Inside Today's Showroom

Always a staple in the home fashion market, contemporary design has begun its move to the forefront. In fact, contemporary has become the fastest-growing style category, with its influence spreading across several other style categories. For example, traditional is becoming cleaner, morphing into transitional or modern, while rustic is gravitating toward a constructivist influence (the Dwell magazine look).

While in the past 20 years or so, contemporary has accounted for a minimal 10 percent of market share, today its influence is affecting all products and merchandising. It is estimated that contemporary currently represents as much as 38 percent of total market and display. Even if you are not yet seeing this much contemporary in your region, it is no doubt emerging.

Knowing that contemporary is on the rise, now is a good time to re-examine your display and merchandising mix. Go into your display area and count how many looks you are showing. No matter what the mix, it’s important to realize that contemporary influence is a national trend, affecting products and design from North to South and East to West. Consumers will be seeing more and more of it in advertising, merchandising, magazines and furnishings. For that reason, you will need more in your showroom to inspire them.

If you’re unsure, read on. You might come to discover that contemporary goes beyond its typical “space age” definition. There are a number of ways it can be interpreted and fit into an existing showroom lineup.

Where and Why
The days of cold, sterile contemporary are gone. Today’s contemporary encompasses a broad range of looks, from cool and sleek to warm and inviting.

Casual, which once focused only on cottage or mountain retreat looks, has expanded thanks to contemporary style. While these looks are still relevant and important, especially regionally, the latest casual looks include simple line, bold shape, form motifs and brighter colors. An example is Ty Pennington’s new bedding collection at Sears.

Contemporary is regularly seen in a number of different product categories, merchandising and product packaging. One example is the spa influence – clean and crisp, but soft. By now everyone recognizes Target’s clean bullseye logo and uncluttered, dotty advertising. You guessed it: Contemporary.

Kitchen and bath products, such as KraftMaid’s new clean-lined, Euro-styled Venicia cabinetry and Kohler’s new Purist products, reflect a contemporary influence. Both are investments in cleaner, simpler lines.

It is important to remember that while manufacturers are the ones that make the products, they alone cannot drive the growth of any given trend. This essential role is left to the consumer. In today’s era of multimedia resources and education, there are more outlets than ever from which consumers can glean ideas – specialty television programs, commercials, lifestyle magazines and the Internet. The result is a cross-pollination of ideas and personal tastes. In other words, we may live in a bubble of regional uniqueness, but new ideas, materials and options from the outside have burst this bubble. And, best of all, ideas previously available only in higher-end venues are now available to all at the click of a mouse.

Another completely different reason contributing to the increased interest in contemporary is the recent trend toward over-saturation of detail. Consumers are starting to tire of the laborious, busy looks that have been so popular for the past 10 to 15 years. They are beginning to crave the exact opposite: Clean, simple, modern looks and details.

Finally, demographics come into play. Generation Y and Boomer buyers are searching for cleaner looks, smaller-scale products and new-home solutions. Typically, second homes permit Boomer buyers to explore a completely different style than they have in their primary homes (see related story, Page 66). With simpler, cleaner lines and less detail, contemporary design leaves less to keep in order, also a bonus for second homes.

Incorporating Contemporary
Following are some examples of how to include contemporary – in its many manifestations – in your showroom displays and merchandising. With its broader interpretations, details and materials, there is a style of new contemporary for almost everyone.

• Modern/Bogart: Rich, dark cherry, modern-shaped doors combined with bright chrome, silver leaf, thick glass. Think “Silver Screen” era.

• Loft/City: Light wood flooring, brick, stone rehab-building look, wire, drop lighting, chrome or raw steel. Think Dwell magazine.

• Urban: Mix of “found materials” to make something new: bolts, rivets, sheet metal, corrugated metal, natural raw boards, concrete countertops, glass. Think mid-priced restaurants in the style of Chili’s.

• Scandinavian: Blocks of color, lights and deep darks. Mid-toned paints in pastels, white to cream lights. Bold shape and forms singularly or overlapping to make a pattern. Think West Elm.

• Euro: Simple planes of color with a punch of bold. Grass green to cobalt blue or Chianti red. A splash of pattern that surprises and delights. Chrome. A stylish look with streamlined function. Think Chiasso.

Clean Casual: Soft lines and shapes. Two-thirds color with one-third warm wood. Simple, fresh, crisp and uncluttered. Think Crate and Barrel.

Now that you have some definitions of possible looks, think of potential buyers who have come in asking about and showing magazine clippings of these types of looks. Which interpretation of contemporary fits your business and sales associates?

Seek inspiration from a wide pool of surrounding businesses. What is the hot new restaurant in your area that you know is contemporary? Are there looks or materials there that could be tweaked for your specific purpose? Evaluate your competitors. Are they embracing this trend through product assortment and merchandising?

Small Changes
If your budget is tight and a major change sounds too risky, opt for smaller changes that make a difference. Some suggestions:

• Update the photography on your walls and within your merchandising collateral. Focus on dated fashions and people in photos. Infuse photos with a fresh contemporary look. Even the frame around the photo will convey style.

• Select more contemporary cabinet displays for kitchen and bath vignettes, such as styles that are already contemporary, including flat, slabs or square flat-panel doors.

• Consider new “exotic” flooring materials, such as cork, bamboo or even contemporary patterned vinyls.

• Consider materials scale. Contemporary patterns are bigger than traditional patterns. This is a delicate area where dating can occur more quickly, however, so choose carefully.

• Consider drop light pendants for accent, style and function. Lighting adds personality.

• When considering wall coverings or paint for background design, do not go to the wallpaper store and get the cheaper contemporary category designs. These date the fastest. Use more sophisticated patterns and textures, with props, lighting and materials.

• Consult with an expert if needed to ensure you will get the look you want.

As with any investment in your showroom, you will want to act with care and speed to save your business inconvenience and unnecessary cost. However, before you act, make sure the resources you have consulted are qualified. Illustrate your proposal with actual samples to confirm your choices before incurring actual costs. Next, establish a schedule and spell out tasks and responsibilities to make the transition as seamless as possible. Finally, execute your plan completely to validate the look. If the look does not come across as complete, you will have wasted time and money only to miss capturing your buyer. Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time – especially when your business’ reputation depends on it.