news digest | Feb 6, 2024 |
The housing market wakes up, AI dream homes flood Instagram, and more

This week in design, Costco’s return policy was put to the test after one shopper brought back her three-year-old sofa for a full refund, and with good reason: “I just didn’t like it anymore,” she said in a now-viral TikTok video. Stay in the know with our weekly roundup of headlines, launches, events, recommended reading and more.

Business News
Home buyers and sellers may have kept the market in a stalemate last year, but falling mortgage rates during the first month of 2024 have prompted activity to finally pick up again, The Wall Street Journal reports. Real estate showings in the last week of January are up nearly 10 percent from the first week of the year, according to market tracker ShowingTime, a subsidiary of Zillow. Sales activity is also up: Mortgage applications reached their highest level since April 2023 in the third week of January. Plus, more inventory may also be on the way, as active listings last month were up from a year earlier, and their typical time on the market decreased, according to Realtor.com.

Chicago-based home furniture retailer The RoomPlace has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Home News Now reports. The company will begin by closing eight stores in outlying markets, including six locations in the Indianapolis area, one in Wisconsin and another in Illinois. Its 18 Chicago-area stores will remain open. According to the company’s filing, it currently has liabilities between $1 million and $10 million and more than 200 individual creditors. CEO Bruce Berman told HNN that the filing came in response to slumping retail sales throughout the industry and that he hopes the restructuring will secure The RoomPlace’s long-term stability.

Rochester, New York–based furniture retailer Ruby-Gordon Home will close later this year, just a few months after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Furniture Today reports. The business was founded in 1936 by Frank Ruby, who went on to hand leadership over to his son Ray Ruby before grandson Aaron Ruby took over nearly a decade ago. In a LinkedIn post, Aaron Ruby announced the company’s closure: “The decision to admit defeat and relinquish control was not an easy one, but it is one I have grown to accept. … I have learned more and done more in business in the past 10 years than most people get exposed to in a lifetime and for that I will be forever grateful.”

Millennials may now outnumber baby boomers—making up 28 percent of the U.S. population compared to the boomers’ 27 percent—but the older generation’s empty nesters still own the biggest share of the country’s large homes, The New York Times reports. A recent study by Redfin found that baby-boomer households with no children living at home own 28 percent of the nation’s large homes, while millennial households with children own just 14 percent. Falling behind those groups, Gen Xers with children own 12 percent of larger homes, and Gen Z households with children own 0.2 percent. The numbers may be a result of the current housing market, with high home prices and interest rates making those who have already paid off their mortgages (half of baby boomers) wary of buying again.

Zillow has launched Listing Showcase, a new home tour app on Apple Vision Pro—the tech giant’s new mixed reality headset—that allows users to experience virtual walkthroughs and interactive 3D floor plans of its home listings. With the headset’s spatial technology, users can virtually walk through the rooms of a for-sale home, complete with 360-degree views and an AI-generated floor plan. With the debut of the app, Zillow joins Planner 5D and Lowe’s in being among the first home brands to explore offerings on Apple Vision Pro.

Environmental claims deemed misleading—including terms like climate neutral or carbon neutral—will be banned in the EU by 2026, The Guardian reports. The decision comes after members of the European Parliament voted last week to regulate the use of terms like environmentally friendly or biodegradable without approved certification, which the group described as “misleading advertising.” The directive will also prevent corporations from purchasing carbon offset credits to substantiate such claims, because among the industry’s largest credit providers, the practice has been found to be ineffective and even harmful to the environment.

Last year the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sparked controversy after announcing that the government would consider a ban on new gas stoves. As CNN reports, standards released by the U.S. Energy Department last week revealed that an all-out ban is not going to happen: The agency found that 97 percent of gas stoves on the market already meet its new standards for energy efficiency. In fact, the regulations will apply more to electric stoves, ensuring that all new models use at least 30 percent less energy than the lowest-performing models out today (77 percent already fall within that range). The Biden administration says the new standards will decrease carbon emissions by about 4 million tons over the next three decades, while saving consumers $1.6 billion on utility bills.

