Interior design

How the interior design industry is changing to meet a new generation of decor enthusiasts

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Megan Murray
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As the interior design industry continues to boom, it seems everyone we know has the scoop on the best under-the-radar brands and new paint trends. Why, and how, have we all turned into interior designers?

People have always been proud of their homes. Wanting to create a space that’s enjoyable to be in, while reflecting those who live there, is nothing new. And in the age of Instagram, virtual shopping, AR apps and interiors influencers, the lines have become brilliantly blurred between the skills and expertise of an interior designer and the ‘average Josephine’ who’s willing to try new trends at home. 

Five years ago, the way a boutique hotel might have pulled together limited-edition homeware pieces from under-the-radar brands alongside inventive décor such a painted arch or wall mural would have felt unachievable at home. Clashing textiles, ornate headboards and rattan furniture would be enjoyed for the weekend, not lived in day-in day-out.

But in 2020, the veil has well and truly been lifted and now – especially after six months of being very much at home – we’re seeing the face of the once-elite interior design industry morph to meet wider consumer demands. Interior design isn’t just having a moment, its DNA is changing as we speak.

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Online platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are a huge part of this. Interiors and DIY enthusiasts can tap into in-the-know trends by scrolling through their phones, and learn tips on how to do it at the click of a button. 

Over the last 10 years, influencers have upped the ante, with many becoming experts in this field and not only bridging this gap and making it easier to try experimental interior design trends at home, but stoking our appetite for more.

Instagram influencer Zeena Shah of @heartzeena has 50k followers on her main account where she shares home inspiration alongside fashion, flowers and crafts. But she also has a separate account @heartzeenahome which she calls her ‘interiors addiction’. Here she posts images of her rented apartment which she continues to style by added prints, plants, trinkets, vases and shouts about the small brands she loves.

“Influencers certainly are changing the interior design industry. You no longer need to be a trained interior designer to have a great eye for design and fabulous home,” says Shah.

She continues: “You can turn something from Ikea into a statement design piece with a handy influencer hack. It makes the idea of having a stylish home one for everyone and not just for those that can afford their own interior designer. I love the way they can inspire so many and that renovation projects can be so easily documented and shared on social media. With my content I try to inspire my community to be braver with colour and ways to use it in the home as well as in their ‘outfit of the days’!”

Instagram has also become a powerful tool for independent homeware brands. It’s a free marketing tool with a rich pool of consumers but most importantly, it’s become cool to buy something from social media. 

Here you are connected with smaller brands with a story behind them which caters to the 2020 consumer’s interest in buying from ethical, eco-friendly and diverse brands. Indeed, 83% of users say they actively use the platform to discover new products.

With greater access to more exclusive homewares, we’ve seen a huge buzz around pieces which have now become almost synonymous with the social media platform. Think Astrid Wilson’s flower market prints, Siren’s body candles or Afton By Palm’s trinket dishes – they have all become the purchase du jour for Instagram users to have on their grids and in their homes.

It’s something founder of Afton By Palm Bonnisa Moore has keenly felt during the growth of her brand. Speaking to Stylist.co.uk she says: “With Instagram being so aesthetic heavy I feel like the decor industry has a platform that works in the favour of small homeware brands like mine. In fact, the majority of my website orders tend to come in through Instagram, so that shows how big the impact is on my brand.

“It also links with millennials being more conscious of things like the Slow Fashion Movement and Shop Local campaigns. Through these kinds of hashtags there has been a real increase in the focus of independent makers that are able to create unique pieces to add to contemporary homes.”

As Moore says, this appetite for a stylish décor set-up it seems is especially loved by millennials – also aptly nicknamed ‘generation rent’. As the first generation to be poorer than their parents and struggling against rising house prices, getting on the property ladder is unachievable for many. 

The Women’s Budget Group confirmed in its 2019 report about the gender housing gap that there is technically nowhere in the UK that is affordable for women to buy or to rent. Stylist writer Hollie Richardson faces this challenge, predicting that she might never own a home: “With the average house price in the UK being £229,431 and the average deposit being close to £20,000, house prices are constantly rising. I’m no economist, but with the average household income being £28,400 in 2018, even I can work out that saving up over two-thirds of your salary to secure a home is absurd, thus making it difficult for many young people to envision getting on the property ladder.”

This hasn’t stopped young women trying to make their rentals their own, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If anything, for some, making that space their own is high on their priority list. Richardson says: “I’ve lived in around 20 houses and flats over my lifetime and most have been rented, so I’ve rarely felt like I live in a permanent home. As I’ve been renting rooms in househares since I was 18 I’ve never felt like the property as a whole is mine to decorate. And why would I pay money to paint or decorate someone else’s home that I’ll probably move out of soon anyway? 

