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February 24, 2005

Clash of Cultures

The Gen Xers are the legitimate heirs to the Boomer spenders but the newbies buy in very different ways from their elders. The Xers rely on technology to research and affirm buying decisions. Yet it's shocking how many businesses still do not have websites or email. Will Brands that target the under 40 crowd going to adopt the communication vehicles their audience prefers to stay in the game -- or will the Gen Xers come to them? Quite a game of chicken by the brands I would say.

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Weigh in on Wenge

Millettia Laurentii-Wenge is an African wood, a dark coffee brown in color, with a regular, closely spaced grain of dark brown to black. Its unique color and regular grain make it valuable as an accent wood or for furniture, so says Northwest Fine Woodworking.

Pronounced "when-gay", the wood was introduced about four years ago in Europe -- and has slowly made its way across the Atlantic. Now everything is wenge-looking. Rarely is the exotic wood used, rather it is "wenge-stained" cherry or oak or whatever. So apparently the wood is not the issue -- the color is. (And in Europe, the dark chocolatey-black has been replaced with a smoke-colored stain. You can expect that look to float to our shores about 2010.)

And in typical design style -- what started out as an accent is now the entire ensemble. Wenge is the not so new black that is dominating showrooms from Milan to High Point.

So here is the question: What is it with wenge? If you love wood -- why invest in something where the grain is obscured with a dark stain? Furniture designers admit to me they don't understand the allure either. When it was rare it was one thing -- but now ....

So what do you think? Is Wenge the new black -- or a nightmare fad?

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Matte or High Gloss?

Visited the design showroom Giorgio USA at 200 Lex, NYC, this week. Spoke with Roberto who said that high gloss is still in high demand despite the re-introduction of matte finish by his brother's company, Giorgio Collection. Personally the matte is so much more practical -- doesn't show fingerprints or scratches. But when you are talking about the drama of high gloss -- is there really room for practicalities?

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Stockholm Furniture Fair

The 2005 furniture road show continues -- this time in Sweden. Pictures from the Stockholm show are compliments of and (thanks Dezain).

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February 22, 2005

Luxury Goods and the Shift to Generation X

Buyers of luxury goods are already living luxurious lifestyles. They have new homes and new cars.  They have closets stuffed with clothes and they already own high-end furniture for every room. The only thing they don’t have is a real need for anything. So when they shop, they do it based on emotions and perceptions of wealth.

Reasons people spend money are changing, and the purchasing power is being passed on to the next generation.  For manufacturers of luxury furniture, this shift is becoming a real problem, says Pam Danziger, President of Unity Marketing and author of "Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses—as well as the Classes." She explains in terms of two phases or stages in life: the cocooning stage and the connecting stage.

Take the Baby Boomers. They are leaving the cocooning stage––when they bought homes, had families and spent their money on furniture and decorating. But Boomers, who number 76 million, are leaving that stage. In the connecting stage they’re now entering, they’ve stopped spending money on those types of things.  Now, their money is spent on experiential purchases like exotic vacations and evenings at the theater.

In one of the focus groups Unity Marketing uses for research, Danziger met a 60ish woman whom she says embodies the shift from cocooning to connecting. The woman explained that she and her husband just moved to a small home in a golf course community. During his career he had risen through corporate ranks and they had moved several times, each time buying new furniture and decorating accessories. Now, she’s tired of doing that. Furnishing a home is more like a job and she would rather spend her time and money on memorable experiences.

So with the Baby Boomers leaving cocooning and its buying habits for connecting and its much different buying habits, who will pick up the purchasing slack? Danzinger says it’s in the hands of Generation X. They’re just approaching the cocooning stage and have an interest in luxury goods. There’s just one problem, numbers. Compared to the 76 million Boomers, Gen X only has about 42 million members.

Furniture manufacturers are going to have work hard at getting these people to buy their products and it will be more than difficult without strategic marketing. Danziger explains that while people don’t defer to brand when buying high-end furniture, they do use brand as an excuse or justification for paying  high prices.

The bottom line: consumers buy it ‘cause they like it, they pay more because of the brand name. With less people buying furniture, manufacturers better focus on branding to make up the lost dollars.

And by the way, this generation shops online. They may not purchase furniture online, because of shipping costs, but they do look for bargains in stores they're willing to drive to. Luxury consumer or not, nobody’s going to pay more if they don’t have to. And when it comes to high-end items and their high cost price tags, finding a place that saves even 10%, can mean a bundle. 

