What It's Like to Hire a Virtual Interior Designer

It’s easy to become overly optimistic while hunting for a new home. Maybe it isn’t really as small as it looks! Maybe it will look brighter at a different time of day! Maybe it’s OK that there’s only 2 feet of counter space—you don’t cook that much anyway!

At least that’s what I thought when I signed a lease on a new apartment. Sure, it was smaller than my current place, but I live in New York—small apartments come with the territory. Then I got the keys, and panic set in. The open plan kitchen/living room barely seemed big enough for a couch, much less any kitchen storage or a table. We may not need a dining table, but we need a couch.

So I was delighted when I got an offer to try out Modsy, an online interior designer service that allows you to create a 3D virtual model of your space, then suggests products to furnish it with. (The company gave Mental Floss a free trial of its services.)

To start, I had to create an account and answer a few questions about the room in question, my design tastes, and whether I was adding just a few new pieces to a furnished room or starting from scratch. I uploaded eight photos of the room I wanted help designing, one taken from each side and each of the corners of the room. Then I put in the space’s measurements, submitted them to Modsy, and sat back for a few days while the company generated 360-degree renderings. Because I had yet to move any of the furniture into my apartment, I took photos of the empty room, but Modsy can also work with photos of your existing design layout—clutter and all.

An illustrated floorplan shows an open kitchen/living room combination with furniture.

Two days later, I received an email from Modsy’s customer service department asking for a few more details: Was there any specific furniture I wanted modeled in, like a table or a TV? What’s the primary use of the space? How much seating was I looking for? A few hours after, I received an email telling me the designs were ready to view.

And there my apartment was, in a 3D rendering that was accurate in everything but how much cleaner and brighter it looked. There were two designs, each with a slightly different layout. In one, the couch sat against the wall and faced toward the open kitchen; in the other, the couch sat essentially inside the kitchen facing out toward the opposing wall. One was a largely white theme with a few accents and a clear coffee table; the other sported a gray couch and a wooden entertainment console. Both included a two-person dining table in the entryway, something I had long given up on having.

A rendering shows an apartment featuring a white couch and several lamps against a wall.

In the virtual world, my apartment looked amazing. It was like a catalog, everything tasteful and perfectly placed and accessorized. There were artfully stacked piles of books and decorative mirrors. Two miniature coffee tables were situated with thoughtful asymmetry. There were beautiful plants that would immediately die in my real-life windowless room.

Still, the designs didn’t feel quite right. If I put the couch in the kitchen, we wouldn’t have any room to cook. We absolutely weren’t going to decorate our apartment in all-white furniture, given my roommate’s predilection for perching glasses in precarious places. We already planned on buying a kitchen island, and where would that go?

For a few extra bucks ($200 a room instead of the basic $70 package), you can get a one-on-one consultation session with the Modsy designer working on your space, so I chatted with Modsy designer Karina Lameraner in a phone session with a screen-share so that I could watch her play with my space in real-time from my laptop.

A screenshot of software used to manipulate floorplan designs

I was upfront with her about my issues: I needed to incorporate a kitchen island, I didn’t want a white couch, and everything had to be able to withstand my cat’s regular pukefests. I also told her what I liked about the first designs: the bright pops of color, the couch set-up near the wall, the idea for two smaller coffee tables instead of one big one.

Most customers, Lameraner told me, upgrade to the live style session because they’re looking to get advice or see something different in their Modsy designs. “Home design is very daunting,” she says. “It’s kind of nice to be able to talk to somebody.” As it was, I could have taken bits and pieces of Modsy's initial renderings and run with them—or asked for changes over email, which are included for free in your basic design package—but chatting in real-time was, in fact, nice, if not totally necessary.

For my space, she pointed out a few things I hadn’t noticed in the renderings, like a thin console against the wall behind the couch for placing drinks and other small items. She told me she would find the IKEA kitchen island I planned on buying and work it into my renderings. Mostly, I just watched her play around with my space. I mentioned the cat puke and the spills, and she swapped the light-colored rug with one made of jute, which she promised would be easier to keep clean. “Stay away from velvet,” she cautioned of my couch choices.

I admitted that I absolutely put my feet up on the coffee table, so I didn’t know how to handle glass-topped furniture. She introduced me to the idea of poufs, which can double as both footrests and informal seating. How did I feel about leather? She inserted a few options and moved them around. She suggested mixing and matching styles—“two of the same look a little, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s two poufs right there,’” she told me. I wouldn’t want to make anyone think “Two poufs! Right there!” So mix-and-match it is. I came away with some solid ideas about how to make the space both livable and Instagram-worthy.

A digital rendering shows a room with a kitchen island on one side and a gray couch against a wall.

I’m in a stain-friendly IKEA furniture stage of my life, not a $1700 white couch stage. Plenty of the furniture on Modsy just isn't going to happen for me. But I knew that going in, and wasn’t expecting to actually buy the exact furniture they suggested. There were plenty of takeaways from the experience that were more valuable than the specific products, since I planned to find similar furniture on the cheap elsewhere online, anyway. Mirrors and glassy tables open up small spaces. A few small tables instead of one big coffee table can give you somewhere to set your wine without completely blocking a middle-of-the-room doorway. I could probably fit a small dining table in my hallway. Maybe I could mount my television on a wall that’s not directly across from the couch.

