The Interior Design Industry Shows Solidarity in a Time of Crisis 8th May 2020 | IN CORONAVIRUS | BY SBID

Continuing the conversation surrounding the ongoing disruption to life and business during the coronavirus pandemic, our final instalment sharing the real-life industry perspectives of SBID Accredited designers highlights how the interior design community is showing solidarity in this time of crisis; offering their advice for preserving mental wellbeing, supporting communities and coping through Covid-19 in the hope that our shared experiences will bring the industry closer together than ever before.

Elicyon Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (6)

Image credits: Elicyon

Elicyon Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (4)

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

Richard Angel, founder, Angel O’Donnell: “The social distancing measures are completely necessary for us all to try to return to some sort of normality as swiftly as possible. Clearly we are not visiting any client’s properties to ensure that everyone is kept safe well but we have managed to cope, continuing to meet with both clients and suppliers using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, FaceTime and other video calls. Where work was happening within homes, thankfully, clients fully understand that we’re not able to visit their homes and work on site has needed to be paused during this time.”

Charu Gandhi, founder & director, Elicyon: “We commenced working from home as a Studio on the 11th of March, and have not met each other as a 20 strong team face to face since. Our on site projects have paused baring a few where the contractor can continue to work within the confines of the government regulations. Several of our FF&E suppliers around the globe have had shifting impact of varying degrees, many of which they have found innovative ways of working around. We had several upcoming trips, as we are constantly on the move, sourcing material and objects for our projects and meeting clients around the globe, which have been paused.

Amidst all the impacts, the list of negatives is long, but one of the striking positives has been a burst of creativity from the Studio. Perhaps as a result of the slowing down, perhaps as a form of escapism, or an enthusiasm to push even harder to fulfil our clients aspirations, our creativity has been thriving and we are producing some of our most beautiful work. One of my abiding memories of this time will be the immersive creative process that has emerged out of this, and how it has focused us all afresh on our shared passion that drives Elicyon.”

Rachel McLane, director, Rachel McLane Ltd: “Hugely! We are a design team who focus mainly on commercial projects for the hospitality sector. Unfortunately 80% of our projects have been put on hold whilst companies deal with this unprecedented situation. We are a very close team that work well together in an open plan studio and are used to hearing each other’s calls and being involved in various aspects of each project. So the adjustment to working in isolation has been particularly difficult.

We have a large hotel project at the moment which is continuing but the social distancing means there are less trades on site, and the supply chain is getting increasingly difficult which means the project is going at a far slower pace. We are struggling to get hold of paint and materials now and any 2nd and 3rd fix items such as case goods, bespoke lighting, shower screens and so on are delayed due to manufacturing facilities and workshops being closed.

Before the social distancing was put into place, we were a team of nine, however due to 80% of our client base stopping all work for the foreseeable future, three of our employees have now been furloughed and 2 have reduced their days of work.”

Elisabetta De Strobel, founder, Terzomillennium: “It was a bolt from the blue! We were all convinced that the COVID-19 wouldn’t have affected us, if not just superficially. Instead, everything changed overnight: Tuesday, March 10 we were in the studio full of appointments booked for weeks and the very next day forced to work remotely from home. It was a shock. Just when the “human perspective” seemed to be an effective way to overcome the overwhelming power of social networks, we all found ourselves at home in front of a monitor! And without knowing when all of this will end.

Unaware of what was about to happen in Italy, I had already been experimenting this ‘new reality’ for a couple of months back at that time in my working relationship with an important Chinese company in the Wuhan area that I collaborate with.”

Angel O'Donnell Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (2)

Image credits: Taran Wilkhu / Angel O’Donnell

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

Richard Angel, founder, Angel O’Donnell: “We talk!! Ed and I have a video call almost everyday, that could be to talk shop or it just have a chat and a laugh! I’ve also started to heavily get into my exercise, I’m lucky to have both a Peloton spin bike and rowing machine at home and have been using one if not both of these everyday, I’m on the road to feeling almost as fit as I was a few years ago when I participated in a charity white collar boxing match after 6 months of intensive training! I’ll return to the office a new man!

