In a Co-Everything World, Standards Become King

Staying on top of the latest design trends can feel like a full-time job. Not to mention the work it takes to, you know, actually implement the trends. Yet when clients make it easy by telling you EXACTLY what they want, the job should be simple…or should it? Abby Leopold, lead creator at Curate, a division of Level Reps, shares that the number-one request she gets from clients can subsequently lead to the number-one pitfall for any designer. As she puts it, “Nearly every client I speak with says, ‘We want the WeWork look.’ If it doesn’t have that residential, lived-in feel, then it feels stuffy or dated.”

But Leopold cautions that this residential look, while rather in vogue and on trend, can lead to tremendous problems down the road if not implemented correctly. And, interestingly, she suggests that a look at the world of co-living provides indicators as to why this resimercial trend should be approached with caution.

We’re transitioning into a co-everything society

With the millennial generation taking over more and more of our population cohort, design trends are lending themselves to the desires of the next generation. Millennials have shifted society dramatically—they are driving the movement to cut cable by opting for subscription-based television programming, they flipped the taxi market on its head with the adoption of Uber, and now they’re transitioning the rental market with the concept of co-living. One popular co-living company, Quarters, provides occupants the option to obtain fully furnished housing in bustling metro areas. Loaded with perks like flexible lease terms and overall lower cost because all utilities and furnishing expenses are included, co-living gives the millennial generation the benefits of upper-crust living while offering perhaps a subtle hint of the dorm life they recently transitioned from.

Quarters offers co-living spaces with refined shared spaces design to promote flow and flexibly. Photography courtesy of Quarters.

Leopold explains that she feels this trend is here to stay. “Co-living is the next big thing—it offers furnished apartments where tenants have their own room and then they share the kitchen and bathroom,” she adds. “Other options are more of a dorm-like setting where they are basically low-rent, small apartments with huge amenities and social spaces. Yet all of these spaces are dedicated to bringing communities together. The co-living movement is capitalizing on the idea that millennials want to have a community and college-like experience.”

She suggests that the drive for co-everything stemmed from the rise in co-working. People see the number of amenities afforded by shared spaces and want to implement that process in their personal life. But, like anything in design, or life, the smart implementers are proceeding with caution.

Leopold continues, “This new brand of ‘co’ means that everything is going direct—procurement, design, etc. So, what does that mean for commercial-grade furniture? Will we start to see companies like Wayfair offering more contract furniture? And how will designers adapt?”

History shows that commercial will always be king

Leopold recalls an example of a company that attempted the residential look with noncommercial brands. “I worked on a co-living furnished apartment complex in Miami,” she shares. “It was designed for post college-aged occupants and had a lot of residential-grade furniture. The look was fabulous and mirrored the exact appearance, price point, and lead time desired by the developer and their clientele. Yet three months in, some of the furniture had already been destroyed. I was brought in to fix the project, and it became clear that it was not designed with pieces that met code or intended for the wear and tear that traditional spaces of this caliber and use would maintain. We ended up having to scrap everything for commercial-grade pieces.”

Prior to purchasing the products, Leopold advised the client on the differences between contract-grade and residential furniture. And despite feeling like a broken record, Leopold recalls that the client did listen but assumed the risks anyway. After several pieces broke, the client contacted Leopold for replacements and agreed that all future project schedules would accommodate the lead time needed to secure contract-grade furniture. Leopold adds that because she set expectations with the residential-grade choices ahead of time, the replacement was not a surprise to the client. She continues, “Some pieces were still under a retailer’s limited warranty; some just needed to be repurchased or replaced. But in the end, education is key in furniture. You have to educate your client and stay educated yourself. There are so many options today for clients to choose from. Helping them navigate the path of choices is an unbeatable service that clients [end users, dealers, designers] need and want.”

And as Leopold suggests, this trend of residential-grade furniture will continue until commercial-grade furniture becomes easier to procure. “People choose residential brands not only because they mimic the look clients want but also because they are easy to get. Let’s face it, the buying process is complicated for contract, and on the commercial side, we need to find a way to insert ourselves into the coworking model.”

One way that clients can simplify the procurement of contract grade is through services like Curate from Level. While the company was founded with the intent of making spaces feel special, its underlying principles reside in the value of contract-grade furniture. The company exists to come in at any stage of the process, from RFP to renderings and through to install. And all suggestions are designed with standards in mind, even when the intent is to save money.

Websites like Curate from Level exemplify the need for contract-grade standards in commercial settings. Image courtesy of Curate.

Leopold explains, “Curate is a service offered by Level reps to help simplify the specification process by partnering with dealers and designers alike. We sell through the traditional channels while the actual procurement is done through other channels, specifically dealers. We are here to ensure dealers/designers can look at specifications in a holistic manner.”

As co-everything continues to storm design trends across the board, this willingness to pull all resources in a shared-sandbox sort of environment ensures the best result for the end user, while also respecting the needs of the traditional contract furniture manufacturing lines. Curate is leading the charge by quietly disrupting the landscape by navigating change in a way that adds value to not only the client but also the manufacturer and the dealer. Leopold simply puts it this way: “Through this consultative-based rep group service, we align dealers/designers with the best-suited contract-grade manufacturers. That solution might be from one of our aligned manufacturers; it might not be. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the client is getting the best possible result. And at the same time, our dealer/designer partners look to us as a trusted resource to ensure that they have an alliance to explore all contract options.”

This article originally was published in Bellow Press and was reposted here with permissions.

Amanda Schneider is President of ThinkLab, the research division of Interior DesignMedia. At ThinkLab, we combine Interior DesignMedia’s incredible reach within the architecture and design community with proven market research techniques to uncover relevant trends and opportunities that connect back to brand and business goals in a thought-provoking, creative, and actionable way. Join in to know what’s next at thinklab.design/join-in.

Read more: Boost Attraction & Retention Through Design Inspiration Catering to Gen Z

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