news digest | Jan 23, 2024 |
Williams-Sonoma CEO embraces AI, why sofas don’t last as long as they used to

This week in design, quiet luxury may be more within reach after one creator in a now-viral TikTok video claimed to have discovered its latest signifier: sofas that don’t touch a wall. Stay in the know with our weekly roundup of headlines, launches, events, recommended reading and more.

Business News

Wayfair laid off 13 percent of its global workforce—or 1,650 employees—last week. CEO Niraj Shah said the company needed to make the cuts due to having gone “overboard” with hiring during the pandemic’s furniture-buying boom. As we reported last week, this marks the latest in a series of layoffs the e-commerce giant has implemented in the wake of the pandemic, after a reduction of 1,750 jobs at the start of 2023 and 870 jobs in the summer of 2022. The news also follows a mediocre third-quarter performance for the company, which included a net loss of $163 million as well as declines in active customers and net revenue per active customer. In a statement, Shah maintained a positive outlook and said that the brand was now on the path to profitability.

Karat Home, a Texas-based home textile and furniture e-commerce company, has acquired Z Gallerie’s e-commerce assets out of bankruptcy in a transaction that was finalized on January 19, Home Furnishings Business reports. The announcement comes several months after the home decor brand filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-October (its second in less than two years and third since 2009) and began the process of closing its stores. Now that the purchase is finalized, Karat Home will begin integrating Z Gallerie’s e-commerce arm into its operations.

While other home goods retailers have faced a slump following the decline of pandemic momentum, Williams-Sonoma has held its ground: Shares of the company rose more than 65 percent in the last year and over 280 percent in the last five years, Yahoo reports. At this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, CEO Laura Alber attributed the success to the company’s position on pricing, which she says has been to avoid markdowns and focus on profitability even when sales struggle. While Williams-Sonoma’s revenue fell 14.6 percent year over year as of its last quarterly reporting, that rate still marks a nearly 35 percent improvement compared to four years ago. According to Alber, the company is also interested in utilizing artificial intelligence for tasks like copywriting, improving customer service and optimizing its supply chain.

Buffalo, New York–based family-owned retailer Scherer’s Furniture announced late last week that it will close permanently and begin a liquidation process, Furniture Today reports. Since its founding in 1897, the company has passed through five generations of the Scherer family, offering brands such as Howard Miller, Gat Creek, McKinley Leather while operating a 15,000-square-foot retail space. Planned Furniture Promotions will handle the company’s going-out-of-business sales, and father-and-son co-owners Fred and Jim Scherer plan to retire following the closure.

Two prominent real estate figures—Jason Haber, a New York agent with Compass, and Mauricio Umansky, a Los Angeles–based celebrity agent and founder of luxury brokerage The Agency—are launching a new trade association to compete with the National Association of Realtors, The New York Times reports. Longtime critics of the NAR, which has recently faced antitrust lawsuits and sexual harassment allegations, Haber and Umansky had originally planned to launch their alternative group at a later date but moved up the announcement in the wake of the NAR’s tumultuous year and recent leadership changes. The new group, called the American Real Estate Association, will offer a nationwide database of home listings as an alternative to NAR’s, and will allow agents to set their own commission rates without requiring cooperation between buyer and seller agents. The group doesn’t plan to charge for membership for another six months at least—and when they do, they plan to set dues between $400 and $500, or half of what agents currently pay to NAR and their state and local Realtor organizations.

Condé Nast union workers walked off the job this week to protest the publisher’s “unlawful bargaining tactics during layoff negotiations,” Axios reports. Roughly 400 members are expected to strike, representing workers from publications like Architectural Digest, Vogue and Vanity Fair. The protest follows the company’s announcement last fall that it would let go approximately 5 percent of staff, or around 300 people—a process that saw music outlet Pitchfork folded into GQ last week, resulting in layoffs for more than half of the online publication’s staff. Following the initial layoff announcement, The NewsGuild of New York filed an unfair labor practice charge against Condé Nast, alleging the publisher violated labor laws when it countered a severance proposal with an amount that was half of the initial payout offer.

TikTok’s skyrocketing success may be slowing down, TechCrunch reports. According to new data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the platform’s monthly active users grew an average of 3 percent year over year in 2023—falling from 12 percent in 2022. While the app topped the charts for most downloads and consumer spending last year, it fell behind in actual usage, coming in at No. 5 behind the Meta-owned Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. The app’s slowed growth coincides with the debut of TikTok Shop, which began rolling out in late 2022 before an official launch last September. As Business Insider reports, the new e-commerce feature drew backlash from users for making the platform appear “dystopian.”

