Interior Design Industry: Life in Lockdown 24th April 2020 | IN CORONAVIRUS | BY SBID

With lockdown measures extended and social distancing continuing to impact industries world-wide, we’re sharing more industry perspectives from across the interior design profession. SBID Accredited designers and manufacturers provide their personal insights into how they are dealing with daily life and work in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.


Deirdre Dyson / LOOKING GLASS

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

Rebecca Leivars, managing director, Leivars Interiors Studio: “Due to the nature of our work and being at multiple locations throughout the UK, I adopted the remote team working model 3 years ago and have never looked back. My team and I come together a couple of times a month and meet on site (ordinarly) and we spend a lot of time on the phone, FaceTiming and of course Zoom meetings, with so many shared files through Cloud / Dropbox we haven’t seen a difference in output if anything we are all a lot more focused. Recent COVID events naturally have meant we can’t meet up but have applied the same working practice we adopted 3 years ago with our clients, suppliers and contractors. So far it’s working. From a personal point of view however, current events have made me realise how tactile I am and that I hug everyone, so a lot of trades will get a lot of hugs when we do get the travel ban and social distance restriction lifted!”

Sonia McEwen, marketing & social media manager, Deirdre Dyson: “In the past we have felt it essential that clients can see, touch and feel the quality of a Deirdre Dyson rug in person and our Kings Road gallery showcases our designs perfectly. We love meeting prospective clients and showing them around. However, in recent years Deirdre’s designs have had increasing global reach and outside of these extraordinary times, we have regularly been dealing with clients worldwide (particularly in the United States, Europe and Asia) remotely. Clients will initially talk through their requirements, then send photographs and floorplans to agree on designs and size, swatches or RAL colour codes which Deirdre and her Design Technician, Nichola will use to select colours. We then expedite the delivery of quality samples, colour tufts, digitally transfer artwork revisions and finally send a printed render of the finished design for sign off before production. We are lucky in that this remote process works so successfully and have several very happy clients, both retail and trade, who have been delighted with their finished carpets without ever having ‘met’ Deirdre or her team in person. So though we’re not physically ‘in’ the gallery we can still liaise with our clients and deliver everything they need to create their perfect version of Deirdre’s designs.

We are hugely lucky that stylist, Louisa Grey and photographer, Jake Curtis created such eye catching lifestyle images of this years LOOKING GLASS collection and continuing to advertise in key publications is key to ensure the brand is ‘out there’ while we are all ‘in here’ so to speak!  Also our social media feeds have never been more important, maintaining quality content and visibility is a challenge but we hope to keep standards high and showcase Deirdre’s rugs as much as possible without overwhelming or boring our audience.”

Hannah Soulsby, director, Anima & Amare Interior Design: “Interestingly it hasn’t effected us as much as I thought so far, all our work can be done remotely as long as we have a computer with the software we can carry on with floor plans, schemes and 3D designs. Suppliers are still in operation albeit remotely so we can still get samples sent through. I can still communicate with staff and clients via video call and email but unfortunately site visits and site measures can not be done; neither can design face to face meetings. Usually we like to do face to face so we can go through in detail and show samples so for this we are having to adapt or put on hold with the hope it will be back to normal in a few weeks.”

Medhat Etman, owner, Integration: I divide my business into 3 different lines; (1) ongoing business concerning design (2) supervision for projects which are under construction and (3) potential jobs. For ongoing projects regarding the design or working drawings phase, we have managed to work online with our associates from home. For supervision, I conducted my weekly meetings with mask & gloves on until a complete lock down by the state was enforced. For potential jobs, these are totally on hold – and no one can forecast until when!

Leivars Hampstead

Leivars Interiors / Hampstead Home

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

Rebecca Leivars, managing director, Leivars Interiors Studio: “This is advice I give to anyone with anything in life, you need structure and a degree of boundaries. We’ve recently written about this in our March 2020 Journal. Each day you must wake with purpose and a to do list, no matter whether work related, chores at home, things you wish to do for yourself, have a plan, get up, get focused, work out whether that be physically, mentally, do something that is good for yourself. Enjoy the surroundings and take time to be still and absorb the nature around you. With so many methods of communicating with loved ones, seeing their faces through use of technology makes the world feel smaller which is what we need right now.”

