Design In The Time of Covid

The world is a bit of a hot mess; that’s undeniable. Still, there are glimmers of hope as we put one foot in front of the other and adjust to our new normal. Here at Design NJ, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to people in every segment of the design profession. What we’ve found is that, under suboptimal (to say the least) circumstances, they continue to serve their clients by whatever means possible.

We asked industry professionals how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their businesses. The responses reveal a community committed to ensuring continuity in client service, willing to go the extra mile and determined to find new ways of accomplishing long-standing goals. Whether rallying the troops (and government officials) via Zoom meeting, moving consultations outdoors or expertly divining client reaction beneath a facemask, these consummate pros have nimbly risen to the occasion.

Maria Bowers | BDesign’D Lebanon, NJ | 908-963-8299 |

Meeting new clients in person and seeing their homes is the most important way for me to get a sense of a client’s style, hear details about how they live, what they like and what they hope to have accomplished. So the shelter-in-place order has had a profound impact on my business. I’m definitely missing that personal interaction.

I already had virtual design options in place for non-local clients; now I’ve transitioned my in-home consultations to videoconferences with a virtual design follow up. I’m always checking in on current and some past clients just to say hi and make sure they are hanging in! I’m also ordering as many actual samples as I can for virtual presentations or direct mail to clients. I feel we can all navigate through the toughest of times, but we have to be willing to make the necessary adjustments in order to keep moving forward.

Marc Brahaney | Lasley Brahaney Architecture Construction Princeton, NJ | 609-921-2822 |

As a residential design/build firm, we were able to continue work on projects already in process, with homeowner consent.  We’ve always been careful to maintain safe work sites and cordon off our construction area from non-work areas in our clients’ homes. We have stepped up those practices with rigorous safe-separation and hygiene rules, including hand-washing stations, mandatory masks and limiting the number of people on site.

With the stay-at-home order, we quickly pivoted to using video-conferencing technology to stay connected with clients and one another. Going forward, we will probably continue to do virtual meetings; more staff members can participate with clients without the inefficiency of everyone traveling to a single physical location. The option to work from home and videoconference our weekly staff meetings also seems to give us more work flexibility which our team appreciates.

Shelley Cekirge | Shelley Cekirge Interiors Tenafly, NJ | 646-342-7655 |

It happens that I have been extremely busy during this lockdown. I started a number of big projects this year and all of them have been moving full-steam ahead over the last few months. As with so many other industries, Zoom meetings have been the biggest change for me. When I do have to be at in-person meetings everyone there – clients, vendors, architects and builders –  wears masks and gloves and maintain social distancing measures. It’s very productive, but very different to be with a client and not be able to read their subtle facial expressions and reactions to things. But the world spins on and waits for no one!

I’ve also done more computer renderings for clients than I used to. This is an easy way for clients to visualize their design, and it removes some of the guesswork. I have found this to be particularly helpful when more than one person needs to agree on the direction of the project and maybe one (or all) of them do not have good spatial imaginations. I’ve always found Computer Aided Design useful, but moving forward I would encourage every client to have CAD drawings done.

I’m happy to have been busy during the madness of 2020. The adjustments made to my business have been beneficial in ways I would never have imagined a year ago. Mostly, I love what I do and I try my best to continue being as creative as possible so that every project has the integrity and uniqueness that are so important to me in my work.

Julia Epstein | JSE Interiors Montclair, NJ | 973-287-9792 |

While the current environment has been tough on business, the bright side is that I’ve had several repeat clients reach out to me because they’re eager to redecorate their homes as a result of having to be in them all the time.  Once this shelter in place order is lifted I have a full slate of new projects!

I’ve been able to finish several projects by working closely with clients through FaceTime and online sourcing. I’ve also started to accept outdoor living space work as I can go and measure as well as source online to complete these types of projects.  Lastly, I have started a few virtual projects from clients far from my geographic region that I normally wouldn’t have time to do and they’re going quite well. Taking on geographically remote projects by designing virtually has shown that I can expand my business without spending a lot of time traveling.

Frank D. Isoldi | Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Westfield, NJ | 908-301-2038 |

In mid-March our business, like everyone’s, changed dramatically.  Fortunately, we were ahead of the curve and had professional interactive floor plans in place for all of our listings and immediately jumped into virtual tours as well.  The Governor quickly made real estate transactions essential, which meant we were still facilitating inspections, appraisals and CO’s as necessary and available.  Shortly thereafter, we were permitted to show homes in person on a one-on-one basis.  Of course, we have not had any public open houses since the shut down; but we have been doing virtual events to try to keep our homes in front of potential buyers.

