Leura Fine first got the idea for her startup, Laurel & Wolf, while she was stuck in traffic in southern California.
Fine, who worked for years for renowned interior design firm Martyn Lawrence Bullard Design, was on her way home from a client meeting when she decided she needed to start her own business.
"I had a style board with me in the car that I'd hot-glue gunned samples to in the traditional way that designers do," she says. "It's inefficient, expensive, a waste of time, and there's got to be a better way of doing this."
After years of helping complete projects ranging from Elton John's house to 40,000-square foot castles in Italy, Fine realized something: "the system is broken," she told Business Insider. (Martyn Lawrence Bullard disputes this account, says Fine was an intern and then Bullard's assistant, and played no part in the design of Elton John's house.)
Fine wrapped up her last design project in December 2013 and started working full-time on her new project, Laurel & Wolf in January 2014. The startup launched in June 2014.
People just can't do interior design themselves
Fine says she realized two things about interior design: 99% of people couldn't afford it, but it was a huge pain point in people's lives.
"I always joke that being an interior designer is kind of like being a doctor. You show up at a dinner party and someone's like, 'um, can I just show you this one thing really quickly?'" Fine says.
"You walk into another room, and there are teak samples up, and people ask 'what kind of chair would you buy?' I thought, this is crazy that all these people really struggle with putting their homes and businesses together, and very few people can afford the service."
Fine says she's watched over the past five years as technology completely changed interior design. On one hand, you had new sources of inspiration: things like Pinterest, Instagram, and interior design startup Houzz cropped up. "All of a sudden people had access to seeing what great design looked like," Fine says. "They could accumulate their own photos and get their own inspiration and ideas."
And then on the e-commerce side, places like One Kings Lane and Wayfair started catering to people who cared about home decor. Brick and mortar companies started moving their merchandise online and making better-looking products at affordable price points.
"I saw this happen over and over again. People would pin 40, 50 living rooms and they're getting inspired and shopping from all these sites, but people have no idea how to put it all together," Fine says.
"Interior design as a service exists for a reason. Designers understand not just aesthetics, but form and function and scale. So having a designer help you put together a space is a really effective way of using your budget when it's done properly. And furniture, regardless of your budget, it's expensive."
How it works
Fine's startup, Laurel & Wolf, has software that connects designers and clients virtually, letting designers work for customers anywhere across the country. When you're someone who wants interior design work done, you go to the website, take a style quiz, answer questions about the space you want designed, and upload pictures and information about the dimensions of your space.
Then, your project is launched on our platform. A typical customer gets different designs from 3 to 5 designers, who have been matched in regard to your style, your profile and the type of room you're doing. Then, you pick the designer you like the best, and you go through an iterative process with them to figure out how best to style your space.
When you're done, you have a much less-intimidating design plan, complete with a fully dimensioned floor plan with directions for install, a shopping list that's to your budget 100%, and a final styleboard showing you what it looks like. You can buy the stuff on your list yourself, or have the startup do it for you for no additional cost.
You pay a flat fee per room. The startup offers packages ranging from $299 to $499. Laurel & Wolf takes a 20% cut. The startup has 800 interior designers across North America, all hand-vetted and established individuals. Laurel & Wolf finds its designers by working with The National Society of American interior Designers and with alumni associations from the nation's top design schools.
The Los Angeles tech scene
Laurel & Wolf has raised $25.5 million in VC funding from big names like Benchmark. Tim Draper contributed to the startup's seed round of funding. Right now, the almost two-year-old startup has 52 employees working out of its West Hollywood offices.
"It's a great city, we have a very burgeoning tech scene. A lot of companies are being built down here," Fine says of the Los Angeles area's tech scene. "If you're building a consumer tech company, it's a really great place to do it. We're an incredibly diverse city. You have pockets of people from literally all over the world."
In addition, Fine credits Los Angeles' entertainment industry for bringing in lots of creatives to the city, which she says is great for tech. "We have been able to attract incredible talent," Fine says. "People who are interested in relocating to LA from the Valley and from NYC because it's a great place to live, a great quality of life, and it's great for creatives."
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