digital disruptors | Jan 31, 2018 |
How one startup is connecting interior designers with artists

It’s one part marketplace, one part matchmaker. CoCo Gallery, launched in 2015 by Vani Krishnamurthy, following her experience as a Special Projects Fellow at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as well as a Bain & Company consultant, connects art-loving homeowners (and the designers who decorate said aficionados’ homes) with artists on custom projects. Commissions start at $500 and approach $15,000, and require a process that, while expressly enabled by the digital age, involves a refreshing amount of human contact and collaboration.

Vani Krishnamurthy; courtesy CoCo Gallery
CoCo founder-CEO Vani Krishnamurthy; courtesy CoCo Gallery

The website’s network comprises over 150 artists from around the United States, as well as a few international artists, working across genres and producing portraits, landscapes and abstracts.

How does it work? Designers provide details about their project (description of the space; budget and timeline details; and the vision of the room or rooms). Within 48 hours, CoCo Gallery matches the designer with three to five available artists. One of the site’s consultants provides details on pricing, timing and other information to help the designer decide on an artist.

The site drafts legal paperwork for the commission and holds payment until the midpoint of the process, at which point the designer provides feedback. The artist then revises his or her work to meet the client’s specs, and, upon designer approval, CoCo provides 50 percent payment to the artist.

It also coordinates delivery, assures the final product meets the designer and client’s specs, and ultimately pays the artist the remaining 50 percent of the fee. The site targets urban designers who are working within the confines of a budget. Commissions require four to six weeks, and rush order service is available.

CoCo Artist Charlie B.'s work; courtesy CoCo
Artist Charlie B.'s work in the home of one of designer Joanne Laurie’s clients; courtesy CoCo Gallery

Krishnamurthy, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and received a Fulbright grant to study temple art and architecture in India, founded the company in response to a query many designers face themselves: how to add art to a space or a project. To that end, CoCo’s mission reads: “We believe that more people would buy original art if their own ideas had inspired the artwork. We also know that budgets often run low after other aspects of a space are addressed. It is nearly impossible to find existing artwork that fits the appropriate price range and at the same time, satisfies design and personal preferences.”

While the service is also open to non-designer clients, Krishnamurthy and her team are a go-between for designers and artists, acting as matchmaker and managing the process. Designer Joanne Laurie and artist Charlie B. (artists' last names are kept confidential) are one such match. For Laurie, the process of sourcing art had been a loaded one. “It’s always scary when you get a custom piece of art,” says the designer. “You want the art to fit the space, but you also want the art to stand on its own.” CoCo Gallery connected Laurie with Charlie when one of her clients’ homes was to be featured in the Hoboken House Tour. The client was seeking a work of art for a main space in her home. After identifying what was important to Laurie and the client, Krishnamurthy recommended Charlie.

How one startup is connecting interior designers with artistsIts always scary when you get a custom piece of art, says designer Joanne Laurie. You want the art to fit the space, but you also want the art to stand on its own.

As with all matches, there is a delicate balance of art and commerce. “All of our artists are vetted to make sure they’re okay with working with interior designers specifically on these issues [such as how open the artists are to feedback]. When I recommended Charlie to Joanne, it was very much about what Joanne and her client’s needs were, and who could best fulfill that. All of our artists are similar but different. They’re great to work with, but work in different ways.”

Charlie is pragmatic, saying that a successful relationship boils down to customer satisfaction. “It is so important that the interiors and art go together, full stop,” he tells EAL. “It’s really important to have a piece that works within the room as it is but also outside of it.”

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