industry insider | Mar 17, 2021 |
Décor Aid goes dark

Décor Aid, the online service that pairs clients with interior designers, has gone dark. The company’s website is defunct, its answering machine is not accepting new messages, and multiple emails to its leadership bounced back. According to Yelp reviews, Décor Aid customers have had similar trouble reaching the service as far back as last year.

“As of today, March 10, 2020, I have emailed/called Décor Aid at least 10 times and no one responds,” wrote a ‘Lauren A.’ “No one answers the NYC number listed on the website—no message, no voicemail ... nothing.”

Sleuthing through Décor Aid’s internet footprints reveals that the company may have been in limbo for some time. Its last posting to Instagram was in the spring of 2019. While online reviews continued to come in throughout that year, some took on a dramatically negative tone, accusing the company of “discounts that never come true,” a failure to deliver on promises, and the suppression of negative reviews. In 2020, online commentary essentially ground to a halt.

According to the Internet Archive, Décor Aid’s website was live as recently as January 2021. By press time, multiple attempts to contact employees or management of the site through social media had failed.

The company, founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs Sean Juneja and Markus Weber, was part of a wave of startups launched in the mid-2010s that sought to leverage the power of the Internet to bring interior design to a wider audience.

“We knew that there were these great designers who had captured the lucrative high-end market,” Juneja told Dennis Scully on an April 2019 episode of the Business of Home podcast. “But if they’re catering to the 1 percent of the 1 percent, no one was catering to the 2 to 5 percent—people who are buying homes, but now that they’ve invested heavily in their property, don’t have half a million dollars left over for furniture.”

Though it was a web-based business, Décor Aid more closely resembled a classic design matchmaking service than e-design startups like Laurel & Wolf, Havenly, Decorilla and Modsy. The service connected clients with interior designers who would conduct their work in person, while the platform provided project management support on the back end. It’s not entirely clear where Décor Aid was active—several Yelp reviewers claim that the company was unable to pair them with a designer in their area—but the site listed nine markets, ranging from New York to Miami to Los Angeles, that it claimed to serve.

Its network of designers, Juneja said, was made up of senior designers who had often worked in the offices of industry stars but either weren’t quite ready or weren’t interested in the entrepreneurial challenge of starting their own firm. In turn, Décor Aid would pay its talent a fixed fee, as opposed to cutting designers in on product margin. The exchange, Juneja suggested, was stable work for stable pay.

When it worked, it gave designers opportunity and brought their skills to a broader audience. Online reviews from earlier in Décor Aid’s history suggest that the service was a hit for many. “They took care of everything, including finding qualified contractors, drawing up plans, ensuring the contractor was on track (and getting him back on track when things slipped near the end), and putting on finishing touches,” wrote a ‘Ryan T’ in 2016. “These guys rock.”

If the outward indicators prove true and Décor Aid is indeed out of business, it joins the ranks of entrepreneurial companies that have sought to organize and scale the design business but didn’t quite crack the code.

There’s a tendency in the industry to ascribe these failures to a reliance on technological solutions to “fix” what has always been a very human business. However, of all the startups in this space, Décor Aid was probably the least technologically involved. In essence, it was an internet-enabled matchmaking service that mainly sought to preserve the basic nature of the interior design profession, with an extra management layer and a little digital marketing on the side. Modsy it was not.

Even without a complex tech infrastructure to contend with, the challenge of scaling such a complex business was not lost on Décor Aid’s founders. “Look, I don’t think it’s going to be Uber,” Juneja told Scully in 2019. “It’s just not possible.”

Homepage photo: ©SFIO CRACHO/Adobe Stock

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