HOW INTERIOR DESIGNERS AND BRANDS ARE ADAPTING TO LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN

The Designers’ Advisor Polly Williams asked some of the interior designers and brands in her thriving Camberyard Collective how they’re coping during the pandemic. Focusing on three key questions – how it’s affected their work; what, if any, silver linings they’ve found; and how they will look to the future – their responses provide a welcome honesty and reassuring determination to move forward. Here’s what they said:

How has the pandemic affected your work?

Melinda Kiss of Keyhole Interiors sums it up when she acknowledges that the pandemic ‘has flipped my professional life upside down’. Whilst companies and individuals may be weathering the storm differently, everyone has been profoundly affected. For many, projects have slowed or come to a standstill as clients’ priorities and sometimes financial situations have changed, suppliers have closed or altered the way they work, manufacturing has ground to a halt, tradesmen aren’t operating as usual and many sites have gone quiet.

Image, clockwise from top left:  Melinda Kiss of Keyhole Interiors; Milena Hutchings of MDesign Interiors; Emma Hooton of Studio Hooton; Kia Stanford of Kia Designs.

Lockdown has also meant a shift to digital platforms to stay in touch with clients, fellow designers, brands and suppliers, amongst others. Beyond the move to online, the impact has been especially pronounced on those at the beginning of their business journey, on those with projects that were towards the end, or indeed, that were about to take on new projects, which then were postponed. Milena Hutchings, just a few years into running her own interiors business, MDesign Interiors, recognises that word-of-mouth will no longer be sufficient to find new clients. For her, this situation will be a real test that will ‘make or break’ her business.

Other studios, like Kia Designs, have temporarily closed, putting their team on a month-long furlough. The pause, creative director and head designer Kia Stanford says, is allowing them to relook at backend systems and processes as well as focus on marketing for the next year. The stopgap has also allowed the team to do things that aren’t part of their normal work; many are volunteering locally, for example and expanding skills in other areas.

Image by The House Directory member Studio Hooton. Photography: Martin Gardner.

On the other hand, many have found they’ve been able to carry on, especially with the planning stages. Designer Emma Hooton, of Studio Hooton, reported that she and her team have made a smooth transition to home-working, keeping projects progressing by working from plans rather than site visits. Then, when things are moving again, they only have to catch up on elements where they need to be physically present.

This drive to adapt and get what they can done was echoed by others in the Collective. Katie Longshaw-Pye of Magpye Interiors noted they were half-way through production on the design of a bar, so they’ve been tying up loose ends and checking in on suppliers until they get the go-ahead to move forward.

Image, clockwise from top left: Katie Longshaw-Pye of Magpye Interiors; Emma Green of Emma Green Design; Ana Englehorn; Amber Ryder of Studio Ryder.

Ordering FF&E is also something many designers are still able to progress, taking more care, however, to ensure the supplier will be able to deliver, as well as trying to support businesses closer to home. Designer Emma Green says she’s researching suppliers thoroughly, asking for more favourable trading terms, splitting invoices and trying to act as agent, rather than principal.

Interior designer Ana Engelhorn, in the midst of a big project that has to be completed by the end of July, is adapting to lockdown limitations by bringing together the design phase with implementation. Although not the process she’d follow under normal circumstances, working more flexibly is helping to keep the project moving forward in a timely fashion. And while she’s had to change some suppliers and lead times have increased, she’s happy with how it’s progressing.

Image by The House Directory member Ana Englehorn. Photography: James Balston.

‘Spending more time with my children allows me to view things from a very positive angle no matter what is going on in the wider world.’ 

Children at home have been an added challenge to productivity. As Amber Ryder of Studio Ryder has discovered, it’s difficult to maintain one’s usual level of output while managing home-schooling and building a business. Adhering to timetables can help everyone achieve what’s required. On the other hand, there are benefits to having young people around. “Spending more time with my children allows me to view things from a very positive angle, no matter what is going on in the wider world. Remaining young at heart is the key to happiness.”

When juggling both family and work, it’s also helpful to keep in mind what Jen Morton recalls Polly advising: “If you only do one small thing a day to push your business forward, be it literally sending an email, posting something on social media, networking within the industry or doing an admin task, you will get closer to goals.”

And as Jen, while trying to manage three young children, says, “Even one small achievable task makes me feel positive,” a boost we can all use right now!

Image, clockwise from top left: Jen Morton of Jen Morton Interiors; Elie Jones; Helene Dabrowski; Patrick & Nicole Moulton Black of Origins Design.

Trying to stay positive, have you found any silver linings amidst this crisis?

“Not having to rush around and constantly clock-watch has meant I can be more reactive to work and home life,’’ Elie Jones remarks, capturing the sentiment of many (in the interiors world or otherwise!).

In addition to a slightly slower pace of life, with more time to spend at home, to exercise, meditate and cook, with perhaps an added benefit of staying healthier and spending less not eating out, many in interiors are taking the opportunity to improve or learn new skills.

Whether it’s gaining camera confidence, improving AutoCad skills, learning colour therapeutics, Feng Shui, software design or something else, online courses and masterclasses abound. Nicole Moulton Black, of Origins Design, for example, is building more of an online presence and focusing on social media. With their furniture workshop currently closed, they are also using the downtime to develop standardised product ranges that can be customised to add to their range of fully bespoke products.

‘Across the board, lockdown has been a lesson in the possibility and benefits of remote working.’

Many designers and brands are also taking the time to improve their online and social media presence – updating their website and becoming more active on Instagram amongst other platforms. And creative challenges abound! For a bit of Insta fun, Milena, of MDesign Interiors, has decided to focus on three essential items in the principal rooms of a home, starting with the home office. And it’s been a time for some, like designer Helene Dabrowski, to further develop ideas, think creatively and focus on the business.

Image: Polly Williams, The Designers’ Adviser, Camberyard.

Across the board, lockdown has been a lesson in the possibility and benefits of remote working. Unexpected upsides have been more efficient meetings, faster decision-making and, of course, cutting unnecessary travel. And, on another note, all in the Collective agreed it’s been great to connect more within the design community – the Camberyard Collective has come into its own!

What does the future hold – will you be doing anything differently?

There were many common themes about how the interiors world might come out of this crisis, including:

  • More virtual meetings, certainly during the first stage of design.
  • For those in an office environment – making work-from-home days standard.
  • More considering how they can do quicker, more cost-effective virtual online design or room fixes, when fast turnaround planning and concept designs are desired, and clients are then happy to progress the project themselves.
  • More actively researching and connecting with smaller companies, craftsmen, makers and artisans from the UK and Europe. Overall, a desire exists for a more local and sustainable approach, especially supporting British suppliers and local businesses.
  • Importance of future-proofing business – clarifying business goals, and investing time in building brand, working on identity, mission, website and photography.
  • Finally, it’s helped put work and life in perspective. Ultimately, people are what matter! And many alluded to taking forward a slightly slower, more considered pace.

Bio

Polly Williams, multi-award-winning Designers’ Advisor, is the founder of Camberyard, the UK’s leading interior design business development consultancy. Inspired by the belief that collaboration is better than competition, she formed the Camberyard Collective, a select group of like-minded designers, brands and creative professionals that meet regularly for workshops and events.

website: www.camberyard.com

Instagram: @camberyard

Link to articles on the Camberyard site.

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