After more than a decade spent chasing Millennial consumers, it may seem as though the furniture industry has become somewhat mired in Mid-Century Modern design.
Yet, while the near-ubiquitous style category plays well on the internet, interior and household goods designer Christiane Lemieux says, “the hilarious thing is that Mid-Century Modern is not the prevailing aesthetic in the U.S. When we looked at the data at Wayfair, there were far more people who wanted transitional and traditional than Mid-Century Modern.”
Lemieux would know. Currently Co-founder and Chief Executive of The Inside, a digitally native, direct-to-consumer home furnishings company, as well as the creative force behind her namesake design house Lemieux et Cie, she formerly served as Founder and Creative Director of DwellStudio, a leading-edge fashion and home design brand that was eventually purchased by Wayfair.
“Listen, DwellStudio was Mid-Century before anybody,” she acknowledges. “But that was 15 years ago. There is so much Mid-Century on the market now, and with so many hacking at the same aesthetic, at every price point, from the high end to the low end, they’ve left so much on the table.”
You Say You’ve Got a Real Solution
Despite the industry’s preoccupation, Millennial shoppers, Lemieux believes, “don’t necessarily want Mid-Century Modern. They want personal. If you think about the Millennial customer, you’re thinking social media first. They are creating a backdrop for their lives. So, what they want, I think, is great design at a great price point that allows them to personalize their own spaces. I think we’re moving away from a world in which the industry dictates what people want to a world where people dictate what the industry does. And I think people want much more personal spaces.”
For this reason, at The Inside, “there isn’t one prevailing aesthetic. We were very, very careful and very, very thoughtful about speaking to everybody, whether you’re Bohemian, or LA cool, or New York pulled together. You can call the trend whatever you want, but I say it’s time to get rid of all the labels. Design can be you, and it should be you; it should be what you feel comfortable with because it is the backdrop of your life, and I don’t think it has to fit into a narrow aesthetic.”
What shoppers do find is color, because “beige is not going to play well on your Instagram page. If your home is the backdrop of your life, and you’re taking pictures of your babies, beige is not going to be all that great. Everybody is their own personal brand now and I think that they want to show people what great taste they have, how personal their space is, and how clever they are in their sense of design.
“There is so much at stake now for this generation in terms of how they present themselves to the general public,” the executive says. “Millennials really curate what they put out into the world, and as they move from makeup and fashion into their home, this is going to be something that people share and talk about all the time because they’re starting to buy their homes, and they’re starting to think about what their spaces look like. This is about timing too. This is why I’m saying to the industry, ‘Look up, right now, because this is what’s happening right now. This is how important decor is going to be.’”
You Tell Me That It’s Evolution
Interior designer Philip Gulotta, based in Greenwich, CT, is known for creating deft mashups of traditional and modern design with approachable sophistication. With a client list that stretches from Manhattan to the Hamptons, he has honed his sense of style working with prominent firms like Tsao & McKown Architects and Brian J. McCarthy Inc.
Prior to that, Gulotta worked in visual display and design for Baker Furniture’s showroom channel, where he was tapped for his ability to mix pieces from all of the company’s collections — Bill Sofield, Barbara Barry, Archetype and more — in a way that elevated the entire showroom experience. Last month at High Point Market, he worked his particular brand of magic inside the Alden Parkes “Showhouse Within a Showroom” concept, demonstrating his now signature mix of new and vintage pieces by interpreting the company’s Modern Glamour theme.
Not too surprisingly then, collecting authentic Mid-Century Modern pieces is one of the designer’s personal passions. “I’ve been collecting it forever, and I still love it,” Gulotta says. “But everyone has knocked off and knocked off and most have not knocked off well. When the big box retailers are doing it, and everything looks alike to the point that Mid-Century Modern is practically a household phrase wherever you go, as much as I love it and collect it, I think it’s time to move beyond the 1950s.”
Indeed, the decades Gulotta sees influencing design now are the late 1970s (think the glory days of Studio 54) and early 1980s. “All of the glamour is back, even in architecture. There were some beautiful houses built with flat roofs and big windows back then that feel very modern now, as does some of the Mastercraft furniture, the ‘70s stuff that has the little Asian thing going on with the brass, and mirrors. Lots of mirrors.”
Decadent materials, too, are on the rise. “Kelly Wearstler, as an example, is just killing it. I think we’re heading for that ‘glammy’ period, and it’s going to be kind of sleek and sexy. People are embracing color again, as well as a mix with more layers. Personally, I love mixing metals and styles ranging all over the board. For me it’s about odd shapes, proportion and material, not so much about where it’s from or a specific period or style. It’s about marrying clean lines and cool pieces together.”
You Better Free Your Mind
“I think we’re harkening back to an older style, but it’s not Mad Men or Mid-Century Modern,” says Hilton Head Island-based interior designer Hannah Fulton Toney, who has been a designer with J. Banks Design Group for 16 years and also serves as the primary buyer for the J. Banks Design retail store. She is known for classic taste combined with a deep understanding of current trends.
In the high-end resort and residential communities in which she works throughout the Southeast, Toney says, “It’s getting frillier. Your grandmother’s patterns and colors are in again, and we’re seeing not so much opulence but a lot less clean lines. People aren’t afraid to do more pleats, more tufting, more ruffles, more florals and more nail heads. They are not afraid to layer on three pillows instead of one.”
Rather than “really slick and modern now, we’re seeing more detail,” the designer shares. “It’s not heavy, in the way of carvings and things, but there is more bamboo detailing, more of a Chippendale style, some old Hollywood Regency kind of things that are a little bit more ornate in nature. We really are seeing the minimalistic approach kind of slip out the door. People are really interested in gorgeous layering of colors, textures and patterns more than ever before.”
Toney too suggests social media is at the root of the shift in taste. “It goes back to what they are seeing on Instagram, who they are following and what’s going on, especially where we are,” she relates. “I’ve only had one project recently where we dove into Mid-Century; otherwise, we’re not there. A lot of people will add in an accent piece or two, but it really doesn’t fit a lot of peoples’ lifestyles to do a whole house in that low, sleek style. It’s become too saturated and when it’s all you see, it’s boring. People are ready for something new.”