Shifting Sands

interior design, the American economy, and Newell Turner


As reported in an article in Friday’s New York Times, the unemployment rate has fallen below 8% – the lowest it’s been in the Obama presidency.  It’s just the latest in a string of economic reports showing a turn upward.  Is the ‘Great Recession’ finally over?  And will the interior design industry ever be the same?

Also in the news this week, Hearst Publications announced the consolidation of its 3 shelter glossies under the umbrella ‘Hearst Design Group‘, with Newell Turner as its over-arching Editor-in-Chief.  Newell and I have been friends for 15 years, so my opinion’s biased.  I wish him nothing but the best, and firmly believe he is going to continue to excel at Hearst in his new position.  He is after all the man who first championed the shift to digital content with

That being said, there’s no denying the fact that the landscape of interior design today, much like the magazine business that reports on it, is radically different.  I’ve been privy to conversations in which design professionals ask “When will interior design return to its pre-recession glory?”  I’ve got a one word answer.  Never.

In 1995 when the last restrictions on the use of the internet for commercial traffic were lifted, the world, and the design industry in it, changed forever.  Decentralization in the case of access to product has the country’s design buildings scrambling to attract foot traffic, and centralization in the case of art & antique sourcing has been revolutionized by 1st Dibs.  Add to the mix the full-on-knockoff strategy of Restoration Hardware as well as access to once ‘trade’ products by One Kings Lane, Joss & Main, and, and we’re not in Kansas anymore.

While musing all this over, I found myself reminded of something Valentino Garavani once said in response to the question “How can it be that season after season you use the same red and you’re still a success?”  He answered, “It’s always the same red, but never the same dress.”

Here are some things I believe can help the design community adapt.  First, we need to accept that smaller living quarters are here to stay – and ergo people are concerned more with how their homes support their lifestyle than with how opulent they are.  Excess has become vulgar, and except for a precious few, is dead.  Second, familiarity breeds contempt.  Vendors and their wares will continue to become more accessible to the public, which I applaud.  They’re in business to make a profit.  In response to client cries for the exclusive and the lux, designers must step out of their comfort zone and learn that ‘bespoke’ is an adjective not exclusive to Savile Row.  Third, accept the shake-out.  With less money to be spent by fewer clients, it’s survival of the fittest (or the most creative.)  And finally, designers must learn to pool resources.  If we’re to learn anything from the recent decisions at Hearst, it’s that in the age of the internet, information needs to be shared for good design to succeed.  The sensational cabinet-maker, the talented seamstress, and the immaculate painter won’t be here to do your bidding if they can’t pay the bills.  The days of playing your vendor cards close to your vest are over.  Trust me on that last point – I’ve got first hand experience.

I’d say there’s been enough lamenting the current state of the economy, and interior design.  We’re a creative collective heralded for taking empty space and morphing it into something sensation to live in.   Are we really not up to the challenge of re-inventing ourselves?


25 thoughts on “Shifting Sands”

  1. CJ-your thoroughness regarding this topic is wonderful you are giving the community great information, on to quote you”the shifting sands” very well done. your blog posts this week are beautiful! have a fabulous weekend! Jamie

  2. Great article Carl! Love all ‘the cards down on the table’ so to speak. The good clients are truly interested in the design process as much as the end product. The personal relationships between designer/ vendor/ client can’t be ‘knocked off’. True bespoke craftsmanship has a face (and a real person) attached to it.

  3. I think ‘replace fear of the unknown with curiosity’ is needed now in all areas of life more than ever. Those that will continue to be successful will be those that learn to live with uncertainty. Nice article.

    1. Thanks Kate. You’re quite right…. uncertainty doesn’t need to be a fearful experience. Hope you had a great (albeit rainy!) weekend.

  4. Excellent article! I am a true believer we can all learn from one another. Leadership qualities can be seen in many influential professional designers today. It’s how you harness these qualities for the betterment of your business, cause, or life that make the lasting difference.

    1. Bravo Barbara! You’ve summed it all up in 2 sentences. Thank you for reading, I look forward to getting to know you. Carl

  5. So well said. I am in my 40th year as a professional designer and the only way to last is to be both flexible and creative. When it comes to design there have been good decades and some we would rather forget. Through it all the people who succeed are the ones that know you can never expect next year to be like the last. In Arizona we are starting to see and upswing but the clients are asking more questions and expecting more for their dollars. They use computers and generally have more input than in past years. It is a whole new business but it is still business, adapt and survive.

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation Jane. I appreciate your thoughts. It’s especially nice to hear from designers outside the major cities!

      1. I am looking forward to reading the post. I do a lot of work in LA, Phoenix and Denver. The majority of my clients in AZ have homes in back east. They are here six months out of the year so there is a lot of traveling across the country. Love to hear from other designers about new trends.
        Sent from my iPad

  6. Bravo Carl! Yes indeed, you are so right! And I am so tired of the lamenting and disgruntled designers. Change is the only thing we can count on and those of us willing and able will stay the course. I too believe in the right sizing trend and the renovation trend and see that that is where my business is headed. I’m actually enjoying. I also applaud your support of pooling resources, stories of success and the like. We can all learn from one another.

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