Love interior design? Spoak’s virtual design studio might be your new favorite hobby

Puts a lot of tools in one place • Color palette and sourcing tools are fun • Floorplan tool is useful

Vizis take a lot of practice to look good • Not a real Photoshop replacement

Spoak is fun to play around with, but casual users might not get enough out of it to justify the subscription cost.

Nothing creates a hankering to redecorate quite like staring at the same rooms for a year. Americans have thrown themselves into pandemic home improvement with gusto, spending $339 billion on remodeling and repair projects in 2020. While that trend is expected to decline as the world opens back up, there are still a lot of people daydreaming about redecorating. 

A nascent tech platform, Spoak, aims to help them manage all their inspiration, plus source it and share their ideas. I decided to try it because I’m moving into a new apartment in June. I thought it would help me lay out my furniture and make some design decisions about the new place. 

What is Spoak? 

Spoak (a twist on “bespoke”) was founded by Hilah Stahl and John Kenney in 2019. Stahl was previously a product manager at Bonobos and Gilt, where Kenney was also a software engineer. The company is now focused on aspiring and hobbyist interior designers, “thingologists” in Spoak parlance. When decorating her own apartment, Stahl found herself frustrated with what she termed “an extremely painful and terrible process” involving hundreds of tabs, links, and printed floor plans. She and Kenney created Spoak to streamline the multiple services usually involved in designing a space and to educate aspiring designers trying to break into the industry.

The platform offers a mix of design and project management tools alongside a social network for members. Spoak’s browser extension saves products from around the internet to users’ projects and inspiration boards. It’s kind of like if Pinterest, Etsy, and Photoshop had a baby.

Who is Spoak for? 

Spoak is a project management and design suite for aspiring interior designers. It’s also for people who want to turn a design side hustle into a career, or just want to play around with a beautiful hobby. These tend to be mostly women, and thus the site’s aesthetic relies heavily on millennial pink. 

Spoak conveniently puts some key tools under one roof. There are color palette and mood board tools, which approximate Pinterest. Spoak also offers a curriculum in color theory and other design principles developed by Lisa Galano, a professional interior designer. The ones I watched were effective but not terribly exciting – a slideshow presentation with animations. It contributed to the feeling that Spoak is just getting started. You can see the potential underneath the low-budget special effects, but you might not be ready to jump onboard. At this point, Spoak feels a little like the newest entry in a category of options it’s trying to replace – a version of the XKCD classic 15th standard

It’s clear though, that Spoak is trying to carve out a new lane, and the dynamism is laudable.

How much does Spoak cost?

Subscriptions are required to use Spoak and tiers start at $7.99 a month for individuals designing their own homes. The Growth Membership is $16.99 per month and the Designer Membership is $24.99 per month. The tiers differ in how easily you can share and get outside feedback on your designs and whether you can control the branding of your projects. For hobbyists working on their own projects, the first tier will be enough.

It’s refreshing to pay for an internet service, even one I wish was slightly better. The company also makes some affiliate revenue, but I wasn’t worried that my data and usage patterns were the ultimate product.  

How to use Spoak

When you first log in, there are easy links to the three main areas of the site: Viz, Color Pal, and Project Editor. The menu at the top contains quick links to all the design tools, classes, database of products, and the community section. There’s often a banner suggesting an engagement challenge. Participants can get discounts at certain stores for using their products to create a visualization (a Vizi), which is then entered into a raffle. I can see how this tactic would build engagement, but I never felt that motivated to participate. I have a clear need in mind and at the moment I’m trying to stick to the furniture I already have. 

You can browse items saved by other users, as well as Vizis they’ve created. There’s also an option to message other users of the platform. The database of goods has a mix of small and established brands, but it doesn’t feel comprehensive. If you’re looking for a desk, you’ll probably also repeat your search on Wayfair, Ikea, or Etsy and use the browser extension to save the item to your project. 

Each project you create can have a number of component parts, such as mood boards or Vizis (more on those below). It can be challenging to keep straight which project you’re working in when you create a new piece. Mine ended up in collections I didn’t really intend for them to be in.

Making Vizis in Spoak

There are two main Vizi options: a straight-on elevation view and a birds-eye floor plan view. The latter can be scaled. 

