A man’s home is his castle, the saying goes, and we Australians are willing to spend big on them: figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that we spent $15 billion on building new homes and renovating in the first three months of last year alone, with research from Westpac showing renovators spend an average of almost $48,000 on the job. As well as increasing property value, increasing comfort and updating style are the most common reasons for renovating.
Recently launched Sydney startup Designbx is looking to take a slice of that pie and make it easier than ever for consumers to have a professional to update their homes.
The startup was founded by Kylie Pratt, who has a decade of corporate experience within the commercial interior fitout and construction industry, Emily Carding, former head of client services at Microsoft and Ninemsn joint venture Mi9, and Kerena Berry, former head homewares buyer and head art director at Oz Design Furniture.
Essentially, Designbx is an online marketplace connecting consumers with designers. Clients pay a one-off fee for the service, which includes a style board, floor plan, design folio, and furniture and homewares list. They also have access to a free personal shopper service, which allows them to access industry discounts on products.
Berry explained that this approach looks to break down barriers in the industry, by allowing designers and clients to collaborate at times that best suit their personal schedules rather than being forced to stick to business hours.
“Using an online model breaks down certain layers of intimidation. A designer begins to build rapport with their client. Communicating through a device rather than face to face often gives them confidence to express their opinions openly and communicate their needs for the space concisely,” she said.
It was Berry’s experience working in the industry and launching her own interior design business that ultimately led to the launch of Designbx. Working in the industry, she said she encountered some common perceptions of professional interior design, with the first issue concerning people was the cost, and not having a bookend approach. Then, there was the element of intimidation, with some clients uncomfortable with the idea of someone with a critical eye in their personal space. The other issue was that of working around conflicting schedules.
Then there’s also the concern that the end result will reflect the passions and tastes of the designer rather than the client’s personality and lifestyle, Berry said.
“Finally, the challenge of finding a good fit with a pool of professional designers limited by availability in their local area. These are all factors we discussed early in Designbx’s evolution. Our aim was to solve these problems while retaining the things we loved about traditional design, mainly collaboration and professionalism,” she said.
“It wasn’t only the clients that were suffering from the traditional interior design model. If clients perceived interior design as expensive and challenging to get right, that obviously affected designers. If clients are intimidated by a designer in their home, that meant limited access for designers. For the designer, the sales process is time consuming and costly, effectively driving up hourly rates.”
Berry said she came to the conclusion that, while every other form of design had kept up with the times, entering the digital era, professional interior design had stagnated, and that’s when she linked up with Carding and Pratt to work on Designbx.
For the client, the platform works by having them take a visual quiz first up to find a style that matches their lifestyle and personality, and then provide a few photos and dimensions of their space to form the project brief. From there, Designbx’s community of designs will essentially bid for the project by submitting their initial concepts, with the client then picking which designer they want to work with.
The designer creates a style board, floor plan, design folio, and furniture and homewares list within three to four weeks, with the free personal shopper service seeing the platform pass on industry discounts.
“You can have one of our professionals ordering products, furnishings and fittings on your behalf, and at discounted prices. It not only removes all the hassle of the client having to manage ordering and delivery but also offsets the cost of the design,” Pratt explained.
Meanwhile, suppliers on the platform can easily add and update their collections in the online catalogue, which Pratt said was a critical area of development for the cofounders.
“Variety inspires designers and leads to unique home interiors for clients. Our buying team works around the clock ensuring our clients have quality and today’s latest trends at their fingertips,” she said.
There are over 6,000 products in Designbx’s collection, with the startup looking to increase this number by over 200 percent in the next six months. There are 25 interior designers currently on board, with Pratt saying the startup has fielded significant interest from designers; they have the next round ready to come online when the client ratio is right.
The platform’s pricing structure works along three tiers, from ‘Essential’ at $299, ‘Classic’ at $399, ‘Premium’ at $499, and a custom option also offered. For $149 clients can also opt for a one month ‘support package’ which will allow them to continue receiving ideas and advice from their designer.
“One thing we all agreed on was transparency for the client. We thought it was essential to create a service with packages at fixed prices and no hidden costs,” Pratt explained.
“When it comes to investing money, nobody likes surprises. The three packages cover different room types, and they’re all very affordable. Considering they start at $299, we’re sure there will be people out there nervously contemplating the DIY approach who will look at that price and realise they can afford a professional design.”
The fact that, from The Block to House Rules and seemingly countless others in between, it’s impossible to get away from house renovation shows on TV highlights the fact that there is a huge market for Designbx – as a result, it’s not the only player in the market. Perhaps the biggest competition in the space is Houzz, a global platform backed by investors including Ashton Kutcher. Counting its Australian users among the most active in the world, like Designbx it also connects users to designers.
However, according to Berry that’s where the similarities end.
“Our motto is ‘room to be you’ because we believe effective design solutions begin with the lifestyle and personality of the client. We may strive to eliminate the issues that made traditional design inaccessible, but we’ve been careful to maintain its strengths. We believe the best results still come from close collaboration between the client and designer rather than browsing a catalogue and copying existing designs,” she said.
“Houzz does help connect people with designers, but our clients can view multiple design concepts before they select their favourite designer, they pay a set-fee and have a bespoke online platform for collaboration. We want clients to have the best options to help them create interiors that are truly unique and we want designers to feel free to be creative.”
Having self funded the development and launch of the platform, the cofounders are now focused on growing Designbx and bringing to life the roadmap they have for the product.
Carding said the startup is eager to share, collaborate, and look for partnership opportunities with other businesses, and is also in the process of looking at how it can support local charities through its work.
Image: Emily Carding, Kerena Berry, Kylie Pratt. Source: Supplied.