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by habituallychic

09 . 15 . 08

Decorno sparked a bit of controversy today with her letter to Wall Street which got me thinking about what happens to the interior design industry when times are tough. Many of my friends and clients work in finance and are already cutting back their budgets but they and other New Yorkers still want a comfortable place to come home to at the end of the night. In fact, when the world is scary out there like it was after September 11th, people end up spending more money on their decor because they are going out less and cocooning at home with friends and family.

Harsh economic times usually mean less custom work and over the top ridiculously expensive curtains and more pieces from places like Crate and Barrel, flea markets and eBay. There are also many wonderful thrift stores in New York who sell top notch furniture and art to benefit very worthwhile charities that you can usually find something without breaking the bank. But I’m curious, are any of you in design industry noticing a slowdown in projects or other repercussions of this financial crisis? What are you doing to weather the storm? Do you think this will lead to more restrained and subdued decorating?

Photo by William Waldron for Elle Decor
Piggy Bank for hiding your money by Harry Allen

Comments Closed

  1. finance tune up September 15, 2008 | 7:25 pm

    im your favorite reader here!

  2. AK September 15, 2008 | 7:40 pm

    “When the world is scary”, people are least concerned about frivolous details like the decor of their homes. They are more concerned about things like food, medical care for themselves and their families and having a roof over their heads.

  3. Habitually Chic September 15, 2008 | 7:45 pm

    Finance Tune Up, thanks.

  4. Habitually Chic September 15, 2008 | 7:52 pm

    AK, the people who make and deal with all those frivilous details also have families to feed and shelter.

    If no one orders fabric, the people who own the mills might not be able to pay their workers. If there is nothing to upholster and his business declines, my upholsterer might have to lay off all the young men who work for him. If no one is ordering furniture, then the delivery men will have no furniture to deliver might not be able to feed his family.

    There is a lot of people that depend on the interior design industry besides the designers. Those are the people I am also thinking about.

  5. CB September 15, 2008 | 8:10 pm

    Dear Ms. Chic,

    First, sorry for the typo below — I meant “talking”, not “taking”.

    As for the current turmoil, it is troubling, especially as a small business owner. (Though not in interior design.) I would like to think that potential clients will look to design professionals such as yourself to help them make smart choices and to do more with what they have already. Reupholster, rearrange, eliminate the things one does not need to create a more peaceful and satisfying environment… and maybe make room for other things when the economy turns around.

  6. Be the change..... September 15, 2008 | 8:16 pm

    Our firm seems to be holding up great. I don’t think there is a noticeable change, but definitely the work we have is the more high-end type of job -we don’t seem to be getting in as many smaller renovations. Everyone is on edge though!

  7. Allie September 15, 2008 | 8:22 pm

    I’ve been a designer for over 10 years and have seen good times and bad. The one thing that I’ve noticed is that those people that were doing well, still have money. They are still using a designer, they just may not spend as much for that new table, but they’re still going to buy a new table.

    The only drop off of business that I’ve seen is from those people who would think of using a designer as a splurge instead of doing it on their own.

    But I do like your thoughts about people spending more time cocooning and possibly spending more on their home. And I’m 100% in agreement with your comments on the effects on jobs in the industry!

    Good topic!

  8. wilachio September 15, 2008 | 8:27 pm

    Hi there! I agree with you, working as I am in my own Interior Design firm…things are definitely slowing down!
    Also, do not pay attention to people that tend to ridicule Interiors Designers, or think we are a frivolous (and not-so-important-in-times-of-crisis) thing.
    Anyhow, I really appreciate your blog, it is a very nice place to stop by and hang out.
    Keep posting interesting stuff!!!!

  9. Jennifer September 15, 2008 | 8:29 pm

    I work for a shelter-category publishing house, and we are definitely feeling a crunch, as magazines and other small “luxury expenditures” are often the first to go when people tighten up. Those who have been around the longest have seen things go up and down many times, but all are more conscience of the budget these days.

  10. Anonymous September 15, 2008 | 8:33 pm

    I think there will definitely be a downturn in the design industry, especially with the current Wall Steet crisis.

