Modular Furniture, Social Spaces and the Power of Plants

By July 22, 2016 Industry No Comments

It’s been a couple of weeks. And not to dwell on it, but …

Let’s just say we had an incredible time at this year’s Dwell On Design conference — such a good time, in fact, that we can’t stop talking (and writing) about it.

The three-day form / function lovefest featured row upon row of design-forward merchandise booths, insightful seminars and thought-provoking panel discussions highlighting architects, landscape designers, marketers and more.

And then there was this chair

A design rockstar of a comfortable heated chair which two of our staff members might still be sitting in had we not bribed one away with a selection of cleverly illustrated design books for sale.

Here are four more things we discovered at this year’s Dwell On Design conference:

1 Modular design is still winning.

Dwell KitchenDwell Modular Bedroom

Photos: Courtesy of Resource Furniture

Whether it was uttered during a panel regarding mixed-use urban architecture or exemplified in a talk on kitchen-design trends, the following sentiment was everywhere: As urban environments grow in population and desirability, small spaces are becoming even more of a way of life.

Yet the new, discerning consumer still wants his or her tiny, coveted corner of the world to be impeccably designed. That means employing modular products that look as great as they work. Cases in point: This kitchen system from The Galley, which shape-shifts to offer various workstations in one; or, a classic Murphy Bed from Resource Furniture. (The design world still loves good ‘ol Murph for good reason.)

Photos: Courtesy of The Galley

2 Shared Space is a Priority

Photos: Courtesy of Bruce Damonte and David Baker Architects

An increase in urbanization begets the need to share more space with others, even in home environments. According to DOD panel expert Daniel Simons, principal at San Francisco-based David Baker Architects, this trend is increasingly OK with today’s home buyer. “People have realized how wonderful urban life can be,” says Simons. “People in general, but especially Millennials, are becoming increasingly more comfortable in public and semi-private spaces.”

As community life continues to intertwine with the new concept of a ‘social life,’ contemporary design is answering this call with beautifully orchestrated common areas in vertically designed spaces (think: condo and apartment dwellings).

Shared outdoor spaces in particular appeal to the new buyer’s sense of taste, comfort and sophistication, says DOD panel speaker Gerdo Aquino, urban designer and landscape architect at Los Angeles-based SWA. “We’re bringing the rural environment to the urban environment,” Aquino says. He cited New York’s Central Park, the Gardens of Babylon and other iconic outdoor spaces as inspiration for his firm’s designs, which often feature lush, green environments, comfortable seating, living walls and wood accents in addition to hammocks, swings, paintings, graffiti art and even bean bags.

Photos: Courtesy of SWA

3 Plants are the new _______ [a. chotchke | b. room divider | c. point of interest | d. all of the above].

The answer is d.

The humble-yet-powerful green design warrior is back with a visual vengeance, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Not since the ‘70s has the houseplant been such a fixture on countertops, desktops and in otherwise cavernous living room corners (we’re all now familiar with the infamous, temperamental fiddle-leaf fig, right? And its hot new cousin, the Rubber Plant?). Leafy lovelies graced many a display booth and hanging room divider at DOD this year, softening the industrial “tradeshow” feel of the place. Confirmed: “Put a plant on it” is the new “put a bird on it.”

P.S. Some of our parents are especially excited about the resurgence of Macrame hanging pots. (The ‘60s are back … again!) This vid shows you how to make one in under an hour. We also love these contemporary desktop planter options from West Elm.

4 For the new consumer, design trumps a deal.

In a seminar entitled “Understanding The New Consumer,” speaker Mike Hetherman, CEO of building-material distribution company, Wills, discussed an important (and recent) economic shift on the part of buyers.

In 2010, when the iPad was launched, many well-respected industry thinkers predicted its failure. The post-2008 price-sensitive consumer, they said, would have no appetite for an expensive and unnecessary new gadget.

What happened next stunned the naysayers: Apple sold 300,000 ipads in the first day of release. In 2015, a report was released that showed the iPad occupying just short of double the market share of its next-biggest competitor, Samsung. The reason for all this?  “At the height of the Great Recession, the priority was design,” Hetherman said. Apparently, it still is.

The takeaway: In challenging economic times, there’s still a group of individuals willing to spend, as long as the product in question prioritizes form, functionality and beauty.

(Side note: We were so energized by this group, often called the “Neo Consumer,” that we’re endeavoring to write a whole post about them. Look for it next week.)

Did you go to Dwell on Design? What were your favorite moments? Drop us a line in the comments section or email

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