Sonia McEwen, marketing & social media manager, Deirdre Dyson: “Maintaining a schedule is key. There are essential functions each of our small team need to do on a day to day basis but by far the most important is design work. Deirdre produces a collection annually unveiling it in Paris in January every year. We are very lucky that this period of lockdown coincides exactly with the time of year when Deirdre would hand draw her designs and work on digitising them and colour selection with our Designer, Nichola. Nichola is set up to work from home and both she and Deirdre have the technical capacity to work as closely as they always do. Deirdre and Nichola are in regular contact creating the rug designs that will be next year’s collection. We are so lucky in this respect that the natural trajectory of the year has been maintained.”

Hannah Soulsby, director, Anima & Amare Interior Design: “Well my office is at the end of the garden so I’m fairly adapted to this already, however the addition of a 15-month year old boy no longer in nursery has been an interesting add to the mix. I have had to adapt my working hours around nap time (never thought that would be a statement I would ever write), however I have noticed a much happier household all round with a healthy balance of work and play whether that’s with my son or exercise in the garden. I’m no longer running around from meeting to meeting, so need to get the exercise in somewhere! I would say being at home in general with the family for me has been enough for positive mental wellbeing. I have also found I’m able to get more work done with not flying in and out of the office and having meetings via video instead.

This whole situation has definitely made me re-think my structure of work. With everyone now forced online I feel the whole attitude of being everywhere will change and having to meet face to face will no longer be as important in building relationships.”

Medhat Etman, owner, Integration: Working from home isn’t new for me; having said that, I always like to be in my own bubble especially if it’s a design phase. I love to work within my own space locked with my music in the background. Luckily, I could still implement this at my home and isolate myself from my family. However, it won’t ever replace my space at the office where I have enjoyed working for 27 years now.

Deirdre Dyson Carpets

Deirdre Dyson Carpets Ltd. / PINNACLE


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

Rebecca Leivars, managing director, Leivars Interiors Studio: “Our biggest challenge will be getting work completed on site in order to progress to the next phase of the work programme.  Without being able to achieve that through physical trades on site, supply chains being able to deliver, cash flow could be affected in the coming months so for us for now we are thankful it is business as usual. It is a priority to us though as a business that all of our work family and clients remain safe and that we all regardless follow the government working guidelines, the rest we will figure out if we need to. Our clients have been tremendously supportive, afterall, we are all in this together.”

Sonia McEwen, marketing & social media manager, Deirdre Dyson: “Like any small company specialising in the bespoke and without an online sales arm, it will be investing this time in maintaining brand awareness, reminding people that now is the perfect time to enjoy the bespoke process albeit virtually, invest in an heirloom piece of design and enjoy it when this surreal and worrying time ends. We hope once life returns to ‘normal’ people will spend and invest in quality products that will not only support British businesses but also, for us, the communities in Nepal where our hugely valued weavers live who will be suffering so much more than we are at the moment.

Hannah Soulsby, director, Anima & Amare Interior Design: “Well I don’t know for certain yet but I have a feeling the commercial side will have a big hit due to all hospitality and most commercial premises being closed and most likely loosing money because of this. I’m sure redesigning is going to be the last thing on their mind at the moment.

We were also at a point of re-branding and scaling up the business just before this lockdown hit, I wasn’t sure whether to hit pause on the project, however I have decided to carry on. I figured there is never the right time to start anything and although some business’ will not bounce back from this, new ones will be created so there are always clients – you just have to look in different places.”

Leivars Golders

Leivars Interiors / Golders Green

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

Rebecca Leivars, managing director, Leivars Interiors Studio: “Measures are purely based on daily communication and adapting to the rules and advice as we get it. We tried to preempt as much as we could by procuring goods / materials that will keep sites going. I individually contacted all clients and we talked through how they wished to progress and if they were comfortable with work continuing and with alternative communication methods. Those communication chains remain open daily and we are all keeping each other positive.”

Sonia McEwen, marketing & social media manager, Deirdre Dyson: “We started working remotely prior to the official government lockdown so our immediate team was isolated quite early on and confidently able to continue working. We are in close contact with our clients and have a long standing, close relationship with our manufacturer, keeping all informed and updated as necessary.”

