Whether you are moving into a brand new home (congratulations to you), ditching your old furniture, you’re most likely to look up furniture and other home furnishing items online. Imagine, on a furnishing app, you chose a new armchair for your living room, pick a colour, a material and then tap a button to see it right there in your room in augmented reality. You outsource your entire home’s interior design to one such startup and a couple of weeks later, you get a VR walkthrough of your brand new home – before one piece of wood has been cut or one can of paint has been opened. Here’s how all of that has already become a reality.
Oh so unorganised!
The Home decor and design markets have been largely unorganised so far. Just look around at everything that goes into your home – the upholstery, woodwork, paint, metalwork, electrical wiring – and it is quite clear why it has traditionally taken ages to get an entire house furnished/reworked. The best and perhaps most expensive approach would be to hand over the entire project to an interior designer. They’d be running from vendor to vendor to get the best prices possible. Costs would escalate and so would the completion time, and you’d have little to no clarity save for a few sketches on paper or unflattering CAD layouts.
Perhaps the biggest feat that home furnishing startups have achieved, is to bring all of this together under one umbrella. Home design startups like Livspace and Furdo have brought the entire lifecycle of home design, right from the initial consultations with the designer to the post-completion maintenance and alterations under one single platform. Even comparatively focused platforms like Urban Ladder are now offering design services through things like the Urban Ladder Design Network. It is certainly working.
Bringing it together
One of the big names among interior furnishing startups right now is Livspace, and it has the numbers to back its reputation up. With 5000+ customers, 2 million + sq. foot designed and a typical project frequency of 300/ month. But there’s more to these numbers than just milestones.
Livspace, much like other startups in this area, started off with the goal of being a technology platform. In their own words, “Livspace is a three-way platform, bringing together homeowners, designers and vendors.” Right now, nothing speaks of their goal better than Canvas, a cloud-based home-design-automation platform.
What designers get
Back in 2015, Livspace acquired DezignUp, a design community and marketplace and Dwll.in, an online network of designers. With this, they had easy access to a ready community of designers at their disposal. From that point, they’ve received more than 15000 applications out of which around 2000 designers are now part of the platform. Furdo has a different approach when it comes to onboarding designers. For them, designers must intern under a ‘design-ist’ on their platform or go through a Furdo certification programme. In both cases, the designers benefit from the exercise.
A primary reason behind that is the platform they work on. The same platform onboard customers at the front-end, lets them browse through catalogues, interact with their designers and receive estimates, documents. On the designer side, the platform lets them create everything from simple and complex documentation, mood boards, to even full-scale 3D layouts of the house – where all the SKUs in the design are itemised and a quote is generated in real time.
All of this happens in a simple web-based tool that does not require any specialised knowledge apart from a basic know-how of how drag-n-drop design tools work. Work that earlier required them to hire someone with an expertise in tools such as AutoCAD or 3DS Max can now be done by designers themselves – with the added benefit of being able to order the whole thing with one click.
This makes the job of the designer easier, as well as they, have one interface to deal with all the information and assets around. According to Livspace, design partners have reported as much as a 600 percent increase in productivity merely by using Canvas. There is a reason why companies like Urban Ladder have invested in creating their own designer networks and platforms as well.
On the other side of things, the customer also stands to gain. For starters, a lot more work goes into understanding what they want through a transparent process that has been standardised. They have one interface to deal with and an entire catalogue of products to express their taste. Additionally, while brands like Furdo are restricted to doing entire apartments at the moment, Livspace and certain competitors also accept projects restricted to certain parts of the home. The aspect that has advanced the most here is the visualisation. Once reliant on paper blueprints and the likes, today, there’s an entire array of tech to help them picture their house exactly how they want it to be.
Even the most basic visualisation involves 3D mockups of the proposed design. Quite a few companies like Furdo and Livspace also provide a 3D walkthrough that the customer can explore at their locations. Startups like Livspace, HomeLane, Furdo and established players like Urban Ladder are putting virtual reality simulations to use in their effort to give their customers a realistic experience of their designs.
Livspace’s VR walkthrough, powered by an HTC Vive and designed by a dedicated team of more than 50 members, lets you walk around the house like you normally would. While there are some kinks yet to be figured out in terms of fidelity and interactiveness of such simulations (you can’t really open a cupboard or turn on the fan), it brings customers as close as they can get to their dream home before they commit financially. Another interesting use case comes from Urban Ladder in their virtual cataloguing efforts. Their in-store setup of VirtUL, their virtual reality catalogue, lets people browse through product categories, change material and colour, and walk around an infinite VR store. While their Living Spaces app and the Mood Board section on the existing Urban Ladder app could use some work, the Oculus Rift-powered VirtUL makes up for both.
Where it is headed
In the near future, basic VR experiences will be shipped to customers which they’ll be able to experience on smartphone-powered VR headsets – the likes of Google Cardboard and GearVR. Additionally, the entire supply chain management system is being reworked by multiple players to cater to commercial projects down the line.
A lot of focus is also being put into quality control. Furdo intends to set up model factories where vendors can come and experience what the ideal manufacturing process should be like. Some players are also investing into setting up training organisations for skilled labour. According to Livspace, the market size is expected to jump to USD 35B in the next 3 years with approximately 4-5 percent of the overall market is poised to move online within the next 2 years. Without a doubt, there is going to be a lot of activity in the near future amid home furnishing and interior design startups when it comes to bringing you and your dream homes together.