How Designers Are Working Through This New Reality


Bobby Berk, interior designer and star of Queer Eye

On navigating the disruption-
I’m not sure anyone’s lives haven’t been impacted in some way but our only choice is to figure out which way is up, push on, and stay as positive through all of this as we can. When anyone’s norm gets shaken, so do our day to day routines – even something as simple as getting gas or walking outside to retrieving the mail. We’ve never had to think about that to this extreme. Things are very different now, but that is ok. I’m so grateful that I’m with Dewey under the same roof, but also grateful we’re in a space that has separate rooms. We are both able to work remotely and we know our boundaries for one another which makes for any healthy co-habitating situation and a productive workflow while this is all going on.

On making business changes-
No one knows how to get through this. Normally in business when you hit a roadblock, you figure out the answers, try solutions, and seek advisors. Now, there’s no playbook. For my business, we are working efficiently and effectively to be a resource for those who need it most. We have existing content and ongoing partnerships built out but have made the decision to shift our editorial and social calendar to focus on resources, tips, and hacks on how to be healthy and productive at home as well as constantly giving people an inspirational place to land to find respite from all of this. We aren’t steering away from what we know best (design) but right now it’s a balance of being a go-to for those who need it creatively as well as emotionally.

My entire team is working from home until further notice as my first priority is their safety and comfort. We host video conference calls and remain positive (insert sending gifs via mass text here). The first week we made a decision that video conf calls vs phone calls would give everyone a sense of community and social distance, and it’s allowed us to connect in a way we never have before. Seeing my team’s faces every day is something that always brings a smile to my face and I love connecting with them in that way to work through what is on the daily agenda.

On reimagining his business-
My wheels are constantly churning as an entrepreneur and now beginning to think about what it will look like for “re-entry” post pandemic. When Dorothy landed in Oz, she didn’t know where to go but she got up with those red slippers on and figured her way through uncharted territory. It was new and unusual but she had to navigate her way through obstacles and learn how people were working along the way. I’m not quite there yet in terms of reimagining my business (or having my ruby slippers to click together to bring me back home), but I know that we will hit some forks in our yellow brick road.

On staying positive-
It’s been overwhelming to see the “good” happening both locally and around the news. The news can be overwhelming, but if you are able to shut off the noise around Covid-19 for a minute, you can see all of the offerings people and businesses are sharing. Celebrities are banding together to create awareness and raise money, businesses are supporting small businesses, and our earth, for the first time is getting a breath of fresh air to exist without daily pollution. The bravery and efforts from all those in the medical field can also not go unnoticed. These professionals put their lives on the line every day and work so hard through all of this and it’s inspiring to see.

On hope for the future-
Good things take time and this is no exception to the rule. A lot of hopes are being had from political to personal. I hope people continue to support small businesses, continue to see the importance in taking care of themselves and their team mentally and emotionally, and see the effects this has brought to our environment. Lessons can always be taken from every situation both good or bad and I hope that people pause to regroup during all of this and bring a focus back to what is really important in life.

Kate Balsis, partner + co-founder of Concrete Collaborative

On navigating the disruption-
I think we are in the same boat as a lot of other privately-owned, small businesses where this type of economic uncertainty can be really stressful for owners. I haven’t been able to sleep and had this knot in my stomach of will we have enough revenue to make payroll? For us that meant scaling back and closing the New York and San Francisco showrooms temporarily.

On making business changes-
I feel like I’m only finally getting my head above water after weeks of damage control and navigating all this new territory. My partners have been all hands on deck and jumped into action. It definitely brings you together as a team to navigate a true crisis. We have a truly supportive team that have stepped up in a big way through this.

On what she’s experiencing personally + professionally-
Personally I have found the time to be quite tough with additionally juggling my kids’ school. I have three boys in 4th, 2nd, and kindergarten and they all have school full time online. I’m juggling their zoom calls with mine. It’s nearly impossible to run a business and get their work done at the same time. However, like many, I have no choice but to adapt. Shift my work schedule. Make the kids be as self sufficient as possible. We are in this together.

