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There are people who move into new places and immediately decorate and furnish them. People whose homes quickly come to feel lived in and finished. I am not one of those people.
After moving into a new apartment in June and knowing my spouse and I would have a home office to furnish, I finally admitted defeat sometime in October. In the month we’d initially hoped to be done with the project, we instead started looking for expert help to get it off the ground. Traditional interior designers charge around $100 an hour plus a commission, so when a friend suggested trying out an online interior design service as a cheaper alternative, we went for it.
We compared two online design services, Havenly and Modsy, by giving them the same assignment: Turn our office from a workspace with a plastic table for a desk into a functional room we could enjoy. The results — see the full Modsy review and the head-to-head comparison — showcased both the limits and potential of these services, and reminded us of the ripple effects of supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Getting started with Havenly
Havenly’s design process starts with an initial style quiz, though you can choose to skip it. Similar to Modsy, you choose example rooms you like, which the algorithm crunches to determine your design type and subtype. My main result was “Mid-Century Modern” with “Scandinavian,” “Industrial,” and “Bohemian” subtypes. These were accurate, if not groundbreaking observations. Design quizzes feel a bit like astrology or personality types —there’s enough in there to recognize that it’ll feel true, no matter what.
After a few more questions, you’re matched with a designer. Havenly puts the designers up front. Unlike with Modsy, where you’re assigned a designer, Havenly gives you options and you get to choose who to work with. Each designer has a small portfolio, and the site gives you a percentage match to indicate how satisfied you’re likely to be with them. I skipped my first suggested designer after being underwhelmed with their portfolio. Scrolling down, I found a designer with a high match percentage whose portfolio renderings all felt like real rooms that could be lived in. In a bonus, her expanded portfolio page had an example office I liked.
With Havenly, you get to choose the designer you’ll work with.
Most of the example rooms, whether in the style quizzes I took or in the designers’ portfolios, were living rooms or bedrooms. Kitchens were nonexistent, though there was the occasional dining area. It was often difficult to imagine how a design style would translate into an office without some examples; that’s an area where both Havenly and Modsy could improve.
Havenly also has an app, although it’s clunky to use. It was so hard to find the features I needed that I eventually gave up and reviewed my designs on my laptop.
How much does Havenly cost?
Havenly has two pricing tiers: Havenly Mini (currently $79) is a smaller package that promises “inspiration” to help “spice up your space or refresh a room.” If you’re starting from scratch furnishing a room, you’ll likely choose the Havenly Full package, currently $129. The main difference is that the Full level gives you a room layout and some “layout visualizations,” or renderings of the space.
Both packages include time with a designer via messaging, text, or the phone, as well as multiple revisions of concept boards of style ideas (which eventually includes a layout), and help with the ordering process.
Three Idea Boards represent slightly different design directions in Havenly.
Credit: Mashable screenshot via havenly
Havenly’s design process
After ordering my design package — I went with the “Full” package — I needed to make a room profile. This process was quite thorough and took about an hour. The software asked sensible questions, like whether I lived in an apartment or a house, and whether I owned or rented.
I took pictures of the space I wanted to improve from every corner, as instructed. I also submitted measurements and photos of any furniture we wanted to keep, as well as our floor plan. Havenly instructed me to draw one if I didn’t have one handy, which would have been a real pain if we hadn’t just moved in a few months ago and had the layout from the building saved. Later on, our actual furniture featured in the design we received, which made the space feel more ours.
We explained in the questionnaire how the room will be used and who will be spending time there. We also added a budget and a few other ancillary comments.
Accommodating pre-existing furniture was much easier with Havenly.
The one departure from the project specifications we sent to Modsy was at this point. We uploaded photos of a 12-piece framed map, which we planned to hang on the wall, to incorporate into the design. Accommodating pre-existing furniture was much easier with Havenly. I suspect this is because the renderings are a less prominent part of the process and it’s much easier to use a Photoshop-type program to add an item to a collage. With Modsy, a similar product would be used, or we’d have to pay $25 per item to have our own included in the renderings.
At this point, it was time to wait. Our designer wouldn’t be able to start our project for another week. Havenly suggested we could start sooner with another designer, but none of the others I looked at were available any earlier than the one I liked the best, so I waited.
