Design Industry Perspectives on the Impact of Coronavirus 17th April 2020 | IN CORONAVIRUS | BY SBID

Continuing to uncover design industry perspectives, we’re sharing more views and experiences from SBID Accredited designers and manufacturers on how the impact of coronavirus and the lockdown measures put in place to protect us have effected them and their business.

Graham & Brown

Graham & Brown / Glasshouse 

How has the reality of social distancing affected you and your business operations?

Tom Marquardt, founder, Marquardt+: “First, we at marquardt+ encourage the use the term physical distancing as it gets to the point of the intent and meaning of social distancing, without insinuating we are to also socially disconnect, which is an important part of my response to these questions. On a professional level, of course no one is physically working in the studio or on any job sites as part of our self-isolation in Chicago (as in the majority of states in the US). We have both Zoom and Go-To-Meeting conferencing systems in place, as many of our team do not live in Chicago, but in other parts of the US and thus we were predisposed to having the systems and processes in place to work remote prior to the pandemic, fortunately. This is not the case for many medium to smaller practices. We also have reps from companies like Laminart and Knoll, who are doing digital product updates and presentations that we are scheduling in leu of them being able to come to the studio in person for such updates.”

Alan Kemp, head of brand marketing, Graham & Brown: “We began by reducing the numbers in the office by working alternate patterns, then eventually to working from home for everyone able to.  The design studio go into check proofs but minimising the amount of people on site and keeping safe distances apart.  Ultimately the production facility had to shut down. This has meant putting much of the factory workforce on furlough but the Business has generously agreed to pay the additional 20% to ensure our colleagues are on full pay at the current time. Our distribution centre is still open dealing with the spike in web orders, but with a reduced number of people to ensure safe working distances – while our customer service teams continue to work many from home thanks to our recently upgraded phone systems. These are unprecedented times and I’m really proud to work for this company and how everyone has pulled together – with daily bulletins from the board on what is happening in relation to our business has been wonderfully communicated.”

Elliot Barratt, managing director, Elliot James Interiors: “Being based in Singapore, we have been living with these conditions a little longer than Europe so are getting used to remote working. Fortunately we are not on the same level of lock down as the UK but we are taking temperature checks twice a day, my whole team are working from home, however it is working well. Our business runs on Google Suite so our server, documents are all accessible, most of our software is either on our laptops or web browser based so operationally it hasn’t hindered us too much… but arguably the most important piece of software has been Google Meet. It has allowed us to meet with each other each morning, discuss projects throughout the day and have joint meeting with our clients locally based or overseas.”

Joe Walmsley, managing director, Daedalian Glass Studios: Social distancing had forced Daedalian Glass Studios to close our site completely. We were starting to have difficulties in our supply chain and our studio Founder, Davia Walmsley and our Technical Director (her husband), Chris Walmsley live next to our glass studios and are both in the ‘at risk’ category so it was an easy decision make to protect their safety. Now that a safe time period has passed, Davia has the run of the studio so we await to see what exciting new glass designs she has to unveil once this is all over!”


Elliot James Interiors / ARDMORE

If you’ve had to work from home, how do you stay motivated / preserve your mental wellbeing?

Tom Marquardt, founder, Marquardt+: “Fortunately, the City of Chicago allows for short times out to exercise, so my partner and I take 3-5 mile power walks every morning, maintaining the appropriate physical distancing, and we now wear masks and gloves, more so to get used to not touching our faces! We also try to maintain a consistent weekday schedule and weekend activities, even if it’s planning at home. We also try to regulate our eating as much as possible, as it’s easy to fall into stress eating. We also limit the time we spend watching any news programs and updates, unless there is a specific announcement from the City of Chicago or State of Illinois. Here is an exceptional article the A&D account manager for Sunbrella Fabrics posted that really sums up our approach and thinking, and was extremely helpful to the team and our friends: Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure.”

Alan Kemp, head of brand marketing, Graham & Brown: “We have increased the amount of video conferencing.  We recognised early on how important it was to have face to face contact with colleagues and friends. I have a morning “huddle” with the team at 9:30 which gives me time to do PE with my two children and Joe Wicks! Home schooling has been far more challenging than working from home. I then catch up with the team at the end of the day. Over the last week I have had to furlough some of the team in the best interests of the business. Again the company is paying the 20% top up to these employees.”

