Making a home look great on a budget isn’t something that comes easy to most people. If you lack a good eye for design—or the spending power to hire a pro—you’re pretty much left to your own devices. This may help explain why so many guys (guilty) fumble through early adulthood with little more than a handful of bachelor-friendly basics: a leather couch or two, a big screen TV, and a wobbly IKEA coffee table held together by a handful of wooden dowels and a prayer.
While this type of living arrangement might be forgivable when you’re young and broke, however, it’s a little less charming once you’re a grown adult with disposable income. For people who are ready to graduate to a more mature living space but don’t know where to begin, there’s finally help: A growing number of services are aimed at making interior design more accessible to people who don’t, say, spend their summers in Nantucket.
Havenly, for instance, bills itself as “online interior design for real people.” Decorist offers “professional online interior design—for a low flat fee.” One of the fastest-growing players in this space is Modsy (“Impossibly easy home design”), which recently rasied $37 million in funding.
Like its competitors, Modsy offers a simple, tantalizing promise: For less than the price of a pair of Airpods, you can send a few photos of any room in your house and receive a realistic 3D rendering within a few days showing you how a professional would recommend decorating the space, taking your style—and more importantly, your savings—into account. The plans range from $79 for a couple of designs (plus a couple of revisions) focused on one room to nearly $500 if you want to update multiple rooms and work with a seasoned professional.
As a design-challenged guy in his late thirties, I was eager to give Modsy a try. I’d recently sold most of my furniture and moved into a small one-bedroom apartment with the intention of starting fresh—keeping only a navy blue couch from Burrow to build around, along with some framed artwork (okay, posters). I’d also inherited a basic white table from my apartment’s previous tenant.
After filling out a brief quiz that defined my “style,” which basically amounted to “lots of wood and metal,” Modsy instructed me to take a few photos and measurements of the living room. I also included photos of the couch, table, and of course, those posters I wanted to keep. All told, the process took less than 30 minutes. I also emphasized my budget—uh, modest—and pointed the designer to places like Wayfair and Target to source from.
Three days later, I received an email with a link containing the mockups of my living room, and I was stunned by what I saw. Looking at the photos felt like peering into an alternate universe where a more stylish, successful version of myself existed. It was also a little jarring, given that I was currently sitting in the empty, real-life version of the room that I was looking at on the screen. The choices the designer had made—a mix of sleek, mid-century modern-style furniture mixed with lots of blue, gray, and white accessories—felt exactly right.
The more I looked at the renderings, the more I noticed the small things that also jumped out: A cool-looking throw pillow, an oversized coffee table book, boxes and baskets for extra storage, clay pots that I would’ve never thought to buy, but that seemed right at home on the large bookshelves flanking the TV stand. Not surprisingly, Modsy also makes everything super-easy to buy on the spot—just click on the virtual version of the item, and you can add it directly to your cart or sift through any number of alternate suggestions.
I had a sense of what it must feel like for Queer Eye subjects when Bobby Berk unveils their completely transformed homes. It’s thrilling to see the full potential of any living space unlocked by a true professional, and I found myself immediately adding several of the items to my cart immediately, which is also when I realized a few of the drawbacks—with this design, at least.
First, many of the items the designer picked out weren’t quite as affordable as I’d hoped. One chair alone ran nearly $1,000. Even some of the smaller accessories seemed a bit out of reach: A suggested coffee table book cost $250. A small leather box for one of the shelves in the TV stand ran about $90. It didn’t take much effort while Googling around to find far more affordable alternatives.
That’s clearly not what Modsy wants to happen: The service tries to incentivize people to purchase items on-site with big discounts when you hit certain spending thresholds. For instance, the site currently offers $150 off orders of $3,000 or more, plus free shipping. And if you find a better deal directly on a retailer’s site, Modsy will update the price on their end to reflect the discount.
But if you don’t plan to spend that much—or if you opt to stagger your purchases throughout the year, as I intend to—then there isn’t quite as much incentive. Buying items through your cart on Modsy could also make it more difficult to track packages once they’re shipped, since the site’s interface doesn’t always allow you to see each individual tracking number. For that information, you might have to email a coordinator to give you an update—and while the response time was impressively prompt, it still felt like a tedious step.
These minor shortcomings aside, it’s clear that Modsy has succeeded in building a budget-friendly service that makes professional interior design more accessible to regular people. The designs are beautiful and impressively realistic, the turnaround time is fast, and the recommendations are smart and individually tailored. If you’re intent on transforming your living space in 2020, there’s no better dollar-for-dollar value that you can invest in.