At first it felt like slow momentum, but the turnaround times once she started went quickly. She messaged me via the Havenly site to ask for a link to a Pinterest board, if I had one, and any other inspiration images. It’s a pity it’s not easier to export Instagram bookmarks, as that’s now the platform where most of my browsing happens.
Within Havenly, you can rate products individually. Stuff you like will likely make it into your final design.
Credit: mahable screenshot via havenly
Havenly’s design process starts with 3 “Idea Boards,” which have different color palettes and vibes. Our designer offered to FaceTime to discuss them, though we ultimately stuck to messaging within Havenly.
Once you’ve chosen an Idea board, the designer creates a Concept Board. Here’s where you’ll start to see actual suggested products in the vein of the Idea Board that you previously approved. These are items that can all be purchased via Havenly, from companies like Article, West Elm, or Wayfair. In both the Concept Board and the Idea Board phase, the collages will be accompanied by a list of products that you can thumbs up or thumbs down. The products you like will be incorporated into the final design, so it’s important to take your time with this step and be clear with your designer about your preferences. We made sure to ask about alternate colors for a chair and buffet, as we wanted the option to move things to other rooms later and still have them match.
The collages will be accompanied by a list of products that you can thumbs up or thumbs down.
After the Concept Board comes the Final Design. This looks very similar to the Concept Board; when I received mine, I couldn’t at first detect a difference. However, once you click into the Final Design, there will be a right arrow that shows you the suggested layout. This is the first time you’re presented with a floor plan, and there is only one (in contrast, Modsy gives you two, and at the beginning of the process).
Initially, I would have preferred having the floor plan earlier in the design process. The biggest drawback of doing it this way, for me, was that I needed to approve furniture items to move forward without knowing exactly where they would go. The depth of a bookshelf or the height of a console depend on their place in a room, and it felt like I was making decisions with only partial information. After completing the process, I can see the wisdom of Havenly’s order of operations, which is more similar to a traditional interior design process. It requires more trust in the designer, but mine delivered.
That criticism aside, I was very pleased with the Havenly layout. The arrangement of the room was creative and functional, and better than the two layouts Modsy suggested. There was also a pleasant amount of furniture – the room felt furnished but not stuffed with furniture. Compared to Modsy’s, it was almost spartan. This also meant that it respected our budget much better. I didn’t have to look at the design and start calculating what we’d have to skip.
Havenly provides two final renderings of the room, each from a different angle.
Credit: VIA HAVENLY
Having Havenly’s 3D rendering come last almost makes it unnecessary, whereas with Modsy, it’s the showpiece of the service. I had to make all of the decisions about what to buy before I could visualize the room, which seems like underutilizing the potential of the software. Havenly’s renderings are also not of the full 360 degrees of the room. Rather, it’s two views of the space from different angles, focusing on the furniture suggestions. While it’s certainly less cool than Modsy’s interactive renderings, it’s not any less useful. Havenly solved my actual problem — I need a functional office — which does not require a Sims-level interactive experience.
Havenly’s rendering hit a good balance between making it easier to visualize the space without virtually staging the whole room and thus cramming it full of stuff to buy.
Havenly’s messaging structure is confusing. Everything is in a text-message format, so there’s lots of scrolling to see previous messages. Once we approved a change, our designer updated the design itself, erasing the earlier version. While this avoids the version control explosion that Modsy creates, it makes it hard to track changes.
Choosing products without knowing the room layout was also confusing, and I wish this part of the process had been clearer. I didn’t realize that we’d passed into the “this is your furniture” part of the process until it had already happened. There are, however, “designer alternates” for each piece, and the software suggests additional options if you want to swap something out. I rather liked the way that Modsy’s two initial renderings (which are akin to Havenly’s Concept Boards) gave me two different spaces and furniture options.
Choosing products without knowing the room layout was confusing.
The Havenly designer gets a commission on any furniture that’s included in the final design that you then purchase. This means that if you swap something out, perhaps because you find something else on sale or that can be delivered sooner, they don’t make any money on it. Knowing this, I felt more inclined to ask for extra revisions to make sure the items I was planning to buy were incorporated into the design. Havenly works with a number of brands to source furniture, including CB2, Serena & Lily, and Anthropologie.