The housing market wakes up, AI dream homes flood Instagram, and more
Bedding from the Anthropologie x Katie Hodges collectionCourtesy of Anthropologie x Katie Hodges

In other environmental news, Ikea appears to be making strides toward reaching its own sustainability goals, having reduced its total climate footprint by 22 percent compared to its 2016 baseline, Retail Dive reports. According to the retailer, an increase in renewable electricity across retail and production facilities contributed to the reduction, along with lower production volumes and improved energy efficiency in its lighting. The company still has a ways to go before reaching its new goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain by 2030 and reaching net-zero status by 2050, in accordance with standards set by the Science Based Targets initiative.

Amazon has debuted a new generative AI-powered shopping assistant called Rufus. Trained on the platform’s product catalog and information scoured from across the web, the AI tool will be able to answer context-dependent questions like “What to consider when buying headphones?” or “What do I need to start an indoor garden?” The feature launched last week in beta to a small subset of Amazon customers and will become available to additional U.S. users in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Etsy has also made a foray into AI shopping assistance with a new service called Gift Mode, Retail Dive reports. The service utilizes AI to curate gift ideas based on information about the recipient, including their relationship to the gift giver, the occasion and general interests.

Launches & Collaborations
Anthropologie collaborated with Los Angeles designer Katie Hodges for a 35-piece collection of bedroom, living room and bathroom furnishings. Hodges set out to create a convergence of warmth and functionality, relying primarily on soft neutrals, organic shapes and natural textures to provide a sense of coziness alongside her signature California-cool aesthetic.

Travel + Leisure has partnered with luxury bedding and linen company Sobel Westex for a line of home textiles. The new line draws inspiration from global locales like Lisbon, Santorini and Mumbai, bringing a mix of sleek neutral hues and vibrant saturated colors to items ranging from duvet covers to bath towels, throws and sheets.

WallPops tapped style icon and television host RuPaul for its latest peel-and-stick wallpaper collection. Self-expression and community served as the driving forces behind the new line, which features 16 styles, including art deco, animal prints, floral patterns, and minimalist earth-tone designs.

Samsung teamed up with Marimekko to offer 40 of the Finnish design house’s prints to owners of The Frame TV. Available through the Samsung Art Store, the introductions will include bold works like designer Maija Isola’s famous Unikko pattern, along with a new range of limited-edition accessories also available in the iconic floral print.

The housing market wakes up, AI dream homes flood Instagram, and more
A print from the Samsung and Marimekko partnershipCourtesy of Samsung and Marimekko

The 2024 Southern Living Idea House will take place in a 4,400-square-foot historic farmhouse in the waterfront Kiawah River community, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. After being transformed by a group of top designers, the space will open to the public for tours from August to December 2024. This year’s showhouse will also include a new feature: shoppable experiences for visitors.

Recommended Reading
On Instagram, accounts like @tinyhouseperfect present a portfolio of homes—often ones that are perched on coastal cliffs or within leafy forests, with interiors featuring every must-have Pinterest trend from clawfoot tubs to floor-to-ceiling bookshelves—that seem too good to be real. As it turns out, they’re not: A growing number of accounts are showcasing AI-generated homes, representing interior aesthetics distilled into their most algorithm-friendly form. As Amanda Hess writes for The New York Times, the rise of AI image generation has led to an entirely new catalog of dream home inspiration—fantasy spaces that take the decadeslong tradition of “housing voyeurism” to a new extreme.

Long gone are the days when closets simply served as extra storage space. Today, top-of-the-line custom ones can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000. (At the furthest end of the spectrum, one designer recently surpassed $1 million on a two-story closet complete with a spray-tan booth and elevator.) As Sarah Paynter writes for The Wall Street Journal, today’s high-end homeowners are upping their closet’s square footage and turning the area into a veritable living and entertaining space, in keeping with a broader industry trend that’s seen closet sizes—and design budgets—boom in recent years.

Cue the Applause
Peter Pennoyer has been named the winner of the 2024 Richard H. Driehaus Prize, which awards $200,000 annually to a major contributor to the field of architecture. This year’s jury selected Pennoyer based on his commitment to classical architecture, preservation, urbanism and historiography over his 30-year career in the industry.

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