Homepolish was a company that offered a service that matched a curated set of interior designers and renovation professionals with homeowners looking to renovate their homes. The company’s byline was “Making the world a better space.” Homepolish.com was the company’s official website.
Homepolish had some big names among its clients, including model Karlie Kloss, Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine Cohen, and heiress Hannah Bronfman. At one time, it had nearly 2 million followers on social media and a $100 million valuation.
Any attempt to find Homepolish.com today is met with the message, “This Page Is Under Construction – Coming Soon!” For those who take this message seriously, “soon” has been over three years, and we are still counting.
What could have happened to the website that said it was founded “with a simple idea: interior design needed a redesign for the way we live now”? This is the question we want to answer in this article. We follow the history of the company and identify some of its milestones and controversies.
The History of Homepolish.com
Noa Santos established Homepolish in 2012. Santos became the CEO of the company. He was educated at the private, coeducational college preparatory school in Honolulu, ‘Iolani School. After ‘Iolani, he was admitted to Stanford University, where he majored in architecture and business. He left Stanford to join a high-end interior design firm in New York City.
An article published by Santos’ former school indicates that it was at the New York interior design firm that Santos became frustrated with the way the industry worked. He decided to leave his job and start on his own. This is how Homepolish began.
One of Santos’ first clients was Will Nathan, a Buzzfeed coder. Working together, Santos and Nathan redesigned an apartment in Chelsea belonging to the latter on a budget. According to Iolani.org, it is this collaboration that led the two to reimagine “the interior design experience to be accessible, personal, and fun.”
Introducing a New Model for Incentivizing Designers
Writing for the Vox Media-owned Racked.com, Chavie Lieber tells the story of how Santos and Nathan would go on to change the traditional client-designer relationship.
Lieber quotes Nathan, who says that attempting to find someone to assist him in designing his place was challenging and often condescending on the part of designers. He says that sometimes designers didn’t answer his emails, or when they heard his budget, they would ask him if he had tried Ikea.
Nathan’s frustrations led him to conclude that he was looking for a service that wasn’t there. This was when he and Santos decided to adopt an approach of billing clients by the hour and not by the project. Even though this model did not pay designers what they would get if they worked for big interior design companies, Lieber suggests that it gave “young designers the type of exposure they wouldn’t get working under a big name.”
Laughing All the Way to the Bank
A few years after it was established, Homepolish was getting the support of funders with deep pockets. Courtney Rubin writes for Medium.com and reports that “Homepolish went on to attract $20 million in funding from entrepreneurs-turned-investors such as Warby Parker co-founder Andy Hunt, who became enamored after buying $1,300 of design time.”
By mid-2016, Homepolish had spread to 16 cities, with over 500 designers in its books. Therefore, not many were surprised when they heard that Homepolish had moved into a 12,000-square-foot space in New York City.
Sarah Jacobs of BusinessInsider.com was impressed by the new fancy office. She writes that “sensibility, combined with Santos’ creative eye, led to what are now Homepolish’s gorgeous new headquarters in New York City’s Flatiron District.”
A Collapsing House of Cards
If things looked like they were going well for Homepolish, many would soon discover that they were not. The company collapsed in September 2019.
It was Santos himself who relayed the message: “While I still hope for the best for the company and all of us, we frankly don’t have the funding left to run the business on an ongoing basis.” Striking the final nail on the firm’s coffin, he said, “The company owes more money than it has now or it will have in the future … We’re not continuing operations going forward.”
An Inexperienced CO Obsessed With Image
Rubin reports that the bravado shown by Santos and Nathan in interviews was a facade that would soon collapse to expose “a much messier reality.” She quotes some two dozen employees and contracted designers who told the story of the messy reality.
According to Rubin, the designers and employees said that “Santos was an inexperienced CEO whose obsession with image led him to alienate his employees, his designers, and his customers.” They add that Santo’s conduct led to “a fear-based culture where sound strategy couldn’t flourish, and where the pressure to grow led to reckless decision-making.”
Rubin depicts the calamity of the collapse of Homepolish. She writes, “The beautiful house of cards eventually collapsed, leaving hundreds of freelance designers unpaid, with some still owed as much as $32,000.”
But what did Santos have to say for himself? He admits that he made reckless decisions under pressure to grow. However, he told ArchitecturalDigest.com that it would be wrong to lay all the blame on his doorstep. He says, “When we raised capital, I was just 25 and did not feel confident enough to have discussions with investors about expectations.”
Santos adds that “You can’t pump funds into a service-oriented company the same way you can a technology company and expect things to evolve and grow the same way.” Concluding, “Intrinsically, it takes time to build a home.”
What Then Happened to Homepolish.com?
When Santos admitted that his company had run out of money in September 2019, it became clear that the company’s assets like Homepolish.com had also come to the end of their life. The website went offline soon after the company collapsed.
In her article published on ArchitecturalDigest.com, Allison Duncan reminds us that while Santos had his failings, there are many things he did right. “Under a comprehensive mission of accessibility, transparency, and affordability, the brand promoted the work of emerging designers, helped build their portfolios, democratized the design process, and disrupted the industry with a then first-of-its-kind technology platform,” concludes Duncan.
Duncan reports that Santos later started a new project called Freddie, a “membership-based networking tool for the interior design industry.”