The layout included with Havenly’s final design
Credit: via havenly
The supply chain
This is not the easiest time to be buying furniture (or really much of anything). That makes it doubly difficult to get the most out of Havenly. A product that is meant to make my life easier frequently just gave me headaches.
First and most egregiously, Havenly doesn’t have updated delivery information for many of the products that it recommends. This is likely an API issue on the part of the furniture manufacturers themselves, but it affects popular brands like West Elm, Article, and Crate & Barrel. I was told I’d see the estimated delivery date on my receipt.
Instead of doing that — and running the risk that something wouldn’t be available for a year — I cross-referenced each item on the manufacturer’s website to see the estimated delivery date before I bought it. The earliest items would come was January or February, though two items wouldn’t be delivered until May or June. There’s no way to filter items by delivery date, so I wound up asking my designer to provide alternatives. It’s perhaps possible to manage this at the outset, instructing the designer not to suggest anything that isn’t available within a certain time frame. As it was, it was painful to get excited about a room that I couldn’t have, which initially discouraged me from buying anything.
Ultimately, I asked my designer to suggest alternatives that could arrive sooner, and sourced items myself.
If I’m going to need to source products myself based on the delivery estimates, it seriously undermines the service that a company like Havenly or Modsy provides. Since there’s no discount baked into the purchase, there’s little incentive to buy from them instead of a retailer — and everything they offer with regard to furniture comes from other retailers. An exception is for discounts that apply to a minimum order volume. In those cases, it’s worth searching to see if Havenly carries other items you may have your eye on, so you’ll get a discount on the whole lot.
Ultimately, I asked my designer to suggest alternatives that could arrive sooner, and sourced items myself. Once I found what I liked, she added it to the design and then I ordered it. Had I not cared about her commission, I could have ordered the bookshelf and desks directly from West Elm, or ordered them through Havenly without adding them to the final design.
Ordering with Havenly
After you’ve added your desired items to your Havenly cart, you can request a shipping invoice to confirm the shipping charges and delivery level (if applicable) before you actually pay. We paid for a delivery service that included assembly and the option to make a delivery appointment. Delivery levels are set by the retailers, not Havenly. This process concluded within a day. From there, I hit buy and started to wait.
Tl;dr, I needed to ignore the order page and wait for a phone call.
After checking out, subsequent log-ins showed me a “Manage Order” menu. Here, I could see the order status and get shipping updates. It’s a little weird not to have access to the direct order confirmation from the manufacturer, though I did get an email from Havenly when the first item shipped. Havenly’s messaging around the other items though, was incredibly confusing. On my order management page, I was simultaneously getting told that my furniture delivery was ready to be scheduled and that I would get an email when it was ready to be scheduled. A call to customer service revealed what was actually happening: I wouldn’t get an email at all but rather a call from West Elm to schedule my delivery. That wouldn’t happen until all the items in my order were available, and one wouldn’t be ready until January. Tl;dr, I needed to ignore the order page and wait for a phone call.
Irritating details such as bad messaging or confusing designs make Havenly seem like a new startup, when in reality it’s been in business since 2014 and has raised $85 million of dollars in funding. My designer did a good job walking me through the process, but the proprietary terminology didn’t make it accessible.
The easy way to a more beautiful space?
My office will soon have two desks, a bookshelf, and a lamp, assuming West Elm doesn’t leave me in a lurch. By that metric, Havenly was a success. The design process was pleasant. My designer knew what she was doing and was lovely to work with. The end results were in line with our budget and our tastes. The criticisms that I have about the delivery times feel somewhat unfair in the midst of a global supply shortage.
That said, I do think Havenly could make it easier to browse alternate furniture on my own, either through their site or via a browser extension that would show me what items were available through them. At times I felt like I was taking advantage of my designer by asking for too many changes, or cutting her out of a commission if I found something else in another place, even though she’d done a lot of work. This doesn’t add up to a great emotional experience using a service, and, the fact is, a layout and initial design suggestion is a valuable product on its own.
I can see a valuable role for a service like Havenly, used wisely. To that end, either be clear about your delivery timelines when you go in — or wait to use it until more furniture is back in stock.