It is a phenomenon which serves as a response to a changing market caused by the ongoing recession and a move towards online retail as well as a sign that design brands are becoming more customer facing. Accessories are the goods with which they set their traps.
Here are the full Q&As from the article and shoot which can be found in Disegno No.3.
Tom Dixon, creative director of Tom Dixon
Why the move to smaller household objects?
It was always part of the "global domination" plan. We’ve created an environment by being able to furnish a place, and illuminate it, and now we can accessorise it as well. I’ve always been interested in a broader selection than just furniture and lighting, and I’ve had a lot of experience, particularly in my Habitat years, in doing things with other functions.
I like to think this part of what we do could be a bit lighter, more humorous and decorative than some of the other things. I don’t see why everything has to be of the same speed or seriousness.
If you’re buying a table, you’re buying something that is in your house for 10, 20 years. If you’re buying a doorstop, it doesn’t have the same permanency about it, so it doesn’t need that very basic, hard-working function all the time. I’m interested in the potential for these things to act as a bit of joy or interest. But that’s not what I’ll be asking my pestle and mortar to do, I want that to have the same characteristics as, say, the table, which is something you pound and use every day.
The line’s called Eclectic. Is that the unifying theme?
I think the objects share a couple of bits of DNA. They tend to have a real weight to them, to be made of durable materials, metal and marble. There’s an almost British basic-ness about them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have humorous and storytelling shapes. They share a lineage. What they don’t have is always an obvious function related to things I’ve been doing before. To me, a doorstop is useful as a decorative object, or a paperweight, but also a makeshift hammer. You always need something heavy, to bang in a nail or crack a nut. I’m looking for things that have a second layer of interest, or may not be obviously recognisable.
Is this line a response to a trend towards smaller design objects?
I don’t think so. Nothing’s pushed me into accessories. We do quite a lot of interior design, we’re doing a hotel, we’re doing a restaurant, and it hurts me to buy someone else’s tealight holders. It’s a continuation of what we do, just on a slightly different scale. It has different distribution to furniture and lighting. For us, it was a conscious decision of when we’re ready to build this new distribution, and maybe get new manufacturing relationships. It's just timing. We’ve always had a few accessories in the range, we’ve had candleholders, tealight holders, but they didn’t fit comfortably in the current distribution.
Now we’ve got the online shop, and the retail shop, and we’re going into Selfridges in the autumn, so there’s a very clear reason to get more consumer-facing. What we’ve been doing so far has been a lot more contract-based, going straight into hotels, bars, restaurants and offices through architects. We’re opening the doors a bit more to consumers and retail.
Is it more attractive to be moving into places like department stores than contract-based sales?
Not necessarily, the whole business side is very different. When you’re making smaller objects, the margin that the department stores and retailers take is much bigger. There’s not necessarily more money in it. Potentially if you get a really big hit with something that takes off, the market can be much, much bigger. A hit product has the potential to become global. These objects may have a shorter shelf-life, though, so in a way it’s a riskier business.
The more we look into this market the less easy it actually is, particularly if we’re dealing with lots of product categories. It would be easier if I set out and said, “Right, I want to do a really tight stationery range,” or, “I want to be really good at watches and clocks.” I don’t want to do that, I want to use a much broader canvas.
Sebastian Wrong, design development director, Established & Sons
Has the collection shifted away from larger furniture towards accessories?
We initially started the principle collection with larger items of furniture. It was five years later that we started the ESTD collection, which is a smaller line of products based on a keener price point and a smaller size. It was better for online sales and fitted into the category of accessories. That was an important evolution.
Were online sales the driving force behind the change?
We were aware of the emerging opportunities of online retail, so we definitely thought about designing a collection that would be well suited to that market. But we also realised there was a wider scope beyond the realms of furniture: the designers we were working with could offer really great ideas that we could facilitate.
What initially started the whole relationship was working with Yoox as our online partner, who had very basic logistics and shipping criteria. We were designing within that criteria initially and then we branched out based on the success of the ranges.
Are smaller items more cost-effective?
They are. The development cost is minimal. What we’re coming to now is using existing facilities within supply chains and re-appropriating objects, altering them slightly, so they fit the trend. I’m a little cautious using that phrase “trend”, but a product needs to fit with the moment in terms of look, material and cost.
You’ve said that a lot of design students are now producing smaller items. Why?