Elliot Barratt, managing director, Elliot James Interiors: “This has been a concern of mine and who we stay motivated. My solution has been retain a level of routine, get dressed for work (within reason, I’ve forgone the three-piece suit), and dedicate a room to be the office. I’ve tried to position it in the furthest room in the house from the living room or bedroom, it allows me to move to that part of the home for work, and close it off at the end of the working day and close myself off from it. To keep my team motivated, we are having regular catch-ups throughout the day, we work across email, messenger and video calls so we can ensure we’re still all in touch whenever we need to be.”

Joe Walmsley, managing director, Daedalian Glass Studios: The change of routine is the first hurdle to overcome. I know the situation varies across our team as some live in shared accommodation, some with family, some alone – and each has its own associated challenges.  We have tried to set up a new routine with conference calls for our regular meetings, etc. and to work toward making that the new ‘normal’ (at least for the time being). Flexibility is also important, and having a chat during these conference calls to keep the human connections we have formed alive.

Graham & Brown

Graham & Brown 

What has been or will be the biggest challenge you or your business will face throughout this uncertain time?

Tom Marquardt, founder, Marquardt+: “I have always operated marquardt+ as a “cash” business, and to date never borrowed money. Thus at this juncture we are still financially secure, but also because we had reduced our overhead and operations significantly in our evolution as a practice in 2018. Still, it’s scary – and also the fact that I cannot provide more work at this time, to my employees and consultants, but time will tell. Looking at essential services and making sure we are not being wasteful is critical now, as it should be at any time running a business!”

Alan Kemp, head of brand marketing, Graham & Brown: “We know things are uncertain. The manufacturing part of our business has closed mostly because our core business suppliers retailers who have had to shut themselves. This has driven more online traffic, but 10% of wallpaper was sold online prior to the outbreak, so we are not going to be able to cover off all of the missing 90% of income, inspite of the demand for home deocr increasing. The biggest challenge is how long will it last and no one knows. Fortunately everyone is in the same boat – its going to be like an IT approach to the economy –  turning it off and back on again. All I worry about are the people in the nhs dealing with the frontline – its going to be like we’re at war.”

Elliot Barratt, managing director, Elliot James Interiors: “I think in all honesty… it will be survival. We don’t know how long these conditions will actually last, I suspect the landscape will look very different when we do resume “normality”. Fortunately we have always run scenarios and build financial models so we can be as ready as possible to weather a storm. I think as designers, it will be our job to create the new environments, new ways of living, working, socialising.”


Elliot James Interiors / ARDMORE

What measures have been put place for employees, customers and clients in response?

Tom Marquardt, founder, Marquardt+: “Construction of infrastructure can be considered an essential service, yet there many construction sites still in operation. I am not sure how I feel about that because any risk could mean lives, yet some of our clients are in a bind with where they are in their work and needs to move in whether this continues or not. We did have to explain to one commercial client that we would not be making site visits during the self-isolation period as I could not ask my employees and consultants to take any risks – first and foremost for their well-being, yet also due to any liability it could bring to our workman’s comp insurance. That said, it is not difficult to have the general contractor who is on site, to connect through an iPad or mobile to do a virtual walk through and site checks – which we also have done so in the past with clients in other cities in the US. We are also communicating internally with live conferencing, and sometimes keep our employees desktops live on our system, so we can work along with them in real time as if they were sitting next to us!”

Alan Kemp, head of brand marketing, Graham & Brown: “Delivery and customer service is being maintained in order to keep the business working for as we are allowed. We are supporting our retailers with this service also. For the employees, the company has communicated daily on an ever changing landscape and are topping up the furlough payments currently in order that people are effectively on full pay. This encourages our team to play its part in the fight against the virus by staying home.”

Elliot Barratt, managing director, Elliot James Interiors: “We have been working with clients who live all over the world so from a communication point of view, we’ve been able to speak, having meetings via video conferencing. We are sending more indepth site updates via video and photos. We are sharing screens more to discuss features we have designed. For our employees, as previously mentioned, we have built financial models to ensure we can sustain this for a while. Our team are set up with their laptops and diverted phones so they are able to work from home.

We are also extremely honest with our team so they know where we are and how we’re doing. It’s important that everyone feels a sense of responsibility for the success or survival. I always want my team to feel that they have control or the ability to make the difference. I feel this experience will only make us stronger and closer as a company.”

