June 15, 2024


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Modsy’s online interior design is aggressively fine

I’m writing this review in what is, essentially, a storage locker with windows, high ceilings, and a parquet floor. My plastic work table from Home Depot — ahem, my desk — has been mostly sufficient for my needs since June, when my spouse purchased it because we clearly needed something to work on. I tried to talk him out of it.

I finally hit a wall in October and acknowledged the obvious: The room isn’t functional, let alone pleasant to spend time in. As a recovering perfectionist, furnishing my apartment has always been a slog, especially if it’s a room that’s important to me (I’m a wizard with the insides of closets). Since I live with another person who finds bare walls and books stacked on the floor for years untenable, I suggested we try another path. I love to scroll Instagram as much as the next person, but coming up with a coherent design for a functional, beautiful office on a budget while working full-time just wasn’t going to get accomplished in the near future. We briefly considered hiring an interior designer, but assumed the cost would be too high. Then, a friend recommended an online interior design service.

These services, which come from a cadre of companies like Havenly, Modsy, and Spacejoy, are an example of would-be decorating disruptors taking an IRL service into the cloud. Buoyed by cheap and ubiquitous rendering software and arbitraging wages across the globe, the companies promise to design your space and let you buy your furniture with ease — for a small commission, of course, on top of the flat fee, which runs from $150 to $500 depending on the package level. A traditional interior designer in the U.S. charges an average of $100 an hour plus a furniture commission, so the online services are often much cheaper.

The assignment: Help me transform my home office into somewhere I’d actually enjoy working.

I gave two design services — Havenly and Modsy —the same assignment: Help me transform my home office from a storage unit with a fold-out table into somewhere I’d actually enjoy working (and walking by another 30 times a day).

In the end, the experiences showed the strengths and weaknesses of these types of companies, and the limits of technology in making things easier. You can see a head-to-head comparison here.

You can start your Modsy journey with a style quiz.

You can start your Modsy journey with a style quiz.
Credit: mashable via modsy

Getting started with Modsy

On Modsy’s website, you start by clicking the maroon “Start Your Project” button in the upper right hand corner and choose the room you’d like to design, from living room to nursery to office (and more). The next question asks about your motivation for the (re)design. Are you moving or redecorating? (This inquiry feels like a cross between mildly useful and market research.) Subsequently, you’ll choose how “finished” the space is. Basically, do you need to buy everything, or only a few pieces?

At this point, you’ll hit a paywall and need to choose a package.

How much does Modsy cost?

Modsy’s pricing starts at $159 for a Premium-level single-room package. There’s also a Luxe level ($499 per room), which includes unlimited video calls with your designer, special discounts, and the ability to change flooring or create renderings from blueprints. Both packages include 3D room designs, furniture discounts, and unlimited design revisions. There’s a third, multi-room option as well. I went with the lowest-priced Premium package.

In addition, there are discounts when you buy your furniture through Modsy, similar to the commission structure of pre-internet interior design. Overall, I didn’t notice Modsy’s prices to be cheaper than buying directly from a vendor, though there were several coupons on offer via a banner on the site. I would expect that Modsy can take advantage of trade discounts, so I’m a little surprised there isn’t a built-in cost savings on the furniture (perhaps there is for some brands). Modsy also promises to automatically price-match any sale you find on a manufacturer’s website, but I haven’t tested it.

Sales don’t always include the items that were used in your room design, though I did receive an email when one of the pieces in my room designs went on sale. However, I can see which items are on sale when I open the shoppable room renderings.

The first step in any project after you buy a design package with Modsy is to create a room profile, a process that took about 20 minutes. The site takes you through a range of questions, asking about your budget, color palette, needs for the space, and the results of your style quiz, which you can take before starting or after paying for your room package to hone in on what rooms you like. Some of the room profile questions seemed forced to create opportunities for more purchasing. For example, I had to choose one add-on feature for our office (I picked a reading nook), but none of the options were that interesting or really what I needed (a craft area for my kids). Choosing only one color palette also felt limiting, since it was hard to know exactly how that would translate into a final design and what it would dictate in the process.

Modsy’s style quiz

The website gives you a selection of 16 spacious living and dining areas to choose from; you pick your top three. If you don’t live in a large house with lots of natural light from big windows, you might have to do some imagining to translate these styles to your particular abode. But half the fun is dreaming about a “perfect home.” There is no clutter or children’s toys in any of the inspiration images, which aren’t connected to your particular project. As I was designing an office, it was a little frustrating not to see any actual office spaces in the style quiz.