    Many, many states have been feeling these woes for over a year. The housing downturn affected so many industries.
    Dalton Georgia, the carpet capital is a ghost town. The largest company that manufactured carpet backing (the underside of carpet)closed up shop. Home Depot laid off thousands from their Atlanta corporate office and from their stores.

    Houses aren’t selling, nor appliances, carpeting, fabrics, furniture, etc. etc. This trickle down affects all workers.

    People are watching their net worth tank before their eyes.
    I think anyone who fails to recognize the severe economic times we’re in right now, are deluding themselves.

    I know I’m scared. . .

  11. magnaverde September 15, 2008 | 8:34 pm

    A slowdown, you say?

    I totally believe Charlotte Moss when she says she’d like to spend more time with her family, but with her background & her connections to the world of finance, she’s like the canary in the coal mine, the difference being that she knows enough to (and can) get out before it’s too late. Better to read the writing on the wall than to hit the wall.

    As for last week’s out-of-the-blue news about shuttering The Townhouse vis-a-vis today’s bigger, scarier news friom Wall Street, I’d say Charlotte Moss’ timing–like her taste–was impeccable.

  12. Ivy Lane September 15, 2008 | 8:55 pm

    I am a Realtor and have a few people who recently decided not to list their homes for sale and are opting to do design projects so they can stay and enjoy for the long haul until the market stabilizes.I think there will be more of that as the housing market is just not going to turn for the better for a few more years. Why not dress up your space and feel good in it while you’re there!!? I agree with HC that people want to come home to a safe haven that they can enjoy and have that “it’s good to be home” feeling.

  13. Annika Sophia September 15, 2008 | 11:14 pm

    No, I don’t. The vast majority of people who can afford this type of luxury expense will still pay for it. We are in the second gilded age. There are still more millionaires being made than at any time in American history aside from the original gilded age with to the advent of the steam engine. This recession is hurting by and large middle class America, as usual. Seems to me, if you are in he right circles, it would be business as usual. People always want a lovely home.

  14. Camilla @ Designalogue September 15, 2008 | 11:31 pm

    Scary times ahead perhaps. I’m a self employed designer in Melbourne Australia, and down here we are yet to feel to much of the sting, but get the sense that we are all waiting with baited breathe to see what happens next…

    I do think that peoples homes decor have become more of a priority. Through constant exposure to beautiful spaces -through media etc. People are realizing that living in a space custom for their needs is achievable – not just something for the uber rich. Scary financial times can also mean exciting design challengers – that’s what Im telling myself!

  15. Christina September 15, 2008 | 11:47 pm

    Came across your blog and absolutely love it, it’s so hard to find a truly stylish blog about design and this one is great!

  16. Brilliant Asylum September 15, 2008 | 11:48 pm

    I can only speak for myself, but economic instability leads me towards more thoughtful purchases. Sometimes the extra thought means no purchase at all.

  17. Anonymous September 16, 2008 | 3:43 am

    i am a freelancer in the retail/mail order side of home shelter. i think 2 things are happening: 1] cutting back, due to tighter purse strings, but also 2] people fed up with dropping $500-1,000 here and there for home furnishings, yet still their homes do not look pulled together like in the magazines or catalogs. i think middle-class america has bought a lot of mid-priced junk over the last few years, and they’ve finally gotten fed up. i’d put my money in interior design that helps people work with what they have, get rid of stuff they don’t need, and purchase a few key items that will make their homes a haven. i agree with previous writers, too – the top $$ few are impervious to these economic crunches, and will continue to pay for the best.

  18. Anonymous September 16, 2008 | 4:48 am

    O.K. you guys are scaring the shit out of me. I have fought for the last five years to get my home interior boutique open. I have shed blood, sweat and yes tears to realize this dream. I just went to all the trade shows I could get to so I could find that perfectly scented candle, fantastic chair, the most chic lighting and the most beautiful antiques. Now the flippin bottom is falling out? I have been open only a little over a year and have been crossin my fingers I can ride this roller coaster. I hope I can anyway. But I am seriously scared.


  19. Anonymous September 16, 2008 | 5:19 am

    I don’t work in the design industry, but fully agree that a comfortable, well-styled home does wonders for the psyche — especially during these stressful financial times. Great design doesn’t have to be expensive.

