I Hired An Interior Designer Without Going Broke (& I'm Only 23)

I moved in with my boyfriend a little over a year ago. Our new home is a gorgeous, 1939 Art Deco-style building in the heart of West Hollywood; it's twice as lovely and almost twice as big as our last apartment. Our furniture is a merry jumble of whatever we brought with us in our cross-country move and whatever we could scrap together before we started our new jobs — and our new life — in L.A. As we were dreaming up ways to make this new house our home, we had a bracing realization: Oh shit. How were we supposed to fill this thing?
Photo: Nick O'Neill
A few months ago, we decided to upgrade to a bigger, nicer place where we could really put down roots.
I don’t know anyone under the age of 30 who’s used an interior designer. That’s in part because they’re pricey, and in part because DIY design is so accessible. Leura Fine, a longtime interior designer, also realized that the landscape has been changing. “Everything around interior design was moving into the future, except for design services,” Fine said.

Within a few minutes on a site like Pinterest, you can pool together multiple inspiration sources, locate the exact items from those images, compare prices at multiple online retailers, and click to order away. By comparison, the traditional interior design process seems slow, expensive, and restrictive. It was with this understanding that Fine launched Laurel & Wolf, a design service that marries the talents of professional designers with the convenience of digital technology.

Here's how it works: You upload the dimensions of your room along with a few photos of the space, a budget, and some design guidelines. Then, designers from around the country put together design boards to bid for the room. Once you select the designer you want, they create customized design plans, an itemized shopping list, and a final design board to turn into reality — kind of like a Pinterest board come to life. Laurel & Wolf charges $300 per room, which seemed kind of steep, but my boyfriend and I decided it would be worth it to have the right furniture to fill out our space, and a place that we could really grow into.
Photo: Nick O'Neill
At first, I thought the pouf was the stupidest thing in the room, but it has since grown on me. We use it interchangeably as a seat, footstool, ottoman, and side table. For some reason, when our friends come over, this is always the first thing someone sits on.
The initial process was vaguely reminiscent of online dating: We created a profile with pictures of our living room, a description of what we were looking for, and a few deal-breakers. (I’m basically allergic to color, so I noted on my profile that I wanted a neutral palette.) Our potential designers — or suitors, if you will — sent in their designs, along with notes about how happy we’d be if we chose them. Much like with online dating sites, some of them had blatantly disregarded my profile. One designer included a shockingly bright blue couch, which seemed like the equivalent of someone suggesting a one-night stand when your profile clearly indicates you’re looking for an LTR.

The last designer to submit a board was Lindsey McPhail. Seeing her design board gave me the feeling that I imagine people get when they match with a real-life angel on Tinder. I had butterflies in my stomach, and it hit me: This was the one. Lindsey had captured the muted colors, streamlined shapes, and Scandinavian simplicity that I had mentioned in my profile, and her description of the design echoed exactly what I’d wanted.

I showed Lindsey’s design to my boyfriend. He agreed: We’d found our match.
Photo: Nick O'Neill
This corner was originally occupied by our bar cart.
As much as we loved Lindsey from the get-go, there were challenges in developing a long-distance, online relationship. Lindsey and I worked on different schedules (she’d send in ideas throughout the day, and I’d give her feedback when I got home from work in the evening). Our living room is awkwardly shaped: There are doors on all four walls, and the dimensions are squarish, so there’s no obvious focal point in the room. Since our relationship with Lindsey was entirely digital, we had to capture the room’s challenges through photos and floor plans, which made it difficult to size up the space.

Throughout the whole process, Lindsey had a clear vision: She came up with the idea to create two separate spaces in the room — one would be a “reading corner” near the front window, and the other would serve as an “entertaining area” — zoned by area rugs. Both would be angled toward the TV on the opposite wall, so that if we had people over to watch a movie, every seat would be a good one.

One big drawback of working with a digital designer was not being able to predict exactly how things were going to fit into the space. Just like online shopping for clothes, sometimes an item arrives and it just looks…wrong. We loved each of the items Lindsey had picked out, but we ended up rearranging the furniture configuration from her original design, since things looked wildly different in our three-dimensional space than they had on the two-dimensional floor plan.
Photo: Nick O'Neill
I’m often perched on this armchair reading a book or a magazine.
Yes, the process was exhausting — with constant back-and-forth negotiation, almost like I was in a second serious relationship — and I can’t imagine we’ll need to overhaul our furniture again any time soon. But for a major project like this, where virtually everything in the room was new, it was a relief to have Lindsey to lean on. We love how the space came together. To us, it feels elegant but unpretentious. We still store cheap wines in the bar cart, and we still exclusively watch Netflix on the TV, but we know it’s a space we can grow into — and one where, in the meantime, we can have our friends over without having to stress about how the place looks.

When our friends walk in, most of them say something like, “Oh, this place is so grown-up.” We’re both 23 — so for now, that feels like the ultimate compliment.

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