Bespoke furniture and changing markets

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Tom Fraser, deputy principal, Chippendale school, who will contribute a regular column to our website. 

The Chippendale school is, first and last, a furniture design school teaching all aspects of fine furniture design and making.

But we also try and instil some business skills in our students, including the need to have a well-presented website and a marketing plan.

As we continually tell our students, they might be the very best cabinetmaker in the whole history of cabinetmaking, but if they can’t market and sell themselves then they won’t succeed.

So it’s always interesting to see emerging trends in the furniture market and how a savvy furniture maker could turn those trends to his or her advantage.

For example, there is a continued growth in home-working, driven by new technologies and a desire by many companies to offer more flexible working choices.

That therefore suggests a greater need for home offices, and a readymade market for furniture makers to exploit.

Also, households are getting smaller. In 1981, 20% of the 20.2 million UK households were single occupancy.  In 2016 there were 27 million households in the UK and, of those, 28% consisted of just one person.

But not only are households getting smaller, so too the homes we live in.  In fact, Britain’s new-build homes are already the smallest in Europe, at 76 square metres.  Compare that with Europe’s roomiest country, Denmark, where homes are on average 137 square metres.

So, obvious thought: design furniture to be multi-functional.

But a major shift in the residential sector has been the growth in property rental over property ownership.  Over the last five years there has been a 28.3% growth in the UK private rented sector.

That’s important because the average owner occupier stays in their property for about 13 years.  The private renter stays for 17 months.

While it suggests that owner occupiers, with a longer-term perspective, are more likely to invest in higher-value items such as bespoke furniture, what about bespoke furniture that can be easily disassembled?

It’s a business idea that a couple of our students have experimented with, with one current student, Timothy Low from Singapore making a number of pieces of furniture that can literally be flat-packed.

However, the good news is that the global market for luxury furniture is expected to grow for at least the next year.  According to Marketresearch.com, Europe is the largest market for luxury furniture.

Here’s another interesting fact.  Buying furniture is not something that we enjoy doing.  In a survey, only 31.8% of furniture and floor coverings shoppers rated their experience at least 8 out of 10 for enjoyment, placing it 13th out of 15 sectors.

So here’s a thought for furniture designers out there.  Apart from designing furniture for both traditional and emerging markets, make your workshop welcoming.

Have Open Days.  Invite people in.  Yes, make furniture that today’s households want to buy.  But also make buying furniture more enjoyable.

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