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Design & Designer: Michelle Lamb

Furniture World Magazine




Trend and design consultant Michelle Lamb identifies trending styles and colors. She also discusses how retailers can profit by attending to the allocation of core & trend merchandise displayed in stores.


For this installment of the Design & Designer series, Furniture World spoke with Michelle Lamb, co-founder and chairperson of California-based The Trend Curve. Lamb is well-known in the home furnishings industry as a home furnishings color and trend forecaster. She has worked with companies such as, At Home, ACCO, Hunter Douglas, Target Stores, Home Depot, Walmart, Gerber Baby Products and 3M.

Furniture World asked if it was always her dream to become a trend observer.

“I’ve always loved retail,” she recalled. “That was true at my first part-time retail sales job, and it’s true now that I forecast color trends and design direction for a living. So, in that regard, yes, I’ve been on this path since the very beginning. While in college as an English major with a part-time job at Dayton’s, I planned to pursue a career in publishing. Instead, I was recruited by Target. And that’s when I really started to dig in.

“There I learned how to do everything from receiving, merchandising and managing soft goods departments to inventory control. I cut my teeth in the stores and then moved into buying, first in health and beauty aids, and then in the home decor department.”

A number of retailers that merchandise their stores at good, better and best price points are selling ‘good’ products in their outlet spaces.

Four years later Lamb was hired as the merchandise and operations manager for Room & Board stores, then moved back to Target to head up hardlines trend in their newly formed trend merchandising department.

“After eight years at Target, I worked for Rubbermaid handling national accounts for just over a year. That job had all the creativity of plus or minus 10 percent on an Excel sheet. Missing that creativity, I moved on to co-found Marketing Directions and The Trend Curve.

“The Trend Curve began as a subscriber-based publication. It evolved into a home furnishings blog as I transitioned to more consulting, seminars and webinars with a focus on trends, best practices in visual display and color design.”

Lamb said that pre-COVID she traveled extensively, attending trade shows in the U.S. and overseas, speaking and developing trend exhibits. When COVID struck, like everyone else in the trend space, she had to rely more on intuition. “I found myself reaching deeper for trend direction than I had in 30 years. And to be honest, I’ve enjoyed it,” she observed.

“There isn’t a trend out there that doesn’t have its roots in lifestyle influence. Throughout my career, I’ve developed trend strategies for retailers and manufacturers, going from macro to micro. Each trend strategy starts with a 30,000-foot view of what consumers are thinking and feeling. This translates into behaviors that affect their wishes and wants for product styles, color palettes, structures and points of view.”



Retail Trend Analysis

Lamb said that most furniture retailers and brands think that they can do trend analysis by themselves. “Yet, with all their other responsibilities,” she observed, “few can devote the kind of time to trend that it deserves. The consequences of this can impact not only sales and profits, but also reputation. Now that trend has gone from being nice-to-know to need-to-know, businesses can’t afford to only get part of the overall trend story. So, it makes sense for retailers and manufacturers to tap into the world of trend more deeply by engaging experts for advice and guidance.

“When furniture retailers look at trends,” she cautioned, “they should listen to more than just one voice and seek out commonalities. Doing that will help them to identify the most valid trend directions. At the same time, they need to remember that nobody knows their businesses better than they do. There will always be trends out there that don’t apply to a particular operation.”

Core vs. Trend Assortment

“Every retailer should have core products as well as trend assortments. These two product areas need to talk to each other. Core and trend merchandise have different responsibilities and typically, different profit margin requirements.

“The core assortment includes items customers shop for day in and day out. It’s what stores are generally known for, and what they are good at buying. These products are the foundation for everything they do. Trend assortments include the newest, most exciting and fashion-forward products.”

Michelle Lamb says that about 35 percent is a reasonable ceiling for trend in furniture store assortments. Chart compliments of Trend Curve.

Strategic Trend Plan

“Every retailer needs a strategic plan for how many open-to-buy dollars and how much floor space to allocate to trend merchandise because there is risk associated with showing too much or too little.”

Lamb suggested that the first thing retailers should do when planning how much floor space to allocate to trend merchandise is to determine the current percentage of products in their core assortment vs. trend goods.

“For retailers who are starting out, or for those who don’t have much experience with trend merchandise, a good place to start is with 20 or 25 percent of the total assortment devoted to trend,” she suggested. “See how it works and adjust from there. About 35% is a reasonable ceiling for trend in furniture assortments. It’s really easy to add more trend items; it’s not so easy to back out once you’ve bought in.”

What Customers Know

Furniture World asked Lamb how many shoppers actively seek out furnishings that are in line with current trends. And, how might retailers skillfully meet their needs for trend merchandise.

The core assortment includes items that customers shop for day in and day out. It’s what stores are generally known for, what they are good at buying. It’s the foundation for everything they do.”

“I think you’d be surprised how much consumers know about trends,” she replied. “Also, how high they think their trend IQs are.” Let’s say that a shopper visits a store looking for a trendy pink sofa. It’s my view that sales associates are well advised to figure out how to bring that color into their customer’s home without overpowering the space.

“If the color of the year is pink and a customer likes it, that’s great. Show them the pink sofa. Isn’t it fabulous? Then let them know that an excellent alternative is to match similarly colored pink pillows with a toffee colored sofa. There are ways to introduce trends while respecting what customers know and what they like. They won’t be satisfied with their furniture purchase or your store if they end up living in homes filled with colors that don’t resonate for them.”

Comfort & Color Trends

On the topic of what trends retailers should be thinking about, Lamb advised Furniture World readers to think about comfort. “Comfort is a macro trend—one that can be seen from a 30,000-foot-high perspective as a reaction to the pandemic. Specific retail initiatives to address this trend might focus on cushion comfort, warm lighting temperature and warm color palettes. The trend right now is toward slightly complex mid-tones that are evocative of natural hues. These include leafy greens, berry-influenced reds, autumnal ambers and golds. These colors are digging in for the long term.

