BOSTON (CBS) – Customers are demanding a refund from a Boston interior design service, after paying thousands of dollars and not receiving the home furnishings they ordered.
Decorating a home can be overwhelming, which is why Brian Levenson and his wife decided to consult with an expert when they moved into their suburban Dallas home last May.
During an internet search, Levenson found Homemade Design, an online service operating out of the Charlestown home of Amanda Zettel.
The firm promotes itself as “America’s leading online interior design service providing a dedicated interior designer that works closely with you, without hour limits, to design and decorate your room for an extremely affordable fixed fee.”
The business had a slick web site with positive customer testimonials and a Facebook page with nearly 5,000 followers.
“It seemed very legitimate,” Levenson told the I-Team.
Levenson paid about $900 for three “unlimited” room designs and also paid Homemade Design nearly $5,000 for a sofa and dining room table.
But weeks turned into months and the furniture still had not arrived. Levenson said Zettel also stopped responding to phone calls or emails.
Eventually, Levenson contacted the furniture wholesaler in North Carolina to find out what was wrong.
“They told me the furniture had never been ordered,” Levenson said. “We were very upset. It’s embarrassing to know you’ve been scammed essentially.”
Over the past year, the I-Team learned Levenson is not the only customer who feels cheated.
In Newton, a homeowner sued Homemade Design in small claims court for almost $3,000 for custom-order draperies and pillows.
“Defendant has failed to deliver the products and has refused to return the monies she has been paid,” the case said.
A Needham homeowner is demanding a refund of about $7,000 for custom-made drapes and blinds, according to a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General.
And a New York woman paid more than $8,000 last year for living room and bedroom furniture. At one point, she was informed the delivery was delayed because the truck got into a crash.
“I am a single mother and am currently in job transition so this is a lot of money for us to lose,” the woman told the I-Team. “I am extremely upset about it and quite depressed.”
Zettel declined an on-camera interview with the I-Team. In an email, she blamed the situation on “major problems” she has experienced with vendors this year and said she is working to resolve customer complaints.
However, several customers told the I-Team they have gone weeks without receiving any communication from Zettel. That claim is echoed in several other complaints posted on sites like Angie’s List.
The I-Team learned the business is no longer considered valid in Delaware, where it incorporated in 2011, for failure to pay fees and file annual documents.
When pressed about what happened to the money customers paid for furnishings, Zettel could not provide specifics, only admitting the money was “not there.”
In August, Levenson was assured a refund was in the mail, according to emails he shared with the I-Team. It still hasn’t arrived, and he isn’t holding his breath.
The Dallas homeowner also submitted a complaint to the Massachusetts Attorney General and filed a small claims case, though he is not optimistic about his odds from out of state.
“Unless this business is exposed, that is the only way this is going to stop,” Levenson said. “I might not get my money back, but this at least has to stop.”
Christina Oliver, a certified residential designer in Newton, recommended consumers refer to resources with American Society of Interior Designers to learn what to expect during a project.