year in review | Dec 23, 2020 |
The biggest stories of 2020

Let’s face it: Years from now when we look back on 2020, we’ll mostly be thinking of one big story—you know the one. But while we’re still in it, it’s worth acknowledging that 2020 was a busy year for the design industry, even without a pandemic to grapple with. Here we’ve rounded up the news stories that defined the last 12 months. Consider it a cheat sheet for a year you may hope to forget.

Chairish has a big year
Last year Chairish made a splash by acquiring Dering Hall—turns out they were just getting started. In the early months of 2020 the company announced it would be consolidating all three brands (Chairish, DECASO and Dering Hall) under the Chairish banner, and making the site fully transactional, much like well-funded competitor 1stdibs. Then, in the fall, Chairish made another big announcement: It had netted $33 million in a round of funding, bringing the company’s total raise to $50 million. “In an industry that’s growing as quickly as the design industry, it’s not time to focus on being wildly profitable,” co-founder and CEO Gregg Brockway told BOH at the time. “It’s time to invest in the tools that will get you there.”

Donghia goes down
It was an open secret in the design industry that iconic trade brand Donghia had long been looking for a buyer, but it still shocked many when the company abruptly shuttered its doors and laid off most of its staff in late March. Soon after, the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, revealing over $10 million in debt. In the fall, the company’s assets went to auction—Kravet snapped up Donghia for $1.4 million, while Scalamandré acquired the Hinson brand for $325,000.

Everything is canceled
The earliest sign that COVID would upend the design industry was the trickle of event postponements and cancellations that quickly turned into a tidal wave. It started with Salone del Mobile. Then came Legends of La Cienega, and the AD Design Show. Eventually even High Point pulled the plug on its rescheduled summer edition of Spring Market, and everyone’s calendar was empty for the first half of the year. Those who were able made a pivot to virtual, resulting in some fun innovations (hello, VR showhouses) and some not-so-fun reality checks (hello, Zoom fatigue).

Designers grapple with COVID
It wasn’t just events that were canceled. In the early months of the pandemic, projects everywhere were put on pause or stopped outright, and designers’ relationships with their clients were tested in new ways. Then, as the panic settled, mass shelter-in-place orders kicked off a flurry of home renovation projects. Suddenly many designers had the opposite problem: figuring out how to stay on top of incoming leads, get ahead of massive delays in the supply side, vet stable vendors, work safely in person, and work effectively online. In short, it’s been a year of industry-wide change and learning to adapt to survive and thrive amid the chaos.

A reckoning with racism
The killing of George Floyd in May ignited protests across the country—and a reckoning with racism in all corners of American society. The design industry was no exception. On virtual panels, in private conversations, through DMs and out in the open, the trade grappled with racial inequity in its ranks. Two industry groups—the Black Artists + Designers Guild and the Black Interior Designers Network—led the way, hosting powerful talks and releasing guidelines for those who wish to be better allies. The conversation was raw, but of course the underlying issues are anything but new. In a study widely publicized this summer, furniture designer (and BADG member) Jomo Tariku showed that the furniture industry has long been a shockingly inequitable one.

Media Musical Chairs
This year saw plenty of change in the upper echelons of the design media world. It started in January when longtime Hearst publishing executive Kate Kelly Smith moved to Sandow to become president of Luxe and chief sales officer for the company’s design brand portfolio (which got a little slimmer when Galerie left Sandow for Aspire in the fall). Then in the spring, Whitney Robinson stepped down as the editor in chief of Elle Decor—his replacement, former Curbed deputy editor Asad Syrkett, was announced in September.

Also on the go: Galerie CRO Beth Brenner left for cabinetry brand Semihandmade; Architectural Digest digital director Keith Pollock decamped to West Elm; and former Curbed editor in chief Kelsey Keith was named editorial director of Herman Miller.

Wayfair makes good
Online furniture giant Wayfair (and its high-end sister site Perigold) has long been a disruptive force in the home industry—but it had never earned a profit since going public in 2014. This year, as shelter-in-place orders kept Americans cooped up in their homes, looking for a refresh but unable to shop in person, Wayfair saw its numbers explode. In the second quarter, its revenue jumped a staggering 84 percent, and the company earned a profit for the first time in its history. Investors took notice, sending the stock price up over 700 percent. (Wayfair wasn’t the only home stock to take off: Home Depot and RH also hit all-time highs.)

Money moves
For many sectors of the economy, 2020 was a trainwreck. The home world, mercifully, experienced something of a boom. And despite a rollercoastering stock market, our industry raised plenty of capital. Early in the year, Sandow-owned, robot-powered sampling platform Material Bank raked in $28 million while Italian craft e-comm platform Artemest netted $5 million. Over the summer, subscription furniture company Fernish raised $15 million to help grow its platform; in the fall, Byron and Dexter Peart’s ethically minded e-commerce destination Goodee brought in $1.5 million, and trade show disruptor Faire raised a gargantuan $170 million.

Then of course there were the IPOs. At the beginning of the year, DTC mattress giant Casper was widely perceived to be something of a flop, and the year hasn’t been kind to the stock (it’s down to $7 from an initial price of $12). The big winner was Airbnb, which, despite the cratered travel industry, saw its stock double the day of the IPO, surging the company’s valuation to almost $100 billion.

Homepage photo: ©RomanWhale Studio | Adobe Stock

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