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For some, lockdown was an endless parade of binge-watching and binge-eating. Not for Jake Arnold. The interior designer, 31, who made THR’s 2019 Top 20 designers list, managed to launch virtual platform The Expert (theexpert.com) with entrepreneur Leo Seigal (co-founder of Represent, Pop & Suki and Prizeo).
The site directly connects interior designers with consumers for video consultation calls. It offers unprecedented access to a list of 100 names including Hollywood favorites Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Jamie Bush, Joy Moyler, Kishani Perera, DISC Interiors, Jeff Andrews, and Woodson & Rummerfield. Arnold unveiled it in between working on projects for high-profile clients, including John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Whitney Cummings, Aaron Paul, Rashida Jones, Dan Levy and MRC executive Mike Mahan.
“When designers heard Jake was attached, they wanted to get involved right away,” says Seigal, whose lightbulb moment was prompted by the many unread Instagram messages in Arnold’s account asking for decor advice.
“E-design is normally so cheesy,” Arnold points out. “I was really apprehensive because I thought there’s no way something effective can happen on one video chat.” But, he admits, “it turns out that everything that feels pretty standard to me is information the average consumer doesn’t have.”
Since going live in February, The Expert has fielded thousands of calls with clients worldwide, including SNL’s Chloe Fineman, who’s decorating her West Village home under the guidance of Australia-based Tali Roth. Prices, set by designers, range from $400 to $2,500 a session.
In March, The Expert raised $3 million, with investors including WndrCo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Forerunner Ventures, Sweet Capital, Promus Ventures and Golden Ventures. Says Brigette Romanek, who is both investor in the platform and one of the designers available through the site, “I joined The Expert to help more people create spaces they’ll love living in, and it’s been rewarding to see them experience breakthroughs in real-time.”
Seigal credits the interest in the platform to Arnold’s arresting style. His understated, inviting spaces showcase elegant millwork and furnishings that resonate against saturated walls. “In California, you’re surrounded by light,” Arnold notes. “Sometimes you want to have somewhere in your house that is a little moody.” It’s an approach prompted by his childhood in London: “Growing up surrounded by beautiful architectural elements gave me an appreciation for depth and longevity that I bring to my work.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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Taraji P. Henson