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  • Writer's pictureDebbie DeMarais

How A Pro Interior Designer Deals with COVID-Related Supply Chain Shortages

Here’s a big understatement: Covid has a major impact on all our lives. But it’s fascinating how far-reaching that impact is. Working in the home design industry, I’ve seen first-hand the effect of COVID on something as basic as window curtains.

It’s important to note that, in reality, it’s not just the pandemic that’s to blame. In our global, interconnected economies, the supply chain has a ton of different pressures coming at it from all angles. The result is that lumber, couches, refrigerators—just about every element that might go into a home improvement project has been hit by supply-chain woes.

Close-up detail of an interior design mood board concept in greys and silver tones.
You can craft a top notch interior design plan, but you can't control supply chains. Flexibility for a designer is key.

Where’s my chair?

Seeing the effects play out in real life, I’ve had customers wonder if it isn’t just bad luck or some sort of human error that’s making the needed materials and supplies take so long. And I can assure them, they are not alone in this waiting game. The whole country is wondering when that armchair they ordered—back in January—will finally arrive.

In a normal year, special orders and custom pieces might take six to eight weeks. Now they’re taking 17 weeks or longer.

COVID of course is a driving factor. Just take for example that armchair I mentioned. The textile mill, the foam factory, the frame builders, the lumber mills, they’re probably all working at a reduced capacity thanks to a combo of distancing standards, labor shortages, and the upstream slowdown of their own supply chain.

If each step in the production of an armchair is taking two weeks longer, that pretty quickly adds up to a couple months tacked onto the turnaround time.

It’s not just COVID slowing the supply chain

There’s the added issue of extreme weather fueled by climate change, and the toll it takes on the goods we rely on. Winter storm Uri in February of this year caused billions of dollars of damage in Texas, wiping out crops and harming businesses. Wildfires and droughts in the west, severe hurricane seasons in the east and south, all of this is having a considerable effect.

Then just this March, one of the largest container ships in the world became wedged in the banks of the Suez Canal when strong winds pushed the ship sideways. The blockage held up $9.6 billion of goods each of the six days the ship was stuck.

Ariel view of a cargo tanker ship with brightly colored cargo containers.
Ariel view of a cargo tanker ship. Photo by Cameron Venti via Unsplash.

How much for a two-by-four?

The current supply chain issues are maybe best represented by the current surge in lumber prices. COVID has seen more people at home, taking on home improvement and expansion projects, so the demand for lumber has gone up. Wildfires and bark beetle infestations have harmed forests in Canada causing the supply to go down. Add them together and you understand the 300% increase in lumber prices.

So what does all of this mean to a home designer like me? It means that I, like the rest of the world, will need to learn to adapt. To be nimble, and flexible in finding solutions that take this new reality into account.

How a pro handles supply chain issues

Working with my clients, the first thing I try to do is explain the situation, like I just did in this post. After we take a deep breath together, we can accept that projects will simply take a little longer right now. Next, I’ll take my years of experience navigating the home design supply chain to find the best way to bring a project to completion. It may involve finding alternatives to a particular material, or even approaching the project from a different angle.

In the end, I will be there for my clients, helping them to understand through clear, honest communication what we can accomplish in the current situation. And while a project may not go quite as fast, I’ll make sure the end results are always beautiful.


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