Canadian dining and accent furniture manufacturer Amisco Industries has entered into a financial partnership with a group of Quebec-based investors led by private equity firms Champlain Financial Corporation and Fondaction, which have obtained an ownership stake in the company, Home News Now reports. Amisco CEO and chairman Réjean Poitras, a third-generation leader of the company, will begin handing over his day-to-day responsibilities to president and chief operating officer Luc Robitaille in the coming months as he transitions to an advisory role.

The IRS recently announced a new slate of online features rolling out in 2024, including a business tax account system that will allow companies to check their tax records and make payments virtually—a feature previously only accessible to individual taxpayers and solo entrepreneurs, Inc reports. Launched last month, the latest phase of the rollout now allows individual members of business partnerships and shareholders of S corporations to become eligible for a business tax account, Forbes reports. The initiative is in keeping with the IRS’s ongoing effort to modernize and improve its processes for business taxpayers, including additional online features designed to reduce paper-based filings.

Launches & Collaborations

Williams-Sonoma CEO embraces AI, why sofas don’t last as long as they used to
Laura Ashley partners with ScentifoliaCourtesy of Laura Ashley

Lifestyle brand Carolina Irving & Daughters tapped New York designer Remy Renzullo for a floral-patterned ceramic collection. Hand-painted in Portugal, each piece draws inspiration from 18th and 19th century French and English ceramics, which the Irvings and Renzullo have spent the past two years collecting. The result is an assortment of dinner and dessert plates, bowls and serving platters available in a dusty pink and pale brown colorway.

British lifestyle brand Laura Ashley debuted a new partnership with Scentifolia, a U.S.–based provider of farm-to-door fresh-cut flowers. The collaboration features the introduction of newly designed arrangements that nod to the heritage home brand’s flowery prints and color palettes.

Danish luxury audio brand Bang & Olufsen has revealed a new collaboration with Grammy Award–winning American bassist and experimental musician MonoNeon. Tasked with reinterpreting the brand’s Beosound A9 home speaker to reflect his own artistic approach, MonoNeon’s design features a colorful embroidery-style patchwork meant to depict the bold compositions featured in his work.


The San Francisco Decorator Showcase has announced the list of 24 designers selected to re-create this year’s venue—an 1899 Dutch Colonial mansion in Pacific Heights with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay. The cohort chosen to design the 11,155-square-foot home’s 27 spaces includes Tineke Triggs, Nancy Evars, Jay Jeffers, Katie Monkhouse. The 45th annual showhouse will be open to the public from April 27 to May 27, with proceeds benefiting San Francisco University High School’s financial aid program.

Recommended Reading

Pancaked cushions, loose buttons, squeaky springs—many consumers say the signs of a well-worn sofa are now appearing much faster than they once did. Has the quality of retail upholstery gone south? For The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Wolfe explores why a crowded market, costlier materials and fast-moving trends are contributing to the growing problem of short-lived sofas, and dissects how to tell a shoddy piece from one that will last a lifetime.

The term blue zone—originally coined for global locales where the population has higher-than-average rates of longevity—has become a wellness buzzword in recent years, strengthened by the debut of an initiative that allows U.S. cities and towns to become designated blue zones based on healthy lifestyle criteria such as regular exercise, plant-based meals and community ties. As Jane Margolies writes for The New York Times, the real estate industry has seized upon the certification as a useful marketing tool—but with projects like a luxury condo community applying the term to its med spa, the concept has quickly blurred into a gray area.

Cue the Applause
Home furnishings network ART announced the winners of the 34th annual ARTS Awards, honoring manufacturers, retailers, sales representatives and designers for their contributions to the home accents industry. This year’s list includes Laguna Beach, California–based Lisa McDennon for interior design; and both Dann Foley and Jill Seale project design. For the full list of winners, click here.

The Expert revealed its inaugural Top 40 list, representing the top 20 percent of performers on its platform based on data about design consultations, reviews and search volume. The list also breaks down top experts by region, naming Jake Arnold for the West Coast; Heidi Caillier for the Northwest; Jean Stoffer for the Midwest; The Misfit House for the South; and Zoë Feldman for the East Coast. Last but not least, London-based Rebecca Wakefield has been named top international expert, while Jessica Helgerson nabbed No. 1 new expert of 2023. For the full list, click here.

The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show announced the finalists of the 2024 Best of KBIS Awards, which honors the best products across the industry as judged by a panel of five interior designers. The cohort includes 49 finalists across seven categories—including game-changing innovation, most functional find, bathroom style statement, kitchen style statement, wellness trailblazer, sustainability standout, and best in show. The winners will be announced during the trade show on February 28. For the full list of finalists, click here.

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