Learning from the Web

There's a wealth of architecture and design information online that you can share with your clients. But how do you know which site is best for them? We curated these ten so you can help buyers and sellers find the right one for their design challenge, budget, location, and web experience preferences.

July 27, 2015

In the not-so-distant past, home owners may have had difficulty imagining if a listing could work for their needs. Maybe they wanted four bedrooms, and an otherwise perfect house only had three. How could they carve out another sleeping space for a reasonable price? Or, perhaps they couldn’t decide which paint palette would best brighten a dark hall? Maybe you offered some advice or suggested names of design professionals to contact.

Today, there's an alternative. In fact, it seems that almost every day a new home design–oriented site pops up with advice from professionals, home owners, manufacturers, and retailers. In addition, information is presented in a variety of ways from personalized bulletin boards of do-it-yourself projects to luxurious, professionally designed interiors and exteriors from around the globe. Some sites also showcase products with links to manufacturers and retailers to help obtain a specific look. One caveat to be aware of is that not all sites have a design expert curating the selection process so they may showcase a range of options, from "brilliant to banal," warns Chicago architect Stuart Cohen of Cohen & Hacker Architects. We've organized them in alphabetical order.

Apartment Therapy. Designed as an inspirational guide for decorating or renovating apartments, the site features posts from amateurs, some of whom have sought professional input. The choices are accessible, varied in style, affordable, and informative. Founder and CEO Maxwell Ryan and his staff use "cool" as the curating criteria, he says. Users can learn everything from how to organize closets to how to grow herbs without a backyard. A new video feature presents two identical apartment layouts furnished in different ways. There are also links to find furniture and equipment, and color palette suggestions from paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams. The site's team also publishes books; its latest is Complete + Happy Home.

  • Navigation: Items are divided into categories of style, DIY, homekeeping, family, tech, renovating, shopping, outdoor, and "the kitchn." But there are also other sections featuring before-and-afters and budget ideas to browse.
  • Content style: A mix of fun stories about real home owners who furnished their apartments, such as one couple who reinvented their mobile home or another who rescued a rental bathroom, plus lots of products to get that “cool” look.
  • Who benefits most: Mostly a younger audience with smaller budgets hungry for cutting-edge rather than traditional design ideas for their small spaces, whether an apartment, condominium, smaller home, or mobile home.

Archinspire. This is a high-end site with numerous examples of apartments, houses, gardens, landscapes, and products, as well as commercial and public spaces. Recent posts featured a modern apartment with Scandinavian style, a micro apartment with a mezzanine bedroom, and a backyard terrace with sloping terrain transformed by garden spaces surrounding a swimming pool. The site also presents clever products with an architectural vibe such as a round modern coffee table with different colored drawers for storage underneath. Architects and designers submit work for consideration.

  • Navigation: Examples are divided by apartments, houses, gardens and landscapes, products, public and commercial, and products.
  • Content style: Each category showcases numerous examples in a magazine format, making zeroing in on any project easy.
  • Who benefits most: Those who seek high-end design and novel solutions but who don’t want to have to wade through excessive content.

Curbed. Geared for those looking for real estate in specific cities and neighborhoods, the site offers witty, insightful coverage about new developments and transformations, either from a national perspective or in a particular market. It also gathers information on recent area listings of note, such as the Upper East Side townhouse where fictional party girl Holly Golightly hosted her gatherings in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A recurring feature for East Coast voyeurs is House Calls, which tours New Yorkers’ offbeat homes. In Denver, the site recently featured a home fabricated from recycled shipping containers to show how this new style of green housing can be spruced up with luxe finishes.

  • Navigation: The main filter for stories is by location, though with listings and news mixed together it can take users time to find what they’re after.
  • Content style: Expect a newspaper-style format with catchy headlines about current real estate news and trends.
  • Who benefits most: Celebrity watchers, hyperlocal folks who gather ideas through inspiration, or anyone who wants to be up on real estate developments and trends.

Decoist. This six-year-old site showcases a healthy mix for most tastes and budgets. There are stylish but reasonably priced ideas such as closets turned into efficient office nooks, vertical herb gardens for small balconies and terraces, and all-natural swimming pools. There’s also more utilitarian information: how to keep mosquitoes at bay, build a dog house, or caulk your bathtub. And for those wanting upscale ideas, there’s a dream house section, which recently posted industrial-style lofts with breathtaking cantilevered overhangs.

  • Navigation: Tabs divide content by apartments, bathrooms, bedrooms, design ideas, dining rooms, DIY projects, lighting, office, outdoors, travel, and more.
  • Content style: Once users select a category, the site presents one large image to represent a given trend, followed by smaller photos. Recent examples from the kids’ category: 20 rooms that offer a fun tropical twist, stylish toys that double as décor, and 25 brilliant blue nursery designs.
  • Who benefits most: Those who want to see a mix of mostly practical interior design and architecture ideas that still look stylish.

