Interior Designers Share Advice for Facing Coronavirus Crisis

How eight designers are broadening their skillsets and embracing digital tools to push through the current climate.

Kimberley Wray
04/22/2020
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Wendy Yates
Wendy Yates

Coast to coast, designers and small business owners are finding ways to adjust their approaches, make the most out of every day and ensure their projects are pushing forward in spite of the COVID-19 crisis. Here, they share their best advice for doing the same. 

Lance Thomas
Lance Thomas

Louisiana-based Room Service, a full-service interior design firm and home store, is actually busier than ever before, according to co-owner Lance Thomas. “A lot of homeowners during the mandatory stay-at-home restrictions have had ample time to dissect and pinpoint all the things they want to change in their homes,” he reports. “While we are able to floorplan, render and e-design for our clients, most American furniture manufacturers have shut down — resulting in an inability to bring our designs to fruition until this is all resolved. We are stressing the importance of shopping local and asking for a whole lot of patience.”

Expanding Skillsets and Reach

Thomas says he has been using some of the newfound free time to focus on “personal intellectual growth by improving a few rendering skills. I downloaded Kelly Wearstler’s Master Class and it was inspiring and help to scratch the creative itch. My suggestion is to take this time to pick up another career-oriented skill. Maybe it is learning the Adobe Creative Suite, Smartdraw, CAD or other rendering software. Maybe it is time to refresh your presentation boards for a more professional pitch. Spend time looking through vendor catalogs and learn what the new and fresh ideas will be when this is all over. Another suggestion: Put together a design mock-up board for a living, dining or bedroom and post your thought process on your social media. Who knows? Someone may fall in love with it and hire you to implement your design in their home post-corona.”

Mel Bean
Mel Bean

“Now is the time to get creative and do it a way that is authentic to you,” remarks Mel Bean of Mel Bean Interiors in Tulsa, OK. “This forced halt to life-as-usual may provide the opportunity to take the art or photography class you’ve always wanted to, but just couldn’t find the time.” 

Houston-based designer Mary Patton of Mary Patton Design agrees: “I would spend this time focusing on researching artists, new sources for furniture and other designers,” she says. “Gather inspiration for content and use this as an opportunity to sharpen your Photoshop skills.”

Mary Patton
Mary Patton

“Before we closed our office to work remotely, I told my team that I would do everything I could to keep going and I asked them to promise me that if they found themselves with extra time that they didn’t know how to fill, to find an online course or book or webinar that could help move them forward in their careers,” chimes in LeeAnn Baker of full-service design studio LeeAnn Baker Interiors in Seattle. My company is 17 years old, so I have been through recessions before. My biggest lesson learned in leaner times is that I spent too much time worrying about what was to come. When the recessions were over, and I was swamped with work once again, I always regretted neglecting to read those books or taking the opportunity to learn something new. We have an amazing opportunity to slow down, clarify and focus.” 

LeeAnn Baker
LeeAnn Baker

Bean, well known for her ability to mix luxury with pops of fun and bold and sophisticated design details, is working on a new concept focused on connection during this time of social distance. Passionate about supporting other local businesses, she is also continuing to use the Mel Bean Interiors social media platform to share opportunities. “Think about your favorite local businesses — shops, restaurants, artists — there may be new business opportunities waiting to be discovered while supporting one another,” she notes.

Erin Hackett and Meghan Hackett-Cassidy
Erin Hackett and Meghan Hackett-Cassidy

Erin Hackett and Meghan Hackett-Cassidy of New York-based Hackett Interiors are also focusing on their growth strategy. “We are catching up on things that have been neglected like updating accounts and billing clients, and to really use this time to focus our energy on jobs that we’re scheming for at the moment. This is a great time to flush through a lot of ideas and we don’t often get this much time to prep!”

“Everyone keeps saying ‘Slow down and take time,’ but my advice is to bring the hustle harder than before and look for ways you can innovate now, not a month from now,” relates Wendy Yates of Abigail-Elise Design Studio in Colorado. “Don’t think of sharing ideas with other designers as giving away secrets to the enemy. If we all share what we are doing, we can all thrive on the other side.”

Yates is using the time to “redirect our online presence, launching our e-design now instead of this summer as we had planned, and putting together sellable packages in a turnkey system on various levels with options. We will be promoting this through direct mail. But most importantly, I am looking for ways to add value by creating virtual community conversations and to build more streams of revenue by expanding our brand presence through more social media engagement, outlining new opportunities in podcasts and vlogs, live feeds and adding services.” 

“We are having to be flexible and quick on our feet, but I think it’s teaching us some valuable lessons about time management,” notes Sara Barney of BANDD DESIGN in Austin, TX. “Think about improving your process and look for deficiencies in your business that maybe you had missed or ignored previously. Start noodling on ancillary revenue channels for your business.”

The key for now, Baker says, is to “stay relevant and visible as much as possible. Watch what other industries even beyond design are doing to inspire you to think outside the box in building your own pivot strategies. Make a list of what you want and move into action. It’s in these struggles that incredible things can be created.” 

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