It’s 11am, coffee time. You’re flicking through the latest Vogue Living and, there it is. The piece you HAVE to have. Your heart beats faster. It’s perfect, you tell yourself. It’s on-trend, a must-have. It’s the piece that will transform your home. You head to the website. A few clicks later and it’s yours. Just like that. Your veins rush with the familiar feeling of excitement and instant gratification. That’s it. So simple and so easy.
The item arrives. No, that’s not right. It was definitely less pink in the image, (you think…) and smaller, wasn’t it? It doesn’t fit the space. It’s the wrong colour. And it doesn’t even suit the room. What were you thinking? It looked so cool in the magazine.
There are plenty of reasons to shop online for furniture and homewares. Firstly, there’s the usual online benefits – its fast, efficient, can save you money and you can have your items delivered to your door in sometimes as little as a few hours. But there’s a bigger advantage from a design perspective. Shopping online offers you the opportunity to find something unique – the gem that transforms your space, that, just perhaps, no-one else around you has. It might be from an international supplier, an authentic classic piece, a product by a talented emerging designer that doesn’t sell via retail or the artesian-produced product that satisfies all your ethical and design values at once.
Whilst we all know of the standard ‘rules’ that one should follow when shopping online, such as checking the authenticity of the retailer, being aware of hidden charges and delivery fees and ensuring your transactions are secure and safe. But there are additional things to consider when you are buying furniture and homewares online, which includes everything from décor to lighting to fabrics to flooring.
Any interior design requires planning and online shopping is no exception. Here are my top tips to avoiding the traps that online interiors shopping can bring.
Image via Williams-Sonoma Home
Always measure your space. If the space already has furniture, also measure that. You can draw a simple plan on a piece of paper with the placement and measurements of your existing furniture included, so you can be clear and realistic about what size item you require. Even if you are buying décor, you have to be aware of where it’s going to go. It seems obvious that a large artwork needs a large wall or a large bowl requires a large surface, for example, but it’s a point that is often overlooked. It’s hard to imagine true scale on a computer screen.
As a side note, remember that when you are looking at inspiration images or shoots in magazines or online, it’s just that – a shoot. Items are placed to fit aesthetically within the frame of the camera – and often don’t account for practical issues such as overall room size, ceiling height, appropriate space between furniture items and so on. Additionally, a shoot can look great when crammed with many different pieces, but the same look in a home can just look cluttered.
Interior designers always start with a mood board. It’s a way of pulling together ideas that relate to the mood, colour, look and feel of a space, before they embark on selecting particular items to purchase. If you are looking to furnish a room, for example, don’t impulse buy the moment you see something you love online. Use a program like PowerPoint to arrange a page of images containing your wish list so can see how they look together in one space and if they complement eachother and other existing items in the space they are intended for (think colours, textures, scale, style etc). It might seem like a lot of work – and may not give you that instant purchasing ‘hit’ you desire, but really doesn’t take long and can save you money and pain in the long run.
Matching colours based on online images always involves risk. The same item can look vastly different from one monitor to the next. The only way to ensure you know exactly the colour you will receive is to check the item in store, ask for a sample of the fabric to be sent to you, or check the PMS colour. Otherwise, select with caution.
We completely lose the sense of touch when we shop online. Without the ability to experience an items tactility, it’s easy to forget to consider it as an important factor. Always check the materiality of the product and consider this for both shipping/delivery, duties and care / cleaning. Is the material safe? Is it porous? Will it scratch your surfaces? Obvious questions when purchasing in store but easy to overlook online.
LIGHTING & ELECTRICALS
Be aware particularly when purchasing from international or vintage suppliers. You want to be sure that the item meets Australian electrical standards and regulations as well as ensuring that the power supply and adaptor are relevant for Australia (240v 50hz). Also, whether local or international, check the supplier offers a valid warranty and always check the return policy in case of faulty items.
Image via Williams-Sonoma Home
FABRICS & UPHOLSTERED ITEMS
Fabrics can look different according to the light. Ask for a sample of the fabric so you can see its nuances in situ. Look at colour, texture and how light might affect the fabric. Also check fabric cleaning instructions.
SHIPPING AND DELIVERY
Check shipping fees and any hidden costs such as taxes or duties if purchasing from an international supplier. Also be aware that large or heavy items may incur large shipping / delivery fees, which obviously adds to the overall cost of your item.
Check the delivery time and details. For smaller, locally sourced pieces, it may be faster and just as cost effective to collect the item from the store yourself.
Its not unusual for internationally manufactured and custom-made items to have standard lead times of up to 16 weeks (particularly if coming from Europe). Be aware, particularly if you are purchasing for a particular event with a time-sensitivity. It’s a small point that can cause big issues.
If purchasing from an international site, make sure you convert to Australian dollars (as well as including shipping etc) when you are comparing to purchasing from a local supplier.
Many online retailers with local retail stores will allow you to return items to the store, but make sure you check. There’s obviously a larger chance the item you purchase may be not right if you have not seen it in the flesh first.
FLOORING / RUGS
Measure, measure, measure. Be clear about the correct size rug for your space. Try and assess the quality as much as possible. What material is it? Will it be soft? How is it cleaned and do you know what that means from a textural / feel perspective.
Be aware of unsavoury retailers passing replica items off as the real thing. Always check the fine print for details such as materials and country of manufacture.
THE BUY-IT-NOW DEAL
Sites that offer daily deals and amazing prices on furniture and homewares based on timed-sales often work on the premise of impulse buying. It’s a too-good-to-refuse offer on an item that would cost 2 or 3 times more from a retail store. Whilst there are good deals to be had, be sure to still employ all the above tips, focussing particularly on delivery (they often have extremely lengthy delivery times) and quality (if it really looks too good to be true it probably is). Also be aware of getting caught up buying items you don’t need. Homewares need a home, and too much of a good thing just ends up looking like clutter.