Atlanta-area designers and homeowners have a new matchmaker: Refined Haystack, an interactive residential interiors website, is expanding into the city to provide a network of design resources. The platform links designers, homeowners, showrooms and stores: Sources must come recommended by a designer to be part of the site and are categorized by the number of verified designer reviews they earn. Early adopters in Atlanta include T. Duffy & Associates, Cloth & Kind, Rinehart Design Group and showrooms at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center. Refined Haystack founder and CEO Sabrina Vodnik talks with EAL about what designers in the Southeast can expect from the tool, and how they can best use it to boost their business.
Where did the original idea for Refined Haystack come from? Did designers reach out to you?
The idea came from my personal experience of designing my home. In 2010, my husband and I decided to convert our two-flat into a single-family home. We hired our architect/GC, and I took on the role of project-managing the design and interiors myself. When the time came to start finalizing interior specifics, purchasing fixtures, making selections on finishes, etcetera, I became overwhelmed with the endless options, and making decisions was extremely difficult. I ran into this issue again when faced with the challenge of ordering furnishings and decor. Bottom line: I had a vision in my head, but I was struggling to execute it.
Then, I started talking with my husband about all of the challenges I faced during the process. The list was long, and I thought about what I would have done differently. First and foremost, I realized that it would have gone much more smoothly and successfully if I had hired an interior designer early on.
The idea for Refined Haystack came about as I was considering the many ways the process could have been streamlined, from being able to quickly access the local design sources that fit my needs, to finding the right designer for my style and budget. After 18-plus months of research with members of the local Chicago design community, I gained an understanding of how the residential interior design industry works, from traditional practices to fresh approaches in this new, tech-focused era. Armed with this information and my personal experience as a homeowner, I launched Refined Haystack to fill the gap that exists both for homeowners and design professionals.
What has the response been?
The response has been amazing; it’s exceeded my expectations. Once the local design community understands how the platform works, how it can benefit them, and how simple it is to use, they really embrace it. To share a bit more insight...designers are engaging—by reviewing, tagging product, uploading more images; this is extremely positive, and is reflected in our numbers. More importantly, our designers are getting projects, and we’re truly thrilled! Just the other day, I ran into a Chicago designer on our site, and she was filling me in on the 4,500-plus-square-foot home project she secured through Refined Haystack; she’s happy, we’re happy. We designed the site to give the interior designer a simple way to self-select sources they recommend through reviewing or tagging the source’s product in their own images, all to help better educate that homeowner looking for local design resources that best fit their style and price range.
How is Refined Haystack’s service different from, say, Houzz? What are the unique benefits to designers?
Unlike other platforms, Refined Haystack is focused on local design communities: Homeowners can take a drive over to the stores and showrooms or have an in-person meeting with the designers. This benefits designers, because the traffic that comes to their profile on the site is highly targeted to their area. And, homeowners are able to go into projects with information both on the designer and the local sources, which makes the designer’s job easier.
On the designer benefits: Refined Haystack exists outside of the “do-it-yourself” method of home design, where a designer’s work may be utilized for inspiration, but nothing else. We believe in designers’ knowledge and expertise, so our site is built to promote that to luxury homeowners. From our designer registry down to our blog content, we consistently reinforce the value of an interior designer, and work to remove any fears or misconceptions potential clients may have.
Transparency promotes trust, and Refined Haystack offers interior designers a simple way to manage some of their most cherished relationships. Our platform supports co-branding between resources and designers, so you can align your business with others that you respect or regularly partner with. Industry professionals are able to work together to help market their businesses, all in an effort to attract the right clientele, from style to price points.
How did you choose to expand to Atlanta? Where do you plan to expand next?
Atlanta is an important hub for design in the Southeast. Much like Chicago, Atlanta is decentralized and fragmented when it comes to interior design. There are designers and sources all over the city and outlying areas. From interior designers themselves to resources like ADAC, America’s Mart, Miami Circle and West End, there’s so much out there, but not a streamlined, digital destination to explore and discover them all.
We are solving that problem in Chicago, and aim to do the same in Atlanta. As for future locations, we are in the process of identifying cities, but have yet to lock in specific cities. Stay tuned.