The last several weeks, there has been much buzz in the interior design community regarding the giant home furnishings website, Houzz.
Most of you are most likely familiar with Houzz, but if not; Houzz is a website and online community about home improvement, decorating, landscaping etc. It was started by a husband and wife, Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen in 2010; their corporate headquarters are in Palo Alto, CA.
Over time, Houzz has grown into a business worth four billion dollars. At its core are some 200,000 interior designers who’ve uploaded millions of images from their own portfolios that are shared in millions of idea books.
Plus there are profiles from auxiliary businesses; anything having to do with the business of home building and furnishings.
Some love Houzz.
My Own Houzz Story
Like a lot of things, I’m not sure how I first heard about houzz, but I do know that I’ve had a profile on it, since 2010.
In the beginning, I recall it as being a charming idea that would undoubtedly help me grow my business as we were slowly coming out of the deep recession of ’08-’09. So, I put up a few photos from my portfolio and wrote a little blurb and waited for the phone to ring.
It never did. And I’m not saying that this is their fault; but I received no phone calls from my profile.
Then, in late 2012, the calls did start coming!
However, not from potential customers, but from marketing folks from houzz urging me to sign up for their “pro program.” This is a paid program for which houzz promises far more internet exposure. I don’t remember how much it was then, but these days the pro program is $3,500 a year my sources tell me.
After the first call or two, I started getting an uneasy feeling, especially after the woman snidely said:
“Well, I guess that you’re not ready to grow your business.”
I guess not; not with you!
Eventually, they got the message and the calls stopped.
After that experience, I was dubious about houzz and their true intentions, but I just went about the business of growing my brand on my own platform– this website.
While a few interior designers DO get jobs from houzz, mostly one hears about the plethora of “tire kickers” wanting ONLY free advice.
A few years ago, houzz started selling furniture.
I did notice this but didn’t pay much attention to it.
But, things started heating up (to put it mildly) When early last month, Houzz purchased a young start-up company called Ivy. (Now called IvyMark) – purportedly for from 30-40 million dollars.
Ivymark is an interior design management system started by two young, ambitious women. Lee Rotenberg and Alexandra Schinasi all the way back in 2016. They have about 2,400 designers who pay about 700 a year for the service.
The outcry in the interior design community has been nothing like I’ve ever heard before.
Hundreds of designers who have been using Ivy to build their businesses, said that they feel phenomenally betrayed as now houzz has all of their private client information. It was all over social media.
And that is when my curiosity was piqued.
I needed to know more about this situation and share my findings as I did with Restoration Hardware.
(At this time, I would like to recommend that you put down your coffee/tea/wine and SWALLOW. It will become clear in a sec.)
The interior design community, in an effort to assert their position and gain some control has created a petition which after my research, I do urge you sign; this is the link to access it.
I’ve vowed that if I see something, (big) I’m going to say something.
However, I’m not one to rely on hearsay and speculation.
And I figured if lil ol’ me was going to take on the GIANT HOUZZ, I would need to beef up, grow some balls and arm myself with slingshot, T-square and the facts.
Damn. That’s a good lookin’ lad! ;]
The biggest complaint that I’m hearing from interior designers is that they are afraid that houzz has been using them this entire time for Houzz’s gain, but at the designer’s expense.
And they believe that Houzz’s merger with Ivymark is the proof.
I began my research by looking at the Houzz trade program.
Houzz claims that they care about designers.
Well, duh… of course they do, because without designers, there would be no houzz!
But let’s investigate the Houzz trade program.
Trade pricing: I do not have a trade account, but I have sources that do and I asked them to look into a few random pieces and get back to me with the trade discount.
Folks, in every case looked at, the discount to designers is 3% and usually only for REINVESTMENT WITH HOUZZ!
Please notice the wording. There ARE thousands of products and if only one of them has a 50% discount, then they are telling the truth.
They give your client 5% off and you also get 5% that you get to REINVEST at houzz.
Honestly, guys, every time I read this, I feel sick
But, let’s put this into some concrete terms and the way to do that is to look at the products I sent in for trade pricing on houzz.
The first is this Chesterfield sofa found on multiple sources on houzz. (houzz is a storefront, they say NOT the vendor.)
Uhh… it’s NOT linen, but whatever, that’s pretty expensive for this piece.
I found the same sofa at another Houzz vendor for more money. They turned the image around, but it’s the same piece.
Golly gee, but I found it again for a better price.
And again at an even better price. Plus, they saved me the trouble of looking up the source.
Above is the designer “discounted” price sent back to me from my sources.
***Actually, no discount, it says. Designers get a 3% credit to reinvest at houzz.***
Really? As much as that? Let’s see. 3% of $8,130 is $243.90 and it’s not actually money, in the designer’s pocket. The money can only be reinvested back at Houzz.
(I hope that my mortgage company will understand.)
Luckily, I have a designer trade account at Four Hands, the source of the Chesterfield sofa.
