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How to Hire an E-Designer

Hire a designer you've never met? Thanks to Skype, e-mail, and the Web, it's not as crazy as it might sound

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

How it works

With the advent of online shopping and electronic file-sharing came e-design, which allows interior designers to work odd hours in their blue jeans and clients to get a pro's eye without scary home visits and mystifying fees. It's less top-down, more of a partnership. At the outset, you provide all the key dimensions, plus snapshots and maybe a virtual tour; examples of what you like; a wish list; and a budget. Within a set time, you receive a floor plan and proposals—from rearranging the furniture and brightening the paint scheme to changing the layout. Some designers set up a private Pinterest board to advance the inevitable back-and-forth. Once all decisions are made, it's usually up to the client to manage the project. "That's why it's cost-effective," says Motschenbacher. If you don't like gathering materials or dealing with contractors, you may want more than an online consult.

Why it's growing

Like online dating, e-design encourages anonymous browsing and quick bonding. Some e-designers introduce themselves first as wives and mothers and describe design as a calling. "When you put it all out there, it makes you more relatable," says e-designer Jenna Burger, based in Saratoga Springs, New York. Many are avid bloggers who share their trade secrets and post their portfolios for potential clients to see (and steal from). E-designers may welcome small projects and fall into the role of coach, urging clients to declutter and be more self-confident about their design decisions—all of which helps open doors and lead to work.

What it costs

Flat fees for a given space run from about $265 to $2,500, depending on its size and the scope of the project; some e-designers are also willing to work at an hourly rate. The goal is to minimize kerfuffle and driving time; old-school interior design is relatively expensive because it's a job for the designer to get to your home, hash out your issues (and maybe your spouse's), measure and remeasure, return with samples, and draw up and execute a plan. Longtime interior designer Susan Morgan, in Palm City, Florida, charges about $150 an hour, which can add up quickly. Now that the Web is a well-oiled machine, she says, she feels more comfortable working at a distance, whether clients are down the road or in the Bahamas. But she still takes a hands-on approach when needed. "I just shipped bay-window treatments to a house up in Ohio," she says. "Then I got on the phone so that we could measure together and make sure they were hung right."