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Home decor is quickly becoming an “it” industry in 2015. Once dominated by big-box retailers and independent interior designers, the home decor industry is undergoing a sea change and a few innovative startups are leading the charge.
Home furnishings shoppers used to start with the likes of Ikea, graduate to, say, West Elm and eventually dabble in Williams-Sonoma or Restoration Hardware. Now with tools like Pinterest and design blogs providing endless inspiration and access, there are a lot more choices, variety and experimentation.
And creating a coherent, polished yet personalized aesthetic no longer requires an expert eye, bundles of free time or a hefty disposable income.
Entrepreneurs have entered the decor game and things are heating up.
Home furnishings is a $79 billion industry, according to IBIS World as of December, and that space is attracting innovators and investors alike.
Last month housing starts reached their highest level since 2008, according to the Department of Commerce, demonstrating growing consumer confidence and a renewed interest in home investment.
Regardless of whether a startup targets the hands-off shopper looking for convenience, the indecisive decorator looking for professional guidance or the consumer trying to save a few dollars, the home decor industry is changing quickly. As the category flourishes, several trends are emerging. Here are the themes and startups turning this industry on its head:
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For his Los Angeles home, Homepolish interior designer Matthew Merrell aimed for a rustic yet sophisticated look.
Image credit: Tessa Neustadt/Homepolish
1. Affordable outsourcing.
Historically, professional interior design was an expensive luxury. Luckily for consumers, though, hiring a designer just became affordable with new online business models, standardization and price transparency.
A new bespoke decor service that claims to be “changing the design industry one interior at a time,” Homepolish matches clients with local interior designer talent (based on zip code), available for hire by the hour, at a reasonable price. A one-hour consult in the customer’s home is available at a cost as low as $50.
Founded in New York City in 2012, the online company standardizes the process of working with interior designers, wholly disrupting a traditionally word-of-mouth industry. The business-savvy leadership team claims to have a hefty roster of celebrity clients to kick its visibility into high gear from the start.
Catering to tech-aware clientele, Homepolish leverages tools like Pinterest and invites customers to follow its Instagram account for inspiration.
2. Online crowdsourcing.
In home décor, crowdsourcing is just catching on.
Laurel & Wolf takes the practice of contractors’ bidding on a project to the next level. A customer submits photos of a space online and receives design ideas and style boards from multiple designers around the country. Once the consumer chooses a favorite design, he or she receives a personalized floor plan and shopping list along with instructions on how to DIY the space from the before to the after.
Founded in Los Angeles in 2013, Laurel & Wolf has attracted $1.1 million in seed funding, according to Crunchbase.
3. Style profiling.
One challenge in home decor is making decisions. There are millions of products to choose from, so consumers rely on heuristics to help them commit. Customers like style profiling to help them articulate preferences and narrow down the scope of choices.
Tastemaker, of San Francisco, provides an “e-decorate” service by using a questionnaire that helps customers define their taste. More than just a gimmick, the ecommerce site’s genius then recommends products and interior designers the customer would like, and, I’ve been told, the results are spot-on. The service quickly became popular so it’s currently not accepting new client projects.
I believe there’s still plenty of opportunity for an e-decorate service that helps consumers define their style and merchandises products based on the result, either through an affiliate model or straight ecommerce sales.
4. Cutting out the middle person.
Slicing out the middleman is in vogue these days and the home decor industry is no exception. As is the case with many industries, home decor has a long supply chain. Several new startups are remodeling this supply chain and bringing down the price tags.
Two new companies work directly with makers and manufacturers to provide quality designer furniture, resulting in more affordable prices for the shopper.
Interior Define is one such online furniture retailer that works directly with makers and manufacturers, providing designer furniture without a retailer markup. Based in Chicago and founded by a former Bonobos ecommerce veteran, Interior Define has attracted $3.2 million in funding since its start in 2013, according to Crunchbase. Bonobos founder Andy Dunn is one of the company’s advisors.
Interior Define’s tagline? “Designer-quality furniture at prices (actually) within reach.”
Bryght is another player, with headquarters in Vancouver. Founded in 2011, the company claims to have prices as much as 70 percent lower than typical retail ones.
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5. Resale sites.
For the shopper who likes a treasure hunt, several new resale sites are cropping up, all with a similar offer: well-curated, high-quality, affordable pieces that are “gently used.” It takes time to comb through the inventory, but the end result is home decor with a unique story behind it.
Chairish, founded in 2013 in San Francisco, and Viyet, launched in New York City in 2012, are vying for the lead position. I liken it to the Uber-Lyft scenario.
AptDeco is a smaller player in New York City, but just expanded its service to Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.
6. Lifestyle marketing.
Many entrepreneurs today know product marketing can involve more than selling a product: It can sell a benefit. In the case of home decor, the benefit is the lifestyle that comes with the chair. Many decor companies are changing their merchandising strategy and organizing products by theme rather than category.
Dot & Bo launched in San Francisco in 2013 as an online furniture seller. The company is positioning its site to become a lifestyle brand as well as a source for content, having recently hired media and entertainment veteran Nancy Tellem. Its collections are centered around creative themes, making it easy for someone to create a coordinated look to match a lifestyle.
7. Out-of-the box solutions.
For the hands-off shopper looking for convenience, companies can provide entire rooms for sale that look professional and polished.
MACK is one such company, taking the staged-room concept a step further by offering fully designed rooms for sale at the click of a button. Launched in San Francisco in 2013, MACK aims to replace the need for an interior designer altogether and solve one of the biggest challenges consumers face when decorating — being able to envision the complete, finished look of their home.
I was so excited about MACK’s approach to design that my company, UGallery, has partnered with it to offer original art in rooms.
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