  20. pve design September 16, 2008 | 10:38 am

    My Dutch Mother-in-law tells me stories of eating Tulip Bulbs during the war. My father tells me stories of sharing shampoo in a family of 9 children. We have endured nothing compared to our fore-fathers.

    It is the right of every person to live, to take a risk to make this world carry on. Scary times for so many, but we must as artists, creators, designers give hope, shed new light and join forces to help one another! Creativity will always be a force in tough times.

    I see many people turning to their home for security, for sharing and for feathering the nest.
    Lots of illustrations of homes and pets. Pets give us comfort as well as homes.

  21. Motor City Jeanne September 16, 2008 | 12:55 pm

    Times are tough and we made the decision to put our home on the market and downsize. It’s a bit depressing, but I’m thinking that if I have to live in a small home, I want it to look and feel as good as it possibly can. For this reason, I am thinking when the time comes, to hire a professional to help me (as I can never seem to make decisions for myself or know the right places to shop). If I’m going to live in a small space, I want it to reflect my mid-century taste and I think I will need some help. If/when we sell, I may be asking you for advice on how to start. 🙂 It’s obvious from your fantastic blog, that the right choices can make a difference, regardless of the money spent. A few good pieces and the right colors/textures can make the difference.

  22. Ron/ Netherlands September 16, 2008 | 1:31 pm

    I am in the industry, designing a lamp collection for the high end market. The interior design industry here in Europe is starting to feel the effects of the US crisis. As others above already mentioned…the real high end, does not seem to be effected as much. I notice my clients that cater to the ‘middle’ end of the market, tend to buy my ‘less expensive’ priced lamps. My high end clients are still ordering the best of the best of what I can design. I am very glad to be a small company, trusting in singing this one out too. I keep spending and investing….ready to open up a new showroom soon. You are absolutely right Heather, to keep spending so other will benifit from that. I am doing my share. Times will change again.
    PVE; I know all about the stories on people eating bulbs. I grew up and am based in the Netherlands, so my father still keeps telling me about that time.
    Ron (empel collections)

  23. The People's Business September 16, 2008 | 1:33 pm

    It might not be such a bad thing if people were a little more restrained. For instance, if I never see another silver armchair and ottoman, I’d be all right.

    An interesting parallel might be Whole Foods, which is working hard to show people they can still afford to shop there by publishing recipes that use lower cost ingredients, calling attention to store brand items and sale items, etc. The design industry will need to look for ways to convince every day Americans that style is still affordable.


  24. Ms. Wis. September 16, 2008 | 2:16 pm

    I grew up in the days of one car and one bathroom for four daughters. My current house is the first one with two baths. My husband was 50 before he had his first new car.

    We are both artists and would not trade our education and the way of thinking and looking at the world that art gives you for more money. We have managed to have good jobs though his has not been art related.

    In Dec. we took out a 2nd mortgage to upgrade electric, add lighting, new furnace and completely update two 1950s bathrooms. I lost my job the week the workmen finished.

    But – and it is a big but — I am so glad to have done that work and made my home so much more pleasurable (and workable) day in and day out.

    I would really be depressed if I was job hunting and getting ready in a pathetically outdated bathroom with fixtures on their last legs. We will cut back on other things to pay that bill. We’re glad we did the work as we intend to stay in this house. Over the course of the next 20 or 30 years (that’s how you have to think about these things) it will prove to be a wise decision.

    Remember, it’s bread AND roses.

  25. The People's Business September 16, 2008 | 2:23 pm

    For anyone with a subscription to the Wall Street Journal online, there’s a timely article on the economy as it impacts the fashion industry:


    I don’t see it in the print edition, however.


  26. Mélanie September 16, 2008 | 3:19 pm

    In france , we can feel it , poeple are worried about tomorrow and they spend less money in decoration . SO We just have to be abble to wait ..Every period had to face this kind of situation …

  27. The People's Business September 16, 2008 | 3:25 pm

    Re: the Wall Street Jrnl story above, try the link even if you don’t subscribe – it may be publicly available.


  28. becky from hatch September 16, 2008 | 8:44 pm

    As someone who was desperately searching for a job in landscape architecture right after 9.11, I can tell you it’s going to be bad. Firms were downsizing from 14 people to 4, and people with 10 years of experience were taking the entry level jobs. People cut out these kinds of luxuries first. People are spending money on gas and food, not Madeline Weinrib or John Robshaw pillows.

