news digest | Mar 8, 2022 |
Home brands pull out of Russia, Material Bank plots Japanese expansion and more

With home prices at an all-time high and rents continuing to rise, the best option might be to start your house search in an overlooked locale—an entire abandoned village in Canada just hit the market, complete with buildings in a quaint Alpine style reminiscent of traditional European chalets. Whatever happens next, stay in the know with our weekly roundup of headlines, launches and events, recommended reading, and more.

Business News

Several home brands cut ties with Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, reports Furniture Today. TJX Cos., which runs HomeGoods stores in the U.S. and abroad, divested its $225 million stake in Russian retailer Familia, and group president Doug Mizzi and chief financial officer Scott Goldenberg resigned from its board “in support of the people of Ukraine.” In a similar move, Ikea parent company Inter Ikea Group announced last week that the brand was pausing all operations in Russia and Belarus. The two brands join a fast-growing list of companies that are pulling out of Russia in some form, including Airbnb, WeWork, Hermès and dozens of others.

While the labor shortage drags on in nearly every job sector, the real estate profession experienced a boom during the past two years. According to The New York Times, 2021 saw a record number of real estate agents in the U.S., with more than 156,000 people taking on the job in 2021 and 2020 combined—a number that’s increased by nearly 60 percent more than it did in the two years before. While record-high home prices combined with the job’s relatively low entry barrier enticed those looking to make a career switch during the pandemic, it also resulted in a workforce of agents far outnumbering the amount of houses on the market, leading to a more competitive terrain than ever before.

Material Bank announced plans to launch its services in Japan in 2022, marking the searching, sampling and specifying platform’s first rollout outside of North America. The expansion will be led by the newly appointed CEO of Material Bank Japan, 18-year industry veteran Go Nakazawa, who will oversee the branch’s strategic direction alongside founder and CEO Adam Sandow. The news follows Material Bank’s recent hiring of Philippe Brocart, the former director of Maison & Objet, with the aim of exploring the European market.

New York–based startup MyPlace, a social network created to help peers share their homes, completed a $5.8 million seed funding round led by Freestyle Ventures, reports TechCrunch. Launched in 2019 by entrepreneurs Zach Bell and Rameet Chawla, the platform expanded to 86 countries with thousands of users, who must be invited to the network by a friend who opens access to their home. Once a user is in, they can join private groups created by fellow users to create house-sharing networks.

The International Interior Design Association announced the creation of the Equity Council, a group of association and chapter leaders with the goal of increasing inclusion, access, opportunity and diversity throughout the group’s activities and the interior design profession at large. According to Home News Now, the council plans to conduct a demographic diversity survey to reveal representation numbers in the industry, along with establishing new anti-racist and anti-bias policies, goals and objectives through five key committees—education, leadership, programming, public/industry awareness and strategic partnerships.

Danish architecture studio Bjarke Ingels Group completed its first building in the metaverse, Dezeen reports. Called Viceverse, the space is a virtual office for employees of Vice Media Group, and can be found on the Decentraland platform. Employees will conduct meetings and work on NFTs and digital projects in the new office, which also serves as the site of the virtual innovation lab for Vice’s creative agency Virtue Futures.

Launches and Collaborations

British heritage brand Laura Ashley partnered with U.K.–based wallpaper designer and manufacturer Graham & Brown for a line featuring the brand’s iconic prints. The resulting wallpaper collection features 80 paste-the-wall designs in patterns pulled from Laura Ashley’s archives, including a variety of flora and fauna-inspired imagery.

Canadian furnishings and home goods retailer EQ3 partnered with mattress and bedding company Silk & Snow to offer their eco-conscious products at EQ3 stores across North America and online. Silk & Snow was founded by childhood friends as a Kickstarter campaign, and creates sustainable bedding solutions made from Canadian-sourced materials, including down from a duck farm in Quebec and steel coils manufactured in Toronto.

