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The slow-furniture movement is gaining speed
My husband and I recently bought a condo—our first grown-up home, with two bedrooms and two (marriage-saving) bathrooms. And even though we’ve only just moved in, I’m already feeling the pressure to fill the space with trendyfurniture and fabrics. (“Yes, I do need a furry decorative stool” is an actual argument I’ve had with my husband.)
“I get it,” says Peter Coolican, owner of Toronto-based Coolican & Company furniture makers. “You’re excited, and you want to go home and look at your stuff and feel happy about it. But I don’t really buy [furniture] unless I know it’s going to last and be useful to me for a long time.” Coolican has the teensiest bit of bias: He’s a small-batch designer who makes chairs and tables to last generations. (Think more Birkin investment, less It bag—but for your home.) Producers like Coolican are part of the “slow-furniture” movement, a concept that embraces the use of sustainable resources and design processes instead of mass-produced plywood factory furnishing, which often goes hand in hand with blink-and-you-miss-it design trends.
This approach has a growing appeal to a generation that have come of age in the buy-local era and are becoming as aware about the origins of the wood frame of their couch as they are about their politics. In addition to small batch (small runs of products—Coolican, for example, makes up to 30 pieces at a time), there are made-to-order (clients pick a design in a collection and it’s built just for them) and, of course, custom. “It’s the idea of supporting your local economy and having a connection with the things that you bring into your life,” says Coolican. “People are becoming more and more dissociated with the physical and the world around them. I think [this trend] is people reaching out and grasping for something more meaningful.”
In many cases, that connection is a personal one with the designer. Toronto-based custom-furniture maker Heidi Earnshaw, for example, may spend 14 weeks working on a single project with a client, a process that typically involves countless consultations. As a result, she says, “the customer ends up being a lot more invested in the piece than they would be if they had gone to a store and bought something. They become part of the story.”
Of course, there has always been a market for bespoke furnishings like Earnshaw’s in of-a-certain-income-bracket circles. But over the past five years, she has noticed that her clientele has started skewing more millennial. Thank hygge, thank Instagram, thank the 12,000 home-decor TV shows currently airing—whatever it is, the kids are nesting. “They are choosing to live smaller with fewer things, but things that have more significance to them,” says Earnshaw. “And they are recognizing the environmental responsibility.” That’s another one for the win column for slow-movement furniture—that oak table is not going to be decorating a landfill in a few years because you got sick of it and threw it to the curb.
Still, all that solid wood from North American forests, luxury hardware and hours of manual labour means you’ll pay a price for these pieces. “I have a lot of friends who say ‘I love your work; I can’t wait until I can afford it,’” laughs Coolican, noting that he’s in the same boat.
Where should you start if you are ready to invest? A dining-room table is a can’t-lose starter investment piece, says Earnshaw. “That’s really the heart of the home,” she adds. “And it’s something that people value being passed down, because they’ve got their own family memories [of times spent] around the table.” Or, if you’d rather splurge on Chanel or Saint Laurent (valid), add some sustainable accessories, like an accent table, a lampshade, some throws or even a luxury candle, suggests New York-based furniture trend forecaster Nancy Fire.
And remember: Just like the first time you make a big-ticket fashion purchase, splurging on furniture may hurt. But that pain will quickly go away once you see family and friends week after week gathered around your gorgeous new table, drinking wine and gossiping about the latest episode of KUWTK. That’s advice I’ll try to take to heart as I continue my condo-furniture quest—without my furry stool, which, if I’m being totally honest, I’m already over.