On-de­mand decor

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Marie El­iz­a­beth Oliver

In the di­rect-to-con­sumer prod­uct rev­o­lu­tion, all it takes is a few swipes and taps to get house­plants, com­forters and mat­tress sam­ples de­liv­ered from your In­sta­gram feed di­rectly to your front door. Now two startups are vy­ing to turn one of the most pow­er­ful — and whined about — home decor pur­chases on its head.

We’ve all been there, star­ing dumb­founded at a rain­bow wall of paint chips won­der­ing where to start. Was that trim color she rec­om­mended White Dove or Dune White? How are there so many ver­sions of blue-green, and what in the world does “eggshell” mean, again?

Paint and sup­ply com­pa­nies Clare and Back­drop both launched in 2018 with splashy e-com­merce sites, so­cial me­dia feeds and sim­i­lar price points to their bricks-and-mor­tar com­peti­tors. Rather than selling thou­sands of col­ors, they both of­fer a tightly cu­rated lineup of about 50 low-to-no-VOC (volatile or­ganic com­pounds) paints. And per­haps most notably, in lieu of pro­vid­ing flimsy paint cards, the com­pa­nies sell gen­er­ously sized, self-ad­he­sive color swatches for less than the cost of a sam­ple can.

“Shop­ping for paint hasn’t been an in­spir­ing process,” said Ni­cole Gib­bons, in­te­rior de­signer and founder of Clare. “The home in­dus­try has been slower to catch on to in­no­va­tion and e-com­merce. You can shop for every­thing on­line and have it ap­pear on your doorstep. That’s what peo­ple want.”

Gib­bons says an im­por­tant part of her vi­sion for Clare in­volved creating a vir­tual “in­te­rior de­signer BFF” to help peo­ple nav­i­gate the un­nec­es­sar­ily egre­gious painting process. Through eight ques­tions, Clare’s Color Ge­nius tool dis­penses cus­tom­ized paint rec­om­men­da­tions. The site also of­fers a paint cal­cu­la­tor and blog with plenty of how-to ad­vice.

For Back­drop’s hus­band-and­wife co-founders, Caleb and Natalie Ebel, the goal was to totally re­think the way peo­ple look at paint.

“It’s not a hard­ware store pur­chase, it’s an art project on your wall,” Natalie Ebel said.

The Ebels say they spent years reimag­in­ing every­thing from the straight­for­ward names of their paints to the twist-top, stain­lesssteel con­tain­ers. Caleb, a vet­eran of Warby Parker, and Natalie, a for­mer non­profit ex­ec­u­tive, said they thought it was im­por­tant to build so­cial im­pact into their startup, with a por­tion of ev­ery sale go­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee.

“We’re a con­sumer-ori­ented com­pany built by con­sumers,” Caleb Ebel said. “One of the most ex­cit­ing things we see is peo­ple are painting be­cause they’re be­ing in­spired to paint.”

For El­iz­a­beth Rishel, founder of the DIY home life­style blog Within the Grove, ren­o­vat­ing with­out hav­ing to set foot in a hard­ware store is an an­swered prayer. As the mother of a 2-yearold and some­one who shops for home goods on­line via Way­fair and Joss & Main, Rishel says she fre­quently rec­om­mends di­rectto-con­sumer com­pa­nies to her read­ers.

“The im­por­tance of com­pa­nies like this is they are sim­pli­fy­ing the process, which is giv­ing the home­own­ers the con­fi­dence to do it on their own,” Rishel said.

Nicki Clen­den­ing, owner of Scout De­signs in New York City, says the di­rect-to-con­sumer shift

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