When COVID-19 hit the region and Northern Virginians sheltered indoors under the state’s stay-at-home order, they were reminded of the importance of home and the need to love the space you live in. As a result, many are turning to local interior designers to help spruce up their homes.
We spoke with Asha Maxey of Alexandria-based Asha Maía Design to get an inside look at how COVID-19 has changed the industry, her tips for virtual consultations and more. Find highlights from our conversation below.
First, tell us a little about your interior design business and its signature style.
I have been in business for about four years, that’s when Asha Maía Design officially started, but I was doing things in the industry before, starting in 2013. In my business I focus on residential interior design and my aesthetic is a modern take on classic design, with classic elements but modern and streamlined. My aesthetic offers fresh, clean and bright designs. I always want to add that, even though some people think that means that I only use bright colors, that’s not necessarily the case. I just like to have like an airy effect on whatever the space is, so it feels clean, bright and fresh.
How have you been transitioning and leading your business through the pandemic?
As a business, I’m growing; I’m happy to tell you I have growth, it hasn’t been like I lost a whole bunch of clients. But the amount of inquiry slowed down as we were coming into March. So many people in the spring really want to start redesigning their home, or they are buying houses and they’re ready to settle in. It comes with that spring cleaning, and around that time I’m usually getting a lot of inquiries for different elements of design. Within two weeks after the pandemic began to really hit, that slowed down.
To continue communication with my clients, I offered the opportunity to do virtual consultations, but a lot was still up in the air at that point because the contractors weren’t able to go into people’s home and home furnishing vendors, they’re all in the same boat, cut back staff and their hours. We weren’t able to get in contact with them as frequently as I was able to before. All of those things, it was a lot unknowns. Most of the conversations that I was having with clients who were inquiring were, like, “Let’s reevaluate what is happening,” month to month.
Now, we’re trying to do things the best way we can. As spaces are opening again and phasing through reopening, I am more comfortable, and my clients are more comfortable as well, going out and doing in-person consultations. I tell my clients, my team and I will have masks, we’ll have hand sanitizer and we’ll be frequently washing our hands. I ask the clients to do the same thing because we just don’t know, it’s such an unknown with this whole pandemic. You have to take a precaution at every step.
Talk to us about the E-Design options you offer clients, which can be done all virtually.
So, my business is broken out into two main services. First is full-service design, in which my team and I handle everything from start to finish. We consult with the client to get their vision and I ask them questions to get more information about their personalities and what they like and dislike so that I can create a cohesive design for them.Then from there, my team and I source all the items, we track all the products to make sure that those items are delivered to our warehouse here and then when the last piece is delivered, we arrange white-glove delivery and the install day, where it’s an entire day dedicated to installing all the pieces into that home. This is just the basic, full-service design, not including our renovations services.
Then, E-Design is really more just the plan only. We’re not doing all the project management, there’s no tracking delivery and making sure everything’s inspected. We just put together a plan. And at this point, all of the items that are being presented to the client are from retail, like local retail sources or online. The full-service design’s products are all through trade only. As interior designers, we have resources and networks of manufacturers that create products just for interior designers, providing a great style that the regular consumer just doesn’t have access to.
For the E-Design, clients can go to their local store and pick up the items for the design and they can carry it out at their leisure. This can be done to meet their budget constraints, or it can be that a client is across the country and they want the Ahsa Maía Design aesthetic and design touch, but I’m not able to meet with them in person. The E-Design meets multiple needs as far as distance and also investment. That is where the virtual consultation comes in because to keep the cost a little bit lower and to not have to be so involved in the process, the consultation happens virtually. They’ll walk me through their home, we’ll talk about it. It’s pretty much just like an in-person consultation, except they’re on their phone or tablet.
With virtual consultations, what should clients know beforehand?
As far as measurements and things like that, I have detailed instructions to give my clients and that helps them be able to measure their space. Also, if it’s a newer home, they can send me the floor plan, and the floor plan, nine times out of 10, has the dimensions. For virtual clients, I can order fabric samples of a sofa, for example, and let the client know it’s the fabric I’m recommending, here’s when you should choose, when you should place your order, how this fits your vision, etc.
What are the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on the interior design industry that you’ve noticed so far?
I would just say that people are more eager right now to design their home. They’ve been sitting at home, looking at the same four walls for three months and are ready for change. I’ve had so many people ask about patios because I think that people are trying to lean into leisure time, because you can’t really go a lot of places, so you want to have your outdoor space at your home look beautiful and be as comfortable as possible.
Also, I remind my clients, you have to practice patience with deliveries. There’s so much unknown out here and the vendors have scaled back. A lot of vendors import stuff from Italy, India, France, China, everywhere. They’ve all been affected too, so timing on manufacturing and delivery can be pushed back.
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