As pandemic wanes, world of design shows signs of return

by Patricia Cove
Posted 5/21/21

The joys of working in the field of design are many, but as of late, the changes that have occurred over the past several years have become a bit more challenging.

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As pandemic wanes, world of design shows signs of return

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The joys of working in the field of design are many, but as of late, the changes that have occurred over the past several years have become a bit more challenging.

When I started this business back in the mid-1980s. interiors were awash in the flourishes and ruffles of the Mario Buatta era. Swag and Jabot window treatments were de rigueur, and cabbage roses graced all the upholstery. Fabric houses were plentiful, and local showrooms staffed knowledgeable representatives to assist you in selections.

Designers and architects were sufficiently compensated for the time this process entailed, and finished projects reflected the expertise involved.

The changes in the profession were subtle at first. The Internet gave designers the option of seeking out furnishings and accessories online, but it was soon realized that it was impossible to find out how a particular sofa felt on a computer screen, and the celadon green fabric was actually more lime green in person. So even though web searches gave the impression of a much simpler research project, real professionals realized that accurate design required real hands on applications.

Complicating matters was that now clients themselves could search the Internet, and without understanding the pitfalls, would joyfully place orders online. Well, you see where I am going with that.

The next huge shake up arrived with the economic collapse of 2008. With job loss, market drop and real fear, who was going to embark on a living room remodel, let alone an entire kitchen renovation.

All of a sudden fabric companies were showing less product, and what they did have was often a lesser quality fabric content. Philadelphia’s Marketplace Design Center lost several furniture, fabric and accessory showrooms, and others relocated to smaller spaces in other areas of the city. Our once thriving resource was shrinking.

Professionals found how difficult it could be to continue to ask for reasonable fees for design work that the public felt it could do themselves, at the same time spending more and more hours searching out every individual element of a design. And we soon learned that the Marketplace would be closing all together, with a more “compact” version opening in what is now referred to as the “Design Center Philadelphia.” A drastically paired down facility opened at 11th and Ludlow, and thankfully still held some of the most prestigious lines. It was March of 2020. And then everything closed down.

Orders that had normally taken 8 weeks, were now projected to be delivered in 20, and that was optimistic. Stock and pricing information were next to impossible to ascertain, and getting samples of anything was simply out of the question. That situation went on for months. So, here we are today. Has anything changed? Yes and no. As I know my cynicism often gets the best of me, I am getting the impression that Covid has provided the perfect excuse to not get work done. I contacted a New York showroom earlier this morning to simply find out the price and availability of a fabric. Several hours later, I received an email from a name I was not familiar with saying that the fabric had been discontinued. As I had just received a memo of said fabric just one day earlier, I knew she was mistaken. Her reason for the error? Their office was understaffed, and she did not have time to thoroughly provide the correct information.

On a more positive note, people spending more time at home over the past year have taken the time to look around their spaces and start to dream about what a new family room or kitchen could actually look like. And they have had the time to discover how difficult it can be to navigate furniture web sites or choose fabrics from a computer screen and deal with a customer service person, who really does not care that your end tables arrived in different finishes. I have also heard that many are understanding the value of having a real professional guide them through very overwhelming and complex design issues, while also making sure that everything arrives in perfect condition.

The world feels like it is opening back up again, and I think that may be true for the world of design, too.

Patricia Marian Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill and can be reached through her web site: patriciacove.com.

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