Kirkland Startup Digitizes Interior Design Process

The idea for PurpleWall was born during a casual lunch conversation in 2013. The lunchers were Jonathan Chang and Alan Toledo-Ocampo, both marketing managers at Microsoft. The idea sparked when Toledo-Ocampo told Chang that he was watching HGTV with his wife and realized the whole interior design industry seemed old-fashioned. Sure, design, color, and architectural trends changed with the times, but the way of facilitating that business seemed averse to technology.

Coincidentally, Chang and his wife had just begun the process of redesigning their master bedroom — which had an unsightly purple wall in it — and they had no idea how to fix the space.

PurpleWall’s platform lets clients and designers virtually picture a room’s interior design. Screenshot courtesy Purplewall

PurpleWall’s platform lets clients and designers virtually picture a room’s interior design. Screenshot courtesy Purplewall

“We were just at a loss,” Chang says. “It was intimidating; we didn’t know the price to pay. Some interior designers charged hundreds of dollars just to meet you in person. It wasn’t transparent.”

That’s how Kirkland-based PurpleWall — an online platform designed to make interior design more streamlined and affordable — was born. Toledo-Ocampo and Chang eventually teamed up with interior designer Claudia Montemayor to launch the beta in late 2014.

According to the American Society of Interior Designers, the industry pulled in more than $6.2 billion in 2013. Furthermore, the organization reports an increase in interior design inquiries at the end of 2014, and projections are on the rise for 2015 as unemployment dips and the housing market continues to improve.

The design organization estimates sole proprietors make up 10 percent of the interior design market (the majority of sales comes from design firms). PurpleWall is a service for the self-employed cohort. Designers sign up for a PurpleWall profile that enables them to compete for design projects in an open marketplace.

PurpleWall users start a Dream Room Project, in which they identify the type of room they’re hoping to design and select preferences such as color swatches and accents. After answering a brief questionnaire about room function and uploading photos and dimensions of the space, users post the project and their budget. From this point forward, designers peruse available projects and submit pitches.

Users can pick and choose from design ideas, and the process is free until a user is ready to move forward with a specific designer. Once an agreement is reached on the design fee, which PurpleWall suggests be 5-20 percent of a resident’s budget (a percentage of which goes to PurpleWall), the designer provides the resident with a PurplePrint, a design guide that includes 3D renderings of the completed room, hyperlinks to all furniture and decor items, and layout guidance.

Becky Wren of Los Angeles recently used the platform to complete a living-room design. “I’d always been interested in meeting with a designer to get help on the rooms I really struggled with, but it felt overwhelming to find a local designer I could trust to help me create a space that captured our family personality and that was affordable,” Wren says. “I loved the PurpleWall process and the end result we achieved with the help of the designer we chose.”

Wren says she is working on submitting a second project through PurpleWall soon.

Everett-based designer Stacy Sears has found three projects on PurpleWall. Sears has a separate full-time job and enjoys the platform because it allows her to work on design projects from home in the evenings.

“PurpleWall is the start of an incredible trend in interior design in regards to utilizing technology around us every day,” Sears says. “It’s allowing homeowners and designers to connect in a way never before possible.”

PurpleWall is refining questions to better reflect users’ desires and styles. Chang, Toledo-Ocampo, Montemayor, and their three-developer team continue to research technologies that will further PurpleWall’s goal of streamlining interior design through digital collaboration. The main focus, Chang says, is to build a strong, engaged community of design enthusiasts. And he is convinced growth is on the way.

“We know that to build a platform, we need to work with strategic partners in the furniture retail space, real estate, as well as tech,” Chang says. “Once we build this community, and we validate that this is a new way of doing something, we see potential in the global market.”