Designing in a Virtual World
Interior design is a highly visual, tactile industry – the pairing of shapes and textures enliven the senses and feelings meant to be evoked by a designed space. The process is about as hands-on as can be with building, painting, physical arranging of furnishings and home décor, and various little touches here and there. But when a pandemic hits home and businesses like interior design and construction are deemed non-essential, there’s an unprecedented separation. Working in the most personal of spaces, virtually, East End designers share their thoughts on trends and demands in the landscape of COVID-19.
While we live in a digital world, the swift move to bringing everything online was somewhat of an abrupt challenge for many businesses. Video conferencing has become the new norm for meetings, and this is true, too, for interior designers. Working remotely while explaining where furnishings and décor should be placed was certainly a challenge on both ends, but not impossible, according to Studio MTK founder Steffen Ringlemann. Working from Norway and Montauk, he completed a project in California to decorate and stage a property. “At one point, I was literally advising my clients and their movers where to lay rugs, place furniture, hang art and place plants and objects over Zoom,” he explains. “Throughout the process, I never set foot inside the home. Even still, the project was a success as my clients received a strong offer the same day the home was listed and were in contract less than a week later.”
For clients staying in their homes, Ringlemann has found uplifting, well-curated office spaces help provide a healthy balance, especially during the pandemic. Thoughtful design can transform the work-from-home model from just a necessity to something to actually enjoy.
As both a builder and interior designer, Debra Geller has noted that while her business has kept her very busy, some processes have slowed as permits for construction take longer and clients want fewer people in their homes. This industry however has seen an uptick in activity similar to what real estate agents have been experiencing as homeowners are turning summer residences into full-time abodes. With that, there has been an increase in revamping living spaces.
Kitchen renovations, expanded outdoor spaces, and of course, the home office are of the utmost importance. Geller recently completed an outdoor kitchen with a barbecue, island, fire pit, covered porch with outdoor living room, gardens and added onto the pool patio to create a resort feel, right at home. “People are making their homes more sustainable and more of an oasis for themselves, outdoor beautification and adding creature comforts,” the designer says. “It’s like creating your own private getaway. Because people are not traveling, they’re enjoying these staycations at home. They are also investing in houses because of how much real estate is always a good in investment in the Hamptons, but right now it’s great!”
Allison Babcock can attest to the importance of these spaces on a personal level. The designer set up her own office to work from home in Sag Harbor, converting her dining table and outdoor patio into her new office space. In addition to transitioning from a constant on-the-go lifestyle to spending more time at home, Babcock saw a change in how designers work with vendors. Many like to see and feel the products they’re purchasing on behalf of clients. Since this was no longer an option, she relied on those she trusted. Her focus on local craftspeople was also able to expand at this time as she discovered new makers to work with now and in the future.
Hamptons homes will be used well beyond summer now. Babcock has found color and pattern coming back into fashion lately, even with clients that tend to lean toward muted colors. Patterned wallpaper, printed fabrics, and pops of color in art and accessories like throws and pillows are some of the fun ways she is updating spaces.
“Some of my favorite tricks for turning a beach house into a year-round home are adding sheepskins rugs to wooden floors and cashmere throws to chairs and sofas to warm up a space, and changing out upholstery to something heavier like cotton velvets and wovens and plush throw pillows for a fresh, new, and cozier feel,” Babcock says of fall design elements. She also adds that outdoor spaces should feel like an extension of the home, not just a patio.
The colors of fall on the East End are all encompassing. Earth tones like beige and burnt orange are favorited hues, with soft greens and ocean blues to complement them. Designer James McAdam says these tones promote peace and transform the home into a sanctuary – something that is critical now more than ever.
Realizing the importance of empathy in these times, McAdam shares the need to be sensitive in understanding the clients’ challenges. Kitchen renovations have been a top priority, and clients have been concerned with how they can make things like grocery shopping safer at home. Replacing countertops in materials that are non-porous is one of the easiest routes. Of course, creating a home office that is more than just a desk in a corner is a popular ask.
“We are designing full-time satellite workplaces,” McAdam says. “With video conferencing being so important we are incorporating surround sound, additional sound proofing and soft adequate light to make these spaces more desirable and camera ready.”
As the fall season approaches and part-time residences prepare for year-round use, there’s a special enjoyment the East End offers. Thankfully, many of these activities are outdoors where people can socially distance. Apple and pumpkin picking, wine tasting, hiking, fall boating, and more are within reach. The elements of fall can be incorporated into the home to create a warm, cozy feel, utilizing autumn colors and fresh farm finds incorporated into design spaces. This general idea will last well into the winter season as well, encouraging people to find peace as they continue spending more time at home.
“I think the general idea is people realize family and the home are a priority,” Geller shares. “They’re redirecting their money and energy toward the simpler things in life that are more enriching, and surrounding themselves with beauty for their soul.”