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?