Showhouses

Dotdash Meredith’s Southern Living has announced the 2022 Idea House’s location: the waterfront River Dunes community in coastal North Carolina. Created by William Court of Court Atkins Group, builder Jordan Maroules of SLD Custom Homes and interior designer Charlotte Lucas of Charlotte Lucas Interior Design, the space will be approximately 4,125 square feet, with multiple structures, wraparound porches and outdoor living spaces, along with views of the nearby harbor.

Showroom Representation

Cloth & Kind’s boutique trade showroom in Ann Arbor is now representing designer Ellisha Alexina’s eponymous textile and wallcovering line. The brand’s creative approach centers on a proprietary process Alexina developed in-house, combining handpainting and silk screening for unique floral and geometric patterns.

Recommended Reading

In the wake of the Ukraine invasion and the resulting sanctions from Western nations, there’s a growing awareness of the stateside assets held by Russian oligarchs. The ultrawealthy individuals who made fortunes from Russia’s privatization sunk their funds into everything from sports teams to tech start-ups, though local New York leaders like Manhattan borough president Mark Levine now call for property seizures similar to those recently enacted by Mayor Sadiq Khan in London. For Curbed, Kim Velsey offers a tour through the swanky, storied properties owned by Russian billionaires in New York—a list that includes Upper East Side co-ops, historic Village townhouses and penthouse apartments in the Plaza Hotel.

After taking over The World of Interiors last month as the third editor in the title’s 41-year history, former Vogue editor Hamish Bowles reassures loyal readers that he plans to maintain the spirit of the beloved magazine even while bringing it into the digital age. For The New York Times, Steven Kurutz talks to Bowles about his plans for the magazine—including the introduction of new digital offerings and a more global perspective on a historically Eurocentric publication. “At The World of Interiors, suddenly it is the world of interiors,” Mr. Bowles told the NYT. “This extraordinary breadth of subject matter and material is opened up. That’s the DNA. You turn a page—or click a mouse—and you’re in a totally different world.”

When SFGate’s Arianna Bindman visited her local Ikea on a recent Saturday morning, she largely dismissed the store’s bare shelves as a temporary roadblock caused by supply chain issues. As it turns out, the home furnishings retailer is experiencing persistent product shortages that will likely last through most of 2022 at least. As Bindman explains, the conditions created a booming resale economy online, where Ikea loyalists pay upwards of thousands of dollars more than an item's original price.

In Memoriam

Timothy Oulton, founder and CEO of global furniture group Halo and his eponymous brand, passed away on March 4. The designer got his start in 1976 working in a small antique shop owned by his father before taking the helm at Halo in 1990 to bring antiques to the wholesale market. Oulton also opened his first gallery in Los Angeles under the Timothy Oulton retail brand in 2008. Today, the company has more than 70 retail locations and staffs over 350 team members across a dozen countries. “Tim’s legacy of creativity, excellence and authenticity will endure. These principles—and an ongoing commitment to the company’s growth agenda—will guide our leadership team as we move forward and drive continued success for the business,” read a statement from the company.

Elsa Klensch, fashion journalist and former host of CNN’s “Style With Elsa Klensch,” died Friday at the age of 92 in New York City. As WWD reports, Klensch’s show became one of the highest-rated among the network’s weekend programming during its run from 1980 to 2001, introducing mainstream audiences to designers like Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld and broadcasting coverage from the runways in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Known for her journalistic rigor, Klensch’s reportage extended to interior design, which she wrote about for titles like Elle Decor, House Beautiful and Architectural Digest after leaving CNN in 2001. “In the end, she was a pioneer because that’s what it’s all about. She was really seeing something at the time—the public’s interest in fashion—that no one else saw or only a handful of people saw,” designer Dennis Basso told WWD.

Homepage photo: The Wisteria Garden wallpaper from the Laura Ashley collaboration with Graham & Brown. | Courtesy of Graham & Brown

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