As an aside, Four Hands is one of about 500 sources in Laurel’s Rolodex and it is one of the approximately 180 Designer Friendly sources, where designers get a hefty discount off the retail price. To find out more about Laurel’s Rolodex and how it can put more $ in your pocket, click here.
I rarely do this, but it is necessary to make a point. Below is a screenshot from my Four Hands Designer Account which lists the designer’s price. There is no other way to convey the truth.
(To be clear, this is not rock bottom wholesale. The vendors on Houzz are all purchasing from Four Hands, I am presuming at full wholesale and giving a hefty cut to Houzz.)
Whoa! My trade price is nearly HALF of the first two sofas and all Houzz can manage as a “discount” to the trade is a measly 3% that can only be reinvested?
I would have sold this sofa for about $5,700 and would have made $1,500 in my pocket. Designers need to understand how this works. No worries. Some of this took me a while to get too.
I looked up the most expensive sofa on houzz. A double-barely-leather-fugly-recliner
WHOA! 64k??? That’s some large for a cheesy recliner. For that kind of dough, I expect it to come with George Clooney, plus–it needs to massage, wash/blow dry my hair, tidy, dust, vacuum, do laundry/put it away, make dinner, do the dishes/put them away AND pay my taxes for the rest of my life!
Oh phew! I found the same recliner on Amazon for 99% less the price found on houzz.
And, I actually put the $63,999 recliner in my cart on houzz and yep, that’s the price. I am wondering what would happen if some foolish person actually bought it? Would Houzz find the error and correct it?
I would chance it, but I wouldn’t want to get smacked with a “restocking fee!” haha. Think not?
Please read the following reviews
Houzz reviews on sitejabber
I chose another piece that I have a trade account with from Currey and Company.
The Whitmore Chest from Currey & Co.
Currey & Company is one of my favorite designer friendly sources in Laurel’s Rolodex.
And once again, we have the whopping 3% that can only be reinvested.
From my designer’s price list. I would sell this chest for about $1,500. I would show them the piece on houzz and tell them that I can get it for them for 10% less. That will make them happy.
Therefore, through houzz, it’s $50.70 to the designer, that can only be reinvested vs. $500 in the designer’s pocket, if purchased directly through Currey & Co.
***Note to designers: Get Laurel’s Rolodex. $199. FREE LIFETIME UPDATES. Open your OWN accounts.*** You’ll make more money and save your clients money too! win-win-win!
I found this cool opium table on houzz.
It’s from a vendor called Belak. Very strange, but this table does not look like his other tables.
And once again, we have the miserly 3% designer insult.
I found it on Overstock for $1,352, but it appears to be understock haha, right now.
This is the square version, also out of stock. But it is verrrry close to Belak’s table for a lot less $.
15 years ago, I sold an authentic antique opium coffee table to one of my loveliest clients ever.
I found this beauty at the D & D Building and fell instantly in love. Oh, it was perfect for my client in Pound Ridge!
“How much?” I gingerly asked the salesman.
“It’s an antique- $2,100.”
So, there it is; an antique gorgeous opium table for $2,100 vs $4,900 for something which is indistinguishable from a Chinese import.
While we’re on the subject of opium tables, I did a little experiment.
I asked on Houzz…
“Where is this table from?”
Houzz gave me an answer, of sorts.
The next day, while perusing my page, I see a price tag on MY client’s table on MY photo and that houzz is attempting to sell merch to the public using MY image. And actually, all designers’ images. This is what they are doing now. (notice Belak’s table in the lower left as a suggestion)
Does Houzz have a legal right to do this?
Yes, they do. It is clearly stated in their terms and conditions that they can use our images for any purpose they wish.
Is it an ethical thing to do?
I’ll let you be the judge and I will also ask:
Do you think it is HELPING or HURTING interior designers for Houzz to use our images to sell merchandise to the public? (please reply in the comments)
More evidence of houzz using designer’s images to sell product. These are known as keywords, if you don’t already know. Please notice that there is no mention of “Laurel Bern Interiors” anywhere!
Sorry, not feelin’ the love.
Food for thought.
If EVERY designer took their images down, there would be no houzz; no idea books; no way for Houzz to sell furniture.
A few weeks ago before I knew that I would be writing this post, I was looking for a good General Contractor near me.
And of course. Up popped Houzz. I figured that houzz would be a good place to look for a good GC to renovate my bathroom.
I clicked on the link and filled out the form, incognito.
Excitedly, I waited for all of the wonderful GCs to pop up.
But, there was only one.
Are you ready?
They sent me back–
I tried it again.
And once again, they sent me back, ME. Just me, not anyone else and I ain’t no building contractor in any way shape or form.
Then, they sent emails to ME wanting to know if Me was interested in possibly taking a job with ME.
I wrote back,
“No, you freaks, I’m not interested. That Laurel is a bitch to work for!!!”
They sent me another email asking me if ME got in contact with ME!
When I wrote those idiots to tell them of their lunacy, I got crickets.
And THEN, they sent me a final email wanting to know how the “support” was?
A Disturbing Finding on Houzz
Last year when I did a post on Mark D Sikes, I asked a question of my colleagues.
