news digest | Nov 7, 2023 |
Luxury real estate surges, WeWork files for Chapter 11 and more

This week in design, Barbara Walters’s former 11-room Fifth Avenue apartment has been turned inside out ahead of a Bonhams auction of the late TV broadcaster’s belongings, including design treasures such as a cherry red Eames chair and ottoman, a custom Mario Buatta tufted armchair and dining chairs upholstered by Oscar de la Renta himself. Stay in the know with our weekly roundup of headlines, launches, events, recommended reading and more.

Business News

While rising mortgage rates are contributing to a gridlocked housing market, the luxury sector—flush with wealthy home buyers willing to pay cash—is in the midst of a slight resurgence, The Wall Street Journal reports. According to new data from Redfin, prices, sales and inventory for the top 5 percent of homes are outpacing the overall housing market, marking a reversal from the luxury slowdown of late 2021. The median luxury sale price last quarter rose 9 percent year over year to $1.1 million—nearly triple the annual increase for non-luxury homes. Meanwhile, luxury inventory rose 2.9 percent as non-luxury inventory declined by 20.8 percent. According to analysts, the luxury sector’s activity has increased the most in cities that didn’t experience a real estate boom during the pandemic, including New York, San Antonio, and Tampa, Florida.

Last week, a federal court ruled that the National Association of Realtors, along with Keller Williams and HomeServices of America, had conspired with several large brokerages to inflate commissions paid to real estate agents. As The New York Times reports, the organizations were ordered to pay at least $1.8 billion—and potentially more than $5 billion—in damages to a group of home sellers who filed the class-action lawsuit. The new ruling has the potential to upend the real estate industry: Buyer’s agents and seller’s agents will no longer split commissions and will be free to set their own rates. If the judgment holds up against appeals, the price of homes could come down across the board in the U.S. Days after the court ruling, it was announced that longtime NAR CEO Bob Goldberg was stepping down from his role—closely following initial calls for his resignation due to sexual harassment allegations against the group’s president, Kenny Parcell. Nykia Wright, former CEO of the Chicago Sun-Times, will serve as NAR’s interim CEO as the group searches for a new leader.

WeWork has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, The New York Times reports. In a statement, the company said it intends to embark on a restructuring strategy that would involve rejecting some of the leases in its office portfolio as part of a plan agreed upon by creditors holding 92 percent of its secured debt. For WeWork, the filing marks the latest installment in a troubling few years, which saw the company facing the same setbacks as the rest of the commercial office building industry following the rise of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic—to say nothing of the debacle surrounding its aborted 2019 IPO. Valued at $47 billion during its peak, the company was worth $45 million as of last week, and its stock has plummeted 98 percent since the start of the year.

GigaCloud Technology, a business-to-business e-commerce solutions provider based in City of Industry, California, has completed an asset acquisition of Noble House Home Furnishings in an $85 million cash deal, Furniture Today reports. The deal comes after Los Angeles–based Noble House—the distributor, manufacturer and retailer of brands like Christopher Knight Home, LePouf and OkiOki—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early September, when GigaCloud was named the company’s stalking horse bidder. Following the acquisition, GigaCloud will acquire the furniture brand’s inventory, warehouse leases, websites, domain names, trademarks, patents and more, with Noble House CEO Marshall Bernes remaining in his current role as the company continues operations under its new ownership.

A federal judge in California has dismissed some of the claims in a lawsuit brought by three visual artists accusing several top AI companies—including Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt—of using their copyrighted work for their generative programs. As Reuters reports, artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz initially complained that the companies’ unpermitted use of billions of images scraped from the internet, including their own, violated their copyrights. Though he allowed the claim to be amended, U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled that the allegations did not sufficiently demonstrate that the AI-generated images were substantially similar to the artists’ work. He also dismissed other claims from the artists, including that the companies violated their publicity rights and competed with them unfairly.

Danish shipping giant Maersk announced plans to cut at least 10,000 jobs after reporting a steep decline in third-quarter profit, citing current pressures such as overcapacity and rising costs, as well as a “subdued macroeconomic outlook” and lower volume demands for the coming years. As Reuters reports, the company controls roughly one-sixth of global container trade, and it transports goods for major retailers and consumer goods companies such as Walmart and Nike. Despite investing in new containerships to meet record freight rates during the pandemic, the company says it is now expecting global container volumes in its ocean business to fall by up to 2 percent this year as the industry adjusts to weakened consumer demand.

Design consultancy Ideo has announced that it will lay off 125 employees—roughly 32 percent of the company’s global workforce—by the end of the year, Fast Company reports. The cuts were the latest in a series of reductions at the company over the last few years, which has taken Ideo’s employee number down from 725 in 2020 to around 500 today. According to CEO Derek Robson, the consultancy’s main challenges include heightened economic strain along with the widespread adoption of the “design thinking” process originated by Ideo—which produced ideas like Ikea’s Kitchen of the Future and the minimalist Simplisafe security system.

