How we’ll buy furniture in the post-Covid world

As new designs are launched this month, there will inevitably be changes in the way furniture is chosen, bought and sold. Giles Kime takes a look at how the future may pan out — and how we’ll benefit.

Although the pundits have been keen to point out how, during lock-down, many of us fell out of love with our homes, I suspect that we actually fell out of love with inbuilt obsolescence. In lockdown, there was time to learn a few things that we never appreciated when we were tearing around from pillar to post, with little time to focus on where we live.

For many of us, the experience demonstrated why functionality and durability are more desirable than fad and fashion. Furniture and cooking equipment shows its true colours when it is being used around the clock; joints creak, stitches snag and surfaces lose their lustre. I suspect that, in the future, we’ll think longer and harder before we make a long-term commitment to a sofa, a washing machine or a set of china.

The same pundits are also making great claims for how our dissatisfaction will affect the way we live, predicting everything from the death of open-plan layouts to the birth of the outdoor dining room. Yet although they speak with great conviction, it’s as impossible to foresee the impact of the pandemic as it was to predict the pandemic itself. Who in 1945 would have predicted the mix of optimism and modernism displayed at the Homes & Gardens Pavilion at the Festival of Britain six years later? Or the rise of a monastic minimalism after the excess of the late 1980s? Or the revival of English country style after the economic turbulence of 2008?

The Folly at Wolverton Hall. ©Paul Highnam for the Country Life Picture Library

The impact of the pandemic is less likely to be on design itself and more on our own expectations. We’ll be less interested in the appearance of things and more in whether they function well — and whether they’ll last for more than a couple of years. When we buy online, we’ll be more wary of making rash decisions and instead look for endorsement and brands with a reputation to uphold. We’ll have more confidence to ask searching questions about what we’re buying and be much less tolerant of flimflam.

Together with everything else, shops will change too; it seems likely that many will move out of town to locations that combine the luxury of both space and parking. Some will follow in the footsteps of antique dealers and head for the depths of the country to showrooms where you might have to make an appointment to visit. In some cases, the retailers might even come to you.

One striking example is father-and-son team Alex Willcock and Felix Conran of Maker & Son (www.makerandson.com), who have launched a fleet of mobile showrooms that brings their range of upholstered furniture to your door (think mobile library meets Heal’s). It’s an exciting departure that highlights that not only are retailers thinking on their feet, they are realising that their relationship with customers must become stronger than ever before.