news digest | Jan 25, 2022 |
Man Wah bets on Mexico, $125 million for mushroom leather and more

This week in design, Saturday Night Live stars Colin Jost and Pete Davidson are taking on a major renovation project: The pair purchased a 57-year-old defunct Staten Island Ferry, and plan to reimagine the vessel as an arts and entertainment venue. Whatever happens next, stay in the know with our weekly roundup of headlines, launches and events, recommended reading and more.

Business News

While U.S. home sales hit a 15-year high last year due to a combination of low borrowing rates and increased buyer demand, housing economists are now predicting that the surge will begin to subside in the second half of 2022. According to the Wall Street Journal, last year’s home-buying momentum—2021 had an 8.5 percent rise in home sales compared to 2020—is expected to continue into the first half of the year, as low mortgage rates, extra savings accrued during the pandemic, and remote work options continue to motivate buyers. By the second half of the year, however, analysts forecast a slowdown in sales as buyers grow deterred by the lack of available inventory and corresponding surge in prices. If it comes to pass, the downturn would relieve pressure on the strained supply chain for home construction, allowing builders to catch up with backlogs.

Walmart may be preparing to enter the metaverse, CNBC reports, as the big-box retailer filed several trademarks last month indicating its intent to make and sell virtual goods such as electronics, home decorations, toys, sporting goods and personal care products, as well as offering users a digital currency and NFTs. Though Walmart declined to comment on the specific trademark filings—for which seven separate applications have been submitted—it released a statement that said it is “continuously exploring how emerging technologies may shape future shopping experiences.”

Man Wah Holdings, Ltd. has purchased 80 acres of land in Mexico, Home News Now reports, where the motion furniture manufacturer plans to build its newest production facilities—marking the latest move in a recent series of furniture industry players expanding their operations in North America. Construction begins next week on the 2.5 million-square-foot plant, which will begin producing up to 1,500 containers a month of motion upholstery when the first phase of development is completed this summer; by the time the second phase is finished in early 2023, Man Wah will be producing up to 3,500 containers per month. According to the company’s recent filing with the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, the purchase was made to “mitigate the risk of fluctuations in global ocean freight rates, reduce associated logistics cost, expand into and satisfy the needs of the North American market, and increase the group’s share in the North American market.”

The price of construction materials jumped nearly 20 percent in 2021, according to a new analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. As Construction Dive reports, the price index for steel mill products surged 127.2 percent over 12 months, while diesel fuel rose 54.9 percent and lumber and plywood rose 17.6 percent. In response, the AGC is asking the Biden administration to reconsider plans to double tariffs on softwood lumber out of Canada, and to remove similar tariffs in order to reduce inflation on the price of key construction materials.

Mushroom-based leather producer MycoWorks has announced the completion of a $125 million Series C funding round led by Prime Movers Lab, a venture capital firm that has invested in companies like floating city startup Oceanix and Upward Farms aquaponic farming, Business of Fashion reports. Founded in 2013, MycoWorks has developed a proprietary material called Reishi, made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. It poses an alternative to leather, and has drawn interest from high fashion brands like recent collaborator Hermès, while other design names like Stella McCartney and Philippe Starck for Cassina have also explored crafting products from organic materials derived from mushrooms and apples. In addition to expanding its team and continuing research and development, MycoWorks will use the funding to finance a manufacturing plant in South Carolina that will likely open its doors next year, helping to take the company beyond the pilot stage and into commercial production.

Philippe Brocart has announced his departure from the role of managing director of French design fair Maison & Objet, and will leave the company on March 11 to join sampling platform Material Bank. After Brocart’s exit, Philippe Delhomme—chairman of the executive board at SAFI, the company which oversees Maison & Objet—will take over as managing director in the interim until a new candidate is appointed. In a statement, Delhomme thanked Brocart for his commitment to the organization over the last nine years, and for facilitating digital services such as MOM, a networking platform launched in 2016, and more recently Maison & Objet Academy, the fair’s first streaming platform for trade professionals.