“You’re drawn to vintage and eclectic spaces,” my first top-three room declared.

Each of those three initial choices is presented as a design subtype that you explore in more detail by evaluating the furniture and items in the rooms. “You’re drawn to vintage and eclectic spaces,” my first top-three room declared. It was followed by a grid of furnishings for me to favorite or skip. I repeated that process for “Scandinavian modern spaces” and “industrial and urban spaces,” helping the algorithm hone in on my tastes in chairs, couches, lamps, and art. That “urban spaces” is somehow a design sub-category feels like a red flag.

Finally, the quiz asks whether you’re actively working on a project. You have to enter an email address to get your results. It’s a canny, irritating move after you’ve come so far — are you really going to not provide your email? Rest assured, the email capture won’t go to waste: In the 22 days since I first signed up with Modsy, I’ve received 27 emails from the company, 15 of which were about my order and project, and the rest of which were marketing emails and sales notices. The Style Quiz results, in comparison, were underwhelming: two sentences of description and then a call-to-action with a discount to purchase a package.

What’s the Modsy design process?

Online interior design services like Modsy and Havenly (which we also reviewed, and have a comparison of the two) have a clearcut promise: You submit information about your space, you’re matched with a designer, and then renderings are created, from which you can shop the items. However, this is a streamlined version of the process, which varies slightly between the services with regard to the order of operations and level of detail.

With Modsy, after filling out the room profile, I had to scan my current space with my phone using the company’s app, which is downloadable for free. I walked around in a circle, keeping the phone level and pointed across the room. Clutter (of which there was a lot) was fine to keep in view. The scan helped create the later 3D rendering, which faithfully recreated our floors, windows, and door. It also took the relevant measurements of the space.

Modsy assigns you a designer based on your style, project, and pricing tier. (Luxe customers get access to more experienced designers.) I ordered my design package and submitted my information on November 1, and the service told me I’d get my 3D renderings on the 17th, which seemed like a big delay. However, the process has a lot of intermediary steps — phone calls, layout options, initial designs — that might explain that lag and could be better spelled out.

Pro tip: Get your Pinterest board ready before you sign up.

My designer emailed me within 24 hours to schedule a project call, which took place a day later. During the 15-minute session, my spouse and I discussed with her what we wanted out of the space (two workstations) and to drill down on our tastes and budget. If you have a partner whose preferences you are taking into account, I highly recommend doing this exercise together. One of the biggest difficulties my spouse and I had when thinking about furnishing the office was finding a design and style that suited us both. Speaking with a designer and leaving it in her hands was very helpful, and one of the big reasons we decided to try the service at all. Modsy’s process was also confusing, with decisions about layouts, and then initial designs to review. Having a designer to walk us through it was really helpful.

An initial layout from our Modsy designer

An initial layout from our Modsy designer
Credit: mashable via modsy

Pro tip: Get your Pinterest board ready before you sign up. We submitted more photos of items we wanted to repurpose in the room and some links to inspiration images. If you have pre-existing items, Modsy will include those exact items in the renderings for a fee, or similar alternates for free.

Roughly two days later, an email alert told us it was time to choose a layout. Through Modsy’s website we were presented with two layouts for the space, which included stand-in furniture and the reading nook, and some background context from the designer. We had 72 hours to make a selection, at which point our designer would have moved ahead with her preferred layout (which was the one we chose anyway).

We were able to give feedback on the layout (e.g., change a bookcase to open wall shelving) that was incorporated into the subsequent design. There’s a good feeling of momentum with Modsy, moving from one step to the next. Getting the layouts was exciting, and I could really start to envision the space.

One of two initial designs for a home office from a Modsy designer.

One of two initial designs for a home office from a Modsy designer.
Credit: mashable via modsy

Reviewing Modsy’s designs

A few days after we submitted our layout, we received two designs. These were 3D renderings of the space, and rendered images with shoppable products. But each room had a slightly different vibe.

The desks, consoles, and reading nook chairs were all different. One of the designs seemed to be at a lower price point overall; nearly every item was cheaper than its counterpart in the other design. The pieces were generally in mid-range West Elm or Crate & Barrel level, $400 to $1100 an item. You can choose a pricing level for individual pieces when creating a room profile.

