If you’ve ever set out to give a room in your home a makeover, you know your options are limited when it comes to creating a professional look.
Hire an interior designer? Sure, but be prepared to pay up to $200 per hour for his or her expertise.
Go it on your own? Yep. But only if you don’t mind starting from scratch, or maybe picking a few ideas off HGTV, then spending long days traipsing through furniture stores, paint stores and other retail outlets in the hope you find something that comes close to what you want.
The founder of a St. Louis startup says there’s a better way. Brian Wideman has created Space Sculpt, a crowdsourcing platform designed to connect property owners with interior designers all over the world. Space Sculpt’s goal is to save property owners time, money and guesswork, and to give budding designers an opportunity to work on projects that were previously inaccessible to them.
Wideman and his wife Candice co-own Youtopia Designs, a St. Louis interior design firm that services both residential and commercial clients. The idea for Space Sculpt grew from the couple’s experience with their present company.
Brian Wideman notes Youtopia Designs is “very traditional. We meet with clients in person. We shop with them in person. We build relationships with local retailers. The whole nine yards.” That kind of service, says Wideman, comes at a cost. And the alternative leaves a lot to be desired. “Everyone knows what do-it-yourself is like. You get a few ideas together, then run around every weekend trying to put something together. It’s a lot of guesswork, a lot of time, and a lot of money.”
Space Sculpt is designed to broaden the options for both designers and their customers.
Customers can launch their design project at spacesculpt.com in four simple steps. They pick the room or space they want designed, fill out a short design brief, upload some pictures, and then name a price. Once the project is posted, 250 designers start to work. They submit 3D images of what the room COULD look like. The customers pick the design they like and then the winning designer builds out a complete shopping list while staying within budget.
Designers benefit from the platform because they can build their portfolios with real clients. They no longer have to worry about marketing and acquiring customers because the projects are right there for them on the site. It’s free to sign up, and they can submit as many designs to customers as they would like.
Space Sculpt receives a commission on every successful project completed. Wideman says property owners save about 75 percent compared to what they would pay in traditional interior design fees.
Wideman says he’s often asked how Space Sculpt differs from the popular Houzz.com website, which has a directory of more than 2 million home improvement professionals who use the site to connect with homeowners.
“Houzz provides inspiration for customers, and they help you find a local designer who can help you with your project. What we aim to do,” says Wideman, “is provide a platform where you can not only get inspiration, but also work directly with designers right there on the site. Houzz is limiting in that it really just helps you pick from a list of local options. We allow you to work with designers anywhere in the world. Also, if you hire a “local pro” you are most likely looking at an hourly rate ranging from $50 per hour to $200 per hour. We offer a one-time fixed cost as low as $299 and you get submissions from multiple designers, not just one.”
Wideman says successful designers with a steady flow of projects needn’t fear the new kid on the block. “They’re not our target users. If they’re working 40 hours a week and they have clients, they probably don’t need to use our platform. But there’s a large pool of talent out there that is not designing full time. They’re selling furniture, or flooring, or they’re in a role within the industry where they don’t get to do design work. It’s these people we want to give an opportunity to.”
And as for customers? Says Wideman, “someone who has a multi-million dollar home and wants to have that personal relationship with their designer is not our target customer. How I like to explain it is for every 10 people that call my wife, there are probably 20 who didn’t call because they assume she’s too expensive. Those 20 are the ones we want to check out our platform. There’s not an affordable design solution for all of these mass market consumers. Their only option is do it themselves, and we all know how frustrating that route can be.”
Capital Innovators, the St. Louis-based accelerator program that provides $50,000 investments to companies in exchange for an equity stake, added Space Sculpt to its portfolio in February.