High Styles in High Point

Redesigning for millennials

In April, Pew Research Center touted, “Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force … As of 2017, 56 million millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work.”

As evidenced by CMM’s Capital Young Professionals Awards this past May, for which dozens of nominees were sifted through to determine the Top 10 Finalists and the winner, millennials are this era’s movers and shakers in various industries, business sectors, medicine, and the law. And since millennials are earning a large share of disposable income, they have monies to spend on both extras and necessities.

The millennial demographic, in fact, has piqued the interest of the home furnishings industry, the capital of which is located in neighboring High Point, North Carolina. Biannually, thousands of manufacturing companies from around the globe converge on the otherwise mildly active town (where High Point University boasts one of the country’s only bachelor’s degree in home furnishings) to show new designs and innovations at the International Home Furnishings Market.

Three to six months after a market, the most recent of which was April 14 through 18, consumers can expect prototypes to become purchasable products retailing everywhere from mass merchandisers to upscale furniture stores. Of late, many of those new product prototypes are designed by and for millennials, especially since research entities like Statista are reporting the age group spends around $30 million on furniture and bedding annually.

Of Ohio-based Sauder’s four-person design team, three are millennials. Rachel Whitaker, 31, is the principal furniture designer, while Nicole Paparelli, 24, is a furniture designer. Rachel says she is a typical millennial in that she has moved five times in five years.

“Styles have to be able to be used in a variety of different ways,” she says, explaining that a specific piece might need to be used differently in a new setting. While a piece might be dubbed an “entertainment credenza,” Rachel says one millennial might use it to house a television in a living room, another may stack books on it in a hallway, and still another might need it for displaying dishes in a keeping room, kitchen, or dining area.

Nicole says that millennials, in fact, often like to change things up, but cannot afford to purchase new furnishings each time they get the urge to redecorate.

Current Sauder collections in production, according to Rachel and Nicole, focus on distinct millennial-driven attributes: small scale, mobility, and versatility. Nicole says that since millennials are also “big into pet and plant parenting,” they need furnishings that are sturdy and easy to maintain. To learn what millennials want in home furnishings, Sauder’s design team periodically checks in weekly with their trend and design manager who follows trends on sites such as Pinterest as well as emerging styles in Paris, Milan, New York, and Cologne. “He looks at anything on the periphery of home furnishings,” says Rachel. In fact, clothing styles and fabrics sometimes influence home furnishing decor trends. Home furnishing designers commonly allow trends to direct designs 18 to 24 months prior to a product becoming consumer accessible.

Rachel says millennials want pieces they can use indoors or out, or “pieces that blur the lines.” The electronics industry also influences design. The Scandinavian-headquartered IKEA, with a destination store in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a millennial-motivated retailer at the forefront of techno furnishings. Tables and sofas might include wireless charging stations or outlets. Sauder and others are exploring capabilities for future home furnishing introductions. Already, some Sauder items are designed with wireless housing capabilities and to house a host of electronic components from large screen televisions to desktops and laptops in various rooms and niches throughout an apartment or home.

Vermont-based Copeland Furniture showed in High Point its modern “Invigo Sit-Stand” desks, which have three programmable dual-motor, lift-base positions and wire management. These functional and smart-scaled desks are available in various solid woods and finishes with optional powered insert, grommet, and monitor arms.

Jackie Hirschhaut, long the vice president of the High Point-based American Home Furnishings Alliance and a noted industry trend watcher, says, “Color is one of the most inspiring and stimulating features of home furnishings, and we’re enjoying a powerful resurgence of color across the industry, in all style categories. People react emotionally to color. Today’s colorful home furnishings provide nearly limitless inspiration.”

“Millennial Pink” is touted as the top color in much decorating press, yet Pantone Institute determined 2018 as the year for “Ultra Violet.” In small doses, both colors complement millennial-favorite looks, such as warm gold and bronze contemporary metallics. Shades of this year’s Pantone-preferred hue, from deep purple and wine to softer gray-based purples, were seen complementing vignettes all over the April High Point market. Gray, too, is popular as a general neutral palette color that can be punctuated with spots of purples, pinks, reds, and more.

“We’re definitely seeing a trend towards mineral gray as the base color of a room and away from the eggshell walls of years past,” says Suzanne Henson, vice president of merchandising and marketing for Craftmaster Furniture, a North Carolina-based upholstery producer and High Point market exhibitor.

Sometimes all a millennial needs is a burst of color, says Holly Blalock, vice president of merchandising and marketing for CR Laine, also a North Carolina upholstery producer. “From shades of raspberry, papaya orange, and lemongrass to indigo blue — as far as color, nothing is off limits.”