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Design & Designer: Patti Carpenter

Furniture World Magazine

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INTERVIEW WITH PATTI CARPENTER

Product developer and trend analyst Patti Carpenter provides insight into color and retail trends. She also explores ways retailers can better connect to the value systems of consumers.

The daughter of a graphic designer and a writer, Patti Carpenter is a self-proclaimed non-linear thinker and artist. The well-known founder of carpenter + company/Trendscope, she is sought after for her expertise as a trend consultant and creative director in the globally sourced home décor, personal accessories, fragrance and gift industries.

Carpenter’s passion for taking a trend or theme and making it right for consumers has led her to collaborations with top brands including Bloomingdale’s, SFERRA, Neiman Marcus, Crate & Barrel, The Phillips Collection, abc carpet and home, Urban Zen and Ralph Lauren.

Her Career in Fashion

Growing up in Washington, D.C., she studied fine art then earned degrees in fashion design and fashion illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology. “FIT brought me to New York where I made a decision to go into fashion design. Following graduation I spent 27 years moving up through the ranks working with wonderful people like Ralph Lauren, Oscar De La Renta, Bill Blass and Adrian Vittadini. Also, with retailers like Timberland and The Limited Corporation.”

Our modern world becomes better when there is a balance of home furnishings made by modern technology and by artisans. Without that balance, we will continue to lose cultural diversity.

In 2000, as a VP at Ralph Lauren, Carpenter decided to change her career direction. “I could see,” she recalled, “that the industry had taken a turn toward fast fashion, becoming more about the numbers than about design.

“I spent a lot of time in Asia opening and working with factories doing product development. As a creative person, I could see that it wasn’t something I was going to enjoy going forward. Instead of showing up at meetings with swatches of fabulous fabrics or inspiring observations about a great art show, we spoke about margins.”

Yellows continue as we seek that Sunny Outlook. This toasted tone has a hint of nostalgia and when used on accent pieces offers up a sense of optimism and conviviality. Use this warmed yellow to let the sunshine in!

Images and text above excerpted from Patti Carpenter’s Maison & Objet Color & Trend Report © carpenter + company 2021.

Passion for Artisan Development

From 1995 through 2000, Carpenter volunteered to be part of the Designer Round Table at Aid to Artisans, one of the first nonprofits to work with artisan development around the globe. “In 2000, Aid to Artisans offered me the right of first refusal to head up a three-year project in Mali. It required me to spend time in northwestern Africa working to develop products for export. I worked with individuals, families and whole villages to understand costing and pricing, raw material procurement, lead times and even weather patterns that might affect production. Here at home, the focus was on collaboration with importers to develop products based on color and trend themes, artisan capabilities and production capacity.

“I left my full-time job at Ralph Lauren and never looked back. It’s been 20 years since starting my own business doing artisan development. Twenty-five years later I’m still working with Aid to Artisans, other NGOs and nonprofits in the state department, USAID.

“Working on these types of projects resonates with my artisan heart and soul. Our modern world becomes better when there is a balance of home furnishings made by modern technology and by artisans. Without that balance, we will continue to lose cultural diversity. This is the story I’ve heard everywhere from Africa to South America. Young people will work at a Hilton rather than learning how to weave beautiful sustainable items, blow glass or carve wood like their grandmoms did if they can’t make a decent living.”

Carpenter lamented that the loss of artisan skills mirrors what’s happening in the broader furniture industry as well as in nature. “If we don’t support these people, artisan culture will be lost in a generation. Their current situation is part of the whole sustainability crisis but on a human level.”

As the orange family of colors heats up and merges with the warm neutrals that have been on the rise, they collide in Caliente Cayenne. This scorching hot hue speaks of the passion that we are all feeling as we re-emerge and reconnect for a brighter future. ahead.

This lovely midtone sits beautifully balanced between red and blue. As lavender is used to calm us, this colorful hue invites us to breathe and begin again. Pretty Periwinkle’s bluer cast resonates with all the positive attributes of that shade while transforming us to prepare for the newness that lies.

