BY BARBARA THAU
THERE IS A TALMUDIC PROVERB THAT STATES “AN EDUCATED MAN CAN
NEVER BE POOR.” That is to say, unlike material things that are fleeting, knowledge
is an invisible, yet invaluable and enduring asset.
The interior design community is now finding itself pressed to share a similar message
with clients in the era of online shopping.
For consumers, the internet has opened the floodgates to an endless stream of merchandise,
while pulling the curtain back on the price of nearly every conceivable product.
This instant, at-your-fingertips access to voluminous, global home furnishings options,
décor ideas, and price information has privileged product and cost over process in the minds
of some consumers, blunting the value, expertise, and distinct role design professionals
play in creating bespoke spaces, according to design executives. Today, “the interior design
community tells us one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is educating consumers
about what they do and why it’s worth paying for,” says Liza Hausman, vice president
of industry marketing and community for Houzz, the online global market for interior
Meanwhile, home-makeover television shows have spread a false narrative on what it takes
to create a space, sources note. And, in turn, professional designers are faced with clients who
believe their homes can be remodeled in a weekend. “The proliferation of the interior design
world do-it-yourself and online purchasing has been both a blessing and a curse,” notes Jason
Kasper, principal of IDEATE Design Consulting and president of the Board of Management
of Interior Designers of Canada (IDC). “We discuss it a lot in our office and with colleagues.”
While it has catalyzed heightened awareness of—and an expectation for—good design,
the click-and-immediately-receive mindset is commoditizing design objects, “just as the
30-minute home-makeover shows devalue the design process,” adds Kasper.
Phyllis Harbinger, an interior design business strategist who is founder and principal
of Harbinger Design Consulting, agrees: “It’s a timely issue and something that cannot
be ignored. I coach my designers not to [dwell on] how we did business in the past,
and [focus on] how to work in this new paradigm, as it’s not going away.”
Design in the