Whether it’s an Instagram picture of an elaborate food dish or a Pinterest post of a new bedroom wallpaper, the popularity of digital image sharing has revolutionized not only how restaurants, homes and other spaces are enjoyed but how they are ultimately designed.

Leaders of an Albert Lea-based marketing and commercial design firm called Brick recently developed an online platform called Mortarr that allows architects, designers, contractors and product brands to showcase their work in commercial spaces such as offices, schools, and retail complexes.

Similar to digital sites like Houzz which are used primarily for residential projects, Mortarr was envisioned as a source for design inspiration and collaboration with professional partners on commercial projects, which aren’t highlighted as much on digital platforms. 

“Conference rooms, lighting, sound control in commercial spaces, facades, signage for companies, it was really difficult to find inspiration for all of that,” said Abby Murray, a co-founder of Mortarr. “And we would have to scour the internet for pictures and we would have to print them off.”

The process of sourcing materials and design elements can be inefficient and labor intensive with clients and designers who may want to replicate a plant wall for an office lobby or bathroom for an airport. They may be forced to print binders of pictures or magazine clippings and then must scramble to find the products, Murray said.

On Mortarr, construction companies and design firms can register as subscribers and share images of their best work. These professionals can tag the images with brand sources for products like office chairs or lighting. Free users can search by keywords and type of space to find images.

A new site feature called the “design room” lets personal users build a design board with pictures from the site or upload pictures themselves and comment and invite clients and other partners to comment as well.

“We kind of refer to it as a mashup of LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and the services of a branding agency all in one platform,” Murray said.

Much of the industry is made up of small, family-owned companies that might not have a well-developed website or marketing strategy. Mortarr can be a helpful way for these companies to market their companies, Murray said.

Much of the work that is done in commercial real estate is based on established relationships and word-of-mouth which could make it difficult for even larger companies and clients to work with other partners outside of their immediate networks, Murray said. She said Mortarr helps clients and contractors find new partners.

“A lot of the teams that built these structures are working with people they know because that’s all they know,” Murray said. “The industry is so siloed.”

The predecessor to Brick, called Marketing Plant, operated as a business-to-business marketing and commercial-design firm. Marketing Plant recently renamed itself Brick, and the 21-person firm now focuses on providing marketing services exclusively to Mortarr clients.

The Mortarr website was launched in May, and a mobile app is expected to be released in late November. The site is free for end-users but professionals whose work is showcased pay a monthly or annual subscription.

The site more than doubled its users from the second to the third quarter of this year and has more than 1,000 subscribers, about 10 percent based in Minnesota. Subscribers include Stahl Construction, design firm BKV Group and Gardner Builders.

NewStudio Architecture, which is based in St. Paul, is using a free trial for Mortarr. While the 18-person architecture firm already has a website and posts on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, Mortarr has its own niche without the distractions of some less-focused sites, said Karen Swoverland, chief growth officer at NewStudio.

“If you are looking for architectural design, you don’t want to see recipes,” Swoverland said.

Professional photos matter a lot to a firm so any help distributing them is a bonus, she said.

“Mortarr might be reaching other people that we wouldn’t. … You are kind of getting marketing out to places where you weren’t marketing,” Swoverland said.

One of the downsides of Mortarr is that “it is another channel to maintain” and for a smaller company that could be hassle, Swoverland said. However, Mortarr staff have been helpful taking the lead on setting up NewStudio’s profile, she said.

Mortarr is purchasing the former Freeborn National Bank building that will serve as its new headquarters in Albert Lea. It plans to rely on Mortarr subscribers to refurbish the building and track the progress of the property.