Work hasn’t waned for Jeffrey Weisman of San Francisco design firm Fisher Weisman Brugioni either. “The housing market at the high-end is experiencing relatively small ups and downs, and frankly these do not seem to affect our clients. What we are hearing is how soon can we start and how can we make the next house the most fabulous we’ve ever had? It’s full speed ahead everywhere we look,” he says.
What are the hottest cities in today’s housing market?
Of course, location matters too. Andrew Wachtfogel, cofounder and president of new development at the New York brokerage Official Partners, points out that “real estate markets are hyperlocal, so national trends you read in the news shouldn’t necessarily be used to make decisions in your own markets. [Though] certain cities and segments of the market have slowed, many areas are thriving.”
One of these locations is Texas, where AD PRO Directory designer Paloma Contreras is continually sought after for her design savvy. “I live in Houston, [but] a lot of my work is in other cities, so it helps to not rely on a single pool of people. At present, we are kicking off several large-scale new builds for clients who have not been fazed by what is happening in the overall economy,” she says. “However, we also have a couple of clients now who had originally thought about building, because there is still such a scarcity of inventory, who ultimately decided to renovate their current homes instead.”
Is 2023 a good year to renovate a home?
Revamps can be an equally rewarding route for designers to embrace during this strange real estate limbo. Peter Spalding, interior designer, cofounder, and chief creative officer of the design platform Daniel House Club, notes that there is a “major housing shortage and people need places to live, so I don’t think the new construction market is screeching to a halt, but, if it were, a designer with a great team could easily pivot.” He thinks that designers shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves into one genre but think of themselves as a “film studio, ready to craft and edit whatever story is being demanded of them at the moment.” Key to demonstrating this flexibility? Having “an A+ team of vendors and contractors” at the ready who can help designers tackle whatever project comes their way.
Designer Megan Evans runs her eponymous studio out of Covington, Louisiana, and she believes that “focusing your skill set on renovations and purely decorative upgrades is a great way to keep revenue streams flowing” in the absence of overhauls and new builds. “Your team can take on these smaller types of projects and turn them around quicker. Even if the client can’t invest in a renovation, people will always want to freshen up their homes with paint, furniture, and soft goods. Packaging this type of service with a set number of hours is a wonderful way to sell it.”
Is this the year to expand your empire?
Evans’s approach meshes with that of Contreras, who is an advocate of designers diversifying to “have more than one stream of revenue. In addition to my design firm, I also have a retail store, product collections, and am working on my second book,” she elaborates.
Even if construction is more sluggish than normal in certain cities, there are plentiful opportunities in adjacent spheres, like furniture design. Some potential clients are “likely hunkering down and thinking about buying the furniture they’ll keep forever. Furniture sales can be profitable for designers,” Spalding says. “They should be making a 30 to 40% margin on these types of transactions.”
Most importantly, Wachtfogel advises designers not to lose sight of the big picture. “Chances are that that small renovation a designer does for a client this year will lead to more renovations next year,” he points out, “or even a full-scale new build in the future.”