And while most of the products modeled into my space were way beyond my price range, Modsy does draw from companies that are slightly less pricey than the distinctly out-of-reach-for-me Design Within Reach. There were Target products, too. If you don’t like the exact furniture initially included in your layout, there are suggested alternatives with slightly different looks, designers, and price points.

There were weaknesses in the experience, sure. While the product choices came with alternatives, you couldn’t filter those alternatives in any way, be it by type of material, color, or price. And the interface wasn’t always intuitive. It took me days to figure out how to hide the menu along the bottom of the window to see my renderings in full. You can’t read descriptions of the products, just dimensions.

A digital rendering of a room is overlaid with product links to the furniture inside.

I don’t think that I, a stingy Millennial renter on a writer’s salary, am Modsy’s ideal client. It’s hard to say when I’ll move next, making me resistant to invest in the perfect furniture. Then again, if I wanted to hire a traditional interior designer, I wouldn’t even know where to start, and $80 and at most 15 minutes of taking pictures and answering survey questions isn’t a huge investment when it comes to hiring a professional.

If I owned my home or was living a more stable life where I planned to stay in one place for the foreseeable future, an online interior designer might be worth it. It certainly gave me a new perspective on my future living room, helping me solve spatial problems that had been baffling me for weeks as I stared at floor plans and thought, “Could two people use a single armchair as a couch?” Now, hopefully, I can figure out how to fit a whole sofa and still navigate my living room.

All images courtesy of Modsy.

This Ingenious Hanger Makes Hanging Pants a Breeze, No Clips or Folds Required

Hurdle Hanger
Hurdle Hanger

Get ready to clean out your closet. No, we don’t mean going all Marie Kondo on your clothes. There’s a new type of clothes hanger that promises to change the way you store your clothes, taking the headache out of hanging up your pants.

The Hurdle Hanger, which has currently raised more than $33,000 on Kickstarter, calls itself the “one-second pants hanger.” Rather than relying on cumbersome clips or requiring bulky folding techniques, the hanger design employs one very simple change: It hooks into the belt loops of your pants.

The angular hanger is open on one side so that you can slide the bar through the belt loops of your pants, letting you secure your pants in one smooth motion rather than struggling with the pant clips that will just wrinkle your waistband anyway.

A person slides the Hurdle Hanger through the belt loops of a pants to hang them.
Hurdle Hanger

Just slide the hanger bar through the belt loop (or loops) farthest from you, then hang the belt loop closest to you from the hook. There is another hook midway across the bar that secures the middle belt loop, keeping your pants from drooping while they hang. In another subtle touch, you can use the same hook to hang smaller items, like belts or hats, off the side.

The Hurdle Hanger is an example of smart design at its finest—the kind of idea that, when you see it in action, makes you think, “Wait, how did no one think of this before?” It takes a once-cumbersome task and makes it seamless, eliminating at least some of the burden that may be keeping you from accomplishing the chore of hanging up your clothes. No more messing with clips or trying to shove pants through the cramped hole in the hanger to fold them over.

There are already open-end pants hangers that make it easier to slide a folded pair of slacks into your closet, but the belt loop hooks take the Hurdle Hanger to another level. You might even get inspired enough to start hanging your jeans.

A 10-pack of hangers is $20 on Kickstarter—though anything that makes you actively excited to organize your closet is priceless.

Finally: These Women’s Jeans Are Designed With Pockets Deep Enough to Actually Hold Your Stuff

Radian Jeans
Radian Jeans

An investigation last year revealed what half the population has known for a while: Women’s pockets really are smaller than men’s. About 48 percent shorter and 6.5 percent narrower, to be precise.

This has long been a sore spot among women who would rather not lug around an oversized purse all day. While many of the top fashion labels are still making jeans with teeny, tiny pockets, a few entrepreneurs are giving the people what they want.

One such option, Radian Jeans, is now available for preorder on Kickstarter. These ultra-stretchy jeans come in two styles (skinny and straight fit), four colors (indigo, light blue, black, and white), and nine sizes (0 to 16). Best of all, the patent-pending pockets are big enough to fit your entire hand or phone inside, yet subtle enough to conceal the bulge. There are also interior flaps designed to prevent the contents of your back pockets from spilling out onto the sidewalk, or worse, into the toilet.

A pair of Radian Jeans with diagrams showing what can fit in the pants' front pockets
Radian Jeans

The jeans were designed by a husband and wife who both decided to pursue an education at MIT. Ahmed Malik is a current student at MIT’s Advanced Functional Fabrics of America’s Entrepreneurship Program, and his wife, Wardah, graduated with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science.

This technical know-how came in handy when they decided to make the jeans stain-resistant and temperature-regulated. In particular, a nanotechnology-based fabric treatment was applied to the white jeans to help repel stains. So if you’re the type of person who constantly spills wine or drops spaghetti sauce onto your lap, these may be the jeans for you.

A woman models Radian jeans
Radian Jeans

In addition, some of the jeans are outfitted with COOLMAX All Season Technology, which provides insulation on cold days and redirects moisture away from your body on hot days. As a finishing touch, a floral print on the pant leg interior lets you make a style statement by cuffing your jeans.

To snag a pair for $69, check out the Kickstarter page. Tailor-made sizes are also available for a more personalized fit.

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