John and I left New York City today to head up to Madcap Cottage in upstate New York, and we thanked our lucky stars that we had a half tank of gas in the trusty Subaru… For none of the gas stations in NYC were open, and we weren’t able to find a gas station without a massive line until we were some 100 miles north of the city!
We are now happily ensconced at Madcap Cottage, it is starting to snow, and the dogs are going ape-shit running around the backyard amidst the flurries.
On our way upstate, John and I started to talking about a topic that we have had on our minds for a long while… No, not the election, and not whether we are summers or autumns… And not whether Miss Lana del Rey is cooler than Miss Beth Ditto.
But rather the future of interior design.
For years, we have noticed seismic shifts taking place in the interior design business, and many of these changes are good while others are far more challenging.
On the “pro” side, the consumer is far more savvy and knowledgeable about design, and this is largely due to the proliferation of design blogs and magazines such as the sadly departed Domino. And that’s fabulous! Design centers are open to non-trade consumers… Consumers can talk about the benefits of lattice-patterned wallpapers and which Kravet fabric pattern they most covet. HGTV has opened their eyes to the democratization of interior design. And bravo!
On the “cons” side, the consumer seems to value price and the “fast” purchase over quality. And, sadly, “made in America” has only recently come back into vogue in regards to furniture. (Ironically, thanks in part to the newly wealthy Chinese customer who would much prefer a dining table made in High Point, NC than one crafted in Shanghai.) Our clients ask us why they should purchase a sofa from Hickory Chair when there’s something in the pages of Pottery Barn or Land of Nod or in the showroom at Ikea that is “just as good” and that is “one third the price” and “ready to walk out the door today” and “why should we pay for shipping when Amazon is free–we are Amazon Prime members, after all.” Consumers often wonder why they should hire an interior designer when they can decorate their homes themselves. After all, they read design magazines and watch House Hunters International.
And, in many ways, these points are all valid and legitimate.
John and I try to educate the consumer, but sometimes it falls on deaf ears. And that’s OK–it’s their home, after all. And we do love Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware–even Ikea. In small doses.
But will this oft-made-in-China furniture be passed along to future generations as our grandmothers gave us their dining room tables and spindle beds? Probably not. And I am not saying that Pottery Barn furniture is poorly made, it’s just not the wonderful quality of a Baker Furniture or a Kindel. If you put the Baker or Kindel piece next to the Ikea or Pottery Barn piece you would instantly see the difference, but, alas, that is not possible unless you buy both. But this is precisely WHY you work with an interior designer–to have their expertise steer you to a smart purchase–one that not only takes price into consideration, but also quality. This is also why we say that you should pair Kindel with some Ikea and accessories that you picked up on your travels and that you snapped up at your local flea market. And don’t ever overlook the magic of antiques!
Our generation was weaned upon catalogues, so our peers tend to gravitate to the likes of Crate & Barrel for soup-to-nuts purchases instead of mixing and matching vintage pieces with retail-available pieces and the odd dumpster dive find. Bravo to retailers like Anthropologie for challenging the consumer, for pairing antiques with the eclectic, the new with the knockout… But even with places like Anthropologie you still need to be a smart consumer and do your homework.
Remember back in the day when department stores had design services that would pull from the various furniture brands that the emporium carried? And most of these emporia–including Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Marshall Field’s–even had antiques sections that the department store designers could pull from… Today, there is a tendency to make head-to-toe purchases from one retailer, but consumers shouldn’t aspire to own homes that look like a showroom where every piece in the room has an identical finish and every piece of upholstery has “coordinating fabric.” That’s boring and beige and lacks pizzazz.
Walking into the Bloomingdale’s home floor when I was a child visiting NYC was entering a magical fantasyland that pushed boundaries and excited and invoked daydreams. Today it’s a wet tuna fish sandwich. And don’t get us started on the magic of what used to be the 9th Floor at Marshall Field’s State Street in Chicago…
So what exactly is the role of the interior designer in today’s marketplace? And how can we educate consumers to the value of hiring an interior designer, and how can we make the process as transparent as possible? And how can we demonstrate that having an interior designer can be a necessity, not a luxury. Just remember that the next time you purchase a couch that is an inch too long to get in the front door and your drapes don’t touch the floor.
These are just musings, barely formed sketches of an issue that deserves much more thought-out dialogue and conversation.
I invite feedback and discussion.
Enjoy your weekend, folks!