Segueing to more practical considerations for Furniture World readers she offered her view that “Seeking out, supporting and merchandising items sourced from artisans is a wonderful way for furniture retailers to tell stories that connect with their customers. It’s an especially effective path to take because it connects in multiple ways with today’s consumers who are focused on doing business with companies that are in line with their value systems. Topics like respect for the planet and support for artisans in the retail conversation his touchpoints that bring customers into stores and keep them coming back.”

Data &. Design Together

Furniture World asked Carpenter if her product development and consulting work starts with an analysis of demographic, economic, political and lifestyle trends.

Patti Carpenter has worked with top brands including Bloomingdale’s, SFERRA, Neiman Marcus, Crate & Barrel, The Phillips Collection, abc carpet and home, Urban Zen and Ralph Lauren. Photo by Marlon Cantillan.

“Data has become a driving force in business,” she replied. “However, my approach is more creative. I’m experienced enough to walk a trade show or retail sales floor and pick up on the connectors pointing to something that is going to be or already is a trend. It’s this ability that was responsible for propelling me forward in the fashion industry. I’ve been told that I have a great eye for color. And, I’ve always been able to speak the language of color in a way that people who might not have a creative bent can understand and become engaged.

“But what I really like to do is compare and contrast what’s happening on the business side with the creative side then bring those two elements together. Design and merchandising cannot exist in isolation. On the creative side I also walk the line between what we see coming and what’s selling now,” she observed. “Part of my job is to find a way to develop choices that nudge customers forward. That’s something I focus on in my color and trend reports.”

2022: RETAIL PLANNING

When asked what areas home furnishing brands and retailers should focus on in 2022, Carpenter suggested that “They need to focus more on listening to and understanding how their customers use the items they sell. That includes finding out why customers need an item, what they will do with it, who will be living with it and why.”

Carpenter consulted with Casa Sagrada to envision the use of artisan-made Mayan textiles. Traditionally worn by indigenous women in Guatemala, these textiles are incorporated into carpets and seating.

Pictured above left are artisan silk, ceramic creations and cotton jacquard pillows from Patti Carpenter’s Vietnam collaborations.

She explained that the need for this heightened attention results from changes in consumer purchase motivations. “There was a time when consumers bought just about everything. That period was followed by a period of experiential buying. Now we’re entering a phase where emotional engagement is important,” she observed. “People have been at home a long time and are thinking more critically about everything they bring into their homes. They’ve discarded a throwaway fast fashion mentality in favor of quality manufacturing, materials and textures. If you think back just a couple of years, millennials had no use for anything vintage or antique. Now they are driving that bus. They have a whole new appreciation for quality and longevity. It’s something that furniture retailers can tap into.

“Luxury brands, in particular, have had trouble adjusting the new focus on emotional engagement that replaced a desire to possess luxury goods or live a luxury lifestyle. That’s not enough now. Even people who can afford such a lifestyle want to find objects that resonate with them personally. Everything we as an industry sell sparks an emotional connection in our customers. This connection can result from an object’s aesthetic, the experience it promises or the way it functions. Understanding how company values align with customers’ values is becoming much more important.”

2022: Market Differentiation

Continuing with the subject of topics Furniture World readers might address in 2022, Carpenter brought up issues related to competitive advantage. “Retailers need to revisit what sets them apart from competitors and ask the question, ‘why would shoppers come to us versus another retailer?’

People have been at home a long time and are thinking more critically about everything they bring into their homes. They’ve discarded a throwaway fast fashion mentality in favor of quality manufacturing, materials and textures.

“To do this, they must create their own stories, step into their authenticity, understand who they are as a company and where the points of differentiation lie.

“Second, they must establish the foundation of everything they do going forward. Only after they plant this flag, can they define their business universe and pinpoint the heart of what they do well.