Office design companies are exploring the use of immersive sound offerings to greet employees upon their return to the workplace, Inc. reports. Through a software platform and corresponding music library, such systems allow employers to create a customizable soundscape tailored to their office’s spaces and preferred ambiance—a lobby area, for example, may incorporate wind-related sounds for a welcoming atmosphere, while biophilic sounds of running water, wind and bird song could be applied to produce a focus-oriented workspace.

The Design Influencers Conference, originally scheduled for March 6 to 8 in Atlanta, has been postponed. In a note to attendees, Esteem Media, the organization that hosts the event, cited the “unpredictable and contagious nature of the Omicron strain.” The conference has been rescheduled for August 17 to 19.

Launches and Collaborations

Lulu and Georgia is launching two new collaborations geared toward organizational items, partnering with luxury home-organizing company Neat Method and eco-friendly home goods resource SortJoy. Together with Neat Method, the company has created an assortment of kitchen accessories like bins and baskets, while a similarly versatile new line with SortJoy offers felt bins, trays and functional accents that can be applied to a variety of home spaces.

The Pioneer Woman has entered the bath category while expanding bedding offerings with a new collection available at Walmart. Designed with Ree Drummond’s personal style in mind, the new line features shower curtains, bath rugs, towels, decorative pillows, sheets and comforters available in vibrant floral patterns and striking hues.

Textile artist Courtney Krug has debuted a fiber and dry goods line through her newly launched textile design firm At300Nelson, which will specialize in one-of-a-kind fabric by the yard as well as made-to-order pieces like ottomans and pillows. Drawing inspiration from a list of influences that includes 1960s surf culture, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lautner, and a variety of natural elements, Krug’s designs are executed on a naturally woven certified linen and cotton blend from Belgium.

Jenni Kayne, founder of the eponymous California-based lifestyle brand, has launched a new design-focused podcast called Details Matter alongside former artisan retailer Of a Kind’s Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur. The 10-episode series will focus on topics such as designing on a budget and creating functional kitchen and dining spaces, and features guests like designer and HGTV contributor Leanne Ford, The Expert co-founder Jake Arnold and multidisciplinary designer Sarah Sherman Samuel.

The team behind home publications Home News Now and Casual News Now have announced the launch of a new weekly e-newsletter and website called Decor News Now, which will officially debut in March in time for Spring High Point Market. Leading the new publication, which will focus on news and trends relevant to interior designers, decorators and retailers, is Julie A. Palm, who will serve as editor in chief.

Showroom Representation

English furniture and lighting company Jamb has moved into Zak+Fox's New York showroom space for the year. The brand’s lighting collection and 18th-century upholstery will fill the showroom, located on the top floor of a historic building on Park Avenue South, marking Jamb’s first representation in the city.

Recommended Reading

The tale of West Elm Caleb took the internet by storm last week as young women in New York took to TikTok to share similar stories of being ghosted by a 20-something furniture designer for West Elm—his “crimes” included sharing identical playlists and flooding each woman with affection before swiftly moving on. The situation quickly got out of hand as content creators, corporations and everyday users alike piled on the ridicule. As the The Washington Post reports, it's a phenomenon that’s uniquely suited to an app like TikTok, which incentivizes those who contribute to trending topics and provides a format that easily sparks viral content—a dangerous combination when the angry mob mentality is directed toward a private citizen.

Many people have cycled through and discarded a number of fleeting hobbies since the early days of the pandemic—for some designers, however, the extra time at home allowed for expert-level DIY projects to flourish. For The New York Times, Julie Lasky takes a look at what some professionals worked on while stuck at home, including a scrap-material-made art studio designed by the chair of Pratt’s industrial design department and a cozy, ground-up writing retreat where a Parsons architecture professor finished his second novel.

On the latest episode of The Perspecta: Stories of Modernism podcast, host John O’Neill sits down with an anonymous and prolific guest—the admin behind meme account @northwest_mcm_wholesale on Instagram. The Portland, Oregon–based furniture dealer known by the satirical pseudonym “Herman Wakefield” (a pun combining Herman Miller and Heywood-Wakefield) joins the podcast to share a few humorous insights on the many personalities found in the design community and to divulge a bit more about the man behind the memes.

Homepage photo: English furniture and lighting company Jamb has moved into Zak+Fox’s New York showroom space for the year. | Courtesy of Zak+Fox

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