A mommy blogger who lives in New York City is sharing photos of the nightmare she said ensued after hiring an online design company to handle her home renovation.
Now Ilana Wiles, 44, a mother of two and the voice behind the blog Mommy Shorts, hopes other people can learn from her mistakes, and be smart when it comes to investing money in an interior designer.
Wiles told TODAY Home she hired Homepolish, a digital design company whose rapid success is perhaps most evident on its glossy Instagram page where it's amassed nearly 2 million followers, to redo her family's Manhattan apartment last spring.
"I don't remember at what point I started following them on Instagram," she said. "But I was hearing about them from so many people."
Wiles said she'd been shocked by how much traditional interior designers were charging.
"In New York, it's really expensive," she said. "So the first two people I called, just based on finding their stuff online or in magazines, had a minimum engagement of $400,000 — they wouldn't even talk to you otherwise. That's way, way out of our budget."
But Homepolish seemed like an affordable option, she said. When she signed up online, she was asked how much she was planning to spend on a renovation. Wiles chose the highest bucket: $75,000 and up.
"I thought, oh, we'll be among their most important clients," she said. "I didn't want to have some rinky-dink renovation. We were redoing our kitchen, both bathrooms and we wanted to redecorate the whole place and get a bunch of built-ins. It wasn't small."
But what happened in the next year was a total nightmare, Wiles said.
She said she had multiple problems working with her designer and the contractor Homepolish required she use, and the final result is sloppy and unprofessional: The banquette in the dining area detached from the wall the first time someone sat on it. One of the kitchen cabinets can't fully open without hitting the light fixture. The custom entertainment system doesn't fit the TV it was made for. Both bathrooms required a complete redo — a renovation of the renovation, basically — for tiles and ill-fitting fixtures.
"It just seemed like everything was measured incorrectly and everything looks like crap," said Wiles, who documented the damage on her saved Instagram stories.
Wiles has not revealed the name of her designer or contractor and said she does not blame them for the work. She thinks Homepolish took on a job it wasn't equipped to handle and assigned employees without sufficient experience. TODAY wasn't able to verify her story with Homepolish — multiple emails and a voicemail to the company have gone unreturned. Last week, NYMag.com reported that Homepolish is going under and that its CEO said in a recent conference call that the company doesn't "have the funding left to run the business on an ongoing basis." And last month, the trade publication Business of Home reported that Homepolish had laid off the majority of its staff and vacated its Manhattan office.
Multiple designers who worked for Homepolish confirmed the details of the conference call to TODAY and said the company still owes them thousands of dollars. They also stressed that despite Wiles' experience, many of the designers who worked for Homepolish are competent professionals who care deeply about their clients' satisfaction. In fact, some of them are still working with clients they acquired through Homepolish, even though they don't anticipate being paid for their work.
"I'll push through and make sure the client gets what they paid for, even though I'm not being paid," designer Crystal Sinclair told TODAY. "Which isn't fair, but it's not fair on the other end, either."
Sinclair said the designers are trying to form a new collective, separate from Homepolish, where they can offer their services.
As for Wiles, she's already spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing the work done during her renovation and has given up hope that Homepolish will address her issues. She wants others to learn from her story.
"Don't trust things by what you see online," she said. "In the same way that people only post shots that make themselves look beautiful, you can do the same thing with home decor. I would say really research any decorator that you're looking at. On their Instagram, ask them what did they do and what is inspiration, because it's often not clear."
Heather Caster, a New York City-based designer who worked for Homepolish for four and a half years, urges people to make sure they really click with their designer.
"It's such a personal relationship," she told TODAY. "When you're hiring a designer, get their portfolio and get their references, and make sure the two of you fit."
A recording that picks up on Homepolish's office phone number still directs customers to sign up on its website. As Wiles pointed out, there's no news of the company shutting down on its Instagram page, either, although in recent days, its comments section has been plagued by angry customers who can't get in touch with the company.
Homepolish is only one of multiple internet-minded companies that have attempted to bring interior design to the masses at an affordable price point.
"It brought design to a whole group of people that wouldn't have been able to afford it if they went to a higher-end interior design firm," Caster said. "The concept was great. The execution failed."