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Interactive interior design website offers consumers, designers and manufacturers a new way to create their “dream home.”
Last May, she launched Doodle Home (doodlehome.com), a web-based interior design company. And in November 2011, the company’s e-commerce database debuted, adding the missing link to an ongoing mission to create an online design destination.
After graduating from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in interior design, Gilbert, 43, worked on a few residential projects before mostly putting it aside to marry Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Quicken Loans in Detroit, and raise their five children, ranging in age from 5 to 15.
She also is working toward finding a cure for neurofibromatosis through the Gilbert Family Neurofibromatosis Institute at Children’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and serving on the boards of various nonprofit organizations, including ORT America and the Israeli and Overseas Committee of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
When her youngest was approaching kindergarten age, she began itching to get her hands back into the design pot, so she collaborated on several multimillion-dollar projects as well as working on her own Franklin home.
“I was going online a lot, and I realized that the industry was so antiquated and fragmented,” she says. “Sourcing products is overwhelming. The Internet has so much — it’s a sea of information — but there wasn’t one place where you could discover, be inspired, get information about specific products, create your own looks, then follow through and purchase.
“I started thinking about how to make it more efficient. The whole concept of Doodle Home is to simplify the design process.”
So Gilbert, as founder and CEO, teamed with Fernando Prieto, the company’s president, whose automotive background offers a fresh perspective to the interactive and immersive technology. They compiled a staff of 10. Doodle Home quickly moved from Quicken’s former Livonia offices to another Dan Gilbert purchase, Downtown Detroit’s Madison Theatre Building.
The building was originally designed in 1917 as part of the Madison Theater complex by architectural luminary C. Howard Crane, who also brought Detroit the Fox Theatre, State Theatre, Orchestra Hall and Detroit Opera House. Gilbert had a hand in renovating it, along with Southfield’s Neumann Smith Architecture, into its current incarnation as an entrepreneurial tech hub.
The building is completely occupied by companies such as Skidmore Studio and Detroit Labs, which are committed to making Woodward Avenue a technology and Web-centered corridor of growth and activity known as “WEBward” Avenue.
Doodle Home is more than just a website. Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer, a design professional or a manufacturer of luxury goods, Doodle Home caters to all, allowing each to create and visualize finished designs. For the consumer, members (joining is free) can browse Doodle Home’s Look Book, a collection of pristine professionally designed spaces, like the pages of a favorite decorating magazine. But these images are interactive and have all been designed by award-winning decorators contributing to the website. Users can link to specific pieces within the page, or have similar pieces suggested to them, purchase the pieces and connect with the designers, if they choose.
There’s a Style Finder, where members are shown a series of interactive images to help identify their personal design style, from Cool Minimalism to Country Fresh to Not Your Mother’s Traditional. Gilbert’s style is Effortless Eclectic. A Color Finder allows members to utilize inspirational images to create a customized color palette. And layers soon to be launched include a Floor Plan Maker, a 3-D Virtual Room Maker, Mood Board Creator and Designer DNA, all to help consumers plan their space.
“The more a user interacts with the site, the more we learn about them,” says Gilbert. “While they’re going from the Style Finder to the Color Finder, we’re cross-tagging and linking. If they want, they can browse everything. But we’re trying to narrow it down for them and curate their experience.”
Today, she explains, consumers are watching do-it-yourself shows on TV and browsing the Internet, which makes everything seem easy and accessible. But it can also be overwhelming, and Doodle Home adds to the mix access to the design professional, who might be able to help the consumer put it all together or tweak the design.
“There’s a new community of enthusiasts, who might be very knowledgeable, but need a little hand-holding,” she says. “Even if they have good taste, access to great products and want to be very involved, the designer puts in the last mile that makes it a finished space.”
Designers stand to gain as well. Doodle Home’s team vets designers, both local and national — among them Birmingham’s Jill Schumacher of Rariden Schumacher Mio and Los Angeles’ Hillary Thomas of Hillary Thomas Designs — who submit professional photos of spaces they have designed to create a virtual showroom.
When the consumer has interest in a space the designer created, it creates potential new business for the designer, who is offered national visibility. If the member purchases a product from a link on the designer’s space, the designer earns a commission.
And manufacturers of luxury home goods, from accessories and lighting to textiles and furnishings, have a high-end, thoughtfully designed and easy-to-use platform from which to display their wares, which might have previously only been seen by members of the trade.
“Each piece benefits the other,” says Gilbert. “Everybody wins.”
By Lynne Konstantin|Contributing Writer