E-Design: Professional Interior Design for the DIY Era

There is a new trend in interior design.  Correction: There is a new way of doing business.  The word “trendy” implies that something is of the moment but not permanent.  Although it may seem like a trend right now, I think E-Design is here to stay.

The best ideas are often born of necessity, and E-Design (also called E-Decorating, Virtual Design, Online Decorating, or Online Design) is no exception.  The recent economic recession forced both individuals and businesses to reassess their way of doing things.  As a luxury service, the profession of interior design was hit particularly hard.  Personal spending, home improvements, and the construction industry are intrinsic to the success of interior design, and each of those sectors suffered major losses following the housing collapse and economic fallout.  Luckily, interior designers are trained problem solvers.  From this struggle to keep the industry alive, innovative minds came up with a new system, one that opens up the possibility of professional interior design service to a whole new array of clients.

E-Interiors by Heather Zerah floorplan
E-Design floorplan and elevations from E-Interiors by Heather Zerah

If you are not familiar with it, allow me to introduce you to the concept of E-Design.  E-Design or E-Decorating services are typically offered for a flat fee based on room type (kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, etc.) or room size (small, medium, large, extra-large).  The client is responsible for measuring the space (most designers will provide detailed instructions on how to do this), gathering images that represent the mood or style they want for the room, and filling out a questionnaire to help the designer identify the most suitable design direction based on the client’s preferences and lifestyle.  Correspondence is conducted via email and, in some cases, the phone.  It is not necessary for the designer and client to live in the same geographic area.  The interior designer analyzes all of the client’s information to create a design specifically suited to the client’s personal style, practical needs, and architectural details.  It is then the client’s responsibility to purchase and install all of the specified elements (furniture, paint, etc.) based on detailed instructions from the designer.

Contents of and E-Design package from E-Interiors by Heather Zerah
contents of an E-Design package from E-Interiors by Heather Zerah

The specific elements included in the fee vary by designer.  Some interior designers do everything online, sending floor plans and realistic renderings of the room, along with a shopping guide for all items specified in the design, via email.  Other designers, such as myself, send the client an actual package in the mail that includes floor plans, drawings, material samples, shopping lists, instructions, or whatever elements the designer deems useful.  Every designer has their own way of doing things, so it is important to compare options to make sure you get the type of service that suits you best.  Personally, I like to touch and hold things in my hands, so I prefer to receive a design package in the mail.  Similarly, E-Design and E-Decorating fees vary by designer, so its important to find a designer who fits within your budget.  You can find everything from inexpensive a-la-carte options that allow you to target specific problems or questions, to the most expensive E-Design packages offered by “celebrity” designers.

Regardless of whether you select the cheapest a-la-carte option or the most expensive celebrity-style re-design, you will find that the cost is significantly lower than that of full-service interior design.  It is this cost difference that opens up E-Design service to a whole new array of clients.  Whereas many full-service interior designers won’t even sign a contract without a retainer of several thousand dollars, a typical E-Design package fee may be anywhere from $600 for a tiny bathroom or entryway, to $2500 for a kitchen or great room.

easy-to-carry Lookbook containing all the elements of an E-Interiors project

Besides accommodating a wider range of budgets, E-Design and E-Decorating also appeal to a new design-savvy client.  The abundance of home-improvement shows, design magazines, and stylish furniture stores offering local and online purchasing and deliveries has led to a more style-conscious population.  An attractive and comfortable home no longer seems out of reach to the average person.  We all want to live in rooms that resemble those we see on TV or in our favorite home furnishing catalogs.  Unfortunately, accessibility does not always equate to time or good taste.  Most people simply can’t find enough time in their hectic schedules to search through the huge assortment of options, and with so many to choose from, they may find it difficult to make a decision.  What initially seems like an exciting new weekend project becomes exhausting and overwhelming.  With E-Design, these people are able to do the fun brainstorming part where they tear out magazine pages, but then they hand the process over to the professional who will be able to sift through the multitude of retailers to design a unified, cohesive space.  It is then up to the client to order furniture and implement the design scheme at their own pace, without having to hand over a big check for furniture and services all at once.

excerpt from an E-Interiors Lookbook featuring the accessories selected for a project
excerpt from an E-Interiors Lookbook featuring the accessories selected for a project

As an interior designer, I’m excited about the potential of E-Design.  The concept is fairly new, but I think it will catch on in a big way.  I have added E-Design to my own list of services, but I can’t take credit for the idea.  I was quite content doing business the old way for many years.  I was lucky enough not to be significantly touched by the recession while I was working as an interior designer in New York City.  It wasn’t until I moved to California following the birth of my daughter in 2011 that I saw just how hard the interior design industry had been hit in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I realized that if I was going to work in this tough business climate, I needed to find a new way of doing things.  After reading an article about E-Decorating in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, I began noticing E-Design popping up all over the place, in a wide range of forms, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.

I absolutely think that full-service interior design is a valuable service for the right client.  A major home renovation can entail a huge scope of work that many people simply don’t have the time or skill to oversee.  In these cases, a full-service interior designer is worth every penny.  I myself continue to offer full design services, as well as E-Design services, with the understanding that projects of all scope, size, and budget deserve professional attention.  However, for those individuals with a DIY attitude but glossy magazine aspirations, E-Design may be the perfect solution for achieving a professional look with minimal hassle at a reasonable cost.

To see what the E-Interiors by Heather Zerah E-Design package includes, visit my website:


3 thoughts on “E-Design: Professional Interior Design for the DIY Era

  1. Thank you, Heather for such an interesting article! I also was thinking about developing E-Design concept in the future.

    However 2 questions are actually bothering me:

    1) is information provided by clients (measurements and photos) really enough for developing a design concept of full value? I mean when designer does a survey herself she will notice so many things, that non-professional wouldn’t actually pay attention to, but those things will eventually affect on development of design concept .
    2) How would you handle situations when clients will get your parcel, and then will tell you that they don’t like it and will ask for reimbursement?

    Thank you once again,

    1. Hi Anna,

      These are excellent questions. I think that communication is the key to both of these issues.

      First, the client must understand the importance of accurate measurements and photos. If you, the designer, notice any particular details for which you need more information, a close-up photo, etc., you must ask the client for that information. You must trust the client to gather the necessary information just as you might ask your design assistant to do on a job site. If everyone is communicating well, then I do believe a good design concept can be reached. By its nature, E-Design can’t provide the same level of detail as full-service design, and the price difference reflects that, but both options can lead to a beautiful, well-functioning home.

      With regard to your second question, it is of utmost importance that the client be happy with the results, but also that the designer be paid for their time and effort. Interior Design is subjective and this is always an issue, no matter how large the project. Again, communication is key. If you have any doubt as to the style preferences or questions of the client, ask ask ask questions. And just in case a detail is off in the end, I offer several revisions free, such as an alternate paint color or furniture selection, free of charge.

      I hope that answers your questions!

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