Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.
That’s why I signed up for an online interior design service (okay, more like several) after purchasing a home last year. I’m someone whose Pinterest boards and Instagram favorites are all over the place, so I needed an expert’s eye to pinpoint my style, find clever layouts, and generally reassure me that my space wouldn’t look like the “before” photo in a home makeover show. Plus, because we were in the middle of a pandemic (and still are), I needed a virtual service to keep myself and others safe.
General services like Modsy and Havenly (both of which I’ve tested) will cost you for specific deliverables like layouts, realistic renderings, and product suggestions, while The Expert connects you with top-level designers over video chat. Design services from stores like Crate & Barrel or Serena & Lily are totally free—until you purchase one of their items, of course. All, while unique in their own ways, were easy to use (or at least easy to look around the site) and had seamless communication with designers via email, app, or on-site messaging. Best of all, they’ll work for any space whether it’s 400 or 4,000 square feet.
So, if you’re in a spot like I was a few months ago and need some design help, here are five of my favorite online interior design services.
Price: Premium at $159/room, Multi-Room starting at $299, Luxe at $499/room
As a writer specializing in home decor, I tested Modsy's Luxe package last year, and after seeing how good my living room looked in the renderings, I would’ve gladly paid for the service.
The process was easy—choose one of three design packages, snap photos and videos of your room in the app, take a short quiz, and then wait a few weeks for your 3D renderings complete with paint, furniture, and decor suggestions. In the quiz, you can attach inspiration images, describe your style, and list existing furniture or decor you want to keep in your space. A designer will be assigned to you and set up a call to chat through the quiz, your preferences, and more.
When I received my renderings a few weeks later (which you can see above and which I know you just gasped at), I was stunned at how nice my living room looked, which was a hard ask considering I needed it to have an office space and a reading nook.
The Premium package at $159 per room is ideal if you’re a renter who just needs a bit of design help for a room or two. The Luxe package at $499 a room is a bit more of a splurge considering you also have to buy furniture and decor, but for someone like me who is indecisive, being able to chat with a designer who had real feedback beyond “Whatever you like, it looks great!“ was super helpful. My designer was easy to work with and made changes quickly based on my feedback.
I do wish that the furniture and decor recommendations were a more balanced mix of affordable and high-end. While my designer stayed within budget, I realized that I didn’t want to actually pay that much for, let’s say, a lamp, so she suggested areas to save (accent decor and rugs that sit under your couch) and splurge (furniture—always).
Price: Mini at
$99 $79, Full at $179 $129
Similar to Modsy, Havenly (which I tested) also starts with a style quiz. Only this time, you’re double-tapping on inspiration photos that catch your eye for a really long time before moving onto questions about your style. As someone who already has an extensive Pinterest board that’s all over the place, this seemed more overwhelming than helpful.
Nonetheless, I was satisfied with my mid-century modern result and was matched with Anny who would help redesign my living room in about a month—another result of supply and demand fluctuations due to the pandemic. If you prefer a different designer for some reason, you have the choice of switching, but the wait times will change accordingly.
Once we agreed on the initial concept board, Anny was off to redesign my living room with furniture and paint suggestions. She even went the extra mile to ask for the height of my walls to ensure the right curtain length and provided several wall and trim paint combos so I’d have options. The final design (pictured above) was perfect for a multi-purpose living room with a home office area. I liked how Anny used the couch and accent chairs to create different zones so it’s clear which area is used for each purpose—definitely not something I would’ve thought of without a designer’s help.
As for the furniture and decor recommendations, they were all spot-on and from reasonably accessible stores like Wayfair. There are fewer package options than Modsy but both are less expensive, so this is a great option for someone who’s more budget conscious.
I’m a huge fan of Crate & Barrel and own several big pieces of furniture from the brand, so I was excited to see that it started offering free services with Design Desk at Crate last month. Had it been around last year, I would’ve jumped at the chance to try them out—though I can always do it whenever I feel like my space is stuck in a rut.
You can take a more DIY approach by using the augmented reality tool to put your favorite items in your room (and see how they look), order free fabric swatches, and more. Or you can work with an in-house designer for floor plans, mood boards, 3D renderings, and product suggestions. Both options are free and available online and in brick-and-mortar stores. The idea is that if you fall in love with any of the designs, pieces would come from Crate & Barrel (unless you’re the type to spend extra time and effort to source similar options).
I spent some time with the augmented reality tool to envision how my Alfresco II Grey Rectangular Dining Table and coordinating chairs would look if I moved it to a different area on my deck—so much easier than physically moving it around in the blistering heat. Imagining how new pieces that I’ve got my eye on like the Blake Grey Wash Rattan Chair was also fun—and very tempting. There are more than 5,000 products that can be used with the AR tool, but in the off-chance that your fav item isn’t there, there’s probably a suitable stand-in.
If you’re planning on investing in some Crate & Barrel pieces anyway, and want to make sure they actually fit your space before purchasing, I think this is an ideal place to start your redesign.
For someone who loves the breezy coastal look (which I do, along with many others...), Serena & Lily’s free design services can turn your space into a catalog-perfect home. The brand has a very specific vibe, but you could always mix and match pieces from other stores once you’ve settled on a look.
Similar to other online design services, you provide Serena & Lily with some info and inspo about your style and space, and have a designer come back to you with mood boards, layouts, and product suggestions via phone, email, or video. Projects can be as small as swatch orders or as extensive as entire makeovers—and it’s all free. It’s about as comprehensive of a service that I’ve seen and the fact that you can still pay rent afterward? A dream.
This is a fun and free option for anyone who loves that New England coastal vibe. It’s also a smart way to plan out what you’d want to buy during its seasonal sales (one of which is happening right now) instead of being tempted to add everything to your cart.
5. The Expert
Price: Starting at $600
Like its name implies, this one is all about the experts. But unlike other virtual design services that give you layouts, designs, and furniture and decor suggestions, The Expert offers personalized guidance and advice from big-name designers through video consultations. You can ask for their thoughts on your projects, layouts, paint colors—whatever you want as long as it’s not a physical deliverable like a floor plan.
And speaking of big names, think Leanne Ford, Athena Calderone, Sarah Samuel Sherman, Bobby Berk, and the like. You can book a video consultation anywhere from 25 to 115 minutes, with prices starting at $600. It’s a pricey investment, for sure, but not nearly as expensive as hiring an interior designer IRL, and it’s all virtual so there’s no need to get out of your PJs or feel uncomfortable in a social setting.
After researching The Expert for a few sleepless nights, I ultimately decided it wasn’t the right one for me. Price was a huge barrier (my mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself) but the service is really best for those who have a clear idea of how they want to DIY their space and want a second opinion or a bit of guidance. One thing I did get out of my nighttime research was more inspo from all the designers’ portfolios—even if my Pinterest boards are running out of room.