Joe Walmsley, managing director, Daedalian Glass Studios: We have a stock of raw materials remaining on site, and we are working with clients to reserve pre-existing stock from our suppliers (to be delivered once safe to do so) so that we can begin manufacturing for their projects as soon as we are able to reopen the studio. Our office team (marketing and sales, finance, glass design) are all working from home and able to assist clients with all phases of their project up to the manufacture stage in the meantime. All our studio team, who are unable to work from home, have been furloughed with their wages covered by the company until the government scheme is up and running.

Carnegie - Marquardt+ Feature Image (1)

Marquardt+ / Carnegie

Carnegie - Marquardt

Have you got any plans to change the way you do business and provide flexibility during this period to keep your business running?

Tom Marquardt, founder, Marquardt+: “As the format of marquardt+ has been predisposed to work remotely already, we are using this time to actually start to populate our newly completed website, so as we pull out of the pandemic we can launch it and market for new work. Also, we are working with our brand and marketing team here at marquardt+ to develop strategy consulting to other businesses, in light of the effects of the pandemic, to reposition themselves and their teams to the new normal that is yet to be defined.”

Elliot Barratt, managing director, Elliot James Interiors: “We have projects that are continuing to run as we are working under these conditions and there will likely be delays but the newly implemented system of working seems to be working. I don’t think we’re about to give up the office after this, but we consider ourselves to be a flexible company that often works from various places around the world and we feel we can adapt. We have always worked on across residential, commercial and corporate interior design and I feel that this is very important to continue this in the future. Many of the office projects have instantly halted, however residential projects have continued and its important for us spread many types of design as we will need to think very differently once this situation lifts.

I envisage we may have requests to redesign many homes to cater better for a work / live lifestyle. A home that can allow us to spend large amounts of time in without feeling claustrophobic. These spaces will have to separate work and play and ensure one isn’t detrimental to the other.”

Joe Walmsley, managing director, Daedalian Glass Studios: We have used this as an good reason to upgrade our computer systems and their software to allow a smoother transition to remote working when necessary. Upgrading the collective teams ability to stay in communication when working remotely will have a long term benefit to Daedalian Glass Studios as it will improve our ability to disseminate key information to the team following client meeting or when working on-site.

Daedalian Glass Studios

Daedalian Glass Studios / Brooklands Hotel

Have you been inspired to help support communities around you?

Tom Marquardt, founder, Marquardt+: “A CPD police officer and friend of ours that we have known for years tested positive for COVID-19 this week, as have many City of Chicago officers. I am not telling you this as an example of us helping as much as being inspired at the way people are pulling together socially and culturally, to help each other and the greater community at large. We offered to get them provisions and so forth, but fortunately he has a good network of friends and support to help, which is not the case for everyone.

We also have a large number of once thriving independent businesses here on Clark Street, our high street in the Andersonville neighbourhood of Chicago that have taken a serious hit due to the pandemic and shut down orders from the city. We are continuously publishing the importance of those with means to still order food for pick up or delivery, and buy locally as possible online from these businesses, but we have also committed to do so at least twice a week, in hopes they can hang on and recover once this is over. It’s a small gesture but an important one, as they all add up to us helping each other in any way we can while taking care of ourselves in the process.”

Alan Kemp, head of brand marketing, Graham & Brown: “When our factory closed with the factory shutdown all the food was parcelled up and delivered to Blackburn Youth Zone a local charity that also had to close its facilities but supports the youth of the area through food parcels and online support.”

Elliot Barratt, managing director, Elliot James Interiors: “Absolutely. We have enjoyed helping people by offering advice on spacial planning. We’ve looked at how we can share our resource and outsource our skills to other design firms, clients and join forces.

We have also looked at how we charge. We have various stages and break points like many design firms, but we can offer a design concept as an inital stage so clients can begin the process ready for when they are able to move back to their offices or new home.”

Joe Walmsley, managing director, Daedalian Glass Studios: This is very difficult given much of the local community around our studios is now closed – the team are however all doing their bit for those in need in their own local communities, and of course heeding the government instruction to help beat COVID-19 and support our world class NHS.

SBID is dedicated to supporting the interior design profession and the interior designers in practice during this time.

For more related articles surrounding coronavirus and its impact on the industry, click here.

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