Over 154 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

In-Store Design Center Ideas- Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Part 2

Now that you’ve decided where to position your design center and target it to meet the needs of specific customers types, it’s time to decide what to put in it.

The first part of this two-part series, featured in the July/August edition (www.furninfo.com/authors/jennifer-magee/86), explained why creating a prominent and well-configured Design Center attracts customers, especially those who value design or feel they need help to make better purchasing decisions. Also covered were:

  • Placement strategies.
  • Placement strategies. Ways to create design center areas that complement the sales process.
  • How to think about issues of exclusivity and accessibility.
  • Good, better and best approaches to balance the needs of different customer types.Examples of how retailers such as Pottery Barn, Living Spaces, Interiors Home, La-Z-Boy, Furnitureland South, and others have approached design center projects.
  • Examples of how retailers such as Pottery Barn, Living Spaces, Interiors Home, La-Z-Boy, Furnitureland South, and others have approached design center projects.

This installment expands the discussion, taking a closer look at the amenities and technologies retailers should consider including in design areas to better engage home furnishings shoppers.

Amenities & Special Features

Consider outfitting Design Centers with amenities and special features that make customers feel comfortable and empowered.

Snacks: Having a coffee bar or water station with snacks increases the time customers work with in-store designers.

Screens: Install large-scale digital screens for presentations. In private room settings, these can be easily mounted on an adjacent wall surface. In an open Design Center setting, interactive digital screens can be integrated into meeting tables.

Staging Areas: Some retailers designate a portion of their Design Center as a staging area. This space can be used to make physical presentations of furniture or decor displayed on a stage or series of platforms. It may also include:

  • A hanging bar from which to drape rugs or curtains.
  • Pull-down screens that can provide a colored backdrop or image.
  • Specialty track lighting that can be adjusted to create a particular mood.
  • Cork or MDF boards for pinning up samples and images.

A staging space may also be used by interior designers to showcase accessorized furniture groupings to help customers fully visualize the design of their home.

MATHIS DESIGN STUDIO: Mathis Design Studio (top left) provides large, comfortable tables with integrated dual-sided digital screens where customers can sit with a designer.

ETHAN ALLEN: Ethan Allen (top right) allows customers to use touch screens to browse a full product portfolio while also accessing fabric and wood samples.

FURNITURE MALL OF MISSOURI: For its new Kansas City store, Furniture Mall of Missouri added multiple Design Centers, including one for high-end customers (bottom) that includes a central staging area.


Lighting is an essential part of the Design Center experience. Providing natural light through a skylight or adjacent windows can help customers see the actual colors and textures of fabric swatches. Installing artificial skylights and windows that mimic natural light is often a more cost-effective and flexible alternative to natural light. Some retailers have also installed “light bars” to showcase different types of lighting (incandescent, LED, fluorescent) at different color temperatures, so customers can evaluate fabric samples under the type of illumination they have in their homes.

It is best to use true-color light bulbs when possible so that colors and fabrics are seen true-to-life. It is also important that fabric and finish samples are lit properly from an angle above. Track light should be set four to six feet off the face of samples and angled 30 to 60 degrees to fully wash light down the face of vertical displays.

NATURAL LIGHT: Better engineering and light simulation has made artificial skylights and windows a viable alternative to natural light. CoeLux Artificial Skylights from Lightology shown top right.

JOHNNY JANOSIK: Johnny Janosik’s centrally-located, oval-shaped Design Center features each brand’s name above fabric samples, making the selections (above left) easy to browse.

BASSETT: In addition to offering physical customization displays in-store, Bassett does an excellent job of walking customers through custom options (bottom) online.


Most Design Centers feature an upholstery/ fabric customization story. It is important to present fabric swatches in a prominent and easy-to-browse way. The most common approach is to suspend fabric swatches on hangers hung on rods in open cabinets or off walls. Ideally, rods should be adjustable so both shorter and longer swatches can be easily displayed. It also helps to waterfall fabrics from the upper back to the lower front of the display to accommodate more samples and catch light from the track above. The most efficient way to sell customized fabrics is to group them by brand.

Leather samples are best displayed as large-scale cowhides hung on walls from hooks. Sofa or chair customization options such as arm and leg styles, trim and cushions should not be overlooked. Present all of the variations in a clear and precise way. The best approach is to display physical samples for each option. For example, Bassett Furniture offers an in-store display that includes custom options for legs, trim, arms and cushions. Sample sofas are elevated on platforms. They hang their custom fabrics in cabinets. The same kind of customization options are also featured online. These kinds of displays help tell stories that are relevant to each brand.

Everything for the Home

Many furniture retailers have added customizable options for dining tables, chairs, counter stools, bedrooms and Amish furniture. Customers can select wood types, door styles and hardware.

We are also seeing an increase in retailers offering Design Center add-ons such as:

  • Custom draperies, window coverings and blinds, like those from Hunter Douglas.
  • Flooring options such as luxury vinyl tile, hardwood, and tile.
  • Custom kitchens, bathrooms, and closets.
  • Customized sleep options that pair mattresses with adjustable bases to meet clients’ specific needs.

Retailers will lose sales if they don’t make an effort at multiple touchpoints to let customers know that they provide these add-on options.

