Sprucing up the home can be an anxious business. You can so often embark with high hopes and a very scanty notion of what the finished scheme is going to look like. Or what it is going to cost. Hiring an interior designer can help, but personal taste can be surprisingly difficult to communicate.
For example, one time we asked a garden designer to "do something about the back yard". He suggested painting the wall black with a multi-coloured stripe. I thought this was worth a try. My partner didn't. After about a week we decided that our relationship was more important than the garden wall and went out to buy a nice tub of whitewash. I'm not even going to get into the symbolism here.
The fact is that if we had come to the project with a clearer idea of what we wanted in the first place it would have saved time and reduced stress.
Five years ago, we would have been advised to create a scrapbook, physically cutting and pasting images from our favourite magazines. Now you can do it online. If you have any interest in interiors, you probably already know about Houzz (www.houzz.com), an online interior design platform that originated in California.
On one level, Houzz is an electronic scrapbook. It allows you to create an 'ideas book' in which you save images from the website that take your fancy. There are four million images at your disposal and these can be searched by room, style, location, size or budget. Planning a wet room? No problem! There are examples from all over the world. You can narrow the search to within a certain budget. And there's an informative article on what you need to consider.
Any further questions can be addressed on the advice forum where you'll find any number of homeowners and professionals are happy to help.
"Houzz is great for file sharing," says the interior designer Julianne Kelly (www.kevinkellyinteriors.ie). "You can create a shared ideas book with your designer or your partner. I also read interior design blogs like www.apartmenttherapy.com and www.designsponge.com, but Houzz is different because you can be so specific."
Unlike Pinterest (www.pinterest.com), which also allows you to create an online scrapbook, Houzz is devoted to interiors. Plus it can be used to contact the professionals behind the images.
Any image will take you to the details of the designer/architect/retailer involved in the project. In the early days of Houzz, it was not a great deal of use for Irish users to discover the contact details of the American swimming pool designer behind the glamorous image.
Now, you'll find the profiles of a number of Irish professionals on the site. If you like their work, it's easy to get in touch.
This summer, the site expanded to Australia and the UK, with Ireland a sub-section of the British site (www.houzz.co.uk). Houzz has just launched in Germany and France. "Houzz Japan is coming soon," says Vivienne Sung, country manager, UK and Ireland. "And Russia is in the pipeline."
Oh how the world has changed!
The site is visually attractive - it's simple, clear and easy to use. Houzz boasts 25 million monthly unique users, 500 registered professionals, and 5 star ratings for its smart phone and tablet apps. It is free to use, either as a home owner or a professional. But this level of clarity and simplicity is difficult to achieve and the technology behind it is very, very expensive. How does it work financially?
Adi Tatarko, founder of Houzz, explained at a recent digital web summit at Dublin's Tile Style (www.tilestyle.ie). "In America we have brand advertising, and we also have a facility where people can use Houzz to shop for products. There's also an option for professionals to pay to boost their profile locally. This means when people from Dublin come on to the site they will see your work before they see other people's work."
These facilities are soon to be rolled out in Europe.
The other way that professionals make sure their work is pushed to the front of the queue is by engaging with the site. The more they participate, the more they are likely to garner positive reviews. "You can work your way up with our organic algorithm," explained Tatarko. Organic algorithm? Only in California!
But could unscrupulous professionals pay to boost their own poor designs in their own locality? "I'm not sure how you define poor," Sung answers. "Houzz is a community - we're not judging what is or is not good design." It's a good answer. Houzz does not set out to be an arbiter of taste. If you see something that you don't like, there is plenty more to choose from.
Houzz is innovative and ambitious on the scale of Facebook or Twitter. And innovation on this scale is liable to change the way we think. Facebook, for example, altered the notion of privacy and redefined the word 'friend'.
Personally, if I post material on the site, it will be with the same degree of caution that I use for any other global online platform.