Designers Take to the Internet to Redecorate from Afar
The growing popularity of E-design trend enables local interior designers to use technology to redo a room anywhere in the world.
Photos courtesy of Davin Interiors
Tammy Culotta doesn’t change a thing about her home’s decor without consulting her favorite interior designer.
For the last two years, she’s sought guidance from one woman only, Sylvie Del Duca of Upper St. Clair. The two have transformed several rooms in Culotta’s house by bringing in the modern touches Culotta loves while creating a space that reflects her unique style.
Yet, Del Duca has never visited Culotta’s home in southern Louisiana. Instead, she’s offered her expertise from more than 1,000 miles away via E-design, a growing trend that eliminates geographic restrictions for tech-savvy designers and open-minded clients.
“Today, with technology, it’s so easy,” says Del Duca, whose business, Online Interior Designs, is based out of her home in Upper St. Clair. “For people who don’t want to spend a lot of money and still have help, it’s a great service.”
E-design involves email and text-message correspondence between designer and client and can include anything from initial consultations to complete design plans.
“I tried to have interior designers come into my home, and I never liked the style they were trying to push,” Culotta says. “I thought I’d go online; it couldn’t hurt. With Sylvie, I liked her designs. She’s very easy to talk to. She knows my house inside and out.”
Del Duca, who has been an interior designer for nearly 30 years, started offering E-design services five years ago. While she still does traditional corporate and residential jobs for local clients, her E-design client list extends as far as California and Alaska. She prefers to speak with clients on the phone for the first interaction, then relies on emailed images to move forward.
“They tell me what they need and what bothers them,” Del Duca says. “I address what they need and give suggestions on how to improve the space. Sometimes, it’s just [about] accessories. I’ll tell them where to place items [such as] a vase or artwork. Sometimes, it’s a color scheme.”
Yet working on a room she’s never set foot in has its challenges, she says.
“It’s definitely easier if you’re there in front of them and can see the space, always,” Del Duca says. “But if I don’t see something clearly, I just ask for additional photos.”
Del Duca has helped Culotta to pick everything from artwork to bathroom tile. Based on Del Duca’s suggestions, Culotta buys pieces online or occasionally finds the same items in national chains. Del Duca’s influence can be seen in her master bathroom, bedroom and living room.
Maria Diven, associate professor of interior design at La Roche College, says E-design has become increasingly popular in recent years. The service may not be suitable for all clients but is ideal for someone looking to simply freshen up a space rather than commit to an entire redesign project, she says.
“It’s quick,” she says. “It’s more so about getting ideas than someone coming in and designing an entire space. Say you’re planning a nursery and you just need advice on the furniture, bedding, paint colors and lighting. This is where E-design would really work. [Clients who are] thinking about functionality and moving things around — that’s when they need a designer to come in and sit down with them.”
Industry insiders say typically E-design services can be significantly less expensive than hiring a designer to work with clients in person in their homes.
PHOTOS BY ADAM MILLIRON
Shadyside-based designer Alisha Gwen launched her E-design services three years ago to appeal to a broader audience after HGTV’s “Showhouse Showdown” featured her in a Pittsburgh-based episode. Most of her E-design clients live within a few hours of the city and are people with whom she’s connected via social media through friends and family. She starts the process with questionnaires that ask about many aspects of the homeowners’ lives: How large is the family? Do they have pets? How often do they entertain? She then develops a design plan and mails it to the client within six-eight weeks.
“A lot of times they send links to their Pinterest boards or Houzz accounts with inspirational images,” she says. “That way, I can understand what they want the space to look like.”
Though E-design isn’t a service she offers regularly, Cathy Davin of Davin Interiors in Mt. Lebanon has used it to work on several projects for clients in upstate New York and Chicago. For one job, the homeowner shot photos with a smartphone and Davin made recommendations based on the images. She then pulled together a package of swatches and drawings to scale and shipped it to the client. For another job, she consulted exclusively via email.
Designing remotely can be fun, Davin says, although she prefers the one-on-one designer/client interaction typical of more traditional jobs.
“We tend to get a lot of inspiration from our clients,” she says. “We like to meet the family, be in the space and get to know them. I like to absorb their vibe or energy. It helps me create a design solution.”
While her firm specializes in larger jobs and new construction projects, Davin says E-design is a great option for a designer who’s launching a new firm or who is looking to specialize in something new.
“It’s a really good solution for some homeowners,” she says. “A lot of times, it turns into a do-it-yourself project. You send them the solution, [and] then they have to go out and find the sofa and paint the rooms themselves. It’s great for a younger client.”