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New home design service lets you ‘try on’ furniture before buying

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Modsy renders a room in 3D and expertly designs it—and that’s exactly what I let it do to my own living room

Modsy, like a lot of great ideas, was borne out of a need and an obsession. When cofounder and CEO Shanna Tellerman and her husband moved into a new home three years ago, they were excited about setting up their new place, so she immediately headed to sites like Pinterest and Houzz to get started. But after spending hours creating what she thought was the perfect board, she looked around the empty house and still had no idea what to do.

Spending even more time on different websites and visiting physical stores didn’t help much, either. "We got halfway there and essentially gave up," Tellerman explained. "It went from being a really fun and exciting moment in our life together, to being super, super frustrating." She turned to visualization tools and found they were clunky and lackluster—more "2D clip art" meets "2nd grade projects" than anything artful. Then inspiration hit, in the form of a West Elm catalog.

"I was sitting there looking through all the pages and thought, ‘This is what I want.’ I want this level of somebody having essentially staged my home with all these different ideas, and then sending me a catalog of my own house to shop from. And then I just started getting obsessed with that idea."

Tellerman, a former partner of Google Ventures, had worked in the realm of 3D technology before (she sold her first startup to Autodesk) and knew that two technologies in particular, photorealistic photo-rendering and 3D reconstruction, would bring her idea to life.

What she came up was Modsy, a virtual design service launching today that provides 3D visualizations of a fully decorated room in your home according to your taste. Each furniture piece, decor object, and artwork—sourced from several hundred retailers—is staged to scale in your reconstructed room and can be purchased directly from the site.

All you need to do is take a style quiz, then snap a few photos with your phone or any digital device (no matter how badly lit or framed, and no matter how messy the room is, as you’ll see in my examples below), and upload to the site. In a few days, you’ll receive two 3D-modeled versions of your room, expertly staged and designed by Modsy stylists to look like a real-life (well, virtual) catalog spread.

Let’s take a look at how it works, using my spacious but uninspired living room. Here’s a terrible photo of it, and then Modsy’s (empty) 3D reconstruction:

Now here it is designed and staged by Modsy:

Here’s the other end of the room:

And finally, here’s an aerial view:

Looks pretty glam, no? Before these renderings, I didn’t think our home had the potential to look this posh. Although my husband’s and my tastes skew more low-key, unpolished, and less design-y, I began to understand why anyone would ever hire an interior designer (if they had the resources to, of course).

Not every element would work realistically in our space. For instance, we do not have any closets except for a tiny one in the hallway, so there’s nowhere else for our clothing rack and dresser to go. Our bedroom is just too small. But the beauty of Modsy is that I can easily swap out one of the credenzas for a wardrobe, or add the sofa that we already have and see how it would look with a different rug. And even though most products in this scheme are way out of our budget (which you can indicate during on-boarding, a step I skipped), it’s still fun to play house.

Once you settle on a design that you love—you have unlimited tries to get there—you simply add items to your cart, either opting to check out through Modsy, or through a retailer’s individual website.

The Essential Package begins at $99 per room, and the Premium is offered at $299—which is much more affordable than hiring an interior designer. Each package includes an interactive furniture swapping tool for unlimited visualizations. For now, you’ll have to submit changes to your stylist who will then send back your reimagined room within two business days, but Modsy is working toward making the process happen in real time. The Premium package also includes phone and email support, access to discounts and promotions, and 360-degree views.

Tellerman believes that the way we shop for and design our homes will change tremendously thanks to visualization. Modsy’s mission is to transform that process. "We're going to be looking back at the way we used to shop for furniture and say, ‘I can’t believe they used to buy furniture for their house hoping that it would arrive and fit.’"