The third annual Future of Home conference kicks off today—both in person at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion and streaming live. This year’s edition is filled with expert talks and industry case studies featuring luminaries from the home world and beyond. Join us here as we recap the highlights of panels with speakers like Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan, the founders of The Expert, and more.
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THE FUTURE OF REAL ESTATE
Austin Allison, the founder of Dotloop, joined BOH contributor Dennis Scully on the main stage to talk about his newest venture, Pacaso, a real estate platform he expects will revolutionize the concept of second homes. The company, which launched in October 2020 and is now valued at $1 billion, acquires luxury homes and sells up to eight shares in the properties. Shareholders stay for a set number of weeks per year, depending on the size of their stake.
Allison acknowledged that housing is a sensitive topic, as home affordability has never been more of an issue in America than it is now, but said that one of the goals for his platform is to make luxury real estate more accessible. On average, second homes are only used by the owner five to six weeks a year, he explained. His hope with Pacaso is that vacation homes can become attainable to the millions of families interested in second homeownership, but perhaps couldn’t afford to buy one outright in a desirable vacation market. “When you buy a second home, you’re unlocking a chapter to another life,” said Allison. “What if we could make that easy for people? We can apply the model of the sharing economy to a concept that’s been around for a long time: co-ownership.”
Best quote: “Any company making a difference faces resistance,” Allison said in response to criticisms of the platform.
Key takeaway: By facilitating opportunities for families to divide ownership, Pacaso is opening up second homeownership to an additional category of buyer. The platform is expanding to more markets across the U.S. as well as European vacation destinations. —Haley Chouinard
THE FUTURE OF COLLABORATIONS
BOH’s Dennis Scully led a conversation on the nature of design collaborations, with the help of two of the industry’s most seasoned pros: home guru Martha Stewart, founder and CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and Jim Shreve, president and CEO of Baccarat North America. Shreve spoke on his experience using carefully chosen partnerships with other brands to “dust off” the more than 200-year-old crystal company. “I think collaborations are often overused—they can enhance true brands, but they must be organic and natural,” he said. Baccarat has teamed up with streetwear brand Supreme, designer Virgil Abloh and Stewart herself, who had recently bought an antique Baccarat collection but found that it lacked vessels for some of her signature sips. “I really liked the glasses, but there was nothing for my Martha-ritas, my martinis, my wonderful bourbon sours,” she said. “So Jim and I got together and something magical happened—and it happened rather quickly.”
A self-proclaimed modernist, Stewart explained that she’s constantly on the lookout for the newest technology and cultural touchstones (Next stop, she said, is TikTok.) She’s also a bold collaborator in her own right—through unexpected pairings with everyone from rappers Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg to companies specializing in CBD and hydroponics, she finds that playful partnerships can create buzz in a strategic way. “It is fun, but it’s calculated fun—it makes money, and it gets people thinking,” she said.
Best quote: “I call growing your audience expanding your demographic—for me, [collaborations] brought in a new group of people and more opportunities,” said Stewart.
Top takeaway: Dare to collaborate, but do so carefully—the right partnership can enhance your own brand while garnering a major audience or consumer base that wouldn’t have looked your way otherwise. —Caroline Bourque
THE FUTURE OF LIFE AT HOME
Design visionaries Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler sat down to discuss, well, the future of life at home. “There are two ways that creative people think about the future,” Doonan said. “Either pristine and utopian or messy and dystopian.” Adler agreed, and explained that because people’s lives are currently presented in a virtual space, they will project their environment as utopian on social media, when in reality, “the sink will be filled with dishes and [their living situation is] dystopian behind the scenes.”
- Related reading: Jonathan Adler gets real about the struggles of running a creative business
Adler went on to explain that in the digital age, “swagger” (i.e., a confident and idiosyncratic style) is the only true currency. “Now more than ever, design needs to look good for Instagram,” he said. Which raised an excellent question from the audience about the current revival of maximalism, and more specifically, whether or not minimalism can survive in the future. “Maximalism is a reflection of the speed with which the world keeps changing,” he answered. “You have to take it to 11 to stand out on social media.”
Best quote: “Social media platforms are the most important thing for designers to prioritize, because they allow you to stand out,” said Adler.
Top takeaway: In the digital age, where designers can promote themselves and gain popularity on social media, it’s crucial to separate yourself from the competition and present yourself as aesthetically distinct (and swaggy) as possible. Simply put: In the future, more will be more. —Caroline Biggs
Activation: Green Haus — Presented by Crate & Barrel
Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings each year, 9 million of which end up in landfills. Crate & Barrel’s Green Haus lounge imagines a new future for the industry. Featuring pieces designed with earth-friendly materials—the Nouveau sofa, for example, is covered 100 percent in chenille yarn made from recycled plastic water bottles—and set against the backdrop of a biophilic wall built in collaboration with The Sill, the tableau offers a glimpse into a more ecologically responsible interpretation of home design.
