This Interior Designer Was Mid-Renovation When COVID-19 Struck—And Went Forward With It Anyway

Jennifer Fernandez
Photo credit: IG Workshop

From House Beautiful

When Miami interior designer Samantha Gallacher of IG Workshop began working on an ambitious historical preservation project for one young family in Miami Beach in early 2019, the coronavirus wasn’t even a figment of the imagination—it was all but inconceivable. Fast-forward to earlier this year, and the pandemic began wreaking havoc on the construction process, making daily life even more difficult during what can already be a precarious time. “We weren’t able to visit the active job site for a while, but where we could we went old school and biked a few miles to the house with masks,” says Gallacher. “Zoom and Microsoft teams have been huge for us in terms of presenting to clients, but the truth is, projects that were currently in production have been set back about two months.”

Such was the case with this home, but the client cautiously persevered with help from Gallacher and his contractor. Here’s how it all went down—safely.

As told to Jennifer Fernandez

“We had purchased the house in 2012 but lived in it for a few years before we began the process of renovating it. The house was built in 1925 and designated a historical preservation asset, so we had to go through Miami Beach planning and zoning approvals before we could even start work, but we were able to get the updates we wanted because they were just happy we weren’t knocking the house down. We were making it look like it always should have looked. But it was a gut renovation for sure.

There had been several additions made over the years, which made the house look choppy, and there were lots of undulations so it felt like the exterior wasn’t uniform. There were a lot of leaks. At first we thought it was the windows, but when we stripped the dry wall we found it was the original concrete spalling. And then it just became a domino effect: The baseboard turned into the drywall, the drywall turned into the ceiling, the ceiling turned into the kitchen, then the kitchen got us up to the second floor. We had to do 70 to 80% of the electrical system, but by the time you get that high up it makes more sense to redo everything.

We were less than a year into the work when this all hit, and I was caught between wanting to be responsible and wanting to contribute wherever I could. It’s a hard conversation to have, but when it came down to it some people just really wanted to go back to work. People still need to pay their bills. Florida didn’t really roll out their lockdown protocol as fast as other places in the country, but people were still being prudent and didn’t want to put anyone in a precarious situation.

On top of that, we had an amazing general contractor in Nabicon, who was so on top of things and detail-oriented that we never had to think too much about the decision-making. They made sure everyone wore masks and maintained their distance; they didn’t have more than eight people working in the house at the same time. Anytime someone didn’t show up because they felt uncomfortable about being there, they were able to line someone else up. They adjusted hours so that at one point the workday was only four or five hours to help limit exposure. They were really sensitive to everyone’s needs.

Sure, that created some pretty significant delays, but Sam, our designer, took it all in stride. There were so many times when we would decide to pop by the house and she’d be there in her mask taking measurements. It was hard getting tradespeople to come out to the house to fix things; plumbers were the hardest. With painters, one person couldn’t come because they had elderly parents and didn’t want to take a chance—there were a lot of things like that. But we understood. It’s a hard time for everyone. Our doors took forever. Our millwork was stuck on a container ship in Italy—that was probably the biggest delay. Had I known that the coronavirus was going to be an issue I would have accelerated my decision-making process; we would have gotten those pieces in sooner and then the house might have been finished a month earlier. But we were fortunate that we weren’t in a state that had a full shut down.

In the end it all worked out. We moved in a couple of weeks ago. We’re just thankful that we had good people to help us navigate the process and ease our stress level, and that we could do it in a way that was safe for everyone involved.”

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