December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

This is Living.com: A fun, slightly buggy and almost purchase-less visit into a den of décor

When I broke down and wired my house for cable, I became a devotee of Home & Garden TV. One of “my” shows ends by advising viewers to “do something beautiful for yourself.” I took this to heart, hired a carpenter, and started tearing out walls and cutting in new windows. Who needs decorating help with HGTV to inspire?

Me, for one. What exactly works with my new Coke bottle-green glass block windows? In search of ideas and goods for decorating my spiffed-up space, I touched base with Living.com, a “shelter” site that launched last summer.

After a zippy 10-second load, I spotted a $100 coupon. The rest of the home page was equally intriguing. You can shop by room-bedroom, dining room, family room, kitchen, living room and patio-or hit a specific department, such as bed and bath, lighting or rugs.

Lighting I needed. That awful ceiling fan fixture in my center hall was dumpster bait. After an equally speedy download of the main lighting page, I was given a choice: desk, floor, table or ceiling fixtures. I clicked over to ceiling. The pickings were slim-about half a dozen, all quirky, including three that looked like cement butter churns. Not what I wanted hanging from my ceiling.

Puzzled by the skimpy selection, I fired off an e-mail to customer service. W. Jason Allen wrote back in a twinkling. Living.com, he explained, is still lining up its suppliers-and did I know any outrageous lamp companies that might want to be included? Jason was so nice, I confided that I was the victim of an unnatural interest in (gulp) interior design. He responded immediately that he isn’t really a designer, but is more interested in helping people. Good answer. Maybe I should be paying him by the hour. Later, I e-mailed a Living.com designer for help with the lamp selection. He was pleasant, too, but could not offer me anything other than what I saw.

Finding my style

Bagging the lamp project, I headed for accessories. A huge, handled basket filled the frame. I mean big. This baby looked perfect for holding my alarming pile of unread magazines. I checked the price: $69.95. For magazines?

I hesitated. Maybe if I could see where it would fit in. I turned to the site’s Style Finder, which presented me with photos of designed rooms in a number of accepted styles, such as New Country, American Country and Classic.

If I have a style, it’s Nautical/Mission. I clicked on “Mission.” Every item in the picture, most of them cigar-brown and shiny, had a callout so I could see detail on size and price. I spotted a mango-colored wood boat tray with possibilities. But no giant basket.

It was up to me to see where my “find” would fit. I clicked over to “Room Designer,” which launches into the first extended load, almost two minutes using my self-effacing AOL browser. Up popped a dialog box offering to save my designed rooms to my account if I register first. Then I was presented with am empty square paced off into grids and a list of furniture by room type.

I clicked on living room and was presented with 15 items to move around. I picked “accent chair” and one appeared in the corner of the grid. Two more choices: Remove or rotate. I wanted to rotate it. Unfortunately, my first attempt turned the chair to face the wall. Oops. Yet no matter how I clicked and dragged, I couldn’t budge the chair. Finally, it crept over an inch. Imagine your real living room furniture shuffling like sleep-walking elephants.

Aesthetics outpace technology

Ken Cassar, an analyst with Jupiter Communications in New York, blames the clunky performance of the room designer feature on my connection speed. “The technology exists to do this, but it’s ahead of most consumers’ access speed,” he says. “Living.com wants to be on the cutting edge and has designed the site for broadband technology.”

This could become important because a recent partnership gives Living.com the “home living” tab on Amazon.com, and is one of 13 specialty shops on Amazon’s site. “We are extremely excited,” says Andrew Springate, Living.com’s brand manager. “The home living tab will give us access to 17 million shoppers in seven categories: furniture, bedding, decorative accessories, home textiles, window treatments, garden, home storage, and table top. This is the best retail real estate on the Internet.”

Returning to my own real estate, I clicked on the Living.com magazine. There I was advised that in summer, when everyone is living outside, the living room can be used as a staging area for yard sales (my dream). A little dust makes a place looked lived in, I was told. Now they’re talking.

Although the site has a couple of idiosyncrasies (Is this what they mean by “decorating bug?”), I had a lot of fun. “Our ultimate goal is to make this a great shopping experience,” Springate says.

I returned to the basket. Seventy bucks, huh? I dawdled over the description one more time: “The generously sized wrapped handle allows it to be transported easily by anyone.” This sentence begins to reverberate in my mind like a Zen koan. What does it mean? By anyone? In the end, I stuck with the carton under the desk where the magazines now reside.

But a stray thought still niggles. Didn`t I see a metallic silver star pillow? Two clicks and I’m there. This pillow will very nicely pick up the silver stars stenciled in my blue recessed kitchen ceiling. I add it to my shopping basket and am reminded of the free shipping.

For now, that’s it. I can only hope that my first HGTV Anonymous meeting will keep me from returning to pick up the handsome silver Tic Tac Toe set shaped like topiary ($24.95). After all, you can never have too many of those.

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