In metro Atlanta, interior designers pivot to offering digital options

Amid coronavirus, metro Atlanta based designers like Cristi Holcombe and Zaina Wuest look to digital options.

Amid coronavirus, metro Atlanta based designers like Cristi Holcombe and Zaina Wuest look to digital options

It has always been interior designer Cristi Holcombe’s dream to own her own shop — a warm and inviting space where people could gather and be inspired. It was always part of her “five-year plan.”

But then five years would pass and the Johns Creek-based designer would find herself tied up with other projects like working on HGTV’s show “Elbow Room” and leading her full-service design firm.

However, this year was slated to be different.

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Everything had fallen into place for Holcombe to open a brick and mortar store, CH HOME, at 3005 Old Alabama Road. With close proximity to her home, Holcombe was excited to serve her community through something she felt it was lacking: a local home furnishing store.

However, when the coronavirus outbreak stopped daily life in its tracks, Holcombe’s plans to open her doors at the end of April — typically prime season for the home decor industry — were put on pause.

“My husband and I were prepared for the stress of opening a new business, but we could have never anticipated anything like the impact of COVID-19,” Holcombe wrote in an email.

Like others, Holcombe has had to think on her feet as she pivots to the world of social distancing and sheltering in place as someone whose livelihood is linked to shopping and interacting as she transforms people’s spaces.

Interior designer Cristi Holcombe has been working toward opening a brick and mortar store in Johns Creek. She was hoping to open for business during what is usually prime season for home decor — spring. However, the coronavirus outbreak has thrown a wrench in her plans.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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Holcombe, and her husband Billy, have quickly built up their online store to offering shipping and non-contact delivery of the smaller items like candles and rugs that had shipped to their home.

Meanwhile, most of the larger items they had ordered for the store are in a warehouse that has been closed for the time being.

But at the store, construction work continues, with the electric work completed and flooring installed this week. Next up is the cabinetry and counter tops. From there, it will be a bit of a “waiting game to see when we can get our stuff delivered.”

Holcombe remains hopeful they will be able to open up shop sometime this summer — making her longtime dream a reality.

In the mean time, Holcombe has taken to doing design consultations from afar via video conferencing and will continue to do what she can to get the store ready.

“We don't even have a customer base yet. I’ve got my client base and we've got our family, our community and our friends, but no one's actually seen what we have to offer yet,” she said. “We know it's going to be awesome. But all we can do is tell people it's going to be awesome. They can't really see it yet.”

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But even for more established design stores, like Exquisite Living, the move away from in-person retail is hard.

Owner and designer, Zaina Wuest decided to close the retail portion of her stores in mid-March. However, in the meantime, she has transitioned her business to offer digital design services.

After more than a decade in design, Wuest opened her first store in 2016 in Milton. Last year, she added a second shop at Alpharetta City Center.

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Update from Zaina Wuest @ Exquisite Living

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At this time last year, her business was thriving, she said.

“Typically in the springtime is when we drum up new business and everybody wants to start projects, so this was a really bad time for us to shut down,” she said.

So she was forced to get creative. In the last couple weeks, she has focused on doing remote interior design. Via videoconferencing, Wuest says they are able to offer clients similar services as they would on a typical visit.

“It's what we would do during an in-person consultation, only we not in their home, so we ask the same questions and they walk us through their home,” she said.

So far, there’s been interest in sprucing up home offices and living rooms, she said, spaces where people are spending a lot of time these days.

Like other designers, including Holcombe, she is hopeful that by the time shelter in place mandates begin to lift, people will be eager to make improvements to the space they have spent so much time in.

“I think that's the light at the end of the tunnel for us,” she said. “Because we know that when people are stuck in their home for a while, they come out and the first thing they want to do is refresh their home.”

But it remains to be seen when that will be and she’s hesitant about the economic impacts the outbreak will have. But for now, she remains hopeful and continues to try to get the word out that she is open for business and trying to continue to do what she does best.

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