When we think about redecorating a room in a tropical home, or starting from scratch in a new house, we are often overwhelmed by the options available. We see beautiful room displays in glossy magazines but decorating like those usually turns out to be either way beyond our budget or impractical because a lot of the items shown are not available in the country where we live.
There are dozens of magazines like Tropical House & Garden on the web from where we can gain ideas, and literally thousands of home décor websites, and whilst browsing through all those can be a lot of fun, it can also be exhausting in trying to narrow down the options to something that suits both our taste and budget.
Over the years I’ve narrowed down my web searches for interior decorating ideas to just two sites: Pinterest and Houzz. In case you’re not familiar with those, I shall explain in this article how they work.
They’ve both been around for a little over 10 years and have tens of millions of images of home decorating and design ideas between them. Pinterest is the better known of the two because it covers topics much broader than the architecture, home decorating and home improvement topics that Houzz focuses on.
Many people think of Pinterest as a social media platform where users share images that they like. But it is more than that. It is essentially an image-based search engine. It calls itself a “visual discovery engine for finding ideas like recipes, home and style inspiration”. When you sign up for an account on Pinterest (it’s free) you will be asked to set up a profile that includes a list of your interests. You will then see a “home feed” (similar to a Facebook newsfeed) that contains images relating to those interests. You can also search for a specific interest and receive a feed of images relating to that topic.
Those images are photos that other Pinterest users have found interesting on other websites and have saved them to Pinterest. When you save an image you save it to a ‘board’ (which is like a folder on your computer) which you will label according to your interests — for example décor idea, kitchen ideas and garden ideas, and so on. Pinterest calls these saved images “pins” – hence the name ‘Pinterest’.
Your boards are viewable by other Pinterest users so if they see an image that they find interesting as well, they might also save it to their own boards. The images link to an expanded explanation of what is in the image, and then from there through to the websites from which they were saved. So if you see a home decorating idea that you like on someone’s board, you can click on the image to go to the originating website to find out more information, and if you find it useful you can save it to your own boards.
When you view your home feed or search for a specific topic on a desktop computer, included on the screen will be 3-4 images that are actually links to advertisements or sponsored sites (that’s how Pinterest makes its money) but it’s usually obviously which images those are because the caption will include the words “Promoted by”. The number of advertising links on a Pinterest screen are half as many as on a Google search results page.
So this is why Pinterest is sort of like a search engine like Google or Bing. The difference with Pinterest is that the search results represent links that other web users have found useful, and for that reason have saved to their boards. Therefore there’s not so much ‘junk’ among the search results, and the results can’t be manipulated by SEO (search engine optimization) experts as much as they can on Google and Bing, because they represent what the majority of Pinterest users find useful.
Another way of understanding Pinterest boards is to think of them as illustrated bookmark folders. Instead of saving links in a bookmark folder as you would do on Google or Bing, you are saving them in the form of images on your Pinterest boards, making it easier to remember what they are all about.
Houzz has a similar feel to Pinterest with a home screen feed of images of interior designs, and you can search for specific items to change what appears on the feed, but the main difference is clicking on images of interest don’t take you to a profile page for the person or organization that posted the image or to a Houzz blog post about the topic (what Houzz calls “Stories”).
Houzz makes its money from subscriptions that professionals pay to have a profile and directory listing on the site. These professionals include people like interior designers, architects, renovators, furniture suppliers and landscape gardeners. So you don’t get bombarded with ads like on many similar sites, but you can click through to the professionals’ websites from their profile if you wish.
Another good feature of Houzz is that users can leave reviews of all the professionals listed on their profile, so you get to see what sort of work they’ve done in the past and whether their clients were happy with the results.
Even if you aren’t looking to engage with any of the professionals, you can sign up for a free account and just browse the completed projects for ideas. If you see a project or design that you like, you can save the photos to an ‘ideabook’ (something like a Pinterest board) so you can come back to it later when you are ready to start spending money.
Houzz has sites for 15 different countries around the world, but only one of them is fully in the tropics – Singapore. However, whichever site you sign up for, you can still look at the content on the others, so looking at the Houzz sites for India (the southern half of India is in the tropics) and Australia (the northern third of Australia is in the tropics) you will see plenty of tropical home decorating ideas there are well. You may also find a few on the US site too, because Hawaii is in the tropics (and many of the designs for sub-tropical homes in Florida may be suitable for the tropics too).
Of the two sites, I find Pinterest has more depth because it covers more countries, so you see more than just ideas from Singapore, southern India, northern Australia, and Hawaii. You get to find ‘pins’ linking to interesting websites and blogs covering the Caribbean, Central America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. However, because Houzz is specifically focused on home design and décor, things are sometimes easier to find on Houzz.
Both Pinterest and Houzz have apps for smartphones and tablets, but it’s recommended to try both on a desktop first because that way you’ll be able to appreciate the full scope of what they have to offer. On a smartphone app you’ll only be seeing one image at a time, and navigation is more restrictive.