On staying positive-
Ultimately I’m grateful we are safe and healthy. That perspective keeps me going, well that and coffee and wine. I am lucky to have a close network of friends, family, and work colleagues that keep me sane and laughing. In times like this especially you realize those relationships that matter the most.

On hope for the future-
Coming out the other side, for all the negative, it has forced me to slow down. I don’t think I will ever take for granted the time I get out of my house, time I can dedicate to specific things and get breaks from others, in person meetings and being able to travel and eat out.

Scott Fellows

Craig Bassam

Scott Fellows, creative director + co-founder of BassamFellows with Craig Bassam (architect)

On navigating the disruption-
I think, like everybody else, we are trying to take things one day at a time. We have the very real problem of some of our factories being temporarily closed, so we are navigating client expectations and trying to keep everyone informed on an on-going basis. The biggest challenge is the uncertainty of the length of the disruption. Once goods are flowing again, how long will it take for business to return to normal and what does the new normal look like?

On making business changes-
Since the beginning of our company, our core team of employees and collaborators have always worked remotely/virtually, from Verona, to Milan, to London, to Connecticut, Pennsylvania – even Hawaii, so the remote working has not been a shock to the system. Now, clients are increasingly comfortable with online communication. We have several virtual client presentations and talks scheduled over the next several weeks and I’m really enjoying them. It is a way for us to connect with clients that is perhaps even more personal.

On reimagining the business-
Before the pandemic we were planning for the biggest launch in our history in Milan at the Salone del Mobile. We were launching a new chair series called Petal, a chair that pushes the boundaries of 3D wood veneer and has much wider application in contract as well as residential settings. This product was developed over three years with top engineers and developers in Germany, the US, and Italy – each contributing to part of the manufacturing of each piece. Now, those global connections are being disrupted. How do you launch product without the global stage and a global design audience all immersed in design experiences? How do you continue to develop products, such as Petal, that leverage global expertise when supply chains are being disrupted?

We don’t want to retreat to “smallness” and we don’t think it is possible to shrink to greatness. Instead we are thinking about the “localization of the global.” We may be losing the world stage but we can still create powerful experiences such as a product launch event at our new headquarters building in CT – the former Schlumberger Administration Building, designed by Philip Johnson. We can also continue to invest in high quality craft here in the US, as we always have, but marry that with technical expertise and engineering that may exist elsewhere.

On what they’re experiencing personally + professionally-
I remember when we first moved to CT from NYC more than 20 years ago, a friend commented to us that we chose “lifestyle.” To me, he was implying that we chose lifestyle over hard work and the success of a city life, which I found irritating at the time. The truth is that the decision to leave the city changed our lives. It set us on a journey where we began to blur the boundaries between life and work to the point that now they are virtually indistinguishable. We prioritize and invest in our physical spaces whether it is at home or at the office because we believe that physical environments are extremely important – light and space and uncluttered simplicity have a direct impact on our happiness. So I guess we did choose lifestyle after all.

During this crisis we are staying focused and productive and enjoying the space and nature that we are fortunate enough to have around us.

On staying positive-
I think it is important to dedicate at least some of the time to visioning or imagining the future. The time to stop and think and work “on” the business, rather than “in” the business has been in short supply lately. We are relieved by the slower pace and are finding inspiration and ideas from our imagining of the future.

On hope for the future-
I read somewhere about the origins of the word quarantine – that it is a spatial and temporal buffer. That got me thinking about adding a space and time buffer to our decision making and our buying decisions. I think most of us in the design world take a highly considered approach to purchases. Is it well designed for its function? Is it well made? Does it fit my life and my style? Do I really need it? For us, we ask ourselves whether it will be durable and desirable for decades. We hope the “fast” trend in fashion and design will be replaced with a new, “slow” trend – buy less, buy better, and use longer.

Rachel and Nick Cope

Nick Cope, co-founder of Calico Wallpaper + Cope with Rachel Cope

On navigating the disruption-
These times are certainly unusual, fortunately, due to many of the digital systems we have in place we were able to move to remote work fairly quickly and seamlessly (good wallpaper pun!). Rachel and I are upstate at our house in Hudson because our kids are out of school and this affords them a lot more room to run around. Of course, we are having to share duties spending time with the kids so our combined work output is a little reduced at the moment.

