Feature writing


Coronavirus lockdown means colleagues can suddenly see inside your home. Is it ready?

The Daily Beast

March 19, 2020

Coronavirus-era teleconferencing brings colleagues’ inquiring eyes to your décor. Interior designers say you should get rid of clutter, and keep domestic spaces smart and simple.

One colleague’s cat was seemingly glued to their chest; another was holding a gurgling baby. Behind another colleague hung her very familiar, fabulous gold handbag, and on the wall behind my boss, now day-in, day-out, there hangs a framed, very cool comic-strip poster.

Coronavirus-world is very strange and alarming for all of us, and we have been told to hunker down. In our homes we stay. During the day, we no longer see our colleagues sitting beside us, but as a galleried panel of faces in teleconferencing meetings.

Whenever I see mine, I start singing The Brady Bunch theme, and also feel a little self-conscious in my bare-walled abode about not having (as some colleagues do) a striking wine-red colored wall, or that cool poster of Frank Sinatra’s police mugshot (dating from when he was arrested aged 23), or that beautiful chest of drawers with a battered brown suitcase on top of it.

Suddenly, we are doing what we don’t do in our offices and workplaces; through teleconferencing, we are visiting each others’ homes, and—just like any active or passive snooping you do inside other people’s homes in conventional circumstances—you may find yourself admiring a print, judging (momentarily, I hope) some clutter, and wondering where they got that gorgeous little table from. How does yours match up? And maybe don’t leave that dirty cup or stray underwear in shot…

Inside your own home, these new daily camera-aided visitations may get you wondering how to jazz things up, hide that oddly shaped ceramic, or just tidy things to make it more livable in as it seems we’re going to be spending a lot more time in these spaces.

Jerrica Zaric, an interior designer from Milwaukee, told The Daily Beast she had designed a home office for a client last year, and set it up “pretty neutral. But over time he started collecting cat statues and figurines. They were lovely to have, but maybe best not in sight during business calls.”

On NY1, New York City’s much-loved news channel, political reporter Juan Manuel Benítez remote-broadcasts from a room with a distinctive colorful print on the wall and angular shelves behind him. Savannah Guthrie is now co-hosting the Today show from her basement, with a blue-toned image of the world behind her (this is bespoke power-decoration, reserved for highly-paid anchors).

Even with the best planning and resources, pet-owners like Evan Struble can still expect to fall victim to cat butt.

And anyone who “Zooms,” will soon become expert in “conference call bingo.”

New York City-based interior designer Paul Latham told The Daily Beast: “If you have piles of things, get rid of clutter. It will be good for both how it appears to your colleagues but also for you mentally, especially if you’re now living in one space.”

This coronavirus crisis has brought so much to worry about, and now—thanks to that ruthless combination of technology and human nosiness—we can add interior décor and the maintenance of clean surfaces to that.

Latham recommended placing a painting or an object behind you, like a lamp or stack of books. “Make sure the books are tidy. You want it to look simple,” he said. “Don’t have the camera facing the kitchen, and any dirty pots and pans. And think about some flowers; tulips are still in bloom.” He had just passed this advice on to a friend, about to do a virtual job interview from home, and another group of friends were planning a virtual Seder.

Interior designer Joy Moyler—whose clients have included Leonardo DiCaprio, Adrien Brody and chef Thomas Keller—told The Daily Beast: “My best advice is to ‘tighten your home up!’ It’s now in full public view as your office would be. Clean it, scent it. Scrub it, touch up the paint-work if necessary. Those Skype and Zoom cameras end up everywhere as you’re moving around your home.

“Make sure to include everything below waist/sink/tabletop height too in your tidying. Dress for business. Let those you are communicating with know you are open and ready for business—that you aren’t just taking calls between your Netflix binges.”

The key thing, said Latham, was that anything behind you shouldn’t “overpower conversation.” Of course, you could argue having something “overpowering” or extremely avant-garde also says a lot about you and might provide amusement for others—so “overpower” away if you are confident enough; this is a time when jollity is needed.

Zaric said any backdrop should be “not really distracting, but clean and professional. An open door to your closet, so your colleagues can see your clothes hanging, or see your bed, is not a good choice. Keep those private things private.” She and her husband, both working from home right now, draw their window drapes to provide a simple background.

“I like to have drawings pinned up of projects I’m working on, or a mood board evoking beautiful calm meditative spaces like tranquil travel images and things that help minimize the stress of who I may be tele-conferencing with,” said Moyler. “I think we can all use that now.

“Good lighting is really important too. Think the most complementary ambient light, with warm bulbs. Definitely no fluorescent lighting! The light should be on the front left or right—not behind you, or you will be a mere silhouette. It’s nice when people can actually see your lips move!”

Zaric said dramatic art isn’t a bad idea per se as a background, but—she added diplomatically—“if you don’t have eye for composition, it can go wrong. Just keep it simple.”

She has also heard from clients working from home that they do not have as good a chair as at their regular office space. “They can be working at their kitchen islands on stools with no back. Sitting on the couch is OK for a short period of time, but not for an 8-hour work day. I think chiropractors and massage therapists are going to be getting a lot of calls after this.”

When it comes to desks, Zaric added, keep them as clean as possible, and put anything personal away in drawers to minimize daytime distractions.

“We’re in our domestic spaces so much right now because of coronavirus,” said Latham. “You’re not just making things look good for those conference calls but for yourself, to keep your sanity and spirits up. That’s more important than what anyone thinks about how your home looks.”

“Make sure there aren’t liquor bottles on your tables,” said Moyler. “Fresh face, lipstick with clean clothes and combed hair. After all, you still want to have a job when all this is over! Professionalism still wins, even in the midst of crisis!”

If you’re looking askance around your living quarters, Latham said first look at it as if you were someone else entering it for the first time. It will give you “a fresh eye” for what the space looks like, and what it could be.

The chief problem, Latham said, was clutter, and piles of stuff becoming ever more unruly piles of stuff. Latham said the best time to tackle such piles was at the beginning or the end of the day, “not in the middle of the day when you should probably focus on your job.”

Zaric said that the present enforced incarceration had at least proved positive for one client, who had been trying to decide the best color for a wall, out of 20 swatches. “She told me that spending 15 hours a day looking at them in her living room had made her decide, really decide, that she wanted to go with pink.”