What I wanted to know was how much is the Santa Barbara sofa designed by Mark D Sikes for Henredon.
A wonderful colleague, Patrick Landrum (he claims that we were separated at birth) ;] said that he found the Santa Barbara sofa on Houzz. The retail price is $8,000.
That sounded about right except that Patrick said that the sofa was not attributed to either Mark or Henredon.
So, I went over to houzz and indeed, not only was this company using Henredon’s imagery, they were claiming that it is THEIR design.
Where’s that damned slingshot?!?
It’s NOT their design. It’s not THEIR Santa Barbara sofa and It’s NOT their right to use Henredon’s imagery to SELL copyrighted designs. If only, they had credited Henredon, all would be fine. Or even if they left it blank. But to put that THEY are the manufacturer is WRONG.
Now THAT, is BALLS!
But, it’s not only Henredon that Eco First Arts on Houzz is ripping off.
Billy Baldwin – There is only ONE licensee of Billy Baldwin furniture and it is not Eco First Arts.
I contacted the designer of this sofa, Kimberly Denman; she wrote back:
Good morning. Thank you so much for making me aware of this situation. It is so frustrating! I have reached out to HOUZZ three times with no reply from them. They seem unconcerned with such situations. I would love to hear the whole story and maybe if we all band together we can do something.
My pieces are being copied by different people. I am sure not at our quality, but it is very maddening. I even have a Los Angeles designer who memo’d our Themis dining chair “to show a client” last summer… twice – I just saw an EXTREMELY similar chair in her line, just released at High Point. This is a well known designer who is more than an acquaintance of ours. Some people have no shame and unfortunately it seems there is no way to protect our designs.
Hopefully we can talk more soon!
Kimberly Denman Rebuffel
To be clear, I am not insinuating that Houzz is involved with any nefarious activity. But they NEED to know what their vendors are up to. Don’t you think?
Well, there’s much more but this is long already, so I’d like to sum things up and make some recommendations based on my years of experience, both as a designer and blogger.
I don’t think that designers have much to worry about at this point.
Clearly, Houzz doesn’t have a handle on things– yet.
But that doesn’t mean that they won’t.
And I don’t like what Alon Cohen said:
This part is mostly for designers and my recommendations
Take your badges down. I realize that this is very difficult to do because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that they are beneficial, but they are the opposite. The best of… badges are only benefitting houzz not you because you are giving them a powerful backlink from your website.
THAT is exactly why they always appear on page one in search results! Isn’t that rich? Please believe me. We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot all along!
However, when houzz links to your website, they are using a NO FOLLOW tag, which is telling google to discount the link and not give you back any Search Engine Optimization (SEO) credit. (aka: link love)
This has been corroborated by two Web Geeks. I don’t expect normal people to understand this, but the rel = “nofollow” is what tells google to discount the link back to our websites from houzz!
And above taken from the Houzz website source code is the nofollow link for me.
(I learned a lot of geeky things from my wasband, a techie)
And to learn why this code is even worse than I realized, please read this enlightening comment by Website programming expert Ken Lewis
Should I remove my profile on houzz?
It depends on your situation. If it is yielding you work, I suppose it would be okay to leave it up. But ideally, it is always best to use your own website to promote your business. What if Houzz went out of business?
Please remember the golden motto.
Houzz has been the low-hanging fruit. It seemed to be the perfect solution for busy designers to get some internet love.
Sorry, not buying it.
“I have an Ivymark account and really enjoy the platform. Is it a mistake to stay?”
I can’t make that decision for you, but I do have facebook screen-shots which show both Ivy girls, (Lee Rotenberg and Alexandra Schinasi) putting Houzz in a negative light. And then they did a merger with them?
Plus, I think that many will find listening to Nick May’s Podcast (The Chaise Lounge) where he interviewed Lee Rotenberg quite enlightening. I did. It is episode 193 that says Greg Durrer. The first 30 minutes is the interview with Lee.
If you are looking for a great project management system, I would go with My Doma Studio. (no affiliation, but reputable and user-friendly)
In closing, I encourage designers and everyone with a business and website to take control of your businesses and not on the back of someone who might turn their back on you!
Next month, I am going to be presenting an easy-to-follow guide that explains in non-geek terms, everything I’ve done to accomplish this website. It is not only for designers but anyone who wants to learn everything I wish I had known six years ago about starting a website and blog!
***But, if you’re a designer, a wannabe designer or just love hangin’ with designers, I have some more wonderful news.***
Laurie Laizure who started the awesome Interior Design Community on Facebook is making a bold move. The right move. She’s in the process of taking her platform off of FB and onto her own website!
Her new interior design community website is in Beta and all are welcome to sign up. I just did that.
And please, please share this post on facebook, twitter, pinterest. Share the link with friends. We need to get the word out. And please don’t forget to sign the petition.
If you need a graphic for social media, I created this image which is on my instagram.
And of course, you may pin it to pinterest, facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or wherever. Please be sure if it’s not automatic to link back to this post.