One of Modsy’s very cool features is the ability to swap out pieces using their “Live Swap” tool. You can click on an item and see suggested or similar alternates, and then the rendering engine will replace it in your mock-up and save it as a new design. The tool is both powerful and finicky. In one instance, I tried to replace a set of sideboards with another set that I didn’t realize were longer. Instead of moving another piece of furniture that was next to them down, or alerting me about the issue, the rendering engine just stuffed them in there, cut off. You could tell the pattern didn’t hold. At that point I just requested a revision from our designer through Modsy’s messaging tool, who made the swap.

One of Modsy’s very cool features is the ability to swap out pieces using their ‘Live Swap’ tool.

There’s a lot of unrealized potential in that tool: I’d have loved the ability to make a set of shelves narrower, or erase a top shelf I didn’t think I needed. Even with all the expert and technological guidance, it’s still a process that you’ll probably need to be involved in by giving feedback to your designer. You may also want to do your own research to understand the options around different colors of furnishings and available shelf lengths.

Heights and other measurements are clearly taken into account. A filing cabinet, upon which our printer was to rest, was exactly the same height as the desks it was next to. Our designer told us to double check the measurements on one set of furniture, because there was likely just enough space for the pieces she was suggesting.

The furniture came from major retailers like Crate and Barrel, CB2, West Elm, Article, Wayfair, and some brands I didn’t recognize.

Items that are on sale are marked in Modsy's system.

Items that are on sale are marked in Modsy’s system.
Credit: Mashable via modsy

Modsy’s drawbacks

It’s no secret that Modsy (and, I hope, the designers) makes a commission off of any furniture purchases through the service. Yet to have purchased every item included in our designs would have swelled our budget to comical proportions. Reader, there was a surfeit of side tables. My design revisions were largely about removing pieces of furniture and deciding how much storage we actually needed, so we didn’t buy more furniture than we had to.

Buying even just the main furniture pieces we were looking for — desks, console, filing cabinet, and bookshelves — would have nearly reached five figures. Sure, we could save up and chip away at it over time, but it’s not much fun to ogle a room you can’t have.

There’s also a sense that these are rooms designed for Instagram. They’re beautiful, but they don’t feel lived in. Perhaps that’s inevitable in a rendering. Only rooms that have been lived in can look that way.

It’s not much fun to ogle a room you can’t have.

Just like home decor magazine layouts, the 3D rooms need to be staged to make an impact. That means art on the walls, books and sculptures on shelves, and curtains over the windows. That they’re all shoppable seems fair.

Looking back at the designs, I can’t quite tell what’s a real design recommendation and what could be a requirement from Modsy that serves as a form of upselling. Must every room have at least two fake plants and a mirror?

While I appreciated that each new revision request creates a new design, I now have seven designs in my project. Each time I used the Live Swap tool to test out a new piece of furniture, the software saved a new design version. Formal revision requests from my designer did the same, and I had to keep track of which version to use as the base for subsequent revisions. Part of the purpose of using an interior designer was to avoid endless choices, not to play around with extra options interminably. Ultimately, we decided to wait to purchase until our designs came in from Havenly and see what they recommended.

You also need to keep a close eye on the delivery times of items included in your designs. Modsy is downstream from pandemic-induced furniture delivery delays. Often, I needed to go directly to the manufacturer’s website to see whether an item was backordered. I had to ask my designer for alternates for some pieces that had exceedingly long wait times.

Is Modsy worth it?

What is Modsy actually selling? The answer isn’t straightforward, and knowing your goal before going in would be wise. Are you seeking a personal shopper to suggest furniture you might like? Are you unsure of how best to organize a room’s layout? Do you just want to buy what they tell you and not think about it? Knowing those answers will help you steer toward your goal throughout the process.

It’s hard to imagine that most Modsy users will simply click “buy” on everything that’s recommended (I’m sure Modsy hopes I’m wrong!). So when I look at my designs, I find myself asking, “How much of this stuff do I need to buy to make my room feel like this?” That is, to feel finished and put together. I don’t have a good answer to that question.

Knowing your goal before going in would be wise.

The design process in general is time-consuming and challenging. Decisions are interconnected and there are lots of variables involved. For example, hanging open shelving requires knowing where your studs are and doing the installing (or paying someone else to do so, an added expense you have to arrange for yourself).

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that committing to a design, furniture, a layout, is an active choice to foreclose all the other options, at least for now. As a recovering perfectionist, that was always going to feel hard. Perhaps here’s where the real work of an interior designer is (and what Modsy seems to approximate with its Luxe tier): Supporting you through your feelings.