found these connections to be invaluable. We were extremely impressed with every contractor that entered our home and have utilized several of them for other small projects in other areas of the house.

The idea board for our basement renovation

Online design service overview

We worked with our interior designer until COVID. At that point, I still wanted interior decorating advice, but I wasn’t comfortable having people in our home. We had concluded the projects that we were working on with Linda and I was reluctant to start up another project during the pandemic. But at the same time I was anxious to finish decorating some of the most used rooms in our home.

So, I decided to try out one of the online design services. After doing some research, I found that there are several companies who offer this service. Modsy and Havenly appeared to be the most popular and well-established. I ultimately decided to utilize Modsy to help us decorate two rooms that didn’t need any significant contractor work based on the on-line reviews that I read.

Process

Interior designer process

When we started working with Linda, she came to our home and walked through it with us from top to bottom. She asked questions about what we liked, what we wanted to change, and how the space functioned for us. We decided initially to focus on the basement (you can read about that complete renovation here) and our primary bedroom (you can read about that space here). We also used Blulens for our dining room and morning room as well (posts on theses spaces will be available in the near future).

Linda and her team took measurements and photos of each space and then got to work on creating design boards with flooring, paint colors, finishes, furniture, lighting, etc. We met to review the designs and make some changes a few times. Once the designs were finalized, Linda brought over contractors to get estimates for any work that needed to be done along with samples of selected materials. 

She and her team managed every detail of the project. They were able to meet contractors at our home when we were unavailable. They arranged deliveries and met regularly with our main contractor to check in on the progress being made and to try to head off any problems that might have come up. Linda managed my neuroticism very well and didn’t show any frustration or annoyance when I sent her regular emails with various questions about the projects. Once the initial designs were created, we did work primarily with one of her assistants, but Ashley was very qualified and did a great job.

The organization binders from our interior designer
The organization binders from our interior designer

They created binders for each of our projects to help us organize all of the information and details about the design and items being purchased for our space. Because of this, I have the details on all of the pieces in our designs along with information on size and color if I ever need it in the future.

Modsy process

We first had to decide which package to purchase (we chose a package with two rooms and unlimited edits/revisions). We had decided to use the online interior design service for Brian’s office (you can read about that space here)  and for our formal living room (I will create a post on this space in the near future). Both are somewhat oddly shaped and were difficult for me to envision on my own.

Once we purchased a package, I took a style quiz and selected photos of rooms that best fit my design style.  I struggled with this a little bit because I felt that the questions in the design quiz were very narrow in focus. Specifically, I found that I liked some of the sample designs I was asked to rate- but I didn’t feel that they would work in our 100-year-old home. So I wasn’t sure if I should indicate that I liked those particular designs or not.

It was then up to me to take the measurements of the rooms and submit photographs to Modsy. There is also an option to provide a floor plan. I decided to do this in both rooms because they are both non-standard and have odd nooks and crannies (or three sets of French doors as is the case in our living room). This was a time-intensive and labor-intense process.

The Modsy Style Quiz
The Modsy Style Quiz

Once I submitted all of the necessary information, it was only a few days before the first two drafts of room layouts were available for me to review. We had to select from two furniture layouts for the home office, but we did not have multiple layout options for the living room as there are limited layout options in this space. For each room we were presented with two potential designs. In the office, I was not impressed with the initial designs as I felt that they did not fit our style or meet the needs we had for the space. I was much happier with the initial living room design but struggled to communicate with the designers why I was unsatisfied with the fireplace mantel wall design.

Effort

Interior designer effort

Working with a designer was very low effort- especially once we settled on the design. Linda and her team ordered all of the building materials and furniture and arranged delivery. When I changed my mind about an item after it was delivered, Linda handled the return and offered suggestions for alternatives. I did find myself sending follow-up and check-in emails requesting status updates on occasion, but for the most part working with an interior designer was very low stress. 