LEVELING UP — SPONSORED BY HIGH POINT MARKET AUTHORITY
BOH editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen sat down with designers Kati Curtis, Eneia White and Rajni Alex to discuss their top tips for getting the most out of High Point Market, the world’s largest furniture market, which boasts over 2,000 exhibitors. All three designers make attending High Point twice a year a priority, saying it’s an amazing place to seek inspiration, get ahead of trends and test out products before recommending them to clients. They shared practical tips, including maximizing your time by mapping out which showrooms you’ll visit each day, shopping early, and making it a priority to find a new vendor every Market.
Best quote: “There’s so much inspiration in High Point,” said Alex. “And so much of that comes from connecting with other designers, learning what they’re drawn to [and] what trends they’re seeing, and generally getting to see things through their eyes.” —Haley Chouinard
THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE
For a discussion on the state of diversity in the design industry, BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus sat down with three industry players working toward measurable change: Caroline Baumann, co-leader of the Diversity in Design (DID) collective and former director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; fellow DID leader and Work & Co partner Rupal Parekh; and Eddie Opara, partner at DID member organization Pentagram and senior critic at the Yale School of Art. The initiative launched this past June as a consortium of design-centric companies committed to improving the industry’s dismal representation of minorities—as Opara pointed out during the panel, people of color comprise just 12 percent of the design workforce.
To boost those numbers, the group has crafted three focus areas: awareness and activation at the high school level; collegiate programs and education; and recruitment and retention during the professional stage of a designer’s career. Through outreach events like Cooper Hewitt’s Teen Design Fair in Detroit early next year, DID plans to educate high schoolers and their families on the available routes to a design career, following up with additional resources like mentorship programs. Plus, they’re planning an annual member review to ensure that everyone is on track with the organization’s code of conduct and actionable steps.
Best quote: “It’s about a long-term road map, and long-term change,” said Parekh. “It’s going to take a lot of time, so we’ll need to be here together to invest in it.”
Top takeaway: It’s easy to have discussions on improving representation in design without taking tangible measures. Through accountability, actionable steps and a learning network, the industry can work toward including more designers of color in leadership positions. —Caroline Bourque
INTERIOR DESIGN 2.0
Dennis Scully moderated a lively conversation between entrepreneur Leo Seigal and Los Angeles–based designer Jake Arnold, founders of the online design platform The Expert. The concept for the company, which launched in February, originated when Seigal was helping Arnold with his Instagram account in 2020 and noticed that he was flooded with simple design requests from his followers. It seemed there were hundreds of people who wanted advice on a paint color or a room layout. Seigal asked Arnold to humor him and see what someone would pay for an hour of his time over Zoom. They asked for $1,000, and an enterprising homeowner in Switzerland gladly agreed. From there, the idea for The Expert took shape. The duo originally reached out to around 50 designers, all of whom were fielding similar requests from followers. Since February, the roster of A-list talent on the platform has bloomed to nearly 150 designers.
Seigal said it quickly became clear there was a need to integrate commissions on the pieces that designers recommended. They’ve since developed a trade services team, which can source trade brand pieces for The Expert clients. Additionally, they expect to roll out an e-commerce element on the site by early 2022. Seigal and Arnold feel that the appeal of The Expert will extend long beyond the pandemic and that design enthusiasts will continue to seek access to high-end talent on more flexible terms.
Best quote: “We’re demystifying the entire design process. Interior design can feel very back-of-house to people—there isn’t a lot of access,” said Arnold. “I think with The Expert, we’re trying to democratize it so that anyone in any part of the world has access to the picks of the top designers all the time.”
Top takeaway: The Expert continues to grow and plans to find more ways to service designers on more flexible terms, providing them additional revenue streams and means to tap into different segments of their followings, while maintaining their high-end firms. —Haley Chouinard
HOW TO THRIVE IN THE PASSION ECONOMY
For the first session of the day, Adam Davidson, author of The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the 21st Century, kicked things off with a keynote about the power of storytelling. This century has brought all sorts of technological advancements that make it easier to connect with potential clients; however, Davidson said designers aren’t putting the same effort into promoting themselves as a “unique product” that they are putting into creating one-of-a-kind projects.
In order to be as successful as possible in a competitive market, Davidson believes it’s essential to “tell a good story” as a brand. “Be passionate. Be unique to you,” he said. “The more you thrill some people, the more you will alienate others, but it just means that eventually, you will be working with the clients you really click with.” He explained that instead of trying to reach the largest audience possible, your goal should be to connect with people who speak to your distinct brand and style. “You’re in the intimacy business,” Davidson said. “You create moments with textures, colors and objects—tell a story so powerful that people know right away that you are the best fit for them.”
Best quote: “You are the person taking all these eclectic aesthetic choices and creating special, unique spaces and experiences for clients. Do for yourself what you do for your clients every day.”
Top takeaway: The only way to differentiate yourself in a competitive market is to stay true to yourself and promote your brand accordingly. Or as Davidson put it: “The narrower your story, the more impactful it will be.” —Caroline Biggs
Homepage photo: Sophie Donelson and Dennis Scully host the 2021 Future of Home conference. | Photo by Kevin Lau