In March, during Toronto’s first COVID-19 lockdown, interior designer Ali Budd decided to take advantage of the extra home time to renovate her kitchen. She figured if she was going to spend almost every waking moment in her house, one of the largest, most heavily trafficked rooms should be as nice as possible – with a veined marble backsplash, hardwood floors and new stainless stove. Plus, she imagined she’d have lots of opportunity to take on the project, unsure how the pandemic would affect interest from clients.
Turns out, Budd was not the only person sitting at home, looking around, thinking: This could be a bit more spiffy. Typically, interior designers see an average year-over-year growth rate of 2.4 per cent, according to California-based market researchers IBISWorld. In a recession year, business tends to stall, if not fall. By mid-summer 2020, though, Budd’s business was getting 200 per cent more client calls – the most ever. Comfortable home offices have been in high-demand, as have wine cellars, kids’ rooms, escape-from-the-world ensuites and backyard overhauls. “I started my business 10 years ago,” she says. “I know right now a lot of people are hurting financially. And I don’t want to minimize that. But those who aren’t are investing in their homes like I’ve never seen before.”
Budd offers full-service, highly custom, high-end design. Her clients include professional hockey player Corey Perry. For people not making NHL money, there are alternatives. Toronto-based interior designer Alexandra Hutchison recently launched something called Marlowe Room x Room, with fees starting at US$775. Homeowners pick a space to remake – their living room or dining room, say – send in photos and measurements, and have a consultation over Zoom with a designer. Within a few weeks, the studio sends a mood board, floor plan and a source list, including furniture and finishing material. The furniture isn’t bespoke, but it’s picked with a great deal of care. “We look for local retailers, antique stores, vintage places,” Hutchison says. “We want each project to look and feel unique.”
Marlowe Room x Room officially launched in November, 2020. Through fall though, during a pre-launch beta phase, Hutchison started seeing demand pick up simply from word of mouth. In part, the popularity is based on the versatility of the offering – it works for those who need recommendations for a single, small space, as well as for those overhauling a whole home.
“Our recommendations are based on our clients’ budgets,” Hutchison says. “Sometimes we have to have an honest conversation if a budget doesn’t seem feasible. But we try to work with what our clients can afford, including reusing existing furniture, or recommending changes that might not necessarily cost a lot of money, like new paint colours. We aren’t trying to encourage over-consumption. We are trying to ensure people are happy with their homes.”
Budd and Hutchison are not the only renovation-related businesses seeing a boom. Across Canada, lumber suppliers are tight on materials for floor and fence boards. Michael Garrity, CEO of Financeit, a Canadian company that provides loans for home improvement projects, has seen a 200-per-cent spike in pool sales and 40-per-cent jump in at-home spa installations, with the average loan amount coming to $10,000. This might forever be remembered as the most miserable year ever, which is fair, but as an escape from the gloom, 2020 might also just be the year of the renovation, a moment when many Canadians decided to make their house the home of their dreams.