I think it’s very influenced by space. In the early years, students cultivate their ideas, are mentored and gain a wide breadth of experience in a very small space. Practically, trying to make a large object such as a sofa in that space is a challenge. The second part is cost. Small objects are more manageable and open up a whole new network of auto production.
Designers are less reliant now on the conventional system of working with companies like Established & Sons or Vitra, simply because it’s very hard to get into these companies. Also there’s not always the promise that a product will go into production after you’ve spent time developing an idea with them. So why take these risks when you could use online web-shot communications, pop-ups and collectives to do it yourself? To manage a production on your own, it’s a lot easier to do it in a very niche, bespoke way, which will lead to a smaller item. You’re not going to do an injection-moulded chair on your own, but you could do a small, ceramic production: something that has much more of a crafted, artisan feel to it.
Is it similar to how fashion brands focus their marketing on smaller items?
There’s nothing new about shoes, sunglasses, perfume, and handbags being the backbone for the fashion houses. But I think there’s a really interesting zeitgeist, an anarchic, can-do, punk feeling that’s popping up with some of the larger entrepreneurial designers and creatives who aren’t relying on the big companies to get ideas forward. What will happen, as always, is that the bigger brands will come in and want a bit of that. This has been going on from when we were running around hitting each other with bones. A caveman on the other side of the valley who fashioned a bone that you could not only hit your enemy with, but which could also open up a walnut: that took off and he became successful making his special bone. Then everyone wants to make that bone.
Fashion's a great one to watch, because the industry is so fast and very trend orientated. It has achieved huge success online. We watch from the design industry and try to understand how design could plug into that. On one level there are some cheaper, accessory items that could fit into that fast-moving market, but on another level I don't know if it's a good thing, if it's sustainable.
Some of the absolute classics like littala's tealights are the company's biggest selling product. They sell millions of these things. It's so subliminal that you don't think about it, but when you know about it, it's such a basic product, with a basic function and a very big market. That's really what everyone is seeking.
Mette Hay, creative director of Hay Accessories
How and when did HAY's accessories line come about?
We opened a shop in Pilestræde eight years ago, because we were looking for a showroom in Copenhagen for our furniture collection. Showrooms often seem quite empty and impersonal, so we decided to create a shop that was open to all. And that has given us direction in most things we do, as we started out with a direct dialogue with the customer.
When we opened the shop we started out with a cushion collection, simply because we had a sofa that required a cushion to go with it. That was the cushion May – it's not in our collection any more, but we got the idea to make cushions from the leftovers of our furniture collection.
We wanted our shop to be alive, so there was always something new to find there – a little hostess gift, or just a small thing that people could take with them when they stopped by.
Now you have a fully fledged accessories collection. When did that become official?
In September last year we launched a new group of products called Hay Market; we've made lots of new accessories for that. And now we're in full swing, and launching lots of new pieces in January. We've started doing accessories 100 per cent, whereas before, our throws, cushions, and rugs were just a part of the main collection. This is also the first time we're making very small accessories.
Is there a connection between the fashion industry and what furniture companies are trying to achieve with accessories collections?
Yes, with accessories it's like with fashion; you can move just a little quicker. And as a furniture company, you can bring in fashion with your accessories. It's easier to make a quilt in fashionable colours, while people might hesitate to buy a new sofa in a trendy colour. To buy a tray in coral blue is a different kind of investment than buying a sofa in that shade. We feel that we can bring new trends more quickly into our collection by having a line of accessories.
Do you feel you're part of a wider trend of furniture companies launching accessories lines?
There is definitely a trend; many furniture companies that have never made accessories before are now launching them. In relation to the financial crisis, they've tried to bring more products into their showrooms to get more customers in. And accessories are a way of doing that.
We've definitely noticed this because many [companies/buyers] who have not been so interested in accessories in the past are suddenly very open to them. I believe there are fewer customers around these days who are willing to buy a sofa at €8,000 or a lounge chair at €3,000-€4,000. So the classic furniture companies have had to come up with something new to bring the customers back into their shops.
These days, it's as if customers prefer lifestyle-oriented shops to the classic furniture retailers; shops where they can find something for the kitchen, a department with bed linen, and a little fashion. I think that's the type of business that will find its way forward rather than the classic, old-school furniture showrooms with all the very high-end brands they represent.