The era of home accessories
More and more furniture companies are turning their backs on the contract market and focusing on home accessories. Is it the economic recession or just a strange coincidence?
It has been almost six years since two Danes knocked on the doors of a number of Nordic design studios. They explained they were going to start a successful company, but had neither a name, a graphic identity nor any experience with furniture manufacturing. Despite their unlikely start, a number of designers began collaborating with them, a fact worth celebrating today. When Muuto celebrated its fifth anniversary at the Danish Design Museum last year, many of their designers talked about the “Muuto effect”. It’s not uncommon that they are contacted by companies seeking products with the same shopping appeal as those offered by Muuto.
“We already had our strategy in place prior to the financial crisis and it hasn’t affected how we work. That said, it created a greater demand for well-designed products at reasonable prices, which has always been our goal,” says Kristian Byrge, one of the founders of Muuto. “Most people can afford to buy a new candlestick or fruit basket, but it’s not as easy to buy a new sofa.”
The latter is something that more and more companies have caught onto. The recession has called for new ways of thinking. Several companies have chosen to open up a shop-in-a-shop, such as Swedese’s showroom in Stockholm, and sell fewer products compared with their regular furniture assortment. Others have elected to widen their offerings with smaller products that are easier to replace. Before the Christmas rush last year, Tom Dixon focused on more accessible products like cutting boards, candlesticks and wall hooks as a gateway to the brand. Along the same lines, Danish producer Hay launched their Market collection, which features small and inexpensive office and storage products. In addition, a number of shops, like Nordiska Galleriet in Stockholm, have started to produce their own gift lines, with easily replaceable products such as vases and bookends. What all of these have in common is their focus on home accessories, as well as an interest in reaching new customers. Suddenly it’s the private consumer – or the middle class customer – who is the focus for companies that previously worked primarily with the contract market.
For Swedish manufacturer Gärsnäs, it’s been a dream long in the making. Their new showroom in Vasaparken in Stockholm is the first step in the direction they’d like to go. They hope to attract both architects and the general public. The next phase is a collection of products that are easy to exchange, such as carpets, that will draw private consumers.
“By also making our furniture available to the general public, we hope that we will be seen as more permanent. That has nothing to do with the recession in and of itself, but it has sped up this process,” explains Dag Klockby, managing director of Gärsnäs.
The furniture industry isn’t the first to do this. Peripheral products are now a given. The perfume manufacturing that propelled Chanel forward 80 years ago was the first step. But the major investments occurred in the 1990s and 2000s, when the luxury industry underwent a major structural shift. An industry that had been dominated by family-owned businesses targeted at an elite audience was transformed into one with global luxury conglomerates with stores in every airport.
Can this be compared with what’s happening in the furniture world today?
Johan Gulled, who owns an agency that represents both Hay and Tom Dixon in Sweden, doesn’t think so. In his opinion, the changes are rather about a deep-seated desire for new ways of thinking.
“The tradition in our industry is to say that we work with furniture or lighting, and not accessories. But today’s new companies have the possibility of developing our industry and this is one of the ways they have chosen to do it,” he says.
Muuto, of course, continues to go against the grain. As more and more companies follow in their footsteps and focus on home accessories, they have changed course altogether. The last few years they have introduced new furniture pieces. And who knows, one day they might even enter the contract market.