The first weekend of the shut down, I set up a Zoom meeting with all of my clients (sellers, buyers in transaction and buyers looking to purchase) along with our CEO, a local Senator and Assemblyman, my office manager, our in-house mortgage advisor, a local trusted attorney and our local title company.  At that time, the situation was new and it was a great way for me to manage my clients’ expectations and also hear from other experts as to how we were going to proceed.  Beyond that, agents have done a great job pivoting to meet the needs of our clients while staying safe and abiding by all CDC guidelines.

The silver lining in this situation is that it’s given us all a time to slow down a bit, check in on our family and friends and spend time home with our loved ones in a way that most of us – especially in the tri-state area – ever get a chance to do. Businesswise, we’re seeing a new resurgence of the suburbs. Buyers are coming in droves for homes with yards, home offices, pools  and overall space.

Mitchell Knapp | Scenic Landscaping/Tapestry Landscape Architecture/Tranquility Pools Haskell, NJ | 973-616-9600 |

With construction restrictions and many permit offices closed, we faced great setbacks with continuing our current projects and being unable to start new ones. Our crews were limited; only maintenance and planting were allowed to continue during shelter-in-place. Many projects were abruptly halted.

We continued to meet with clients – one-on-one, outdoors, at a safe distance, with protective gear. Our crews were able to operate on a smaller scale for gardens and cleanups, and we gave clients the option of having our team continue to service their properties. What is normally our very busy season, became a time instead to plan ahead for when projects could resume.

With more time spent at home, homeowners are realizing how much they want to invest in their home, and make changes to enhance or improve their outdoor living lifestyle. Given the unforeseeable ways this will alter society going forward, many homeowners are opting to bring the vacation to their own backyard. We are seeing a higher demand to enhance outdoor spaces with fire features, pools, spas, outdoor kitchens and bars, outdoor TVs and music systems, patios or new garden spaces. Especially with the summer and fall months ahead of us, spending time outside is now more appreciated than ever before.

Vic Lehmann | Lehmann Pools & Spas Mahwah, NJ | 201-327-0428 |

We were very lucky; since our service department was considered essential, we were able to continue servicing our customers’ pools.  Construction did halt for a period of time which, of course, affected timelines on many projects.  The silver lining was that our construction crew was able to work with our service crew and that help caught us up.  With so many families at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, many customers – both existing and new – wanted their pools open as early as possible.  We also received calls from potential customers who were interested in new construction or renovation.  So many people have realized the benefits of having a pool to create a “staycation” at any time.

We decided to create contests for both our customers and our employees to add a little light to these difficult times.  We will be doing a themed photo contest for customers.  Each month from June through September  the photo contest winner will receive a Lehmann Pools & Spas prize pack.  In September we will do a grand drawing and one lucky customer will receive a Pentair UV Bioshield with installation for their pools. Our employees will be entering a monthly video contest which will show solutions to common problems with pool equipment. These videos will be posted on our YouTube channel, blog, and social media sites and hopefully will give many customers and viewers knowledge they did not have prior.

Jennifer Pacca | Jennifer Pacca Interiors Hillsdale, NJ | 201-722-8540 |

During the first few weeks of the shelter-in-place order, a few of our clients put their projects on a temporary hold. Everyone was uncertain about the future and how this virus would affect their livelihood.  Since then all projects have resumed virtually. We’re also working on brand new projects virtually. It’s been an adjustment, but we have adapted and made it work. I host daily morning Zoom calls with my team so that we can make a plan for the day. For client consultations, we’re using Zoom, FaceTime and lots of photos. We are also dropping off samples on our clients’ porches or mailing samples as necessary.

I have used this time to create a new logo and website (which will be live soon). In addition, I’ve been working with my team to streamline our day-to-day operations and our design and workflow processes. We’ve also launched our virtual design services, which is something that I have wanted to implement for quite some time. I love the idea of designing beautiful spaces near and far!

Gary Rosard |Gary Rosard Architect Millburn, NJ | 973-218-6656 |

While working from home I and my employee conduct Zoom calls with screen share to make it easier to discuss drawings and design ideas. I’ve also used Zoom and screen share to meet with clients. Pretty basic. Our business has taken a big hit due to the pandemic. We had 3 substantial projects that were on the verge of getting started when this all hit, those were all put on hold.

I’ve liked working from home, and even though I could go to my office, there’s really no need at this time. Hopefully when things get busy again, I’ll be more likely to need the facilities there on a more regular basis, but I might still work from home some days, at least through the summer.