It’s a small world, especially when it comes to home design.
Retailers, designers and architects seeking a cutting edge — forward thinking in form, materials, color, even artisanal and custom work — are heading to international destinations.
The most significant design shows in diversity and style are in Paris, Milan and Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany. The number of Americans attending these shows about furnishings, lighting, accessories, kitchens and bathrooms has ratcheted up in the last decade or so.
More significantly, the lead time to actually see products and trends has diminished greatly. What used to take up to a year to arrive in stores now is sometimes ready to take home almost immediately.
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And trends have a shorter shelf life. According to Michelle Lamb, co-founder and chairwoman of Marketing Directions, a forecasting company in Minneapolis, the life span of a trend has dropped from seven years to about two.
“Before the Great Recession we were stuck at three,” Lamb says. “Sometimes I wonder how consumers can keep up. They are on Pinterest and Instagram. But for every 10 pins that might fly past, they may pick up one they’ll embrace.
“What trend experts do is connect the dots,” she says. “Show how that piece fits into a larger scheme. What it means for tomorrow. How it works for a color story that’s more of an umbrella trend.”
Caroline Hipple, an expert in marketing and merchandising and principal partner at HB2 Resources in Atlanta, credits social media for making the world so much smaller.
“Everybody has eyes on (design) fashion, museums and travel, where furnishings can be edgier and more exotic,” Hipple says.
Most top retailers shop internationally, not only to buy but also to forge connections with artisans. Case in point: George Venson, a New York wallpaper designer, whose high-octane graphics have been praised by Architectural Digest, recently was “discovered” by Anthropologie.
The retailer commissioned the artist, whose watercolors are translated digitally to surfaces, to create a proprietary collection for summer including a wallcovering and fabric patterns on furniture, all with a midcentury vibe.
And Crate & Barrel drafted Italian designer Paola Navone to do a successful housewares collection.
Midcentury furniture seems at home on both sides of the pond, while 1970s-inspired pieces and hints of art deco are having moments. Other emerging design trends include:
▪ Positive/negative. We are so graphics-aware in advertising, labeling and other media that simple images in high-contrasting colors really appeal. Black and white is obvious for impact, but still effective is a more quiet take in foliage-patterned dinnerware from Herend.
▪ Mixed media. Teak tables topped with metal or stone, or resin wicker chairs with teak legs are a hit in outdoor fashions. In Europe, these expressions have advanced to arresting combinations, like the stone and wood cutting boards seen at Belgian retailer Flamant, or a modern console crafted in wood and brass from Mambo.
The style works beautifully in traditional looks as well, such as a distressed wood table with stainless steel top at Lexington, launched at the spring market in High Point, N.C. It references industrial style dressed up and refined.
▪ Warm metals. Gold — gilded wood looks or brass — and a rosier gold and copper have been warming interiors. They still are on trend, and not just in accessories but in small tables and lighting, most recently in a faucet collection by Olivia Putman for Paris-based luxury brand THG.
Both shiny and matte finishes add glow, and layering with silvery tones gives us permission to mix.
▪ Color. The fondness for indigo is not going away. “I just looked on One Kings Lane today,” says Dixon Bartlett, a partner at HB2 Resources, “and four of the top six sofas featured were in a shade of blue,from indigo to sapphire to greener shades of peacock and teal.”
Michelle Lamb is seeing medium shades of green, with a bit of yellow and a move to softer hues.
▪ Worn and weathered. Bartlett talks about the rubbed-out, burned-out, worn-away look in rugs, textiles, finishes and fashions, all part of a subtrend of Restored Renewed Reborn that has been universal for several years.
Dutch company Studio Ditto creates the look of stacked, old, worn, painted-metal containers in a new collection of wallcoverings.
▪ Two tones. A tweaking of color blocking popular in fashion a few years back looks fresh again, played out in bold strokes, as in a shapely sofa called Halo from Softline that shifts in related hues from back cushion to seat.
Glassware from SkLO plays with transparency and opaqueness in combining hues.
▪ More functionality in clever ways. Double duty has become a welcome staple in home design, with hidden storage in cabinets and charging stations in drawers.
At Ligne Roset, a clean-lined sofa bed offered this bonus: a remote control. And storage hooks are morphing into colorful artistic elements.
▪ Tweaking the familiar. European designers often push the envelope with the familiar. Mirrors are leaving traditional shapes and sizes, like Karim Rashid’s new collection for Belgian company Deknudt.
It’s affecting how retailers are showing mirrors — hung en masse, all the same or different, like artwork.
▪ Florals. They’re never really off the radar, but fashion designers especially embrace them in the spring, when everyone craves beautiful blossoms outdoors and in. Shifts in the scale, from oversized to teeny (and we’re seeing both now), and the palette keep patterns fresh.
Also, watercolor-y, painterly looks or more abstract expressions are gaining traction. A new lush floral collection from Ted Baker for Portmeirion strikes romantic notes.
“After a decidedly more modernist period,” says Dixon Bartlett, “it appears as though home fashion is taking a turn toward ‘pretty’ and a more traditional, decorative approach.”
▪ Keep an eye on tech. Space Age-y fabrics that add structure to fashion with all the stretch and pleating are having an impact on home design as well. Pierre Frey’s Architectonic collection is audacious with stretch, texture and dimensionality.
▪ Eastern motifs. Eastern is striking a chord now, especially with the “China Through the Looking Glass” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. “Products and fashion images are covered with Asian-inspired design — birds, blossoms, fret work, stylized clouds,” Bartlett says.
What’s especially relevant about global influences is that they’ve opened our eyes and that we’re more open to mixing things up. Not matching all of our furniture with the same finishes and fabrics. It’s more interesting that way. It feels more collected. And ultimately, more livable.