The lockdown experience has inspired some to declutter, repaint and generally sort out their home; while others stare blankly at their own four walls, beginning to hate them but not knowing how to go about changing them. So this bank holiday weekend, the last until August, is just the time when you could do with calling in an interior designer – if only you were allowed to let them into your home.
Some, however, are getting around the issue by launching virtual design services, offering their expertise over Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp, to give clients the experience of working with a professional decorator with zero contact. Among them is interior designer, Benji Lewis, who launched his new spin-off service, Zoom That Room, just after lockdown kicked in.
For him, this new way of working is not only timely, but also democratises the whole process: those who wouldn’t normally consider hiring an interior designer, whether due to budget or feeling intimidated by the idea, can use the virtual service as an entry point, an easy 30-minute initial consultation with no pressure to commit to anything further.
He first got the idea for video consultations a couple of years ago, when talking to a friend over FaceTime. “She’d been having a bit of a rotten time and wanted to make a change, but she didn’t feel up to having anyone over to her house,” he says. “I got her to show me around her sitting room over FaceTime, and I could see straight away what the essence of the room was about, and how she could change it to suit her.”
When lockdown started, he knew it was the right time to open a similar service up to prospective new clients, which he did by launching it on Instagram and Facebook. The appointments, which start from £90 per room, have been piling in. From his home in Berkshire, he has recently conducted consultations virtually in London, Hampshire and Western Australia.
“I love that it’s not bound by geography or by generation,” he says. “I recently spoke to a 25-year-old in Peckham who’d just moved in with her boyfriend and just wanted some help with choosing furniture so that she didn’t make mistakes.” He was able to advise her on the type of sofa that would suit the room, and how and where she could fit in storage to make the best use of the space. Sometimes it’s just a case of rearranging the furniture a client already has.
It’s certainly a refreshingly relaxed way to approach working with an interior designer. On a video call with Lewis to try out the service, I showed him around my cluttered hallway (a current problem area in my home) and he was not only charmingly non-judgmental, but quickly provided some ideas for streamlining and brightening up the space. He followed up over email with a sketch of a built-in storage system (with integrated wall lights – not something I’d have thought of myself) and a link to a selection of stair carpets.
Although it has come about through necessity, Lewis believes that this new way of working will continue beyond lockdown. “As a platform it’s super-friendly; people can dip in and dip out, which is why I think it’s been so successful,” he says.
Likewise, on the high street, John Lewis has similarly expanded its design service to provide virtual appointments, with over 450 being booked within the first two weeks of launch last month – 10 extra stylists have since been added to the service to cope with demand.
The appointments, which are free of charge and bookable via a dedicated hub on the website, involve a one-on-one video call with a home design stylist, on specific topics such as incorporating a workspace into your home, or more general design advice – the majority (60 per cent) of customers so far have wanted to make their living room a more comfortable place to be. After the call, the customer is emailed a moodboard and shopping list.
According to home stylist Wil Law, this new arm of the design service allows a more tailored approach than you’d normally get from an in-store appointment, where a stylist would work from photographs. “Being able to see someone’s home gives me greater insight into their tastes,” he says “This ultimately informs the designs I suggest but it also gives me an opportunity to stretch them a little beyond their comfort zone and make a space that feels really fresh to them.”
Benji Lewis believes the experience of being in lockdown could ultimately be a positive one, both in terms of opening up interior design to a wider range of people, and helping them to really analyse their environment and work out how to make improvements. His advice is intended, he says, to help people “find ways through to make their home feel like their safe place. You should love your home so much that you never want to leave it.”
Six other virtual design services to try
- You might not be able to have a new kitchen fitted during lockdown, but you can get the wheels in motion by planning one. Companies such as Life Kitchens and Magnet are offering virtual services where you have a video chat with a kitchen designer who can then work on a bespoke design and post you door samples, so that you can have everything in place and ready to go once restrictions are fully lifted.
- Paint company Little Greene’s complimentary design service involves a 30-minute video call with a colour consultant, before which you’ll be sent colour cards and brochures to refer to. Then the consultant will email a specification with recommended paint and wallpaper colours, finishes and quantities required for your room.
- If you’re fed up with your flooring, you can book a video call with a flooring surveyor at Carpetright, who can advise on carpets and rugs, wooden flooring, vinyl and artificial grass for the garden. You can get flooring samples through the post, and priority delivery and fitting once delivery resumes.
- Furniture company Att Pynta is hosting virtual showroom appointments to show customers its range of Scandi-chic velvet and linen upholstery, rattan furniture and accessories, plus free interior-design advice.
- Homeware brand Oka’s interior designers are offering free virtual styling consultations to help you rearrange a particular area of your home, or even just a shelf or coffee table. For a full one-room design service, including a visual presentation and shopping list, the redeemable fee is £150, a 60 per cent discount on the usual price.
- Artwork is a surefire way to brighten up a room, but tricky to buy online when you can’t see it in person. New online platform Art Absolutely offers limited edition, gallery quality prints that can be customised. The virtual service helps you to visualise a print in your room: you choose an artwork, email a photograph of your room, and receive images of the space with the art digitally imposed. You can then adjust the size and frame until you’re happy with it.