“Some retailers have installed ‘light bars’ that showcase different types of lighting so customers can see fabric samples under the type of lighting they have in their home.”

As Design Center concepts continue to expand, furniture retailers have found that strategically moving certain merchandise categories to adjacent areas is a good idea. Rugs, for example, work extremely well next to these areas, leading to easy add-on sales. Accent chairs and tables tend to perform better near Design Centers, as do accessories, artwork and other marketplace-type items. Consider putting up wall displays of lamps, pillows and accents directly adjacent to or within Design Centers to inspire shoppers and help them create complete design looks.

3D PLANNING SOFTWARE: Allowing customers to use 3D Room Planning software has become a popular part of the Design Center experience (pictured to right).

SCHEELS HOME & HARDWARE: Scheels Home & Hardware offers a Design Studio that features everything from Hunter Douglas window treatments to Sherman-Williams paint finishes. They even have a botanical area for plants & florals (top left).

BETILI: Betili, the largest home design chain in Israel, launched a new store concept (bottom) in which accessories such as lighting, pillows, and decor have a more prominent role in the store.

Current Trends

Style Centers and Stylists: During COVID, it was common for retailers to have difficulty fulfilling custom orders in a reasonable amount of time. This forced some to drop customized products from line-ups in favor of items that could be stocked and sold off the floor.

To continue to cater to customers looking for custom options, stores improvised. Many displayed large numbers of accent pillows on a pillow wall to make any sofa “custom.” Some provided “custom” hardware options for dining and bedroom groups. Others emphasized accessorizing with accent lamps, decor and rugs to give shoppers the feeling of customization.

Instead of referring to designers as interior designers or interior decorators, the descriptions “stylists” and “style experts” emerged. Design Centers became “Style Centers.” Retailers moved away from the promise of “customization” and towards “interior decoration” and “styling services.”

VISUALIZATION TOOLS: London-based Made.com provides its customers with advanced, online 3D visualization tools (above right). In-store, they offer full-scale digital projections along with a sample wall (above left) of 600 product lines.
“Customers don’t want to walk back and forth between a sofa they like and fabric sample options displayed in a centrally located Design Center farther away. The solution is to create customization outposts.”

Customization Outposts: Customers often resist walking back and forth between a sofa they like and fabric sample options displayed at a centrally located Design Center farther away. One solution is to create customization outposts that bring fabric options closer to furniture displays.

Interiors Home, for example, is opening a new 35,000-square-foot store in York, Pennsylvania, which features three separate “Style Centers,” one for each price point (Good, Better & Best). These areas are augmented by a large Design Center located towards the rear of the store where customers can sit down with designers and work through ideas. Included are additional options like window treatments, rugs, and casegood hardware.

BALLARD DESIGNS created an immersive experience where furniture vignettes along with decor, lighting, rugs, and more are presented around a central Design Solutions workshop that includes a personalization station for monogramming accessories.

Modular and Movable Displays: Retailers are also moving towards modular and portable fabric displays. These offer limited selections of custom fabric options displayed on carts that can easily be wheeled around. Limiting fabric selection to best-sellers in mostly neutral colors and textures at mid-level price points has the advantage of not overwhelming customers. If a customer does not find a suitable fabric on the cart, they can be led to the larger Design Center that features all the fabric selections (including repeats of those on the carts). This arrangement keeps sales associates from having to shuffle customers back and forth and, therefore, losing sales.

Technology: In addition to physical displays, technology should be fully integrated into Design Center experiences. Include room planning software that allows designers and customers to plan out spaces and quickly render them in 3D. Programs like Ikea’s Home Planner, La-Z-Boy’s 3D Room Planner, Ashley’s Room Planner, and other browser-based visualization tools give designers the ability to work more quickly and effectively. Close rates dramatically increase when customers can visualize how their re-designed room will look.

“Modular and movable fabric display units offer a more limited selection of custom fabric options on smaller carts that can be easily wheeled around.”

Other emerging technologies like Occipital’s Canvas allows shoppers to scan rooms in their homes using a mobile app. Once shared, in-store designers can manipulate scans in 3D to show clients various design options. Other technologies enable customers to make 3D scans of furniture pieces as they walk around a store. These scans can be projected onto an image of their room to see how it might look. Retailers like Wayfair and Ikea use this technology to boost sales conversions. Visualization tools help sell expanded packages of furniture and decor creating higher average sales.


No matter how you offer customization options, it is important to know who your customer is and their expectations. Only then can you offer them the type of customization experience that will best meet their needs and appeal to their individual tastes. Once you get this right, you will be happily rewarded with increased business and sales.

About Jennifer Magee: Jennifer Magee is an architect and designer who has over 15 years of experience in the home furnishings industry. She has designed over three million square feet of retail space. Working almost exclusively with furniture and mattress retailers, Magee has an in-depth knowledge of how to layout stores to create better customer flow, improve the way merchandise is presented, and increase sales. 

She is the founder and owner of Retail in the City, a boutique design firm offering a full range of retail design services from storefront design to interior design, branding, space planning, visual merchandising, signage, new store concepts and more. Her talented team of architects, interior designers and renderers creates exterior and interior design packages so retailers can become more competitive in their home market or expand into new markets.

For additional information, visit www.retailinthecity.com or contact Jennifer directly at 917-533-4372 or jennifer@retailinthecity.com.