Furniture: Retail or Designer?
One of the challenges in working with furniture as a designer is that my policy is to give my clients the absolute best their money can buy. Sometimes, purchasing retail is the best match, sometimes designer, and sometimes a little of each. So, when does one make more sense, and what is the difference? Let’s break it down:
Some designers will purchase retail and charge a procurement fee. I used to do this, but have stopped. Why? Because I cannot stand behind retail furnishings. I cannot guarantee anything. I do not know how or where they were manufactured, what the quality of the finishes or construction is, etc. I can, however, put together retail selections to use as a guide.
There are a few retailers that cater to interior designers more than others where I am able to work directly with that person to answer questions and convey the vision that we have for your space. Final ordering is done directly through them- no kickbacks, no commissions, just good service.
Other retailers, such as online sources and chain stores (Pottery Barn, West Elm, Dania, etc.) will be a situation where you take the concept we have created and move on independently with them. It is important to know the dimensions of your space when going to a retail designer.
Again, designers all vary. Some work with several “to-the-trade” sources, which may mean these products are also available to retailers. I do not. If I find that one of my sources sells to a retailer, I will likely direct you to that retailer instead. My business is less about product and more about the service. If there is a retailer that specializes in that product, they likely have more regular training and insight than I can have, and I want you to be best served.
Ethics and Sustainability
The manufacturers I work with sell only to the trade. I have four manufacturers I work with regularly (only four!) because I know that I can stand behind their work and really learn their product. I try to work with manufacturers on the west coast. Considering that 99% of furniture manufacturers are on the east coast, this is quite challenging and I’m at 50% west coast, 50% east coast, always keeping my eye out for the best.
It is important to me that the manufacturers I work with have AMAZING ethics. They are a business partner, after all, and I need to feel proud of who I align myself with. I aim for FSC Certified woods, natural eco-friendly fabrics, and preferably no animal products. The one leather company I work with provides humanely sourced leathers and donates a substantial amount to animal rescue.
Quality and Service
I choose to work with manufacturers who use the absolute highest quality construction and materials. When a designer piece is ordered, it is custom built for you. It is then shipped to my warehouse for inspection. My warehouse puts it into storage and waits for the go ahead. Once all of your pieces have arrived, a delivery and installation date is scheduled. The delivery team is we use is the best in the greater Seattle area and treats your home and goods with the utmost respect. We arrive with the tools needed to install each piece (art installations are done by an art installer separately), make sure all your new lamps have bulbs, your furnishings have felt pads so they aren’t slipping, and all packaging is gone before you arrive to your finished space.
Yes, it costs a bit more to go this route. The value is in having a final product that is inspected and viewed by many trained eyes and your labor is removed entirely. Mark up on designer items is typically between 30-40% on wholesale (I can’t tell you what the discount is from retail, because these items simply aren’t available via retail). Mark up on retail items is up to 300%. Service on a designer item is 300%… on retail.. well, you be the judge!
The Best of Both?
One great way to get that designer touch with a budget that leans more toward the retail side of things is to furnish a space with retail goods, and choose one special designer piece as a focal point for each room within the home. Keep in mind, however, that the rate for installation and storage becomes more of a savings for multiple items (cost of one driver installing one item vs. one driver installing eight items for example).