This new startup lets you try out furniture before you buy it — and it changed the way I see my home

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Modsy opened my eyes to how different my house could be — and how new furniture could fit the space.
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Biz Carson for Business Insider/Modsy

I live in a San Francisco apartment, words synonymous with having “character” of a 100-year-old building and paying thousands for no air conditioning, heat, laundry, parking, or dishwasher.

My living room is not only a space for my couch and TV, but it’s also my dining room, my office, and my closet all rolled into one. After a recent trip to IKEA to try to get more seating for friends to come over, the only thing they said was how “crowded” my living room was with the addition of one more chair.

To put it plainly, redecorating – no matter what size your space – is frustrating.

That’s what motivated Shanna Tellerman to start her own company, Modsy, a startup that lets you try out furniture in your own virtual house before you buy it.

Early in her career as an intern, Tellerman had worked on the game “The Sims 2” where you can build virtual houses and arrange furniture as easy as dropping it in a room.

“I got really obsessed with seeing the world in 3D,” Tellerman said.

Her first startup, though, wasn’t about designing, but taking a 3D game platform. It eventually sold to Autodesk, but Tellerman only stayed for a few years as the entrepreneurial bug caught up to her again. She joined Google Ventures as a venture capitalist, but her idea for Modsy was always nagging at her and distracting her from pitches. When she moved into a new house, she found herself in all-too familiar situation of wanting to re-do a room but having no idea how furniture would fit in the space.

“This is a really big emotion purchase and there is no way try it on,” Tellerman said. “Then furniture is such a pain to return.”

For the last year-and-a-half, Tellerman has been working on her solution, Modsy. The company is launching to the public on Friday, but it gave Business Insider an inside look at how its technology works – and changed how I see my house.


My living room is best described as a multi-purpose mess. Here you can see my “dining room” (aka two-person table), “library” (built-in bookcases), “office” (computer on a table that’s straddling a non-functioning heater), and my couch. We love the apartment’s charm, but our furniture assembled over the years doesn’t really complement it.

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Biz Carson/Business Insider

Like Tellerman, I’ve spent hours browsing Pinterest and Houzz for designs for my space — but it’s hard to turn those pretty pictures into something that really reflects the quirks of my apartment or fits my needs. That’s where Modsy steps in. It starts with an easy style quiz where I just choose the rooms that appeal to me.

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Modsy

Based on the rooms I chose, I could then say whether I liked certain items from that style. Thankfully I could rule out a high-backed chair, although I did like some of the pottery pieces.

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Modsy

My style was Rustic Warmth, a vision that I knew I’d need a professional’s help to come to life. After you take the style quiz, you can choose the different packages Modsy offers. The $99 basic package was all that I needed to see my room transformed, but more expensive packages let you talk with Modsy stylists or get discounts on the items. You can also pay extra to have certain items stay in your room — like the couch you’re in love with, or your headboard.

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Modsy

All I had to do on my end was take photos from the corners of my room and standing in the middle before uploading them to the site. I also measured my room to give the Modsy team the correct dimensions. There was a section where I could fill out notes about my room, so I made special note that the closet doors (the only closet space I have) had to stay clear.

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Biz Carson/Business Insider

Behind the scenes, Tellerman’s expertise in 3D rendering kicks in. Modsy’s system can take my photos and start grouping them in the room based on where I took them. As cameras get better at sensing depth and spatial information, this will only get easier.

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Modsy

While computers can do a lot of the work, both design and creating the 3D spaces do require a bit of a human touch. Here you can see how the computer has stitched my photos together, but accidentally repeated my coffee table. “There’s a really fine balance between what a person can deliver and what there is to automate,” Tellerman said.

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Modsy

The end result is a blank slate for Modsy’s stylists to update when you need it. For my room, there were a few imperfections in the rendering. For one, I don’t have a fireplace but a radiator where the fireplace used to be. There’s also an extra foot of space between the book case and where the window starts. Overall though, it’s close to spot on, down to the book case details.

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Business Insider/Modsy

Each Modsy package comes with two designs — and I was shocked by how they’d transformed my over-crowded space without losing the functionality of it. My jaw dropped seeing my space rendered as a catalogue-perfect room.

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Modsy

Modsy re-oriented my entire room towards the fireplace area, and the two designs showed I could easily switch my desk into the window area or keep it a sitting area.

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Modsy

Behind the scenes, Modsy’s stylists have to work at turning the furniture pieces sold in stores from IKEA to West Elm into 3D-rendered objects that they can drop into a room. The startup is building a giant library of furniture that you switch in and out of your space. For now, stylists still have to review every item before you place it — after all, you don’t want to choose a couch that won’t actually fit the space.

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Modsy

You can buy all of the items straight off Modsy’s site. One of the hardest challenges (beyond just turning photos into a 3D model of a space) is keeping inventory up-to-date. Tellerman said her team works hard to make sure none of the items are on back order, so there’s no delivery surprises.

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Modsy

The ultimate goal for Modsy is to create virtual rooms in the cloud that you could continue to design and update over years, not just one time only. People’s style, tastes, and life change over time, Tellerman says. The pretty living room they designed may need to be kid-friendly years later, but the basic bones of the room would stay the same.

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Modsy

After seeing what Modsy could do for my living room, I immediately wanted to redecorate and purchase the whole room. While that’s not financially possible for me, it did open my mind to what I could do with my multi-purpose space. When I do decide to redecorate, now I have a way to see what it would like before I commit — and that’s something I’d never been able to do before.

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Modsy