Can Interior Design Be A Hobby – There’s no escaping Scandi design, but you can try out all sorts of styles with Spoak. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Spoak is fun to play with, but casual users may not get enough out of it to justify the subscription price.
Can Interior Design Be A Hobby
Nothing makes you want to remodel like staring at the same rooms for a year. Americans threw themselves into pandemic home improvement with gusto, spending $339 billion on remodeling (opens in new tab) and renovation projects in 2020. While that trend is expected to taper off as the world opens up, there’s still plenty people dream of redecorating.
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The fledgling technology platform, Spoak, aims to help them manage all their inspiration, as well as extract it and share their ideas. I decided to give it a try because I’m moving into a new apartment in June. I thought it would help me arrange my furniture and make some design decisions about the new place.
Spoak (opens in new tab) (reversal of “bespoke”) was founded by Hilah Stahl and John Kenney in 2019. Stahl was previously a product manager at Bonobos and Gilt, where Kenney was also a software engineer. The company is now focused on aspiring and hobbyist interior designers, “thingologists” in Spoak’s parlance. When decorating her own apartment, Stahl found herself frustrated by what she called an “extremely painful and horrible process (opens in new tab)” involving hundreds of tabs, ties and printed floor plans. She and Kenny created Spoak to streamline the multitude of services typically involved in designing a space and educate aspiring designers trying to break into the industry.
The platform offers a combination of design and project management tools along with a social network for members. The Spoak browser extension saves products from around the web to users’ projects and inspiration boards. It’s like if Pinterest, Etsy, and Photoshop had a baby.
Spoak is a project management and design suite for aspiring interior designers. It’s also for people who want to turn a side design job into a career or just want to play around with a beautiful hobby. They tend to be mostly women, and thus the site’s aesthetic relies heavily on millennial pink.
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Spoak conveniently puts some key tools under one roof. There are color palette and mood board tools that approach Pinterest. Spoak also offers a curriculum on color theory and other design principles developed by Lisa Galano, a professional interior designer (opens in new tab). The ones I watched were effective but not particularly exciting – a slide show presentation with animations. This contributed to the feeling that Spoak was just getting started. You can see the potential beneath the low-budget special effects, but you may not be ready to buy in. At this point, Spoak looks a bit like the latest entry in the option category it’s trying to replace – a version of the classic XKCD 15th standard (opens in new tab).
However, it is clear that Spoak is trying to create a new bar and the dynamics are commendable.
Subscriptions are required to use Spoak, and tiers start at $7.99 (opens in new tab) per month for individuals designing their own homes. Growth Membership is $16.99 per month and Designer Membership is $24.99 per month. The levels differ in how easily you can share and receive external feedback on your projects and whether you can control the branding of your projects. For hobbyists working on their own projects, the first level will be enough.
It’s refreshing to pay for internet service, even one that I wish was a little better. The company also makes some affiliate revenue, but I wasn’t worried about my data and usage patterns being the best product.
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When you first log in, there are easy links to the three main areas of the site: Viz, Color Pal, and the Project Editor. The menu at the top contains quick links to all the design tools, classes, product database and the community section. There is often a banner offering an engagement challenge. Participants can receive discounts at certain stores for using their products to create a visualization (Vizi), which is then entered into a raffle. I can see how this tactic would build engagement, but I’ve never felt so motivated to participate. I have a clear need in mind and am currently trying to stick with the furniture I already have.
You can view items saved by other users as well as Vizis they have created. There is also an option to send messages to other users of the platform. The merchandise database contains a mix of small and established brands, but does not appear to be comprehensive. If you’re looking for a desk, you’ll likely repeat your search on Wayfair, Ikea, or Etsy and use the browser extension to save the item to your project.
Each project you create can have several components, such as mood boards or Vizis (more on those below). It can be a challenge to be aware of which project you’re working on when creating a new piece. Mine ended up in collections I didn’t really intend for them to be in.
There are two main Vizi options: a straight view and a bird’s eye view of the floor. The latter can be scaled.
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Let’s start with the floor plan. You can add walls, doors, windows and furniture to Vizi. You can edit the dimensions of all parts. You can also change the scale of the canvas itself to zoom in if you want to view an entire floor or apartment at once. You can increase the size by clicking the + button on “floorspace” or “canvas scale”.
If you start with a ready-made floor plan, you will need to go to the “layers” tab in the menu and unlock the layers to be able to edit the space. Like Photoshop, you can lock layers together and then move them as a group (think of locking a window to a wall so you can drag the two pieces together). Be careful not to add new items by copying and pasting them. If you do this, it will name the new element exactly like the old one and you cannot change it. The layers section gets very confusing when you have 10 or more walls, plus doors and windows in each room.
You can add furniture sketches from the menu and label your items with text boxes. There are beds of various sizes, including a cot, and multiple forms of tables. When I added a dining table and chairs to the living room, I couldn’t be sure if the dimensions I adjusted included the chairs or were just for the table. I decided to just add a table with no chairs, which did the trick, but it doesn’t look as nice. Although it was easy to enter the measurements of the walls and windows, I couldn’t find a way to place the windows on the walls exactly. As a workaround, I made several smaller walls of the appropriate dimensions I needed and placed the windows between them.
I desperately needed buttons to rotate 90 degrees in addition to a toggle or input field. I kept getting stuck at 89 or 91 degrees on different objects.
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Vizis’ strengths and weaknesses mirror each other. It’s hard to put too many custom elements in a floor plan view because the product photography won’t be at the right angle. In one elevation, Visi really felt the lack of scale.
Elevation Vizis shows you a room or walls and floor. You can add furniture, windows, art and more. This is where much of the decorating will happen in Spoak. You can change the color of the walls and floor.
The pre-made background options for Vizis seemed more ambitious than useful to me (unfortunately, I won’t be living in a French country house anytime soon). You can upload a custom option using a photo, but this limits what you can edit in Vizi (eg no changing the color of the wall). The most fun part of redecorating is imagining how individual pieces will look in your space, but in that sense Spoak is only partially successful.
Part of the problem is the product photos. With straight photos falling out of fashion in favor of realistic images, it was difficult to find product images that would translate well to Spoak: straight or overhead with a white background. The other difficulty was around precision, or rather the lack of it.
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Spoak takes a lot of practice to use well. Most of my Vizi’s look like I hired Salvador Dali as an interior designer. Perspective and scale are off. A chair seems too low for a desk, but is it? How can I tell if this bookcase is flush with the top of the window?
Measurements matter in design. I want to know if this desk will slide under the windowsill or hit right above it. Do I have enough depth to put the shelf on the wall next to the window or will it block the light or door?
Without knowing this, I was worried that I was missing out
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