Manufacturers need to get into a shift of their own and play to the yen of these computer savvy consumers who will pay more––if they believe in the brand.

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February 17, 2005

Plywood, Bentwood and Tendo Mokko

For true lovers of contemporary furniture, bentwood has never gone out of fashion. Aalto's stools (and copies of them) show up in high-end showrooms and the aisles of Target. Charles and Ray Eames’ DCW chairs remain icons of modern. The name Thonet, after almost 200 years, still makes collectors weak in the knees. But sometimes even consistent popularity needs a boost, and that's what’s happening at Tendo Mokko.

Design mag Wallpaper* reported this month that the 60 year old Japanese ply and bentwood brand is experiencing a resurgence.  A longtime source for devoted, perhaps cultish, fans of bentwood, Tendo’s products have never quite made it to the world stage. They are best known for manufacturing the warm and minimalist Butterfly Stool by Sori Yanagi. And this piece is indicative of Tendo’s exquisite quality, craftsmanship and design philosophy.  It’s the company’s marketing that, until longtime fan Arata Tamura got into the mix, was sub par.

Now Tamura’s convinced Tendo to branch out, open its own shop for the first time and even release some of its most striking and iconic designs with little updated twists like availability of items in a greater variety of finishes and upholstery choices.

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Musical Chairs by Palliser

Palliser_home_theaterAfter debuting at October's High Point, Canadian furniture maker Palliser has gotten into the groove of shipping about 1000 of its Theater in a box units out monthly. What's not to like about these seats? Recliners can be equipped with wireless radio receivers so good vibrations surround you. Seat units can be paired with straight or wedge arms to make curved or straight row. Since units are UPS-able, shipping costs are minimal.

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February 13, 2005

The Modern Pull & Knob

Spectradecor_knob_1The jewel of the kitchen is of course, the knob. And no one does knobs better than contemporary designers. Want to dress up a plain white cabinet? Try a colorful hand-pigmented resin in a satin pewter frame from SpectraDecor. Stainless steel and pewter still reign supreme for the cool-toned kitchen, but bright colors are a surprising hit. Opt for elongated pulls and geometric knobs.

Prefer a softer, warmer look? opt for materials that are a little less reflective, such as brushed and satin nickel, bright colors in resin or artisan glass, or materials with matte finishes. Look for elongated pulls that are curved and free of sharp angles or T-knobs.

Inlay of tortoiseshell and lemon tile in pewter by SpectraDecor.

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February 11, 2005

Cube House: A Modern Home that's Outside the Box

Through new cars, television shows and home items from teapots and trash cans, modern design has slowly edged into the American consciousness. So why are our newly built homes generally faux-traditional? I'm talking about those brand new, particle board constructed suburban colonials and tutors. They're enormous houses with every modern amenity and design scheme--great rooms, church height ceilings, rows and rows of picture windows, skylights, solar lights and night lights, pulled together behind a façade pretending to be built decades before those standard issue whirpool spas inside had even been invented.

I say, let modern homes be modern homes. And let them look like modern homes. LaMiDesign architect Gregory La Vardera agrees and he's taken steps to bring the modern family into a truly modern living space they (in truly modern fashion) can customize to meet their needs. It's called the Cube House and it's the newest addition to a collection of modern homes La Vardera has created since 2002.

Cube House is part of the Stealth Group, and that means it's trying to hide its modern inside flair a bit, but stops far short of pretending to be a traditional center entrance colonial. The exterior walls on the Cube House are covered in "suburban camouflage" that creates visual segments that let it fit in with the neighbors and appease pesky review boards.

Aptly named, this house is a square building constructed around a central staircase with room for five bedrooms, kitchen, living and dining rooms, study, and whatever else your imagination and bank account can do. La Vardera's website shows plans for all of his designs and even some new builds in progress. Check it out and get out of the box and into a Cube.


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February 09, 2005

Interaction Design -- Italian Style

So what is "interaction design"? Institute Ivrea takes a stab at defining it and inspiring Strangely_familiar_2it with its 2-yr course in fusing "culture, technology, service models, and design for products and services." That's a lot of words for a concept that Apple branded as "think different" (sic). Students who thought differently created "Strangely Familiar," a melange of mundane items -- with a forward twist. Consider the whack-a-mole-like phone messages that pop up from your desk -- or the alarm clock that teases you "up" in the morning. Nice. Thanks for the tip Stefan.  Photo by Ivan Gasparini

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