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Dollar Design

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 6:22 a.m. February 4, 2011
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Sunny Utz's interior design career has taken on some diverse challenges, from tony beachfront homes on Siesta Key to indoor tropical water parks and a 6,000-seat theater in Pensacola.

Now her career is going to the dollar store.

Utz, based in Sarasota, recently launched, an interior design portal that offers decorating advice starting at 99 cents a question. It's a gamble that even recession-strapped homeowners and business owners want an opportunity to spruce up their space.

“A lot of people are somewhat lost when it comes to this [and] are apprehensive to branch out,” says Utz. “Now they have the opportunity to ask someone like me for advice.”

The site and a companion e-commerce business that sells paint and accessories gives Utz two advantages. One, she can display her talents to potential customers who make a tiny financial commitment. Utz can later try to turn those clients into more long-term and higher-paying customers.

The site also allows Utz to change her own outlook: Instead of spending the bulk of her time with high-end (read: demanding and stressful) clients, she can focus on regular folks who need a pick-me-up, not a 5,000-square-foot makeover.

“This isn't about an expensive fix,” says Utz. “This is about inexpensive, quick and fun ways to feel better about your space.”

Utz actually has several low cost advice options on The 99-cent model is the most basic, where someone who emails one question, no more than 75 words, will get an answer in a day or two from Utz. A recent 99-cent client, for instance, asked Utz how to replace a wall-sized mirror. The answer: Buy wire cables, S-hooks and a rod to hang curtains, tapestries or a fabric.

Other options include three questions and an analysis of three downloaded photos of rooms for $3.99 and five questions and five photos for $9.99. The top-tier option is seven questions a month and seven photos a month for $9.99 a month.

In the first three months of the site, through the end of 2010, Utz says she received about a dozen questions a week from clients in Florida and other states. One big source of questions, says Utz, comes from bachelors with little or no interior design experience.

Utz picked up the design bug early in life, when she took over her mother's interior design business, Sarasota-based Eunice J. Borden & Co. “When you feel better about your environment,” says Utz, “you feel better about yourself.”


Sarasota-based interior designer Sunny Utz recently launched a website where clients can get design advice for less than a dollar. Here are Utz's suggestions for improving a workspace:

• Paint an accent wall behind your desk to give the room life. Pick a tone that makes you happy;

• Clear away all clutter from your desk, everything except for what you're working on that day. Says Utz: “This makes concentrating much easier.”

• Hang a picture on the wall that depicts your favorite vacation spot, landscape or hobby for a mental break;

• Put flowers in a vase on your desk or a plant. “Even a potted tree in the corner is a wonderful touch to make you feel calm,” says Utz.


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