While collaborating with designer Joni Zimmerman on a webinar looking at profit opportunities for 2013, we hit a snag. Although she was excited about discussing opportunities, Joni was stymied by how to address the forecast part of the outline. “My concern with talking about what’s going to happen next year,” she said, “is that no one can really predict that. We don’t even know what’s going to happen next week!”
Six days later, her words rang eerily prophetic, as Hurricane Sandy swept through the tri-state area, killing more than 100 people, wiping out thousands of homes, leaving three million houses without power, and causing upwards of $50 billion in damages.
You hear about these types of natural disasters on the news, but it’s hard to truly comprehend it until you’re sitting in the middle of one.
As “Super Storm Sandy” barreled in, we sat huddled in our homes, glued to the news, trying to stay calm. The calm didn’t last long. As I listened to tree branches pounding against the windows and watched pieces of my roof blow off, one after another, I broke out the chocolate cake and prayed that I would still have a house when it was over.
Unlike many people, I was lucky enough to escape with only a lost roof. Tens of thousands of others ended up homeless. Towns were ravaged, businesses destroyed, cars totaled by fallen trees, and coastal area streets turned to rivers by surging waters.
With roads blocked, power out and gas suddenly impossible to come by, the kitchen became not just the heart of the home, but a heart for whole communities. We gathered with neighbors, boiling water on gas stoves to stay warm, checking on each other and sharing stories by candle light over peanut butter crackers and other non-perishables. Even when there were no gas stoves, the kitchen seemed to be the central gathering and story-telling space.
And our homes were the central theme of so many of those stories. Sure, there were tears for the losses, or gratitude for those whose homes survived intact, but there was also an enormous sense of nostalgia evident in those stories, for all that our homes mean to us. They are safety and shelter; family and memories and laughter; an intrinsic part of who we are and who we aspire to become.
I was reminded again of why home design matters so much; it’s not just about “prettying up” our living spaces, or even making them more convenient. Rather, it’s about creating a safe haven from the dangers of the world –whether those dangers take the form of gale-force life stresses or hurricane-force winds.
While technology often gets a bad rap for dehumanizing communities, it actually provided a sense of connection for many of us during the storm and its aftermath. Without lights, heat or TV, our cell phones became life lines – for checking on friends and relatives, for finding charging stations, for spreading the word about donation sites, or for trying to locate gas for generators or cars. With 12-hour gas lines, we networked like crazy; I spent more than a few wee hours of the morning Facebooking with local designer friends like Susan Serra, glued to our cell phones as we sat on gas lines, trying to help each other find an open station that still had gas.
As I write these words, the rebuilding process has largely begun. Ironically, the painful losses here will provide one of those “opportunities for 2013” that Joni and I so blithely discussed just a few weeks before. Homes will need to be rebuilt, repaired, remodeled.
But it’s not just the homes that will need to be restored; it’s the hopes and dreams of the people who lost so much. And being part of the kitchen and bath industry, I feel a tremendous sense of pride knowing that my friends and colleagues in this industry will be among those who take on the mantle of remodeling – not just of these people’s homes, but of their hopes, their dreams, the sense of safety that comes from having a physical haven where they can feel protected and happy and strong.