Every industry has been impacted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the interior design field. To find out exactly how their work has changed, we asked several designers to tell us about their experience; meanwhile, 1stdibs surveyed vendors about what types of changes they believe will be long-term, and how they are adapting to meet a new standard of doing business.
We’ll explore all of that in this post as part of our ongoing reporting on the effect of this crisis on the interior design industry, which so far has included resources and insights on how to survive immediate financial strain and reposition to succeed in a post- COVID landscape.
Manufacturing has not stopped entirely in the wake of COVID-19, but has slowed overall. Domestically and abroad, some facilities have had to shut down temporarily due to stay-at-home orders. Some production facilities have reopened as of late April, but at 25 percent capacity to adhere to the social isolation mandates of their local governments, or in some cases, the better judgement of their operators.
Items coming from overseas, particularly from China and Europe, are more likely to be delayed; the bottleneck is not necessarily production, but ongoing travel restrictions and delays caused by overwhelming demand for domestic and international shipping. As Bernd Goeckler Antiques shared, “We deal in vintage pieces mostly, which are readily available to our customers. However, our contemporary, made-to-order pieces are mostly on hold for now. A few of our Italian artisans continued to work in their ateliers/homes on projects for us. We just have to wait and see when they can be shipped.”
Thankfully, the interior design community is coming together to pool information, greatly helping to navigate this confusing time. As previously shared, sourced via Business of Home, Architecture and Interior Design firm Workshop/APD has created WAPD Design Resources. The crowdsourced Google Sheet lists various vendors and their current operational capacities, which can be added to by anyone with pertinent information to share.
Brad Ford is also highlighting domestic and international artisan makers who are currently able to work in his daily online series, “A Maker Moment.” Brad is an expert on the topic of artisan makers with a wide network of top quality makers that he meets while sourcing for his FAIR showroom and his bi-annual Field+Supply events.
What Do Vendors Fear?
Just like interior designers, vendors fear losing touch with their clients, colleagues, and greater networks. Even vendors who have a large quantity of stock already produced and ready to sell face several obstacles getting their wares to market, including the fact that showrooms have been closed for months, and even those that are able to re-open will do so at greatly reduced capacity. These challenges are also leading to new practices and the creation of on-the-fly solutions.
Many vendors are seeking ways to stay connected, in this new reality. 1stdibs seller Lotus Gallery shared:
We are reaching out privately to current and past customers, many of whom have been customers for years, and we consider friends. A personalized email, text message or phone call allows us to reconnect, make sure everyone is safe and healthy, and start up a conversation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about business, but that is the direction the conversations usually head, and hopefully a sale emerges from that.
Opportunities for more personal engagement with clients and industry colleagues have actually increased during the slowdown, explains Bernd Goeckler Antiques:
We’ve shifted our conversations mainly to social, which has actually been a wonderful, unexpected exercise. Our engagement within the design community is surprisingly at a high, as we have had more time to develop thoughtful content to connect more intimately with our clientele.
The cancellation of the major 2020 trade shows is also a source of concern for vendors, although some events remain on the calendar and are working to incorporate a digital space for vendors. Lotus Gallery feels the biggest pivot is the loss of the shows, explaining, “as of now, all our shows through September have been canceled and that is going to be a hard hole to fill.” Showing impressive perseverance and inventiveness, Lotus Gallery is planning to participate virtually in the Nantucket Summer Antiques Show, scheduled for the first weekend in August. Claire Pijoulat, who founded WantedDesign with Odile Hainaut in 2011, shares her perspective:
The pandemic will force the industry to invent new models, tools, and platforms for its programs. It won’t be about the size of your booth or how high and thick your walls are. It’ll be about the story you’re bringing to life and who is behind the projects the brands are presenting.
In the same May 4, 2020 Architectural Digest article, Scott Hudson, CEO of Henrybuilt, explains his belief that product development may slow with fewer resources, and companies will have to focus on strengthening their core offerings. This belief is inline with the message imparted on ASID’s March 18, 2020 webinar, ASID 2020 Outlook and State of Interior Design, which discussed the importance of knowing your brand, focusing on what you are best at doing, and using that to differentiate yourself.
How Vendors Are Adapting in Real-Time
In addition to making great efforts to connect with clients through phone calls, virtual meetings or trade show participation, or the occasional socially-distanced in-person meeting (where allowed), vendors are focused on improving their online presence. Lotus Gallery explains:
We are trying to move as much online as possible now. Luckily, we still have access to our gallery space and inventory, and with the shutdown, have had more time to photograph, take stock, and research and write, without the constant interruptions of a “normal” day. As we post more on 1stdibs, we are seeing more views, saves, inquiries, and ultimately, more sales.
1stdibs seller JenMod has a similar strategy, sharing, “We rely heavily on 1stdibs for marketing and 1stdibs has stayed very pro-active throughout the period; if anything we have seen an uptick in traffic to our sites.” Also on the same page is Andrianna Shamaris, saying, “We are really focused on generating online sales, so are adding more items to FNL on 1stdibs and banners on 1stdibs. People are at home and want their homes to be refreshed and feel comfortable so our online sales have improved greatly.”
In locations where stay-at-home orders are easing, vendors are preparing their showrooms to be reopened, working to meet the highest standard of hygiene and taking measures to ensure social distancing is still possible, in some cases revising the layout of a showroom or making a policy of appointment-only visits. For many showrooms, the green light to open their doors may still be weeks to months away, prompting some vendors to come up with ways for clients to experience their galleries virtually. Bernd Goeckler Antiques will soon be launching a ‘Viewing Room’ on its website, as a virtual space dedicated to online exhibitions. “The show we had planned originally for the gallery in May, is now moving to an online presentation, and will be the first exhibition we present in our Viewing Room, with more to follow.”
While incoming orders are no doubt a positive for any vendor, social-distancing makes it a challenge to move those products to the end customer. Bernd Goeckler Antiques continues,
We are still officially closed as a physical store. We all work from home or come into the shop once or twice a week no more than two people in the space at a time with masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes on us. Shippers are not allowed to pack inside and are limited to two-man crews only all of whom wear PPE.
Determined to not be consumed with the stress of their current working conditions, Bernd Goeckler Antiques is coming up with creative ways to boost morale in the design community and its local NYC neighborhood; “We try to be as engaging community-wise as possible, having recently painted our store boards with some graffiti. We will rotate the art to keep things interesting and hopeful.”
The good news for interior designers and vendors alike is that experts believe post-pandemic demand looks hopeful. Financial advisor Jared Miller, who has many interior design clients whom he helped survive through the 2008 financial crisis, there will be a lot of pent-up demand for interior design services and goods, and purchases will be made. Design Manager’s client survey confirms the spirit of optimism that the interior design community will get through this together, and come back stronger than ever.