On making business changes-
The business is humming along and we are still designing, sampling, printing, and taking orders without much change at all. Our team has been excellent in handling these sudden changes heroically! We are so grateful that they are working hard to keep the company vision moving forward.

On reimagining their business-
The sudden change has reminded me how fragile we all are in this complex ecosystem. Rachel and I have begun to discuss new goals and milestones for our business and although these are private at the moment, we hope to unveil new initiatives soon.

On what they’re experiencing personally + professionally-
I feel like my life has done a bit of a 180 in the last month! Rachel and I are in a unique situation too because we are both partners in business and life. We are trying to balance these rapid personal and professional changes without friction and I feel like we have been doing a good job. I would say that it is nice to be upstate with a view of the Catskills out my window, however, I am pretty much glued to my computer at the moment and I miss the interactions with the team or even little trips to the cafe for a break.

On staying positive-
Taking walks and spending time with the kids has been the best way to stay positive. Obviously, Tiger King on Netflix has made all the difference too.

On hope for the future-
At the moment, I am just hoping for the other side to become clear. There may be some significant lasting impacts to this crisis and hopefully some of them are positive. For instance, attention to health insurance in the United States must become a priority. The system is totally nonsensical and should have been nationalized a century ago like much of the industrialized world. Also, climate change is another crisis that will be an increasingly disruptive force in our lifetime so maybe this crisis will remind us that it is time to act.

Angie Myung, chief creative officer + co-founder of Poketo with Ted Vadakan

On navigating the disruption-
Doing the best we can to navigate this new territory. This crisis has upended the entire design and retail industry. We have closed all our our brick and mortar locations temporarily. We are directing business to www.poketo.com which is now the sole revenue channel. The outpouring of support by our customers has been amazing. People are shopping, we want to continue to provide joy to our customers in this time of crisis. Fortunately, so many of our products are perfect for #workfromhome.

On making business changes-
We are now working remotely for much of our staff. We do frequent video chats via Google. We have directed our efforts to online and doing regular promotions to make shopping easier for our customers.

On reimagining their business-
It has given us time to rethink. We will most likely emerge from this different, but stronger. When you get into a routine, it’s autopilot and you constantly are on the move. This time is allowing us to think about what’s important, how do we streamline, what do we want this new version of the business to look like. We don’t have the answers yet, we are taking things one day at a time.

On what they’re experiencing personally + professionally-
It has been really tough. Especially with our team. We are a small, tight-knit group. We are used to seeing each other every day. Adjusting to remote working and not seeing each other face to face, to brainstorm together, to celebrate small victories together is different. Personally though, it has been nice to remember what is important, which is good health. Without health, what is there? So staying mentally and physically sharp is important. We’ve been taking longs walks with the dog, doing yoga, cooking meals at the house. It has been nice that way to reconnect with simple things.

On staying positive-
Just knowing that the world is in this together, we are all in the same boat trying to navigate these unchartered waters is reassuring. Something I remind myself is that humans are like grass, we bend with the wind, we don’t break. I try to remember that.

On hope for the future-
A healthy business, a team back to work, a strong community ready to create, love, do, make…. We miss our friends, our family, our community… we look forward to celebrating life, art, design, and creativity together once again (sans screen).

Robert Highsmith

Robert Highsmith, co-founder of WORKSTEAD

On navigating the disruption-
By coming together – as a company and community. The disruption has inspired our team to be more collaborative and creative than ever. We have also been in close touch with many of our customers and clients – all partners in the design community – and projects, particularly large-scale residential and hospitality in the concept phase of development, are progressing. Supporting one another is crucial in this environment.

On making business changes-
Our priority – on both the studio and product side of our business – has always been to provide design solutions and inspiration to our customers and clients. We had long planned on a monthly launch of light fixtures in 2020 and feel very fortunate to be in a position to proceed with that schedule, to continue adding to our assortment.



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