Designboom. This site posts extremely cutting-edge ideas, both residential and commercial, from around the globe. You might see a floating contemporary yacht home with underwater rooms, an eco-safari lodge, or urban tree houses here. Want an even more novel design? Check out the transparent sleeping capsules—24 feet long by 8 feet high and wide—fabricated from weatherproof aerospace aluminum and suspended above Peru’s sacred Cuzco valley to offer intrepid travelers a place to sleep and enjoy spectacular views.

  • Navigation: The site is organized with architect, design, art, technology, and shop tabs, but it can be hard to find ideas that appeal to a particular design aesthetic.
  • Content style: A home page that resembles a giant collage with an archived slide show playing up numerous design and architecture projects, plus different subcategories for browsing.
  • Who benefits most: Architecture, travel, and design buffs who want to know about imaginative interiors, exteriors, technology, and products, but may not be looking to find content for their own specific needs.

Dwelling Gawker. A curated photo gallery with submissions from designers, architects, and home owners worldwide, this site presents a format similar to Pinterest yet with a cleaner presentation. Thumbnail images and short descriptions, which link from the original post, feature both residential and commercial spaces, as well as innovative design ideas. One off-beat example features a laundry-room floor stenciled to look like an intricate rug.

  • Navigation: Organized two ways—all posts viewed at once or separated out according to different categories such as lighting, garden, furniture, house tours, and before-and-afters.
  • Content style: The social networking format of this site allows users to favorite, tag, and make notes on posts.
  • Who benefits most: DIY home owners looking for a better curated alternative to Pinterest.

Houzz. Considered by many to be the largest residential renovation and design community online, this site attracts more than 30 million monthly users, according to the company, founded six years ago by a couple working on their own home. Home owners can post queries on a discussion board to engage professionals about how to source a look or solve problems. Cohen says Houzz (and other sites included here) have replaced the home magazine as a design source. "In the past, our clients came to us with a clipping file of images. Now, they send a link to their digital clipping file," he says. San Francisco designer Sarah Barnard also uses Houzz as a collaborative tool. "The ability to search photos by keyword and collect images into shareable albums makes sharing ideas with clients and colleagues simple and fun," she says.

  • Navigation: Easy to maneuver from category to category — different rooms in a house, styles, budgets, location, and size.
  • Content style: A magazine-style format; instead of turning another page, simply scroll down for another example.
  • Who benefits most: This one is for home owners who are ready to embark on a remodel and who want to pose a design dilemma query, find the sources of products showcased, or even hire a pro for a project.

Pinterest. This site is perhaps the best-known social media site in the amateur design world. The upside: You get to curate your own boards featuring all types of linked images, from inexpensive to pricey. The downside: The site is not focused purely on design, so you get food and fashion served up, too. Looking for ingredients to put together a timeless-looking kitchen? Watch out or you’ll get distracted by recipes for cookies that resemble basketballs or vegan meals with lots of protein. San Francisco designer Claudia Juestel of Adeeni Design Group likes Pinterest as a starting point.
We get new clients started by creating a private project board for them and asking them to pin designs they like from our many boards. Then, we share inspirational photos with them, they do the same, and we leave notes for each other throughout the project. It’s been a great communication tool to understand each others' thoughts," she says. She prefers Pinterest to Houzz for collecting images since it’s not limited to professionally designed work.

  • Navigation: Time-consuming, due to the clutter.
  • Content style: A social network bulletin board with array of images tacked up by anyone from amateurs to pros.
  • Who benefits most: Those who thrive on the ability to comb through a huge variety to find design solutions, many easy and affordable to pursue.

Remodelista. The site is a good jumping-off point for distinct projects, from finding ways to use small spaces to soundproofing a room. But it also helps users educate themselves on broader subjects such as selecting paint colors, says Newtown, Conn.–based designer Nora Murphy of Nora Murphy Country House. The site also features noteworthy design in hotels and shops around the world in their travel section. The overall look of selections is stylishly upscale, and for those who like their information on paper, site founders published a book under the same name. Because so much interest now centers on outdoor living, developers added a second site called Gardenista, The information presented is equally high-end, inspirational, and helpful. Examples: a trio of Minnesota barns, 10 ideas to steal from English country gardens, 11 ideas for all-white gardens. "The outside world is truly your oyster," says Murphy.

  • Navigation: Under the "inspiration" tab at the top, you’ll find both browsable "exclusives" and ideas broken out by room.
  • Content style: Similar to a newspaper with features on a variety of design and garden topics.
  • Who benefits most: Not necessarily geared to those with serious remodeling plans, this site offers furniture and décor advice to those seeking clean, trendy home features with a few DIY projects scattered about. Of course, both sites could inspire major undertakings.

To help buyers and sellers begin a search for design and architecture help on the web, ask them about their biggest needs. Do they want to find the right furnishing to fill an awkward space, hire an architect for a major remodeling project, or get color-matching ideas from professional stylists? Answers are just a few clicks away, if users know where to look.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).


Residential Styles & Structural Elements


A member of the Victorian family, the Stick house boasts a lot of detailing. However, few Stick homes incorporate all the possible features....