Online design service effort

Working with the online design service was a lot more work for me. This service provides you only with design templates for you to recreate. So, you have to do a lot of up front work taking measurements, photos, and style quizzes and creating layouts. After you receive and finalize your designs, it is then up to you to order any furniture or décor yourself. And if you, like me, want to purchase items from other vendors to get credit card points (e.g. on my Pottery Barn credit card) or want to look for lower prices or cheaper, visually similar items, all of that takes a lot of additional time.

In addition, once you purchase your items, you then need to track your items, receive them, and move them into place. For furniture specifically, we had to arrange for someone to be at the house to receive deliveries. While Pottery Barn and Arhaus delivery included building the furniture items and placing them in the desired location in our home, none of the other furniture we ordered offered that service. And if you decide you don’t like something- handling that return also falls on you.

I also ended up spending quite a bit of time requesting revisions of my designs. As I mentioned, neither of the initial designs for the office were what I wanted. Thankfully, after giving them some feedback, the third design was pretty good. I requested two sets of small edits before settling on a finished design. The living room designs started off pretty strong. I selected one of the initial designs but had to request edits five times before they were able to get the fireplace mantel and top of the radiators right. This was frustrating. I ended up spending quite a bit trying to edit the designs myself (which you can absolutely do). Ultimately we got to a design that I was happy with, but it took a lot of work and follow-up.

Cost

Interior designer cost

Obviously, working with an interior designer was expensive. And while I’m sure that there is a substantial range in costs for interior designers, our designer charged around $250-$300 per hour for her services . And you obviously get charged this rate for any time that the team is working on your project. That means that not only are you paying this rate during in-person meetings, but also for the time that they spend researching furniture, décor, and finishes, putting together design boards, taking measurements, taking photos, ordering and tracking items, meeting with contractors, receiving orders, etc. This adds up very quickly.

We were also unable to estimate how much we might owe each month and were sometimes surprised by very large bills. It is hard to anticipate how much time it will take to search for pieces that fit within our design and budget.

One thing that is important to mention is that an interior designer is often able to get vendor discounts on various products. While this was not true for everything, Linda was able to get us some small but notable savings on several furniture items and building materials.

Online design service cost

Modsy pricing as of the publication of this post
Modsy pricing as of the publication of this post

I’m sure it is not surprising that using an online design service is significantly less expensive than working with an interior designer. The total for the designs for both rooms was $259 and included unlimited revisions.

Conclusions

If you can afford to work with an interior designer, I would encourage you to do so. It is fun and mostly low stress and easy. But it is expensive. If working with an interior is out of your budget, an online design service is a great option. But if you are on the fence, I would choose to work with an interior designer. I just recommend that you spend time reviewing their work and design style. And make sure to get references or take a look at online reviews if possible. It would be incredibly frustrating (and expensive) to select an interior designer who is unreliable, difficult to work with, or that doesn’t finish the project. This wasn’t our experience, but we worked with a designer that was personally recommended.

That isn’t to say that our interior designer was perfect. A few mistakes were made- but when they were, they were resolved quickly and efficiently and I was always happy with the outcome.

Blulens was so knowledgeable and thought through a lot of issues before they happened. They thought about things like outlet placements and dimmer switches. The measured the space below our doors to make sure that they wouldn’t order a rug that was too high. Their experience, knowledge, and business relationships were really valuable. If there was ever a mistake or problem, they resolved it immediately. It was so nice. But when I ran into problems in one of the rooms in which we used the online design service- I was on my own. I will definitely work with Blulens on any future projects as long as my budget allows.

Have you ever worked with an interior designer or used an online design service? Share your thoughts in the comments!

If you are interested in more interior design inspiration, check out my posts on our craft room or powder room and wet bar renovation.

I am so glad you visited us at Jack and Bax. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (sign up available either on the right sidebar or at the bottom of the page). And please follow me on Instagram and Facebook so that you don’t miss any of my upcoming projects!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top