The other important aspect for mental wellbeing and motivation during this time is knowing when to stop. We all have good and bad days, and if I’m having a bad day, I leave my desk, go off for a walk, get on the Peloton bike, or whatever it may be to keep me sane but it’s so important to realise when to call it a day, then reset the next day. There’s no point sitting, trying to be creative and productive if you’re not feeling it! It’s completely counter-productive! 

I have also had a life/professional coaching session with James Parris at Parris Performance Coaching which was incredibly helpful to take me through a process of problem solving and ensuring that I was on the right track! James is offering a complimentary 90 minute session at the moment and I’d highly recommend it to anyone reading!”

Charu Gandhi, founder & director, Elicyon: “Keeping to a routine that balances the Studio and family has been important. Schedules and routines keep you focued and give a framework to work and family life! Creating a workspace, exercising daily and trying not to let work drag into the evening… This is a perpetual challenge as a Studio head and when you love what you do, but even more so and when the boundaries between home and work are blurred. I have a clear end to my day, dinner with my son – which I normally miss – so it also casts a light on one of the positives. I let myself work in the evenings if it is imperative but try to limit it to no more than twice a week.

Keeping my home clutter free and organised and regular team video calls also help. Our clients have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging and ultimately, the motivation comes down to creativity and people – if the team and clients are safe and happy, and I can create a haven within my home to be creative – then I continue to find joy in our design endeavours.”

Rachel McLane, director, Rachel McLane Ltd: “We are all working from home now and have installed the Microsoft Teams App which allows the team to meet each morning and discuss any changes to our schedules and what we’re going to do that day. We also do our weekly team meetings and run through all current projects like we used to. We feel it gives us purpose to getting up in the morning and getting ready for work.

The team also stay in touch on our team WhatsApp group and there’s always photos of our office dog, Olive, and other 4-legged friends doing things throughout the day. Most mornings someone will post a positive message or photos from daily exercise walks to cheer each other up. There’s always tips from the team on how to stay focused too, like when you put the dishwasher on or some washing in the machine, aim to complete a project or task within the time it takes the wash to complete, just to give ourselves a little focus and challenge!

I have made it very clear to all my team that I don’t want or expect people to stay chained to their desks for 8 hours. We have to be fluid and flexible to keep mentally strong and to be able to adapt to the pressures that surround us all with our personal lives now intertwined. My team’s mental health is very important and I don’t want anyone to beat themselves up over ‘trying to keep busy!’”

Elisabetta De Strobel, founder, Terzomillennium: “Suddenly, you realise that working from home has many advantages: in my case, I’ve realised I can work with more peace of mind and get things done anyway. Compared to what has been my ordinary working routine for years, working from home is certainly much more sedentary: space is small and displacements reduced to a minimum. You don’t need to attend so many meetings, which alone save you a lot of time and end up with being sometimes more productive for your works… but on the other side you can’t even have an in person chat with a colleague or other professionals you know. So, since I’m lucky to have it at home, I forced myself to go to my gym twice a day! And then I have many WhatsApp/ Skype / Zoom groups now – useful also to cook and eat together remotely!”


Image credits: Maurizio Marcato / Terzomillennium

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

Richard Angel, founder, Angel O’Donnell: “It’s been cutting costs where we can, which sadly included not taking on a new team member who was due to start with us at the end of March. It’s also the acceptance that our business might not grow at the same trajectory as it was previously, but we count ourselves fortunate as we’re in a strong cash position and will see this through, where others will not be so fortunate.”

Charu Gandhi, founder & director, Elicyon: “The initial challenge was moving to a remote working set up; thankfully we have invested in technology over the years and are accustomed to presenting to our clients via video calls as they are often not located in London or travelling over the course of projects. However, to have the entire team remotely set up, our sample library decanted across various team member’s homes and conducting all our design brainstorms remotely, took some getting used to but with discipline and by applying the same rigour we do to our day to day Studio running, we have adjusted to this.

In the mid-term, the uncertainty around the return to normal working conditions and the reopening of our project sites is a challenge. The COVID situation has cast a spotlight on how internationally connected our Studio is, with clients and projects and suppliers around the globe. We source items from artisan makers and larger brands around the world, the impact of this on each one of them is something we are tracking closely and working dynamically around.

