15 Minutes with the Founders of Décor Aid (Plus, an Office Tour!)
When two finance guys decided that interior design should be accessible (and affordable) to everyone, no matter the budget, they dreamed up Décor Aid. Using technology to bring interior designers to the people, Sean Juneja and Markus Weber, created a platform that eliminates the middleman and mark ups, meaning quality design at a value (fancy that!).
How did you meet your business partner?
SJ: We met about ten years ago in London as we both worked in the same field (investment banking) and quickly became friends. Independently, we both relocated to New York at the same time, in 2009, and stayed in close contact.
What event inspired you to start an online decorating/design service?
SJ: Both Markus and I had eerily similar experiences when we arrived in New York. I wanted to get my apartment ready quickly so my family could be comfortable and feel at home immediately; Markus wanted to get his place looking perfect so he could use it for entertaining clients. We both soon discovered that interior design is not the most user-friendly of industries, but we thought it should be. We both believe in great design, and we don't think it should be a privilege reserved for the wealthy, or a process that's confusing and time-consuming. That's why we started Décor Aid. Technology has transformed so many industries—why not interior design?
How did your finance background influence certain decisions within the company?
SJ: Everything is a learning experience, right? Both Markus and I have successfully started new businesses, within the financial industry and that's been a great foundation for us. Our business approach applies to any industry: the key is to identify and address a problem to offer a solution which in the end benefits both your business and your whole industry. That's what we're doing at Décor Aid: addressing a hole within the interior design industry and working with existing players in the design community to create a new market segment to benefit everyone in the end.
What challenges have surfaced as you started the company?
SJ: Anyone who tells you a start-up hasn't had challenges is lying. Our utmost concern is quality, and providing the best service when you have a growing client base is demanding. For this reason, we are selective about the designers we add to the team and devote a great deal of energy and time to securing strong talent that align with our company culture, meet the range of needs of our clients and help us to build and maintain a great reputation.
What is your personal style at home? Do you have a particular color scheme?
SJ: My style is pretty modern, but living in the city I find it refreshing to incorporate some rustic touches: wood, plants, just hints at the natural world. Our place is mostly white and gray—my kids' toys provide many, many pops of color.
MW: I am a serious midcentury modernist. Decades and decades later, those designs still look so sharp.
What's the most important room or feature in the home for you? What have you seen with your clients?
SJ: For me it's the bedroom. It's a sacred space for me—I never check my email when I'm in bed. But this is such a personal thing, for me and for all our clients. Everyone has a different way of using his or her home.
MW: I'd say the dining room—a Décor Aid project, of course. My fiancée and I love to cook, we love to entertain, and we love sitting around the table for hours, talking with friends. I don't mind admitting that I feel a lot of pride when I get to show off my place and I've seen that with our clients too. That sense of pride is a great thing.
What one piece of furniture or object in your home that you are you obsessed with?
SJ: It's probably my dining table, actually. It was also a Décor Aid find and we use it for family dinners as often as possible and extended family get-togethers all the time. Next up is Thanksgiving, which I'm really looking forward to hosting this year.
MW: A few years ago, I bought a Halyard chair, one of the most iconic pieces of midcentury furniture, by Hans Wegner. It's right by the fireplace, where I like to read or just relax.
What is the overall aesthetic of your designers? Do you have designers with different styles to suit your client's requests?
SJ: One of the things that distinguish us from the old-fashioned design model is that we don't represent any one point of view. Traditionally, you're paying a designer for his or her signature look. That works only if that's a look you truly love. Our approach is to focus principally on the client's needs and preferences. Of course, designers are an opinionated bunch, and our design team, as any group of highly skilled pros would, have their preferences. But just because a designer loves modern furniture doesn't mean she's afraid of traditional fabrics; just because another designer tends toward minimalism doesn't mean he's not able to work with color.
Can you explain the steps a client would take to work with a Décor Aid designer?
SJ: It couldn't be simpler. Our model is basically four steps:
It begins with a design consultation. This happens in person, within the space you want help with. We charge an hourly rate for this step ($100-$150), but there's no minimum purchase, so if you only want to invest an hour, that's no problem: our designer can spend that time listening and offering informed, tailored advice.
Then, we'll match you to a specific designer from our team—the one best equipped to tackle your project's scale, to understand your style.
Your designer will develop a menu of options for you, regarding the number of hours required to execute the project, the overall budget, and a proposed timeline. Once you're happy with those three variables, the work begins.
Finally, the work is executed. During this time, you always have access to your designer, as well as our dedicated customer service team. And most importantly, the site provides a customized dashboard where you can monitor how the budget and the hours you've invested in have been invested.
What would you say is the greatest challenge with designing via online?
SJ: Well, it's important to understand that design will never really happen entirely online. Design is about texture, color, proportion, and the judgment and intuition of a designer. With Décor Aid, the real design work takes place during in-person consultations, home visits, trips to showrooms and workshops and in meetings with contractors, artisans, and experts. The design work happens when our designers are at their desk, sketching. What we have done is use technology to assist in almost every aspect of the above: to help the customer and to help the designer.
Do you have any home trend predictions for 2015?
SJ: Home is not a place that should be governed by trends. Your home should be where you can entertain the way you like to, where you can hang out with the family, where you can truly be comfortable. The only way to achieve that in your home is to be true to what you most love, not by picking a trend that's dominant in the marketplace. The whole reason to work with an interior designer is that he or she has that ability to customize a space to your tastes. Trends are an important part of fashion but you don't replace a living room sofa every season, as you might a shoe.