| Aug 6, 2014 |
New Chicago-centric site finds ‘needle in the design haystack’
Boh staff
By Staff

Refined Haystack, an interactive site aiming to streamline the design process from start to finish by providing a curated network of local design resources, has officially launched in the Chicago area. Distinguished by its comprehensive approach, the model includes participation from interior designers, homeowners, showrooms and stores with the intention of fostering collaboration and connection between all parties.

The site acts as a marketplace of local design—from top design professionals to the best in local design and décor resources—and provides users with enhanced opportunities for engagement, interaction and exchange of information, ideas and recommendations.

Somewhat like the "Angie’s List” for local interior design resources, Refined Haystack features detailed information about individual showrooms, including designer reviews. Each store is added to the site at the recommendation of local designers and according to established criteria.

Additionally, the site offers access to designer profiles, firm websites and their respective social media platforms. Public albums, where designers can openly share portfolio and installation images, feature how items from their favorite stores are presented within a completed space.

“Refined Haystack is a next-generation tool that fills a void in the design community,” said Chicago-based interior designer Hunter Kaiser. “As a designer, a robust online presence is becoming increasingly important. So is being knowledgeable, accessible and hyper-connected. Refined Haystack allows designers to promote our work, engage with storeowners and effectively communicate with our clients. It’s doing a lot of the work for us.”

Sabrina Vodnik

To learn more, this reporter chatted with Sabrina Vodnik, Refined Haystack Founder and CEO, about what inspired her to start this site, how designers can use it and if we can expect to see more in the future.

What was the idea behind the site, and the inspiration to start it?

Refined Haystack came to life after I experienced my own challenges in renovating and designing our home. When it came time for me to work on the interior furnishings and decor, I thought (like many others) that I could do it myself.  It was fun in the beginning but then became frustrating to the point that I just wanted it done and my patience was fading—it was SO time consuming. I spent hours searching for places locally, specifically those places outside of the ones we all know. I wanted to go to those places because I wanted to see things in-person and try them out in my home—instant gratification versus shopping online. In the end, I wished I’d hired a designer. I learned several things along the way, which is how Refined Haystack came to be.

First and foremost, I am not a designer. I was reminded of the value of hiring a designer given their expertise and ability to visualize, along with their creativity and knowledge. Second, I realized that I could not find any local sources all in one place online. Third, as I began my research in speaking with designers, showrooms and stores about how they all work together, it was clear the process of how the communication was currently happening was not as efficient as it could be, especially given the technology we have today. With all that learned, I wanted to figure out a way to help!

Why the name Refined Haystack?

Most are familiar with the phrase, “finding a needle in a haystack,” right? This is exactly how I felt while working on my home renovation project. I wanted to take it a step further and refine that haystack for others—specifically design professionals and homeowners, but not limited to realtors, general contractors and other industry professionals. People either aren’t aware of the vast number of design resources to them locally or they just don’t have time to explore and find them. Whether it’s a store, showroom and/or design professional, Refined Haystack aims to simplify the search.

What was missing from the market that you think this site now fills?

First and foremost, a comprehensive, local resource guide that’s validated by design professionals in the industry. Second, a quick and easy way for design professionals to network and engage with each other, while promoting their services and also promoting sources that support their work. Third, simple communication tools to help design professionals manage their businesses more efficiently.

How do you go about choosing who is listed on the site? What are you looking for?

We first look for sources recommended by design professionals and we encourage designers to recommend showrooms and stores that are local and accessible. We also seek sources that offer quality products that would draw a designer’s eye, that support a variety of aesthetics and styles and provide value within a range of price categories.

Who are the team members behind Refined Haystack?

Our team and their roles includes:

Caroline Boneham, Design Community Advocate: Caroline sets our social media strategy, leads content marketing thought leadership and supports myself in outreach to the local design community

Craig Vodnik, Advisor: Craig provides vast experience in the internet technology arena. Not only has he started a successful e-commerce-based company, Cleverbridge, but also mentors founders monthly at 1871, shares his insights with Catapult Chicago companies through the launch of the Everest Program and invests capital in up-and-coming companies through Hyde Park Angels. 

Hunter Kaiser, Advisor: Hunter is a valuable advisor to Refined Haystack. He is an experienced local design professional with years of industry knowledge that provides us with valuable insight and feedback as we build our platform. 

Jill Buckner, Photographer: Jill works directly with showrooms/stores to capture the ambience of their space, and provide users on Refined Haystack with a stylized look inside.

Molly Griggs, Designer: Advocate Molly’s primary focus is outreach to the local design community to educate them on the benefits of Refined Haystack and how their engagement can directly impact their business. She acts as their support and assists them when needed with completing their profiles.

Are there plans to expand to any other cities?

Our focus right now is on Chicago. Given such a vast number of design resources in Chicago, we first want to ensure we capture the comprehensive offerings of the design market as well as the talent local design professionals have to offer. However, much like the spirit of Refined Haystack, we’re going to see where technology, user interest and a need for expansion takes us.

How can Chicago-based designers get involved?

It’s simple. A design professional can simply click the JOIN button and complete the registration; there is no fee to join. After completing the registration fields, they will be sent to their profile page to complete their profile and from there they can begin creating their albums. Once they are a part of the Refined Haystack community, they can immediately begin engagement by reviewing sources listed on our site and editing and tagging items within their images.  We will soon be providing tips on how to best maximize tagging in public albums and in those marked private. They will also have the ability to share images already uploaded with their various social media outlets directly from our site.

The reviews and tagging will be shown immediately on the site and attached to the reviews/tagging, which will always be on their profile. The more designers engage the more they can promote themselves.

Users will also have full access to our private album tool, which allows for private image sharing and real time communication between the designer and the intended recipient.

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