“With this knowledge, they can ask what their product selection should look like. The Pottery Barn consumer is not the West Elm consumer. CB2 is not the same as Crate & Barrel. Each of these retailers has a unique reason for being and is successful.” Carpenter said that examining points of differentiation is not just a useful exercise for top-100 retailers. “The opportunity for differentiation is that any retailer can become a unique destination,” she advised. “Customers won’t only show up to replace a worn sofa, but also to find something new and exciting. It’s a similar situation to what happened in the clothing industry. The big department stores consolidated then struggled because they all started to look the same. When retailers all start looking the same it becomes a race to the bottom. Becoming unique allows home furnishings retailers to bring more to the table. When they figure this out, they can initiate a dialogue about what the products they sell are really worth.”

Be on the Lookout for These 2022 Retail Trends

“Across the board trends that were on the cusp of happening were accelerated by the pandemic,” Patti Carpenter told Furniture World.

  1. ”We’ve seen cozy materials, more curvilinear furniture that’s comforting and gives people a hug. There have been more rounded edges, arches, capsule shapes, circles and spheres as well as curvaceous sofas and seating.”

  2.  

  3. “There’s the trend toward grandmillennial style that uses older things as well as cottagecore style. We’ve been talking about cottagecore since 2017. Since then, because of COVID, this aesthetic that reflects a kinder, gentler life, baking, riding bikes, planting, free form and freestyle, has become more important. It’s a bit nostalgic and informal. More like a meadow than a formal English garden.”

  4.  

  5. ”The demand for larger scale seating and sectionals has increased so that people can sit farther apart. This trend first appeared in the hospitality sector, but has now expanded into residential.”

  6.  

  7. ”There is a focus on wood in its natural state with the grain showing through in a mid-range of colors; walnut or cherry finishes at the dark end as well as lighter woods in natural finishes. Wood stories have become more important. Is it recycled, reclaimed, upcycled or sustainably harvested? Sustainability continues to be important. Greenwashing is still with us. It’s sad that when a consumer sees the word sustainable, green or eco, it often doesn’t mean very much, but organizations like the Sustainable Furnishings Council are working on that issue.”

  8.  

  9. Stone used in home furnishings has become more colorful. We moved on from white, black and grey marbles to brown a few seasons ago. Stone has shifted now to all levels of green. Green as a family of color is probably the most important color right now.”

  10.  

  11. ”Look for rough-hewn and rustic weaves in natural materials with a handwoven, tactile effect.”

  12.  

  13. “We are seeing spots on ceramics that look handmade so that no two feel like they’re the same. Enameled accessories, metal and mixed materials are important. Alabaster is a big trend as is the continued popularity of raw edges.”

  14.  

  15. “Japandi is trending with its mixture of Scandinavian and Japanese for a minimalist and serene effect. This is in reaction to years of extraneous, unnecessary products just piled on for maximalist effect. It’s now really cleaning up, with a trend toward items with an aesthetic that can be simple, beautiful, useful and mobile to reconfigure when necessary.”

  16.  

  17. “We’re certainly seeing beautiful trends in lighting. LEDs have expanded lighting’s design possibilities. The category has become much more interesting and artful. Retailers should be looking at a new generation of LED lighting innovations especially if they have an industrial feel.”

  18.  

  19. “Bringing the outside in has never been a stronger trend. In the 70s many people owned indoor trees such as a Ficus. Now we are seeing the move from smaller plants in the window to larger scale, decor-inspired planters with large trees for the inside. Additionally, there are many products and objects in the marketplace that are inspired by nature, but not necessarily constructed in the same materials as the original inspiration. These include prints and patterns on furniture and functional accessories in the shapes and silhouettes of plants, leaves, and flowers.”

  20.  

  21. Multi-generational spaces are on the rise in the U.S. During COVID we’ve seen the idea of multi-sharing spaces and a corresponding need for spaces and furniture that are multi-functional.”

Becoming unique allows home furnishings retailers to bring more to the table. When they figure this out, they can initiate a dialogue about what the products they sell are really worth.

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.

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