"I’m very happy in my sweatpants," says Samantha Vafiadou, 31, of Huntington who once upon a time, pre-pandemic, thoroughly enjoyed shopping for clothes online and in-store. Today, her house is the priority.
She is one of many for whom fashion is taking a way, way backseat to home improvement as folks divert their budgets and focus to a new frontier: their living spaces.
During the pandemic, Sloan Tichner, 58, a fashion executive, says she "translated dressing for people on the outside to dressing my home on the inside." The grandmother of four girls aged three and under, turned her basement into a fantasyland while the entire extended family sheltered at her Brookville home from February through Labor Day.
According to a survey by the Porch Group, a home renovation resource, more than three in four (76% homeowners in the United States) have carried out at least one home improvement project since the start of the pandemic. Hadley Keller, the digital director of "House Beautiful" magazine is not surprised. She says that during the increased time spent at home, "Many people who were once disinterested in interior design have discovered how important their spaces are and how impactful it is when they make you feel happy."
For Tichner, what started before COVID as a cheery, bright basement became "a full-blown project," she says. "A playroom, exercise space, a teaching space … a place where a bunch of toddlers would spend almost a year."
Today, the eye-popping expanse, dubbed "Popo’s Playroom" (it’s Mandarin for grandmother) is mega-organized and boasts a six-foot turbo slide, swings, a climbing wall, a reading nook, an arts and crafts area, a make-believe doctor’s clinic and a "pink room" where the girls delight in Disney costumes, vanity makeup tables, costume jewelry and more. "The basement is my Covid accomplishment," says Tichner.
Elsewhere Long Island, Billy Ceglia, a very busy interior designer, says, "Everyone is home-obsessed these days … I’m seeing a lot of millennials who pre-pandemic were saving for ‘experiences’ such as travel and dining and are now swooning about putting up wallpaper."
One such millennial happens to be his sister, Vafiadou, an expectant mom with a 16-month-old, with whom he helped create a quarantine haven.
"We realized early on in the pandemic that we were in it for the long haul," she says. "When we first bought the house, we were always going out to meet friends, traveling and commuting. I looked at our dining room as a formal place for holiday dinners. But to keep ourselves occupied, we started doing game nights and trying new recipes. Now," she says, after totally revamping the room with upholstered wall coverings, accessories and furniture, "we actually look forward to eating in and using the dining room all week long."
For Elizabeth Blake, 40, a stylist and decorator from Port Washington, the pandemic has led to multiple projects in her house — many in the hunt for more storage including the garage, yard and children’s rooms, because, she says, "We were bursting at the seams."
Playing hard to get
Despite the lust to redo, it’s not always a snap. "Between supply lines being so broken and demand being so great, you could basically get a Birkin bag faster than ready-made throw pillows," says Ceglia. "What used to take a week to get now takes three months." On a recent project in Roslyn, Ceglia found himself four tiles short and couldn’t get the same tile again. Hence, a rip out.
"What I say to my clients is ‘we can’t have it ready for somebody’s birthday or graduation,’" says Jane Walsh, a realtor and interior designer from Port Washington. "I feel that ETA’s are very undependable these days." Beyond COVID, fires in Northern California have been the cause of long delays, as well. "In my opinion, waiting it out for the right thing is the way to go, but if you can’t wait, find a few different, quicker options that you can live with."
That’s what Blake did in the case of a desk for her older son’s room. The goal was to alleviate, "the complete chaos with four of us sitting at the dining room table, four computers, books and headphones." To ease up the traffic jam, she ordered a desk from Wayfair in July. It still hasn’t come. Finally, she went for a replacement that did arrive but she still awaits her first pick.
How to get it done fast(er)
You’ve heard of fast fashion but when it comes to furnishing and redecorating — well, it can take a long time. We asked the experts how to make your rooms look better straight away.
— Think about the background first, says Ceglia. “That’s where you’ll get the most bang for your buck — it’s easier to fill in walls with paint or wallpaper to create a moodier, sexier room.”
— Rely on the remnant, is a tip from Walsh. One of her first stops in any carpet store is to the remnant section where you can buy designer brands for a fraction of the retail price.
— Consider consignment shops, suggests Ceglia. Among the favorites is Valley Attic in Locust Valley with its “excellent mix” of new and antique furniture, lighting and high-end upholstery remnants. Owner Cathy Barry says business has spiked during the pandemic. “Projects that customers were putting off for five years are, now that they’re home, staring them right in their face.”
— Light it up, says Walsh. “Changing a light fixture is not disruptive and can make a really big difference.” While Walsh traditionally orders online, there are a number of lighting stores that have stock right on hand including Elements, in Carle Place, where there’s even a sale section.
— Be creative, urges Tichner, who turned her basement into a children’s wonderland during quarantine.