But in April, she realized that she had the opposite problem: Orders had started pouring in. Schauffler told me the company’s sales are up 400 percent over last year, and her best sellers—sheets of peel-and-stick white subway “tiles” and metallic mosaics—had completely sold out twice already. “Everyone was at home, they had time, they looked at their environment, and they went online,” she said. They started watching tutorials and ordering supplies.
Home Depot and Lowe’s registered monster sales increases not long after the pandemic began, both on the internet and in their brick-and-mortar stores—which Home Depot lobbied local governments to label essential businesses. That’s in spite of interruptions in residential construction and professional remodeling in many areas of the country.
At Apartment Therapy, a website about home improvement and design, editor in chief Laura Schocker viewed the country’s pandemic anxieties through the prism of her readership, which is 60 percent larger than last year compared with the same period in 2019. “Home, if we’re lucky, is our safe place,” she told me. “Customizing it to reflect back who you are as a person is something positive we can do right now.” Early how-to-sanitize traffic gave way to people looking for tips on setting up home offices and workout nooks, then to those in search of ways to maximize tiny yards and balconies as summer set in. Now, as temperatures cool, people are settling in for the long haul, looking for more complicated DIY projects.
Of all the things that I’ve done to better my apartment, soothe my anxieties, or occupy my time during the pandemic, nothing has worked quite as well as replacing my kitchen faucet. The project cost $75 and took about an hour—it would have been even faster if I hadn’t needed to learn some tricks for removing bolt covers with needle-nose pliers and loosening a seized nut with a lighter. But those roadblocks made it all the more satisfying. Not only does the more functional faucet make my now-constant dishwashing less of a slog, but installing it was a reminder that there are still some problems that can be solved by one person wielding the right tool—or even the wrong one, if you can figure out the magic combination of search terms to punch into Google.
“Humans have a need to be competent, to feel like they have some control over their existence,” says Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist, especially when they’re feeling emotionally tender and isolated. “Nesting” is another way to describe the impulse that is likely driving many of the newly minted DIYers, she told me. It’s a desire to eliminate your home’s nuisances and aggravations in order to maximize comfort. One way that’s done, Augustin said, is by moderating the complexity of your space. “We don’t realize we’re doing it, but we’re always sweeping our environment, visually, and when you have a lot going on, when there are many objects and colors and shapes in view, it makes you stressed.” The same thing can happen when an environment is too spare. Humans tend to like soft lines, colors, and textures.