More long term, the ability for us and our clients to travel will become relevant and limitations on international travel will have an impact. We are looking strategically at both the mid to long term challenges, while focusing on the immediate situation – if we cross each hurdle as it comes, I am confident that we can overcome these challenges.”

Rachel McLane, director, Rachel McLane Ltd: “We know this epidemic will end at some point and that the hospitality sector will be back up and running hopefully as quickly as it stopped. However, the priorities for our clients will be recouping the money they lost during this time as opposed to reinvesting into future projects. Therefore, our original projects and agreed time scales will potentially be put on hold for at least 18 months. In which time their priorities and business plans may have changed. In which case it will be back to the drawing board.

The uncertainty for my team has been a big challenge. We’ve never worked from home before and we all like being at the office together and working as a tight team, so it feels strange for us all to be apart.”

Elisabetta De Strobel, founder, Terzomillennium: “The big challenge is the market. Nothing will be the same as before – it was like pulling the parking brake on a train at full speed! Maintaining contact with customers is extremely difficult. Everyone is afraid and will proceed really carefully or put projects on hold. The result? Even new customers are more sceptical. What we need to try to figured out then, for our business and for our customers, is how to be able to realign resources to focus on the future and not on the past, aiming for agility and not austerity and closure. To do this we have to re-educate ourselves, to open our mind to the necessity of a continuous updating that can teach us speed in decisions and give us insights to realign the business even in an uncertain period.”

interior design industry, The Interior Design Industry Shows Solidarity in a Time of Crisis

Image credits: Twine & Barrel, York / Rachel McLane

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

Richard Angel, founder, Angel O’Donnell: “We’re continuing as normal but following the government advice, so Ed and I are working from home, we use Microsoft Teams and Zoom for meetings and can continue with our drawing and design work. We’re still able to present to clients remotely and indeed that is what we’ve been doing, sharing screens and where necessary, samples can be couriered. All our mood boards etc have been digital for some time so there really is not a huge change other than lacking the human touch. ”

Charu Gandhi, founder & director, Elicyon: “We have spent time reviewing each project, clients requirements and employee requirements in detail. We had a week to prepare before the government announced lockdown, as we perceived it was coming we used the days in the lead up to test run and prepare for it.

This meant that we had a plan ready for each project, depending on its status, any impact and could swiftly reach out to clients individually to give them a comprehensive update on their project and any impact. Luckily, we have had limited impact as most of our projects are in the design or drawing stages. The projects we do have on site have been impacted with varying degrees.”

Rachel McLane, director, Rachel McLane Ltd: “This is the perfect time for us to design. It sounds ridiculous but there never seems to be time to design as clients tend to come to us at around the time that they want something built or installed, forgetting there is an actual design process to go through.

We have been in touch with our clients to explain this and some have completely agreed and have allowed us to continue with their projects. This means when we come out of lockdown we are one step ahead and their projects can start up immediately.”

Elisabetta De Strobel, founder, Terzomillennium: “Specifically in my studio we are working on two tools:

1) WELCOME FUTURE: An academy in collaboration with the IXL Center in Boston, which organises innovation courses in management, marketing, design and personal balance. In our first edition last year we designed classroom courses, for this edition things had to change a little and on April 16th, the first Webinar started! The course will allow participants to obtain a certification, issued by the GIMI Institute, as well as the enrolment in the International Association of Innovation Professionals.

2) MAGIS3: A tool that allows the online presentation of important projects. We have designed both the software and hardware part of it. We strongly believe in this tool since, even more after this period, online communication platforms will be increasingly popular. Therefore, having a tool that can facilitate contacts with the world and also that can allow for a professional and reliable presentation of your products and projects’ strengths will be fundamental. In my opinion, flexibility and agility will be increasingly important skills for every business.”

