Updated April 4, 2012, 2:37 p.m. ET
Professional Decorating Ideas in the Houzz
Service Brings Consumers and Interior Designers Together Through Sample Rooms and Social Networking
By KATHERINE BOEHRET
Ask anyone who has decorated a home or even just one room in a house and they'll tell you: It's tough work. The overwhelming variety of pendant light fixtures, farmhouse sinks, transom windows, paint colors and wainscoting patterns make it clear why interior designers get paid to do the job.
People who prefer the do-it-yourself route may find inspiration in HGTV shows or Better Homes and Gardens magazine. But a free digital option is available in Houzz, which works as a website, iPhone app and iPad app.
Depending on how you use it, Houzz can work like Pinterest, the idea- and photo-sharing social network, complete with lots of lush photos of designed rooms that users admire and save in personal Ideabooks for reference later. Also like Pinterest, users can follow one another. I followed a few designers and design firms with photos of sample rooms I liked. After following Siemasko + Verbridge, I saw all of the design firm's activity on the website in a My Houzz section.
Unlike Pinterest, which makes everything public, Houzz Ideabooks and the comments people add to photos in their Ideabooks can be kept private, which I liked.
I've been using Houzz (a combination of the words "house" and "buzz") on the Web and as an app for the past week, and I've already learned a lot. I moved into my new place last summer, so flipping through photos of living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens was motivating. I just might add a wallpapered accent wall in my living room if I ever find some spare time.
I felt most engaged in the site when I used Houzz.com, where I could read informative discussions among designers and people asking questions about rooms. Answers included details about product pricing, availability and design tips on things like how to combine black and brown in a room (answer: use throw pillows with both colors). The prospect of getting new clients draws designers to Houzz, where they offer free advice.
But the Houzz website holds so much information, it can feel jumbled and overwhelming—especially when compared with the simple, clean interfaces of the free Houzz iPhone and iPad apps.
I especially liked a recently added feature to the site and apps: In photos of rooms, tiny green tags hang from items that have been marked by professionals, and tapping on a tag displays details like where the product can be bought and how much it costs.
I found tags on things ranging from chandeliers to painted walls (a tag on a wall told the name and brand of its paint color). In the Houzz mobile apps, these tags swing back and forth whenever the iPhone or iPad moves—a whimsical touch. Next month, the site will launch Houzz Lightbox, which automatically starts a slide-show mode for scrolling through photos faster.
One source of frustration with Houzz was that certain products I thought about buying, like wallpaper from Schumacher & Co., were only available to people in the design trade. A spokeswoman said 11% of products on Houzz are in this category. But she said more manufacturers are starting to sell to both consumers and professional designers.
While Houzz can be used to motivate people to decorate their own homes, it will also direct them to local interior designers who created an admired room. Each photo of a room includes contact information about who designed it. If you prefer to limit your Houzz to photos of rooms done by designers in your area, you can filter by location. I looked at the D.C. Metro area and found thousands of nearby designers.
Many products used in these designer rooms cost thousands of dollars, but discussions about rooms may help people get ideas for lower-priced alternatives.
I really liked the look of Ochre's Arctic Pear Chandelier, but by reading the discussion surrounding it, I found out that it cost around $5,300. (This information wasn't readily available because Ochre doesn't sell directly to consumers.) Another Houzz user suggested a $400 alternative from Pottery Barn that looked similar.
Other items are easier to buy. The $299 Balencia Folding Chair from Frontgate is clearly marked with a green tag and a link that takes you to Frontgate.com, where you can buy the chair.
I created several Ideabooks where I saved images of rooms I liked. Shortcuts in Houzz let me share photos with friends on Facebook and Twitter, or via email. After any user saves 10 images to an Ideabook, Houzz will start recommending similar images the user might like. These are generated by an algorithm and were in line with my taste.
People who are aware of their design deficiencies and who don't think Houzz's do-it-yourself encouragement will help them can open the site's Professionals section. Here, over 1.3 million suppliers, remodeling and design professionals are listed for hire. These listings can be filtered by category or location.
Whether you are looking for an interior designer or are just looking to find some great decorating ideas, Houzz will help.
Write to Katherine Boehret at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared April 4, 2012, on page D2 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Professional Decorating Ideas in the Houzz.