Launches and Collaborations

Bed, bath and apparel brand Coyuchi teamed up with lighting, hardware and home furnishings brand Rejuvenation to debut a collection of duvet covers, shams and rugs. The product assortment nods to nature’s beauty, complete with an earthy color palette and several hand-crafted pieces—such as wool and jute rugs—that are unaltered and undyed to showcase their natural state.

Luxury real estate surges, WeWork files for Chapter 11 and more
Anthropologie tapped Catherine Martin for a collection of homeware inspired by her theatrical design workCourtesy of Anthropologie

Anthropologie tapped Academy Award–winning costume, film, stage and interior designer Catherine Martin (you’ve seen her work in films like Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby and Elvis) for a homeware collaboration spanning dishware, stemware, barware, candles, textiles, stationery and more. The 47-piece collection draws inspiration from the opulence of the art deco movement, incorporating bold geometric designs, recurring motifs and striking hues.

Spanish porcelain brand Lladró joined forces with New York–based Nigerian artist Láolú Senbanjo for a collection called The Dreamer. The limited-edition launch includes two figurative sculptures in black with gold luster, an homage to Yoruba body-painting rituals.

Recommended Reading

In the decades since the social media industry first emerged, its economic impact has continued on a path of exponential growth—expected to increase from a value of $250 billion this year to $480 billion by 2027—though regulations and protections for creators still lag far behind. As Drew Harwell and Taylor Lorenz write for The Washington Post, the U.S. Census Bureau’s industry index (which informs decisions on government spending and policy) still lacks a category for content creation, even as 50 million people around the world currently work as creators. As such, few rules exist to protect online workers, and the industry continues to become more complex in the meantime, with creators morphing from one-person operations into so-called “content machines.”

Cardboard’s role in the home has long been relegated to packing and moving rather than long-term, permanent use—but that might be changing. As Francesca Perry writes for CNN, designers today are turning their attention to the material as a rediscovered source of sustainable home furnishings, picking up where past experimental projects from famed architects like Frank Gehry and Shigeru Ban left off.

Cue the Applause

KAI founder and chairman Michael Kennedy Sr. was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award during Construction Inclusion Week at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, Missouri. Inspired by the work of African American architect Charles Fleming in his Richmond Heights neighborhood, Kennedy enrolled in Washington University’s architecture program in 1969, and went on to become the first African American architect registered in the state of Missouri. After founding KAI in 1980, he grew the business alongside his oldest son, Michael Kennedy Jr., to become one of the largest minority-owned architecture, engineering and construction firms in the country, with more than 150 employees across four offices and a host of notable projects—including the St. Louis City Justice Center, the St. Louis Metro Light Rail Stations, and the Clyde C. Miller Career Academy.

Los Angeles–based woodworker, artist and educator Sarah Watlington has been named the recipient of the 2023 John D. Mineck Fellowship, which grants $25,000 to an early-career furniture artist. Watlington is a project manager at the Offerman Woodshop (a collective founded by actor and woodworker Nick Offerman) with a specialty interest in blending sound and sculpture by creating bespoke record players. She plans to use the funds to invest in studio tools and continue her education in audio and electrical engineering and large ceramic sculpture.

Call for Entries

The Network of Executive Women in Hospitality is now seeking mentees for the Martha’s Mentors Program, a 10-month initiative designed to connect aspiring professionals in the hospitality industry with accomplished mentors in the field, providing opportunities for career advancement, leadership skill development, industry knowledge and networking. Named in memory of industry veteran and former board member Martha Tillim, the program is open to active members of NEWH with less than five years of experience in the industry. For more information, click here.

The James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation is now accepting applications for the Fitch Fellowships. Applicants may apply for one of three available research grants: the Fitch Mid-Career Fellowship, which awards up to $15,000 to a professional who has an academic background and professional experience in historic preservation, architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, environmental planning, architectural history or the decorative arts; the Richard L. Blinder Award, which gives up to $15,000 to an architect or other professional in a related historic preservation field for a proposal exploring architecture and preservation; and the Samuel H. Kress Mid-Career Fellowship, which awards up to $15,000 to a professional whose research aligns with the mission of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in the context of historic preservation in the United States. For more information or to apply before the December 13 deadline, click here.

NeoCon is now accepting proposals for on-site and virtual programming for its annual event, set to take place from June 10 to 12, 2024, at The Mart in Chicago. Proposals will be considered for continuing education unit sessions across a range of categories, including workplace, health care, hospitality, wellness, technology, sustainability, and diversity, equity and inclusion. To submit an application before the January 15 deadline, click here.

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