Boasting annual sales of $3.6 billion in its Home & Garden category alone, eBay has emerged as a huge player in home decor retail. But with 100 million auction items listed at any given time, eBay needed a beacon of style to highlight its decor offerings, so in 2006, the online marketplace recruited New York-based interior designer Shawn Henderson of Shawn Henderson Interior Design as its first Home & Garden design director. In addition to media appearances, his job is to educate consumers about design -- using the site as a resource. STYLE AT HOME caught up with the in-demand interior designer to discuss decor in the digital age.
Style at Home: How did you become eBay's design director?
Shawn Henderson: In 2004, I worked on an eBay showhouse here in New York; everything we used had to be purchased from the site. I was one of eight designers who took part, and that's how I first met the crew. They approached me at the end of 2005, and in 2006, I officially became their design director. I'd used eBay occasionally before the project, but not as much as I do now.
S@H: How has the web changed interior design?
SH: We're all forced to be techies now. I have 14 years of professional experience, and to see how much the industry has changed is amazing. I'm from the generation that had to get out there once or twice a week and hoof it on the sidewalks to find new sources and meet vendors. Nowadays, my staff still goes out and shops, but with so many trade magazines and resources online, the majority of their job involves sitting at a desk and scouting products online. The web has definitely made the design process more immediate and accessible.
S@H: What role does eBay play in your work?
SH: A large one, particularly as a source of inspiration. Part of the fun is going on an online journey to explore what's out there. It's a huge learning process, and I'm constantly finding things I didn't know about before. I have clients who shop on eBay and who will send me a link to something and ask, "What do you think?" The shopping experience has gone worldwide.
S@H: The web has also opened up new ways of reaching an audience, like your blog, for instance, at blogs.ebay.com/shawn.henderson.
SH: Blogging is a great way to keep things current and relevant. I'm inspired by different things daily, and it's nice to be able to share them and feed information to consumers. A recent entry was about sofa depth and how to find the right sofa. That type of practical information helps guide people through the shopping process.
Image of Shawn courtesy of Carrington Weems; main image courtesy of Steve Freihon
S@H: You use your blog to point out on-trend items that can be purchased on eBay. Given the staggering selection available online, is it important to have a navigator?
SH: Absolutely. I think shopping online can be very overwhelming for nonprofessionals. I hear that a lot from friends and family -- people just can't make informed decisions. Any time you can narrow down options and point people in the right direction, to that better choice, it's a good thing. When I'm looking for specific items, I come up with a little shopping list. Maybe I'm looking for an Italian brass-and-glass lamp in turquoise, so I start out with those specific terms and try to keep narrowing down my search.
S@H: You regularly identify trends on your blog; you recently singled out driftwood, paisley and Danish design. Any predictions for 2008?
SH: What I see are continuations of trends that are already in place: first, there's self-expressiveness, which translates into a more eclectic environment in which people showcase their own unique personal style; second, there will be a trend toward a cleaner, simpler, more modern aesthetic. In New York, in particular, a lot of the apartments being built are pretty modern, and I think the younger generation will be drawn to that look, especially in urban areas.
S@H: How do you integrate steals from eBay into high-end decor? What's key to creating a seamless look in a space?
SH: Regardless of what an items costs, it's about creating balance in terms of colour, scale and the combination of materials -- all the stuff that makes a room successful.
5 eBay shopping tips
1 Do your homework. If you have questions about an item, e-mail the seller. If you're worried about the colour, ask to see a photo of the item next to an identified paint chip for a truer representation.
2 Always look at the seller's feedback information. A seller should have a 98 per cent or higher feedback rating – that's based on buyer satisfaction when dealing with the vendor.
3 If you don't have time to watch an auction, determine your maximum bid for an item and plug in that number in what's called a "proxy bid"; eBay will bid on your behalf until the bidding war reaches your maximum. You have to be OK with losing an item if bidding goes even one cent over your max, though.
4 If you must have an item, choose the Buy It Now option, if available. It takes the risk out of the process.
5 Register for eBay's PayPal service -- a secure method of sending and receiving money online. That way, vendors won't have access to your credit card number or bank account information.
Image courtesy of Steve Freihon