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House + Buzz = Houzz


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Its users call it house porn. Design professionals say it’s a phenomenal tool. We take a look at the seminal force that is Houzz, a site that makes being a couch potato positively stylish. And guess what? They have Tucson pegged as one of their next big markets. By Madeleine Boos.

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Adi Tartarko CEO and Alon Cohen President at the forefront of the Houzz team
Photo by Carla Duharte Razura

Paging through design mags and surfing HGTV used to be the only ways to envision your dream home. Not any more.

Now, armed with your iPad and a killer Houzz app, you can let your fingers do the swiping, literally, over 1.5 million design scenes categorized by room, style, design professional and metro area. You can create a digital idea book and find a local professional with just the expertise and body of work you’re looking for, without ever having to leave the comfort of home.

It didn’t take a design star to do this, or a Martha Stewart-style mogul, but a savvy thirty-something couple in Palo Alto, with a tech background and a desire to renovate their mid-century ranch home.

Adi Tartarko and Alon Cohen are the powerhouse couple behind Houzz, the leading online platform for home remodeling and design. Relocating to the Bay Area from New York in 2006, the married couple purchased a home with what a real estate agent might call “authentic period charm”. We all know that in the property market that’s code for kitchen and bathrooms untouched since 1955, small rooms and dark spaces.

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Screen shot of I-Pad app. Photo courtesy of Houzz

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The app in action – “ideabook”. Photo courtesy of Houzz

They bought the home to renovate, and soon ran into a problem facing many remodeling couples: they realized that communicating a vision to each other, let alone to a design professional, can derail a project from the start. As anyone who’s been through the process knows, finding a common language and a mutual design direction requires visual inspiration.

In the case of Adi and Alon, they found there weren’t enough images to communicate what was in their heads. Clipping photos from various magazines isn’t always efficient, and navigating between multiple design websites leads to digital fatigue. In a $300 billion home renovation industry, how could it be so hard to connect with architects, designers and contractors?

So in 2009, drawing on their shared computer tech and financial expertise, and with venture capital backing, they built Houzz, a website displaying the work of design professionals and contractors in one large portfolio: clearly formatted, easy on the eyes and easy to maneuver. The intention was to provide design inspiration and connect homeowners with design professionals. As for the name, it comes from combining the words ‘house’ and ‘buzz’.

Designers joined up, uploading their coveted work for all to see and all to potentially capture (although Houzz does restrict unauthorized copying of photos). And along came homeowners, renters, anyone with designs on home design – even tween kids wanting to play grown-up online.

According to Liza Hausman, VP Community for Houzz, as of March 2013 Houzz receives 14 million unique monthly visitors, and nearly 8 million have downloaded the iPad/iPhone app. Impressive numbers for a staff of 80.

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Houzz articles and editorial content. Photo courtesy of Houzz

The site contains 200,000 home improvement specialists and more than one million photos. Editorial content covers diverse topics, from chic bathroom vanities, to why authenticity in architecture matters.  The platform showcases more than 600,000 curated products, offers a forum for design discussions, and will help you find a local professional in your area. The downside? The 200,000 professionals are not vetted first, and their one million-plus photos are not curated, which means Houzz lacks the exclusivity of other home reno sites like Remodelista.

“As a professional, it’s a phenomenal tool,” says Tucson architect Marc Soloway. “At the start of a project I ask my clients to sign up and start creating ideabooks. Prior to Houzz, I had a library filled with notebooks of architectural images, a Houzz before Houzz.” The “ideabooks” he refers to enable users to collect and organize images by room, style, products etc.

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The photos! Photo courtesy of Houzz

Oro Valley resident Jane Peterson, an avid Houzz app user, calls Houzz “visual candy, a great resource for any item in the home. And it can be addictive too.” Others have been seduced and even titillated by the images, calling Houzz house porn.

Adi and Alon still use Houzz’s ideabooks for their own projects, and they’re available for public viewing (Adi and Alon). They’re not so willing to share their crew of design professionals, however.  “Adi and Alon would prefer not to share who they used with anyone. We want to make sure as a company that we are treating all pros as important members of the community,” says Liza Hausman.

Adi and Alon remain elusive and press-shy about their personal lives. They’re reluctant to share photos of their own home, and content to stick with talking about their business. Last year they opened up their home to The New York Times, but it seems they regretted it. Requests since then for interviews and information on their personal renovations have been declined.

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Find a Local Pro. Photo courtesy of Houzz

Meantime, the Houzz team is working hard to build its brand in the south-west, and in particular, Tucson. In March Liza, along with FLOR president Greg Colando, invited the “Best of Houzz” professionals of Southern Arizona (those in the area with the most views on the site) to an evening showcase at FLOR’s Scottsdale showroom.

3 Story’s Madeleine Boos was among the crowd, a mix of designers from Tucson and Phoenix, as Liza rolled out the results of the 2013 Houzz & Home Survey, the largest of its kind. It revealed that 51% of homeowners in the west plan to build an addition, remodel or build a custom home in the next two years. Bathrooms, kitchens and landscaping are the top projects planned.

What sets Houzz apart for Madeleine is a consistent look and branding – something that’s appealing both to advertisers and to those of us curling up on our sofas for a bit of house porn. “Even with explosive growth, Houzz has maintained its signature user-friendly platforms, organized information, and strong graphic recognition,” she says.

So with the stats in their favor, expect Houzz to grow even stronger, and expect homeowners to be right there with them on the sofa. Because, let’s face it, how often do you get license to be a couch potato? In this case, mind you, it’s a rather stylish one.

 

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