Designer Anne Tollett targets the DIY-design crowd with her new website, Hanover Avenue. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
From Pinterest and Houzz, to One Kings Lane and HGTV, there are more design resources available to the public than ever before. While all this access and education are positive developments, designer Anne Tollett has seen the downside.
“I was getting all of these mayday calls from people who would buy beautiful stuff from online resources, but when it arrived at their house, it didn’t look like what they [imagined] and then they’re stuck,” she says. “They feel bad, it’s expensive and the items are difficult to ship back.”
Tollett knows that hiring an interior designer is a luxury few can afford and wanted to find a way to share her expertise more widely. “How can I reach that demographic of people who love to do design on their own?” she wondered. “How can I give them that thrill without the pain of making a mistake?” Enter Hanover Avenue (hanoveravenue.com), a website she and her team of five employees launched in February to make foolproof decorating available to the masses.
The site features step-by-step instructions and tools so that viewers can recreate the virtual rooms featured. Each room plan includes digital renderings of the space; printable floor plans and elevations; detailed buying guides for every item in the room; and videos and text explaining how and why the design works.
“I want people to understand the art of design,” she says. “A flawless house doesn’t happen by accident.” Tollett says she and her team spend about 200 hours on each room, focusing on scale, proportion, color and balance, “so that you can reconfigure it and it will always look good.”
The website shows the room in two different settings — say, a small urban apartment and a suburban living room — to show that the design can work anywhere. To see how the design will work in your own house, each room comes with a free download of images of all of the furniture and accessories, drawn to scale. Simply cut out each item and arrange them to suit your room’s dimensions, as if you were playing with paper dolls. “It is like a recipe for a room,” Tollett says.
All of the design elements can be bought off the rack, so that the website does not negatively impact interior designers and so that everything is accessible to the average consumer.
The site is constantly rolling out new designs and so far, features everything from an affordable bedroom retreat and reader’s library to a fresh and durable living room and a dream closet.
Tollett is a Richmond native who studied painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I used to be self-conscious because I did not have a design degree but I realized that you look at a space differently when you look through an artist’s lens,” she says. “My background makes me look at a space as if it were art.”
After graduating from VCU, Tollett worked for Sotheby’s in New York and Los Angeles. She began a career in interior design when she and her husband, Rad Tollett, Hanover Avenue’s strategist, moved to Austin, Texas.
She ran her own design firm for years, moving from Texas to Richmond, then to Los Angeles and back to Richmond again in March 2014, when she decided to devote her time to launching her website.
Her designs are a mix of high and low, expensive and inexpensive, and Tollett hopes to make money by developing partnerships that will allow her to earn a percentage of the sales that come through her website. It’s not that different from how she ran her interior design business. “Most designers work on commission,” Tollett says. “They make their living by selling goods to clients.”
Hanover Avenue has partnered with bloggers and other interior designers on its website. In June, the site collaborated with Williams & Sherrill and local landscape designer Janet Baruch of Greenway Gardens to create an outdoor room. “I am trying to show the art of design through many peoples’ lenses,” Tollett says.
While Tollett is hoping Hanover Avenue is a success, she would never discourage anyone from hiring an interior designer. “I tell people that if you can hire a designer, do it,” she says. “It is a luxury item, but we are worth our weight in gold.”