DecoratorsBest dragged fabric makers online. Now the site is their biggest customer

When Barbara Karpf’s husband gave her a laptop for her birthday in 2004, the New York–based interior designer decided to figure out what she could do with it.

“I did a lot of work in the Hamptons off-season so that the house was ready for Memorial Day, and I did a lot of work in New York so it’d be ready for Labor Day,” she recalls of her two decades as a designer. “It was not the most glamorous experience. So I started looking online to see what could I do—how could I take my little laptop, which weighed seven pounds, travel with it, and run a small business.”

After rejecting concepts like designing for clients remotely, she found a corner of the design industry where she could innovate: fabrics. “In those days, we didn’t have all the tools that people have today,” she says. “I saw that no one was selling designer fabric and wallpaper online—so I was the first to do it.”

The result was the e-commerce site, which today carries not only tens of thousands of to-the-trade fabrics and wallcoverings by the yard, but also furniture, lighting, accent pieces, wall art and soft goods from notable showroom-based brands. Though the site serves primarily consumers, Karpf has seen a burgeoning trade audience in recent years.

At a moment when so many trade brands are wrestling with changes wrought by the internet (notably a demand for pricing transparency and frictionless e-commerce), Karpf’s site has been quietly making it work for…

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