“But lockdown, along with growing up and wanting more from life, has changed this. Instead of spending money on going out, I spent some money on plants, wall frames and shelves to help make my lockdown quarters feel like somewhere I can truly call home. I’ve been buying bits of furniture that I know I’ll always need, no matter where I land. I’ve even put a print up in the living room which is something I just wouldn’t have bothered doing before. And I’m just generally more into the idea of buying nice things that personalise and perk up my rented environment.”

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Homeware brands have noticed this shift in what consumers want and need, and are releasing innovative options to entice savvy shoppers who want the aspirational set-ups they see online. The newest example of this is an industry-changing move from John Lewis, who began a furniture rental scheme on 17 August. The scheme makes it possible to hire items such as a desk, chair or sofa, with prices starting at £17 a month and contracts ranging between three, six and 12 months.

This flexibility shows that major players in the interior design industry are waking up to what 2020 buyers want and need, especially in the face of the pandemic which has changed the way we all work. Indeed, Johnathan Marsh, partner & director of Home at John Lewis, said in a statement that the retailer was trying to appeal to “the next generation of customers”.

Other well-known homeware brands are making moves to offer the market something new, too. Soho Home, the interior design brand from Soho House, is lusted after for its opulent yet cool aesthetic which is present in members clubs all over the world, available to buy directly from the brand.

Clearly aware of the growing expectations of customers, Soho Home has recently launched its own membership programme. Die-hard fans of the brand can become a Soho Home member for £60 a year which will award them 15% off full-price products, free delivery, early access to seasonal sales, a further 20% off sale prices and concierge service on orders of £2000 or above. It’s initiatives like this which open the door between interior design expert and consumer.

The 2020 Renovation Nation Report by money.co.uk says that UK homeowners have invested an average of £4,035 each on home renovations since the lockdown began in March. This influx is partly due to the increased time we’ve spent in our homes, but also because of ‘Zoombarrassement’, which 40% of people say they’ve felt when video calling for work or socialising.

Luxury paint brand Farrow and Ball has reported record sales since the end of March 2020, showing that lockdown has prompted a huge interest in home décor. Chief executive Anthony Davey said: “We were on a strong sales trend before lockdown and since lockdown, our business has grown exponentially. 

“In Q1 of this year, we delivered the best results in Farrow & Ball’s 75-year history with the UK (our most mature market) up approximately 30 per cent. As people have turned their attention to home décor, they sought advice and inspiration from trusted internet sources, in very, very large numbers. Farrow & Ball’s social media engagement rocketed.”

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The arrival of a plethora of new products, brands and services, all born out of lockdown, seems to back up this theory. In the paint industry two new brands have launched during lockdown, Lick Home and Pickleson Paint Co., and many other interior-related brands have felt a surge in support from consumers. 

Indeed, Moore of Afton by Palm says: “It feels like the appreciation of all things decor has propelled since the challenge of getting through the Covid-19 pandemic. People are spending more time in their homes and wanting to upgrade the spaces to create a beautiful place to indulge during such uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, the big brands are innovating and moving with the times too. Amazon has launched a multi-view AR home décor feature to its app, which enables you to view products in your room before you buy them using a type of virtual reality. (Handy if we go into further periods of lockdown, as we did in March.) This, of course, benefits Amazon because the technology can be used to buy products from its own site but it also comes at the perfect time as the home décor industry is booming.

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So, what’s going to happen next? One thing’s for sure, the interior design industry won’t be slowing down any time soon. We know that lockdown has been a pivotal time for new businesses (UK tech report that 85,000 have launched in the last four months) and although of course not all of these are interior related, the next six months will see many more independent brands come to life. This, in turn, will continue the development of the indie interior design community in the UK and continue the growth of this community on social media platforms.

Renovations are set to become more daring and experimental too, thanks to our increased focus on video content where these ideas can be shared. Platforms like TikTok continue to be immensely popular and last month’s new video release, Reels, from Instagram shows that our consumption of video is increasing. 

All of this only spells a greater need and challenge for those who are creatively minded to strive for uniqueness, so we predict that the influencers you follow online will be experimenting with more paint trends (if you love painted floors and fireplaces, there’ll be more where that came from), floral installations and artwork arrangements. 

Buckle up interiors enthusiasts, things are only going to get more exciting.

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.