Now it's personal
The concept of your own shopping assistant is making the jump from fashion to interiors
Having a personal shopper sounds impossibly glamorous. It conjures the image of someone flouncing through a department store surrounded by footsore minions carrying frocks. The reality is much more practical. Mahon Point in Cork offers a Style Advisor service with Dee Mahon, who will "help you choose products and fashion from any store in the centre". This sounds like non-intimidating fun. Many of the big department stores - Brown Thomas, Arnotts, Debenhams - also offer personal shopping. There's no charge, but you have to book. The catch is that these services only relate to clothes shopping.
But wouldn't it be nice if we could hire someone with a trained eyeto help us choose our interiors?
I'm going to put myself on the line here and predict that personal shopping is going to be huge in interiors. It already exists, in a tentative way, but it's a new area, just out of nappies and not yet a defined field.
In interiors, as in fashion, using a personal shopper can save time, help you make informed decisions, save you money and help you get some great stuff.
Some personal shopping services are offered by homeware brands. The Danish chain BoConcept offers what they call an "interior design service". This is really more like personal shopping, mainly because it doesn't address basics like flooring or wall colour. It begins with a consultation in its shop in Dublin's Beacon South Quarter. Then, the interior designer will come to your house and help you choose furniture and plan the layout (the house visit that is part of the service is only available in Dublin).
The designer will work with the things you already have, but obviously will only consider advising you on the purchase of new furniture from their own store. As in fashion, those who avail of a personal shopping service are often offered a discount. Until the end of the month, Bo Concept is offering a 10pc reduction on orders between €3,000 to €4,999 and 15pc on orders above €5,000 if you use its interior design consultancy service.
Personal shopping services work well in department stores because the shopper can choose from different brands. John Lewis & Partners in the UK offer a 'Home Design Service', either a free 90-minute appointment in the shop or a home visit for £250. It's only a matter of time before Irish department stores follow suit. Arnotts would be a good candidate for this type of service, or any of the shopping centres that include a range of interiors stores.
Emma Lamb (below) of Lamb Design says: "Our personal shopping service is more popular than anything else we do," she says. "Often people don't want a designer. They want someone to help guide them to buy things that are right for the space."
For Lamb, personal shopping usually comes as part of a design consultation (€500 for two rooms). "I visit the house and come back to the client with a mood board and my ideas for the space. Then they tell me if I've nailed it or not."
If the client is happy, she creates a spreadsheet with the names, dimensions and prices of the pieces of furniture. Lamb has recently opened a studio and design hub in Delgany, Co Wicklow, which gives a physical dimension to her online business. It offers a range of brands, mostly European, and an estimated 85pc to 90pc of the furniture sold through her online shopping service comes through Lamb Design. This means that she can order it directly for her clients. She will also recommend furniture from other outlets, which the client will purchase for themselves.
But personal shopping for interiors isn't just about buying new stuff. It's also about rearranging the furniture that you have already to make it work better in the space. "I help people find what they need to purchase and what they don't," she says. "Having a personal shopper helps them to build a game plan."
Jackie Tyrrell, interior designer, offers a personal shopping service that begins with a two-hour consultation (€250 plus vat and depending on location). After that, it's all about what the client wants.
"The rhythm of everyone's life is different," she says. "I don't like to dictate too much. I need to see your home and I need to know what your tastes are, and I need to know what you are prepared to spend. I would shop for my clients anywhere that their budget allows, but the process has to begin with an honest discussion about budget. The difficulty often lies in creating the look that you want within the framework that exists."
She also finds that not all her clients need a full interior design service.
"A lot of people like to have a stab at their own home, then they run into difficulty and need a bit of help. It's like buying the earrings for an outfit."
Tyrrell is one of four designers who will showcase their looks at the Interior Design Hub at Autumn's Ideal Home Show. Each will collaborate with one of their favourite interiors brands: Jackie Tyrrell Design with Michael Murphy Interiors; Yvonne Mulligan with DFS; Maria Fenlon Interiors with Meadows & Byrne; and Denise O'Connor of Optimise Home with BoConcept. "We're taking two stands," O'Connor says. "One of our own and the other as a collaboration with BoConcept. We're gluttons for punishment!"
Optimise Home offers a personal shopping service (€450 plus vat for a one-hour session). Before the appointment, they send out a very detailed briefing document so they begin with a clear idea of their client's tastes and requirements.
"We can meet you in a shop or come to your home," O'Connor says. "It's flexible and totally impartial, and it takes the stress out of it. We can generally get a discount for our clients and we can guide them towards reliable brands. There's a lot of noise out there and a lot of copy-cat products. Sometimes you're better paying the extra €100 for something that's going to last.
"We have always helped our clients to buy things for their homes. It's interwoven into what we do."
Now, through the packaged service on offer through Optimise Home, personal shopping is available to those who may not be able to afford, or may not even want, a full interior design service.
The Permanent tsb Ideal Home Show takes place from October 25-28, 2019, at the RDS Simonscourt. Tickets are €15; OAP and students €10; and children under 12 go free, see idealhome.ie. See also lambdesign.ie, jtd.ie, optimise-home.com, boconcept.com/en-ie/, michaelmurphy.ie