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The interior design projects on my to-do list feel endless, while my interior design skills are limited at best. But without a budget to accommodate a pro, I’ve so far relied on the advice of design-savvy friends. While friend-tips are great, there’s no doubt that advice from a dedicated professional is better—especially when it’s free! Luckily, many furniture and design companies offer free design consultations and services. And while, yes, said free design services are often offered to encourage purchasing their products. I’ve come to see these services as something akin to the free makeup-artist services that department store makeup counters offer. There might be an expectation that you buy at least one lip liner—but with expert advice it’s likely to be the perfect lip liner (or, in this case, accent chair) for you. A win-win in my book. But how to know which services are best? I tried offerings from three home companies—here’s what I found.
This was the first free design service I tried. A source for modern furniture and design, Article offers both a 30-minute consultation and a Full Design Project option. I did the Full Design Project for an outdoor bar area. It started with an email requesting style preferences, images, and measurements. I was then connected with a designer who scheduled a 30-minute Zoom call, before which she sent through some mood boards to have a point of discussion. Three days after our Zoom , I received a proposed design plan in the form of a deck with an inspiration slide, recommended product slide, and product alternatives slides. At the end was a quote slide with pricing for recommended items and a next steps slide for purchasing. The delivered deck was the most thorough in terms of design recommendations of any of the services I tried. While the pillows I purchased to pair with bar stools didn’t ultimately fit the stools, everything else I ordered worked so well for the space and achieved exactly what I was looking for.
With my outdoor bar area in a good place, I moved onto the living room and the challenge of finding a versatile, cat-friendly sofa. I used luxe-but-affordable DTC brand Maiden Home’s design service to help me figure out the best style and size for the space. Maiden Home’s process begins with a request for images and floor plan, and in about a week’s time they deliver a proposed design plan via email. The design plan includes two directions with floor plans—drawn to scale—with material recommendations, some additional furniture recommendations for the room, and pricing. There is no limit to the amount of back and forth you can have over email or phone with their on-staff designers, which was really helpful as I hemmed and hawed over measurements to ensure it would fit exactly how I wanted. Ultimately, I purchased a sofa and it fit just as I had hoped. The only drawback of using Maiden Home’s services is that their selection of furniture is so curated and focused that it could feel limited for anyone wanting to mix in more styles beyond the core collection.
Serena & Lily
Best for Multiple Elements.
I tried Serena & Lily’s complimentary, virtual design services to get some help wrangling a plan for a long, covered, outdoor entryway. Sitting next to the now-styled bar area, this space needed a spruce. The service begins with a digital form that requests images and notes on style. I was then scheduled for a 30-minute Zoom meeting with a designer at my local design shop. After some initial scheduling challenges that included a last-minute cancelation and reschedule, I virtually showed the designer around my space. Within a week, she shared a beautiful moodboard that included items that might give me the perfect coastal-with-a-touch-of-MCM look I was going for. We had a follow-up Zoom chat to fine tune the plan, which was also pushed due to a scheduling issue. With a little patience, the styling recommendations provided by Serena & Lily’s designer were really helpful for seeing the kind of seating, storage and styling options that could completely elevate an area that felt way too confusing for this amateur to tackle on her own.
Smaller-Scale Design Services
There are also several DTC brands that offer design advice and consults for specific items: Inspired by the help I received from these larger-scale services, I tried Everhem’s free design consult for shades to fit complicated French doors and Revival Rugs’s email-based design service for finding a rug. Everhem’s virtual design consult helped me solve for challenges I could not solve on my own (inside or outside mount? How do I account for door knobs?) and Revival’s email service helped me determine the best style and size for my home office.
Ultimately, all of these services proved immensely helpful. To this day, I still refer to the original Article moodboard for other spaces in my home. Maiden Home’s to-scale design plan helped me feel confident about buying a sofa. And Serena & Lily’s suggestions have convinced me that I really just want to turn my outdoor areas into a Serena & Lily showroom. Bottom line: Always make use of the free services out there!
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