Over the past year, more than 40% of employees in Ireland have been working from home and, as a result, people have become much more aware of their home and what it means to them.
Maura Mackey in Ballinhassig has been working in interior design for more than 20 years and started Maura Mackey Designs in November, 2019.
“I was out doing jobs for people, it was very hands on. Every new house I went into, I would wonder what is behind that door. I had projects booked when Covid hit and I tried to push them out and it was a case of either going under the duvet and feeling sorry for myself or see how I can make this work for me. Doing things online is not the same as being in the space, but it is the next best thing,” she said.
Using virtual consultations, Maura tours around a home or particular space, hones in on problem areas, gets an idea of what trends they like and brings product choices back to the customer.
“Covid gave people a new love for their homes. Before, people were at home in the mornings and in the evenings — now, they are looking at it constantly. They weren’t going on holidays and had more money to spend on their homes. People fell in love with their homes all over again,” Maura said.
Maura was nominated for a home staging award last year and was the only Irish designer featured.
Explaining what she does for clients, Maura said that, depending on budget and what people want to achieve, it can vary greatly. It can be anything from changing paint, adding throws, rugs, carpets or giving a place a whole new look. Interior design is there for everyone, regardless of budget,” she said.
Just a few months before the pandemic hit, Clodagh O’Donovan in Midleton set up AdvanceHR as an independent consultancy service.
“Suddenly, schools and creches closed and I was at home with my two and a half year old and five year old trying to run a new business.
“I was trying to get into a different routine and it was all a bit crazy, because I didn’t know how long this would last. I wasn’t sure if I should just ride it out, which is what I did at the start, and then I started to think about Plan B,” she said.
She realised that there were many small businesses out there who don’t have someone in HR full time, but who need the resources from time to time or for crisis management.
Particularly in family businesses, where there might not be many employees, Clodagh explained that her services can make a big difference.
“Someone might be a CEO, Managing Director, they are wearing all of these different hats and then the HR kind of creeps in. That’s OK for the smaller issues, but not for complex or sensitive situations,” Clodagh explained.
Speaking about how her business changed from driving all over to meet clients to suddenly being at home every day, Clodagh said that getting used to the change was hard.
“The biggest thing I struggled to adapt to was not being able to see people face to face. If you had told me last year that I’d have worked with clients who I’d never met, I would have laughed.”
While she does miss the travel and the meetings, Covid has given Clodagh a new way of doing business.
“Before, I would not have been comfortable in front of a camera talking about myself, it would have been off-putting, but now it’s second nature,” she said.
Meeting people, finding out about their lives and what kind of home they want to buy, or why they are selling and opening the door into the possibility of a new life — this is what work was like for auctioneers before the pandemic, but this was all turned on its head when the first lockdown hit.
Majella Galvin in Bandon had to completely revise the way they showed homes, how they did valuations and how homes were sold.
A member of Network Ireland West Cork, Majella explained that under current restrictions they are allowed to do physical valuations and list properties, but someone can only physically view a property after they have done a virtual viewing, the sale is agreed and a contract is signed.
People are now buying homes that they have never set foot in.
“This mostly works for new builds where every buyer is in the same position, but it’s more challenging in the second hand market. With these, I like to show everything from the front door, right through the house and around the house and gardens or land. I like to showcase the outside too and the area around it,” Majella said.
She stressed that, even though people might be eager to buy or sell, it is a big decision and people should always take their time and do their research.
“It’s a big decision, you’re not just buying bricks and mortar, you’re buying a window of opportunity for a new family and lifestyle.”
Majella has seen many people returning to where they are from during the pandemic or people moving from Dublin or Cork city to West Cork. She even mentioned one couple who managed to save their €30,000 deposit throughout Covid because they weren’t going out or going on holidays.
“If you sell a semi-detached house in Dublin for more than €400,000, you would get a fine property in West Cork for that.
The restrictions have also meant that only more serious buyers are coming forward and it has put somewhat of an end to browsing.
“Home is now more important for people, because they are spending so much more time there.
“A few years ago, they weren’t too pushed, but now we are gone back to buying a home that is a big part of family life again,” Majella said.
The technique of life casting dates back thousands of years, but it has always been a hands on process, physically moulding someone’s hands or body parts in plaster.
In this context, it is truly intriguing to think how Dunmanway artist Maura O’Connell managed to take her business online when the pandemic struck.
“With the life casts, I specialise in family groups and keepsakes and I love seeing the hands of a family cast together. I get to meet lots of people, chat to them and hear their stories,” she said.
Maura has always been good with her hands and there was something about preserving a hand forever that just spoke to her.
“I’m basically self-taught, I learned at the kitchen table using YouTube and I’ve had the honour of doing hugely emotional pieces. I once did the hands of an elderly man holding the hands of his five-year-old great granddaughter and I love knowing that, long after he is gone, she will have that — it gives me goosebumps.
“I have a set of hands in America — a woman who grew up in Cork city and her mum still lives there. She got her hands with her mother’s on top and whenever she’s lonesome for home and her mother, she rubs the hands.
“I have gone to a handful of funeral homes and houses when someone has passed away to do hand casts and that is a great privilege.”
When Covid came along, Maura had to think outside the box and the idea of fingerprint jewellery was born.
“I had always loved the idea, but never did anything about it and this was my chance. I bought a starter kit and got silicone moulds for people to put their print into and send back to me,” she explained.
Before Christmas, when the postal delays started in earnest, Maura realised that her process was too complicated and involved too much of a reliance on post.
“Somewhat like the hand casts, it’s a tactile piece of jewellery — you are holding something that has someone’s mark.”
Up until March, people might have travelled maybe an hour to get to Maura’s studio, but Covid and the online sales has really opened up her customer base.
“Whether it’s the life casts or fingerprint jewellery, it’s still all about family connections and the strength of the family bond,” said Maura.
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