In May, when the novelty of quarantine baking began to wear off—one can make only so many galettes out of frozen fruit originally bought for smoothies—my idle hands turned to the problems around me. Armed with my pathetic beginner’s tool kit, I started small. I raised and releveled a shelf that had been crooked for, by my estimation, at least two years. I ordered frames for prints that had been stashed in my closet and charged my long-dead drill battery to hang them. I scrubbed my tiny kitchen with Ajax from top to bottom, and in the process realized that some of my stove’s components weren’t supposed to be the color they’d been since I moved in. I sharpened my chef’s knife. I flipped and rotated my couch cushions. I ordered and assembled a new shoe rack, even though my feet don’t go very far these days.
From the July/August 2020 issue: Amanda Mull on the end of minimalism
The sense of satisfaction I got from these projects grew as the weekends went by, along with my belief that I could do pretty much anything after watching a couple of instructional videos on YouTube. I couldn’t control much in the pandemic, but I could control what happened in my own 450 square feet. As summer began to creep toward fall, my ambitions expanded: Install a new showerhead? Paint my cabinets? Put up a peel-and-stick tile backsplash? What couldn’t I do with Google, a Home Depot credit card, and a total willingness to lose my security deposit?
I was stymied only by the popularity of my impulses. As I looked for cabinet paint, backsplash “tiles,” and even a new kitchen faucet, “out of stock” warnings abounded. Gathered around a firepit in a Brooklyn backyard, a friend of a friend complained that the city’s home-improvement stores appeared to be out of lumber, one of the many effects of skyrocketing demand atop shaky supply chains. Millions of Americans had simultaneously decided the same thing: If we’re going to be inside, it might as well be the inside we want.
Gretchen Schauffler had been through this before. In 2008, she and her husband were running a business called Devine Color, which she started by selling customized paint shades to her Portland, Oregon, interior-design clients out of the trunk of her car. The couple was in the midst of selling the brand to Sherwin-Williams, she told me, when the economy collapsed, and with it, all talk of a deal. “The market crashed, and we were buried,” Schauffler said. Homes were being foreclosed upon, not freshly repainted.
In 2018, out of the paint business for years, Schauffler started Design Is Personal. The company makes products for the do-it-yourself projects that you might be inspired to undertake after an HGTV binge—sticky-back wallpaper in fun prints, easy-to-install carpet squares, and wall planks that give you the fixer-upper look, no nail gun required. In early March, as the United States’ first pandemic hot spot blazed in neighboring Washington, Schauffler was terrified that the same thing was happening again—disaster had come, and it might take her company with it.