    On the other side of things, it’s probably going to make the DIY movement even stronger. Perhaps people will pull out their sewing machines and make their own pillows. I read an article recently about how much thrift store traffic is up (this was pre-Monday, NYTimes I think) and how much lower their inventories are. People are going to be getting more creative with thrift store, flea market, and garage sale shopping.

    I think this is a correction that will force us to get out of the living above our means, second mortgage, credit card crunch lifestyle a lot of us have, just as high gas prices have people moving closer to cities they work in and trading in their Tahoes for Priuses (Pria? Priae? Prii? I’ve forgotten my h.s. latin 🙂 )

    BTW, I love your blog. It’s a daily read for me.

  29. Cathy September 16, 2008 | 9:36 pm

    The people who think that good design has to cost an arm and a leg have tunnel vision. The simple fact is, that even in hard economic times, people still make “comfort” purchases. It is just human nature. Instead of buying custom pieces we are picking them up from inexpensive places like IKEA and Crate and Barrel. I believe that any designer who’s worth their weight can create an amazing room on even the smallest budget. Inexpesive pieces from IKEA can be customized with paint and mouldings, the hardware can be changed out for something more ornate, and other small, relatively inexpensive upgrades can be made to “budget” items to achieve a custom look.

    I think the residential market would hold up better in an economic downturn because the people who cannot sell their houses often choose to renovate instead. I work in the commercial design industry and we have noticed a huge downturn. A lot of commercial design firms are having layoffs as a direct result of other corporation’s layoffs – if the commercial and retail industries are suffering, they are not expanding their offices, they are not acquiring new properties or opening new flagship store. It’s all a huge mess.

  30. Anonymous September 17, 2008 | 1:30 am

    I just can’t believe how fast this has all transpired. I swear it was just last year that in my neck of the woods – Canada – we were being told unemployment is down, the govt has a surplus instead of a deficit, the economic engine is surging, etc., etc.
    It will be interesting to see how the US brands (Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Bath & Body Works, Anthropoligie) opening their first Canadian stores will fare. When they hatched their plans to open they probably weren’t anticipating doing it on the brink of a recession.

  31. Henriette September 17, 2008 | 1:34 pm

    We are expecting a slowdown here too. I design hotels in Scandinavia, and they sure know when to push the price, and demand more. I hope this won’t lead to bad design decissions and cheap solutions..
    great blog, by the way!

  32. Jessica Claire September 17, 2008 | 1:43 pm

    The architecture and design firm I work for had two big clients put their projects on indefinate hold yesterday

    while I do think there will always be a market for over-the-top decor and design, it will get slimmer and slimmer while the majority will have to make do with more budget-friendly items.

  33. Jessica Claire September 17, 2008 | 1:43 pm

    The architecture and design firm I work for had two big clients put their projects on indefinate hold yesterday

    while I do think there will always be a market for over-the-top decor and design, it will get slimmer and slimmer while the majority will have to make do with more budget-friendly items.

  34. Anonymous September 20, 2008 | 7:20 am

    I deal in antiques. There is a lot more hand-holding over purchase decisions in the $800+ range. This just means I keep my cell phone and measuring tape on my person at all times. I’ve also helped good customers ‘try out’ a piece – I delivered the furniture so each could see it in the room (50% success rate there). I also get more vultures who demand a 40% discount, but I send those twits to the local flea market.

    As a consumer, I’ve been used for references three times in the last month. Sometimes I feel like I’m giving Amazon.com reviews. I also use my business card book a lot more these days. More customers are looking for leads on dependable re-upholsterers, refinishers, and cabinet makers. I always suggest networking with complimentary businesses. I enjoy sharing good leads and I get customer goodwill in return.

    One trend I’ve noticed is the post-empty nest move. Older consumers who have already downsized now want a more livable environment. Many are having problems incorporating older items into new architecture. I keep my mouth shut when I see chenille saddle-bag living room suites, but there is definitely a need for decorators.

  35. house decor September 25, 2008 | 9:37 am

    Great blog, there are many bargains to be found in flea markets and thrift stores and some amazing prices to