How witches, Elvis and lobsters influence home furnishings: an editor’s vacation odyssey | Cindy W. Hodnett

Furniture is always top of mind for FT editors; it’s a privilege (no, not a hazard) of the profession. Case in point, I recently attended an international home furnishings show in Portugal and followed it with an 11-day vacation road trip in the northeastern U.S. and throughout all of it, I couldn’t help but think about how location and cultural influences can sway a furniture purchase.

The Netflix/Hollywood influence

Consider how an entirely new generation of furniture buyers was introduced to Mid-Century Modern furniture during the heyday of Mad Men, the series about a successful advertising executive set in the 1960s. Sure, there were always devotees of the mid-century aesthetic before Mad Men, but Don Draper and company brought the style to millions, if not billions, of households, and created mainstream demand where little existed before, and most furniture retailers continue to offer at least a few Mid-century designs today.

So what’s comparable now?

A few notable recent hits include Elvis, Warner Brothers’ summer release about the life and career of Elvis Presley, Bridgerton — a Regency period historical romance that took home-during-pandemic audiences by storm — and Yellowstone, a family drama set against the sprawling backdrop of a Montana ranch. Maybe it’s time to add animal print upholstery, ornate lighting, or high-end antler candleholders to the floor?

Have your cake and eat it, too!

Of course, anticipating what will prompt a customer to part with her dollars isn’t as simple as a hit series, and the form vs. function debate continues to play an important role in product development.

During the Portugal Home Week event, one of the furniture manufacturers at the show shared with me that her company was very enthusiastic about its new line because it felt it had achieved the right mix of “American comfort and European style.” She noted that while getting the design right relied on popular style preferences in Portugal and other European countries, taking the line to U.S. consumers presented a different kind of challenge since most Americans demand comfort from the furniture in their homes above all else.

With that in mind, the company developed a collection of upholstery with streamlined silhouettes, lush fabrics, and sink-into-it seating — a European product adapted to U.S. consumer preferences — and buyer response was strong. King Comfort, meet Design Queen, coming soon to a furniture store near you.

Location, location, location

Joybird recently did a fun study of each state’s favorite design decade, and we definitely observed anecdotal evidence of some of these trends during our time in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island in June. The key takeaway? Furniture retailers have opportunities to capitalize on the unique community surrounding their stores with select accent or décor pieces that tell a story.

While traveling, we stayed in a welcoming Amish farmhouse, a quirky attic apartment and an on-the-water mansion. No, I won’t likely add a purple velvet sofa like the one in our Airbnb in Salem, Mass., to my North Carolina home, but I can’t say that I won’t buy the cloisonne enamel lamp from the downtown store’s website before all is said and done.

And the Italian antiques in the Maine house didn’t come home with me, but a mass-produced carved tray from a Top 100 retailer did two days after we returned.

If your store is in a tourist destination, your products can be part of the experience by adding a few thematic pieces to your floor, and if it’s not, merchandising to match a mood offers a different kind of impulse opportunity. Emotional connections are such an important part of the home furnishings purchase equation; tell the story and the dollars will follow.

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