Let’s start with the floorplan. You can add walls, doors, windows, and furniture to the Vizi. You can edit the dimensions of all the pieces. You can also change the scale of the canvas itself to make it bigger if you want to look at a whole floor or apartment at once. You can increase the size by clicking the + button on either “floor space” or “canvas scale.” 

If you start with a ready-made floor plan, you’ll need to go to the “layers” tab in the menu and unlock the layers to be able to edit the space. Similar to Photoshop, you can lock layers together and then move them as a group (think locking the window to the wall so you can slide both pieces together). Beware, don’t add new items by copying and pasting them. If you do this, it’ll name the new item exactly the same as the old one, and you can’t change it. The “layers” tab gets very confusing when you have 10 or more walls, plus doors and windows in each room. 

You can add furniture sketches from the menu and label your items with text boxes. There are different sized beds, including a crib, and multiple shapes of tables. When I added a dining table and chairs to the living room, I couldn’t be sure whether the dimensions I adjusted included the chairs or were for the table alone. I decided to just add a table without chairs, which gets the job done, but doesn’t look as nice. While it was easy to input the measurements of walls and windows, I couldn’t find a way to accurately place the windows on the walls. As a workaround, I made a few smaller walls with the relevant dimensions I needed and placed the windows between them. 

This floorplan took hours, and it's *fine*.

This floorplan took hours, and it’s *fine*.

I was desperate for 90-degree rotation buttons in addition to a toggle or entry field. I kept getting stuck at 89 or 91 degrees on different objects. 

The strengths and weaknesses of the Vizis mirror each other. It’s difficult to put too many customized items into a floorplan view because the product photography won’t be the correct angle. In an elevation Vizi I really felt the lack of scale. 

Elevation Vizis show you a room or walls and a floor. You can add furniture, windows, art and more. Here’s where a lot of the decorating in Spoak will happen. You can change wall colors and flooring. 

The pre-made background options for Vizis felt more aspirational than useful (sadly, I will not be living in a French country house anytime soon). You can upload a custom option using a photo, but that limits what you can edit in the Vizi (e.g. no changing the wall color). The most fun part of redecorating is imagining how individual pieces will look in your space, but on that score Spoak is only partially successful. 

Part of the issue is product photos. Since straight-on photos are out of style in favor of lifelike images, it was difficult to find product images that would translate well to Spoak: straight-on or from above with a white background. The other difficulty was around precision, or rather the lack thereof.

Spoak takes a lot of practice to use well. Most of my Vizis look like I hired Salvador Dali as an interior designer. The perspective and scale are off. A chair looks too low for a desk, but is it? How can I tell if that bookshelf lines up with the top of the window? 

Measurements matter in design. I want to know whether that desk is going to slide under the window sill or hit just above it. Do I have enough depth to put the bookshelf on the wall by the window or will it block the light or the door? 

Without knowing this, I was worried I was wasting my time playing with furniture that I would never work. I also couldn’t get over the perspective issues. I gave up trying to make a wall of Ikea bookcases because I couldn’t find a photo that would play nice with the Vizi. 

Is Spoak worth paying for?

After a number of hours playing around with the platform and several false starts on Vizis, I have yet to create something I’m really happy with. Yet each time I log back in, I figure out something new that propels me onward. The other day it was how to approximate a favorite paint color on a wall. The potential is fun and engaging, though I’m not sure how much it’s actually helping me design my apartment. Changing the wall colors in photographs using Photoshop, or trying out augmented reality apps to see how new furniture would look seem like they’d be more effective.

I’m not quite ready to abandon my creations, mainly since I don’t have a good alternative to what Spoak provides. That suggests that the niche the company has identified is real and underserved. There’s hope that Spoak will grow into that potential. You’re never going to get the feeling of the house walkthrough renderings on Fixer-Upper. It’s also better at giving a sense of style than really determining what will work in a room. If you have a lot of pieces already that aren’t online, it’s difficult to work them into the visualization. 

Ultimately that’s my question about Spoak. Will it be good enough to escape the uncanny valley of interior design renderings? Or is this the best that anyone can expect from an admittedly low-budget version of complicated and sophisticated software? Maybe this is good enough, and we won’t be quite as obsessed with what our homes look like once we’re not in them so much.

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