If you’ve ever painted your bedroom yourself—and realized upon completion that the paint you chose looks like a shade of puce last seen on the walls of a high-school cafeteria in 1972—you know how trying to decorate your home can lead straight to the madhouse. While a good interior decorator can save you from such a fate, hiring one has always been a costly, intimidating, and time-consuming proposition. The retainer, the delivery fees, the obscene markups on custom upholstery …
But now Jake Arnold, an enterprising 30-year-old decorator who also knows a thing or two about tech, has made the arrangement much less maddening. His start-up, the Expert, which he founded along with his friend the tech entrepreneur Leo Seigal, could have been called “Decorating by Zoom.” Born during the pandemic, when we have nothing to do except stare at the walls and wish they looked better, the Expert pairs top designers with plebeians who require (just a little bit of) their services. They do the legwork, but also the brainwork.
These professionals—Michael S. Smith, Brigette Romanek, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Arnold himself, and more than 70 others—were previously employed by people such as Barack Obama and Gwyneth Paltrow. Now, armed only with a Google calendar and a Zoom account, you can book them yourself, just as easily as one schedules a therapist. And all for a comparable price—sessions range from $300 to $2,000 for a 55-minute session, depending on the decorator.
I wasn’t convinced that anything meaningful could happen in such a time frame, but after 11 months at staring at the faux-bois wallpaper in my dining room and asking, Why?, I was willing to try anything. And so I booked Arnold himself for a 25-minute consultation, mostly because I really like what he did with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s place, which roughly 34 million of Teigen’s followers have seen in great detail on—where else?—Instagram.
The Expert could have been called “Decorating by Zoom.”
A few days in advance, I e-mailed him images of my sad little dining room and a list of my objectives: paint the floors, replace the lighting, ditch the wallpaper. And then Arnold manifested over Zoom, stylish and collagen-rich in a Gen Z way but commanding the authority of those who have survived wars and famines. (Or perhaps just pandemics?)
There was no small talk: within seconds, he was sharing his screen to reveal an embarrassment of riches and solutions. Porcelain chandeliers, wainscoting, paint colors, checkerboard floors, étagères … all were delightful, and many were even affordable. His design ideas, clearly and thoughtfully conceived, were far more exciting than anything devised by a mere mortal like myself. Perhaps Arnold had spent his weekend agonizing over my design conundrums. But in all likelihood, he was simply summoning his expertise when he was on the clock.
As we concluded our conversation, I looked at my notes and discovered that Arnold had condensed weeks—perhaps months—of tedious decision-making into a fast-and-furious Zoom session. (Pro tip: to avoid developing a hand cramp when taking notes, ask for permission to record it.) Armed with my marching orders, I clicked-to-buy a rattan chandelier from Soane, blackberry-printed wallpaper from Marthe Armitage, and Swedish-back dining chairs from Nickey Kehoe, in Los Angeles. Now all I have to do is call my painter and figure out where to find a few cans of a color called “Dead Salmon.”
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for AIR MAIL