Design is in demand in COVID era
In April, the large studio in the back of Watson in Homes looked more like an assembly line for PPE. Fabric and ties to piece together into face masks and surgical caps lined large tables, awaiting a turn at the sewing machines. The workshop had transformed from interior design and upholstery business into a hub of much-needed PPE, donated to those working in the healthcare field.
Then, the husband-wife team of Jeremy and Susan Watson had the time to dedicate to the cause — most businesses were closed, and people adjusting to vastly different work, school and social schedules weren’t thinking new slipcovers.
“I had a certain amount of anxiety. First it was: ‘When are we going to be able to work again?’ And then it was: ‘How are we going to get all this stuff done?’ because it’s just me and Jeremy here,” Susan Watson said.
Staying at home became the norm and with it, the calls started coming in. At home more than ever, many people started embarking on long-put-off home projects, sprucing up the house.
“People stuck at home and not traveling anywhere — maybe they decided they couldn’t do that during a pandemic and took that money they would have used to travel and used it for house projects — that antique chair that was in the family, maybe it was in the barn; that piece of furniture that was sitting in the garage, just taking up space,” Watson said.
Rebuilding antique furniture from the frame up; reupholstering pieces that hadn’t see fresh fabric in a century; designing, making and installing window treatments; and lots of cushions — throw pillows, seat cushions, couch cushions, even boat cushions — all jobs lining up in their studio.
“I’ve got piles and piles of cushions to do,” Watson laughed.
Watson pointed out that many of her customers are new to the area; they’ve bought or built houses locally and have sought out Watson In Homes’ design expertise.
“I think people are figuring out that they can work from home anywhere, and they can move here, and they have more space and they get the scenery, too. People are seeking out smaller towns and cities,” she said.
Though business is busier than ever for the couple, the pandemic has been a challenge: supplies, from fabric to foam, have often been limited and backorders common because factories had shut down elsewhere and demand is up everywhere. The fabric company they use in Wilson put a halt to its delivery service to Washington, adding travel time to an already busy schedule.
“We’re not making huge profits, because the margins are as tight as they ever were — costs go up because of a pandemic,” Watson said.
They’ve added an East Carolina University textiles major as an apprentice, and Watson has drawn on a few outside designers to assist with projects. Their waiting list is about two months long.
Watson said gratitude is the prevailing sentiment at Watson in Homes — gratitude for patient and understanding customers and gratitude for the work, when the pandemic has taken work from so many.
“The community has been really supportive of us, and we’ve been trying, during this whole thing, to keep our own business local — shopping local, eating local — so we’re grateful the community is doing the same thing for us,” Watson said. “I’m just grateful I get to keep my doors open and my lights on.”