Hannah Soulsby, director, Anima & Amare Interior Design: “We are following government guidelines, and will continue to adapt if we need to but for now all site visits, measures and meetings have bee either moved on line or put on hold. If its a small enough project and measurements of the site can be emailed over this is a positive and means we can continue with the design.”

Medhat Etman, owner, Integration: So far nothing has affected the employees financially as they have got their salaries in full, when the crisis will be over, and when tourism will be back to Egypt as my work is dependent on tourism to a great extent. Currently, we are working on a major project in Sharem Al Sheik by the Red Sea and projects at Upper Egypt with Floating Hotels.. For the moment, our clients can be provided with the required work.”

Airport Hotel

Integration / Airport Hotel

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

Rebecca Leivars, managing director, Leivars Interiors Studio: “Nothing that we haven’t previously mentioned. New enquiries coming through we are having virtual tours of spaces through FaceTime which is helpful and being sent dimensions / images from potential clients so we can at least start initial conversations and quoting for projects. Again, it’s having an open mind in all aspects. There is always a way.”

Sonia McEwen, marketing & social media manager, Deirdre Dyson: We will continue to maintain the highest levels of customer service and advice to all our clients whether at the enquiry or fulfilment stage. Keeping brand awareness high and reminding clients that whilst face to face contact may be the ideal scenario remote designing is absolutely possible and we have done so very successfully many times before.

Additionally we have decided to have a stock sale. We don’t usually sell our display carpets as our business is bespoke however for 8 weeks from 1st May we will offer stock rug designs (excluding Deirdre’s 2020 collection) for immediate purchase at a 25% trade discount (15% retail) so that clients can enjoy their perfect rug design now rather than wait out standard manufacture time of 14-16 weeks.“

Hannah Soulsby, director, Anima & Amare Interior Design: “I was hoping I wouldn’t need to make any drastic changes to how we work but I am having to think about the long term measures if need be. We used to promote digital design when the business first started but it wasn’t as successful and clients much preferred a face to face design process and so did I, however we are looking at introducing this back in for the time being as long as suits. We’re hoping people are so sick of looking at that their current home design that they will be desperate for a good re-design once quarantine is over, so now would be a great time to start those discussions!”

Medhat Etman, owner, Integration: When the crisis is over, we will consider working from home on a more frequent basis in terms of our business structure. But for sure the times to come will be more about survival than making profits!”

Leivars Esher Contemporary

Leivars Interiors / Esher Family Home

Have you been inspired to help support communities around you?

Rebecca Leivars, managing director, Leivars Interiors Studio: “Yes, myself amongst friends have produced care packages and have sent to the local hospitals, I have been walking dogs for two eldery neighbours who are considered high risk and generally, like most offering to get items on supermarket trips. Close friends have given up their properties that they would ordinarily Airbnb for use by local nurses and doctors so they can be closer to the hospital so we have been using our social media platforms to promote this. There is such a wonderful sense of unity throughout this awful time, we are seeing beautiful acts of kindness on every corner, something I hope will carry through once this is over and we get through the other side, and we will get through the other side.”

Sonia McEwen, marketing & social media manager, Deirdre Dyson: “We are proud partners of the charity GoodWeave and a portion of every hand knotted rug sale goes to their invaluable work on the ground where our carpets are produced in Nepal. GoodWeave has recently set up a specific Covid-19 Crisis Fund which you can donate to here.

Personally, local food banks have suffered hugely due to panic buying so on a community level regular financial and physical donations, plus making sure our elderly neighbours have all they need has been a focus.”

Hannah Soulsby, director, Anima & Amare Interior Design: “Well actually today we have made the decision to donate as much food as we possibly can to the local food banks in Southampton who are in dire need for support, so we are working on a campaign for donations now. I am feeling very hopeless not being able to do much to support people so this is the least I can do.”

Medhat Etman, owner, Integration: Charity in Egypt is a big concern; with or without the virus. However, honestly my focus throughout this time has been more focused on my bigger family (my staff). How to secure their income? Will the crisis allow me to sustain the business and their salaries? But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We operate within the Gulf area and during this difficult time have been approached by some colleagues to cooperate on a major project – I just pray it will come true!”

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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