Lessons Learned at the Future of Home Conference 2021

This past week, there was a hint of fall in the air in NYC. Kids were back in school and so too were the adults, as Future of Home, the annual design conference hosted and planned by Business of Home kicked off.

In the room were prominent designers, vendors, manufacturers, and industry thought leaders, who flew in from around the country to join together in a two-day conversation about how we collectively drive our profession ever forward.

At the crux of nearly every conversation: How the pandemic has dramatically and permanently upended our industry, and how consumer’s understanding of the “value of design” has made a dramatic leap forward. From keynotes to lunchtime breakouts, nearly every conversation orbited around the fact that our industry has never been hotter. Consumer demand for design services, and our responsibility to continue to lead the conversation as to what home means in an evolving post-pandemic world, is at a record level.

Future of Home offered us all a break from the daily responsibilities of the office, to have provocative conversations about what comes next. And how we continue to add meaningful value to our clients’ lives through design.

Excited to have boots on the ground, these were our biggest takeaways from the two-day conference.

Future of Home poster
The annual Future of Home conference, hosted by Business of Home, was held in New York City and virtually September 13-14, 2021.

What Design Has Become

Jared Weiner, executive vice president, and chief strategy officer with trend consulting firm, The Future Hunters, summed up the opportunity: “Design will underlie everything in the future — and design thinking is the single most important competency in the 21st Century.”

“Design will underlie everything in the future — and design thinking is the single most important competency in the 21st Century.” - Jared Weiner

The new luxuries that consumers are increasingly willing to prioritize and pay for are what Weiner calls “the three T’s” — time, truth, trust.

Time has always been a luxury that designers deliver exceptionally well—we save clients time by taking over ownership of the process and bringing all the elements of the project together in beautiful harmony.

In a world of endless options and disinformation, truth has emerged as another differentiation. Clients are barraged with an endless sea of “choice” and competing agendas. Designers must act as unbiased arbiter, with professional standards and values that guide us and our recommendations.

Lastly, underlying it all—trust. The best designer-client relationships are the ones in which a client feels listened to and that their designer truly has their best interests at heart. As Martha Stewart shared in her standing room only post-lunch panel: “Authenticity is everything.”

“Authenticity is everything.” - Martha Stewart

As to what we are designing—the world has changed. Dwell CEO Zach Klein, got big laughs and bigger head nods when he stated, “Home is [now] where we work and park our Pelotons.” Covid has accelerated a number of design and build trends, at a speed no one could have imagined. Weiner went even further, saying home is now “lifespace.”

Defining "Lifespace"

Homes of the past no longer work for the demands of today. Pandemic practicality led to new terms like “cloffice” (that dreaded closet/office) according to Mélanie Berliet, senior vice president of the Home Group at Dotdash, which includes The Spruce.

It has led to increased consumer demand for ADUs and flexible living space, to transform the homes of the future to rely less on cloffice short-term fixes, but gracefully and fully accommodate eating, living, sleeping, but also—working, at-home exercise, increases in homeschooling, and more. An increase in multiple generations living under the same roof is another shift speakers addressed, which puts new demands on the requirements of space.

In the world of home, and defining this new "lifespace," designers are the ones best equipped to offer new visions for how thoughtful and innovative architectural and furnishing approaches can accommodate these new demands. If home remodeling was once seen as simply solving discrete problems, it’s now a holistic process that continues to adapt and evolve to meet lifestyle needs, family dynamics, wellness, and mental well-being.

Working from Anywhere

Working from anywhere (WFA) is more than just a trend but a permanent historical shift, according to Professor Prithwiraj Choudhury of Harvard Business School. He defines this new state of being as: You choose exactly where you want to live and how you want to work depending on the day (perhaps it might be from your home office, neighborhood coffee shop, work office, or even the park).

WFA is also leading to dramatic migrational shifts, which we are only beginning to understand. Austin Allison, co-founder of Pacaso, noted that smaller markets (like Truckee, California, for example) were never primary markets, but have now become feasible as a permanent home base for increasing numbers of people due to the untethering of work from our physical location. For the industry this means e-design services are at a premium, as clients look to hire the best talent regardless of their physical location.

No one is a better example of evolving with the times and continuing to remain receptive to the evolving needs of consumers than Stewart. She shared that her forays into new verticals like CBD and collaborations with celebrities like Snoop Dogg (or roasting celebrities like Justin Bieber) speak to her practice of expanding ideas on how to live and broadening her reach with new emerging client types.

Looking to the Future

And of course, speakers at Future of Home also spoke to what comes next. Growth areas Weiner noted include Interspace (smart homes, smart cities, connected everything) and Innerspace (wellness real estate, sensory systems, neuro- everything). And a future where immersive design becomes more mainstream. In other words, we’re entering the Metaverse: The next generation of interactive, multi-sensory immersive experiences. How XR impacts the daily work of design professionals is being mapped as we speak.

What we do know, is that what once might have been a spectator sport, now requires full participation across all sides of the table. Consumers, i.e. homeowners, are showing up with clearer, more dynamic and exceedingly challenging needs, and they wish to collaborate with designers as active participants in the design and construction of their space.

The future for design is looking very bright.

Lisa Wirth is an internationally published interior designer and recipient of more than a dozen peer-reviewed awards for design excellence. Her background includes leading culture carriers (architecture, interior design, furnishings, fine art) into e-design and e-commerce, and a decade of leadership as founder and principal of a Southern California interiors practice.