This story appears in the Sept-Oct. issue of Seattle magazine. Subscription information is here.
Sara Eizen turns closets into classrooms and forgotten corners into stylish home offices. She can redesign spaces without ever setting foot inside a home. During this time of coronavirus, she’s become a Zoom czar.
Ironically, before the pandemic, Eizen advised clients to ditch their home offices because she thought they were a waste of space. “They became junk rooms because of all the mobile apps,” she says. “No one works off that dedicated desktop anymore. Who wants to sit in a room all by themselves? The home office was kind of going away because no one really needed it.”
Then everything changed. Now people are turning every available space into workstations as career, school and home become one.
Eizen, who initially worried that the pandemic would crush her business, has never been busier. She works with clients who live in 800-square-foot townhouses to 3,500-square-foot single-family homes. All desperately seek the same thing: Extra space, whether in a garage, closet or kitchen.
And it’s not just for remote work. People are installing makeshift gyms, entertainment centers and other items to avoid going stir crazy. Eizen’s portfolio includes bedrooms, kitchens, kids’ play spaces and dining rooms, as well as simply organizing cluttered areas. She works only within Seattle city limits because she doesn’t have time to travel. She receives up to five inquiries a week from people seeking her help.
“It’s almost like it doesn’t even matter how big or small your house is. Our houses weren’t designed for two adults and potentially two or three kids to all be working in the house at the same time,” Eizen says. “For a lot of people, this is their first time working from home and they’re having a hard time having that separation and balance. How do you set it up in the morning and shut it down at night? Our entire lives are happening in our house right now.”
She tells every client to create a “command center,” which is usually in or adjacent to the kitchen, “to run the family business.” It should be separate from any office space. Otherwise, all the daily paperwork lands on a table or the kitchen counter.
Eizen herself works off her dining room table and uses a simple storage bin for work items so she has what she calls “mental separation” from her job during off hours. She’s a huge fan of rolling carts or bins, since they can be easily stored in a closet. She’s also “thinking a lot” about creating outdoor spaces during winter months for both herself and her clients.
Eizen has formal training and decades of experience – she earned a degree in interior design from Michigan State University and launched Sara Eizen Design almost 17 years ago – and she practices what she preaches. She’s a single mother with twin 13-year-old boys who all live in an 880-square-foot, two-bedroom house in Seattle’s Wedgewood neighborhood. “If I can make this work, I can make anything work,” she says with a laugh.
Like everyone else, she had to reinvent the way she does business. Years ago, she turned a detached garage on her property into an Airbnb but pivoted once the pandemic hit and converted it into office space, which she now rents to neighbors. It doubles as an apartment when her renter’s family visits. “It’s become a business related to my business that’s not my business,” she explains.
She offered a “Clear the Clutter Boot Camp” via Zoom that featured weekly assignments designed to help clients clean up disorganized areas. Cost was $100. She donated 25% of every registration to Humble Design Seattle, a nonprofit organization that furnishes and designs the homes of families and veterans emerging from homelessness. Eizen sits on Humble’s board.
Though she’s started visiting some clients’ homes again, she operated via Zoom exclusively during the first six weeks of the pandemic. Clients sent pictures and then walked her through the house virtually via the Zoom app. It’s a skill she anticipates having to use again this fall and winter.
“In the beginning, when [clients] wanted me to work with them on Zoom, I said, ‘Uh, no, I don’t think you understand what I do and how I do it.’ I have to be in somebody’s space,” she recalls. “I remember thinking there’s no way, but when the first client reached out, I was shocked that it absolutely worked 100 times better than I expected.”
To Moani Russell, Eizen is nothing short of a savior. Russell had hired Eizen in the past and recently asked her to convert a small, walk-in closet – that’s right, a closet – into virtual classroom space for her 11-year-old son, who is entering sixth grade. Her son, one of the 150,000 kids in King County learning virtually, was previously doing schoolwork on the dining room table.
“I quickly learned that I don’t want to listen to him and his school friends all day,” Russell says.
Eizen also recently redesigned the family’s mud room, choosing new floor tiles and helping install coat hooks for towels and leashes for a new dog.
Eizen, who once sold office furniture, recommends certain products if clients need furniture and other accessories. She’s big on ergonomic desks and chairs, as well as containers for storage, and has a list of preferred brands. She’s a fan of using shoe organizers that hang over doors to store papers, especially for office or school supplies.
She says her business has been “nonstop” during the pandemic. She expects that to continue, at least in the short term.
“A lot of people stuck at home are now looking at their space all the time, and they’re realizing that the things driving them crazy have probably been driving them crazy for years,” she says. “But when you’re busy in life and constantly out of the house and moving about, you don’t notice it nearly as much. When you’re stuck home, you notice. You really notice.”