Angel O'Donnell Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (1)

Image credits: Taran Wilkhu / Angel O’Donnell

Angel O'Donnell Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (3)

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

Richard Angel, founder, Angel O’Donnell: “Even before this period, we were a small and nimble operation with flexibility in the way that we work. When Ed and I set up Angel O’Donnell, the systems and procedures we put in place were focused around ensuring we were paperless and that we could work from anywhere. We’ve been using Microsoft Teams for over a year now so this is not a new thing for us, we just don’t have the luxury of being able to visit all our fantastic suppliers face to face to see what new products they’ve got to show us!”

Charu Gandhi, founder & director, Elicyon: “We all have to deal with this situation through social distancing. While none of us want to be limited in our movement, we should immediately do so and be grateful that of all places we are asked to stay, nothing is better than being home with those we love.

We will learn through this how to truly work from home and be effective. This could have a huge positive impact on how we live our lives and work together going forward. The office workplace will look very different after this I believe and the investments we are continuing to make in the Studio in terms of technology and ways of collaborating remotely, are allowing us to be agile and flexible both now and in the future.”

Rachel McLane, director, Rachel McLane Ltd: “We’re currently working on how we can increase our presence on social media to showcase our skills and processes, and to show what we get up to day-to-day when working with our clients. We would also like to run some social media features on our commercial clients and their hotels and restaurants as I’m sure people will want to visit some new places once social distancing is a thing of the past.

We are also considering showing some of the products we source or have had bespoke made for our commercial projects which could possibly be purchased through us. It would be a small range of eclectic items that would bring something of our story into your home. This is definitely working progress and something that needs more thought.”

Elicyon Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (3)

Image credits: Elicyon

Elicyon Interiors for SBID Interior Design Blog (2)

Have you been inspired to help support communities around you?

Richard Angel, founder, Angel O’Donnell: “Absolutely! We really wanted to be able to try to offer support, however we could. We reached out to our social media following to see how we could assist them with home design problems to provide free advice for which we would usually charge significant fees for. We realised that so many people could feel stuck in a rut but could also use this time to redecorate and/or re-purpose areas of their homes to allow them to work from home, the response we received was incredible! Off the back of this, we’ve set up Angel O’Donnell’s ‘Wednesday Wisdom’ where each week, Ed and I are providing design tips via Instagram and following up with inspiration boards on our Pinterest page. On top of this, I’ve been delivering meat for my local butcher each Friday to help them out together with doing the shopping for my elderly neighbours, it’s great to support where we can as we’ve got to rally together at this time!
Ed and I will also shortly be launching a live interview with us, talking about the design business, how we can remain creative during this period, helpful thoughts and soundbites around business generally, so watch this space!”

Charu Gandhi, founder & director, Elicyon: “Yes, I have signed up to support via the ‘youth volunteer network’ which is a fantastic initiative. I have also donated to a few causes that support the poor in India. For them, being able to lockdown at home is a luxury they cannot contemplate, and access to food and clean water is a challenge. It makes me grateful that I can actually stay at home safely, and I feel we should all contribute as best we can to causes that resonate with us.

There are some fantastic examples within our design community of causes brands are undertaking and we are supporting as many as we can; LuxDeco have launched a campaign to support independent brands and artisans, Cameron Design House have turned over production in their London workshop from sculptural lighting to the manufacture of face shields for the NHS and care workers, Women in Luxury Interiors has created a regular forum for its members to share knowledge and support each other through this crisis.

I feel passionately that we have to keep design, and our commitment to the beautiful and special alive in these times, and support each other as a community.”

Rachel McLane, director, Rachel McLane Ltd: “Coronavirus has left a lot of people feeling uncertain and worried, but if you’re a business owner, especially with a team relying on you, it can be incredibly difficult. We don’t have the answers. You are trying to protect your business and also the livelihoods of your team. I have tried to protect all my staff as best I can even in these uncertain times. By me being flexible and accommodating they can then support their own families and community without having to worry too much about the business.”

Elisabetta De Strobel, founder, Terzomillennium: “In this difficult time we received help and support from our Chinese client who, with extreme kindness, sent us some masks which in turn we distributed to those we know. It’s like living in a movie, a sort of distorted reality kind of movie. We can’t wait to get out of this bubble but then we will find us catapulted into a totally new world, where we’ll have to start over again. In the hope of moving toward a new reality build on trust, on the circular economy, on collaboration, all human-centred.”

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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