An understatement: It’s been quite an eventful year in the design industry. From the continued home boom to skyrocketing inflation to the endless supply chain snarls—to say nothing of mega mergers and game-changing startups—2021 will certainly go down in the history books as a tumultuous 12 months. This week on The Business of Home Podcast, host Dennis Scully tapped BOH editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen and executive editor Fred Nicolaus to take a look back and try making some sense of it all. Together, they picked apart the biggest stories of the year while looking ahead to 2022.
It’s no secret that COVID has reoriented American life around the home, which has in turn been great for designers and the home industry at large. The question is: How long will this surge in demand—sometimes called “the home boom”—last? Nicolaus ponders whether it has peaked already (“A lot of brands, there was a period in the summer or spring where they would say, ‘This was our best month ever, and next month is on track to be our best month ever again.’ … I don’t hear that as much anymore”), while Petersen suggests that housing data paints an optimistic future. “Permits and [home] starts have skyrocketed: They peaked earlier this year at about 2 million per month, about a 50 percent jump over where it had hovered [pre-pandemic],” she says. “There’s a lot of stuff getting built.”
Long Lead Times, High Prices
In addition to surging demand, the most jarring impacts of the pandemic on the home industry are hyperextended lead times and, more recently, rising prices. Though there’s a lot of nuance to both issues, both editors suggest that you’ll see more of the same in 2022. “If you had spent any of 2021 wishing things would get back to the way they were before, I think you can just get over it,” says Petersen. “I don’t think there’s any point to yearning for the way we did business in 2019. I don’t think we go back to shorter lead times; I don’t think we go back to lower prices.”
Throughout the podcast, Petersen and Nicolaus discuss some of the buzzier stories that defined the news this year. Among them, the marriage between Herman Miller and Knoll, Material Bank’s $100 million fundraise, and—maybe buzziest of them all—the debut of high-end online design platform The Expert. “There have been so many e-design platforms that have come before, and what they generally try to do is sell the consumer a 3D rendering or a furniture plan. Some of them are good, some are not as good—I’m not judging the model. But what I think is so brilliant about The Expert is that what it monetizes is the access to the person, the access to the celebrity,” says Nicolaus. “It’s like Cameo on some level. People will pay really good money for that. They found a way to monetize and deliver a high-end product for interior design over the internet, which no one else has managed to do.”
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