Helen Carefoot, The Washington Post
Millennials: They love their #shelfies, their plants and their minimalist decor. But, caught in a web of stagnant wages, student loan debt and temp jobs, many can't foot the bill for the West Elm-like look they aspire to or can't justify buying furniture for the long term.
How do retailers reach a generation that desires upscale furnishings but can't afford the full sticker price? Many are launching options for customers to rent furnishings for the short term, with an option to buy. These new ventures are geared toward reusability and feature curated packages that could help take the guesswork and commitment out of furnishing.
Recently, West Elm and Rent the Runway announced a partnership for customers to rent textiles such as quilts, blankets, throw pillows and linens. At the end of a fixed period, customers can buy the items or swap them for something new. Similarly, several start-ups including CasaOne,Fernish and Feather are renting full suites of upscale furniture to aspiring urban homemakers on both coasts. Even low-cost Ikea is getting in on the concept: The company announced this month that it would launch a pilot rental program in 30 countries in an effort to keep its furniture out of landfills. Some companies are even renting baby furniture. These companies are betting on consumers who aren't ready to commit to one set of furniture.
With the rising popularity of sharing spaces on Instagram, "we saw the cultural moment shifting," said Andres "Dru" Ortega, West Elm's head of public relations and influencer marketing. "We want to give the same experience of changing your outfit to changing the mood of your home. It seemed like a natural move for us." The idea is to give customers a chance to switch up their decor seasonally by selecting curated bundles of home textiles.
Starting this summer, as part of an unlimited Rent the Runway membership for $159 a month, shoppers will be able to revel in a lifestyle they want and have the option to change their selections based on their mood or needs. Although the partnership includes only textile goods, Ortega says, eventually it will offer furniture as well.
These new services could be an appealing option for people looking for a slice of luxury without taking the full financial hit, such as Elissa Weinzimmer, 33, an entrepreneur in Brooklyn. After spending her 20s in "survival mode," she recently moved into a two-bedroom apartment and became a Feather customer when she saw the brand's Instagram account. "Every apartment I've ever moved into before, I've always assumed that I had to be scrappy and poor and buy old things on Craigslist," said Weinzimmer, who leases a couch, bed frame and desk chair part of a six-month plan. Weinzimmer appreciates the company's delivery and assembly services, along with its aesthetic. With Feather, "it felt like a curated experience where I could get lovely things."
The company, which operates in the New York and San Francisco Bay areas, offers a "furniture subscription service" that lets customers pick out sofas, mattresses, bed frames and more from brands such as Tuft + Needle, West Elm, Joybird and Pottery Barn. The items can be rented a la carte or as part of room packages for three to 12 months, with the option to extend rental times or purchase the pieces at about market price.
For example, West Elm's Eddy sofa, which retails for $899, is available through Feather for $52 per month as part of a 12-month subscription. At the end of that period, a customer can swap out the item, renew it at a discount, return it for a flat pickup fee or buy it for $275 (which, in total, comes out to the retail price). In between rentals, the items are refurbished and cleaned.
"In my 20s I would have been like, 'I can't afford it' or 'I have to get the scratched version and buy it from someone down the street,' " Weinzimmer says. "But in my 30s? I'm super happy to have a West Elm couch that came to me new. My business is now more successful and that's a recent development in my 30s, and this is part of my way of celebrating that."
* Furniture rentals are available in South Africa at establishments that include SRental, Inspire Furniture and Cort Global.