“As an anchor to those natural hues, we see all kinds of browns. Many people cringe at the thought of going back toward brown, but they will become accustomed to browns as these colors advance. I remember a similar reaction when I first forecasted gray many years ago. Now that gray has completed a robust trend cycle and moved into the core, it deserves a rest. Consumers’ eyes are beginning to crave a break from gray, which is why we’re seeing its sales diminish as browns rise. These browns might be chocolate, but also anything from taupe to paper bag. Especially in the middle values, browns are gathering momentum.

More trends crest and plateau
rather than peak and fall off. That’s the case with grandmillennial that incorporates furnishings that look like they came from your grandmother’s attic.

“Part of this trend is cyclical. We’ve been on the cool side of color for a while, but now consumers are finding that the warm side is more comforting. The pandemic has accelerated the desire for comfort and warmth.”


“The more natural the texture, the better. We’re tracking textures that look like papier-mâché and eucalyptus paper, for example. Also, we see a nice return for chenille and especially bouclé. Will they boot velvet out of the spotlight? It could happen. Reactive glazes, relief on glass, and matte porcelain and ceramic are trending. Marble has a lot of visual texture, but right now it’s also being given additional texture with new chiseled effects.”


Decorative Looks

Grandmillennial: “Minimalist forms and patterns have been around for so long that it’s time for decorative looks to come back. That’s happening in a trend called grandmillennial. This style incorporates furnishings that look like they came from your grandmother’s attic, accented with forms that are cleaner and less detailed. These more-contemporary accents often lean toward mid-century modern, a millennial favorite for so long that it is now considered a home furnishings basic.

Vintage with a twist, the grandmillennial trend is well expressed by the floral patterns of the Twiggy Brown & Blush wallpaper, a collaboration between Woodchip & Magnolia and Fearne Cotton. The Simone Screen and Isabella Pouf from Koket (far left) combine feelings of vintage and glamour in this grandmillennial styled room.

“The trend is all about furnishings that look like or are vintage, but with a twist. For example, an upholstered chair that your grandmother loved in tapestry might be recovered for a 21st-century consumer in an updated color of velvet or an oversized repeat, transforming it into something unique. Or, vintage-look furnishings may appear in a room with oversized-floral wallpaper. It’s an eclectic look and part of a return to tradition that we’ve been tracking for more than three years.”

“Vintage furniture has been out of fashion for long enough that it now feels fresh. Chairish has published some astonishing numbers about how many people have purchased vintage products at www.chairish.com.

“Knowing that consumers are embracing vintage should give retailers the confidence to try it. I don’t want to say that every retailer should change the majority of their trend assortment to grandmillennial, but they might show grandmillennial looks as well as Japandi, supernatural (natural, sustainable, eco-friendly, sometimes with touches of luxe) and neo-traditional, because you never satisfy your trend customer with just one choice. Unfortunately, many retailers have not been able to fully participate in these trends due to current COVID related manufacturing and supply chain issues.

Neo-traditional Trend: “Millennials who are at an age and a stage where they are buying homes and starting families are looking for a decorating style that’s not only different from the mid-mod starter furnishings of their younger years, but also a little more grown-up. They feel drawn to the history and stability of classic lines and details. Yet, having come of age during a surge of contemporary styling, they need those historical references to be streamlined, modernized, and the materials in which they are shown to be updated. Think of neo-traditional as a bridge from contemporary to traditional style.

Japandi Trend: “Japandi blends a rustic Scandinavian sensibility with Japanese minimalism. It’s as clean as Craftsman but always with a Japanese spin. It might take the form of a minimalist chair form with a fabulous faux shearling fabric. The wood can have a light, Scandinavian-inspired finish, or mimic Shou Sugi Ban, the traditional Japanese charred wood technique that’s blackened and textural with woodgrains showing through. Japandi has been around for about a year but like other important trends, it’s cresting rather than peaking. Crate & Barrel has a collection and consumers are waiting to see these products more widely displayed at retail.”


“The term biophilia describes mankind’s attraction to all things organic,” noted Lamb. “We’re seeing a surge right now in the use of the word biophilia as it applies to home furnishings. The convergence of the pandemic, wildfires, droughts and storm disasters have laid bare for us what happens when we don’t pay attention to caring for our planet. There’s been a huge increase in houseplant sales. Target has a terrific houseplant initiative and many other retailers have jumped in, selling pots and planters.

“In the furniture retailing space the trend has become apparent through the use of natural materials like hardwoods, a return to bamboo, grasses, rattan strip and other natural materials that had their last heyday in the 1970s. The trend is not just limited to materials, however. Patterns and surface designs that either replicate or are evocative of natural materials are also on-trend.”

She noted that there’s an associated focus on indoor health. “For example, Ikea recently announced the introduction of a new IKEA Home Smart air purifier built into a table.

“Lush greens are already working their way into retail assortments (H&M Home, Primark in the UK, Typo in the U.S. and Target at the mass retailing level), and they were everywhere at the recent High Point furniture market. We’re seeing these wonderful greens, along with organic patterns that can sometimes be identified as leaves and flowers, but other times are more abstract, just giving the impression of being something found in nature.”

Bold Counter-Trend

Neo-traditional is back in a big way. Pictured is the Wing Tip chair from Caracole and Column Floor Lamp in Black Cerused Oak from Global Views.

When it comes to identifying major trends, it can be easy to leave out trend options that will attract and energize a wider customer base.

Previously in this interview, Lamb mentioned how the pandemic encouraged an ongoing trend towards warmth and comfort. “Where there’s a trend there’s always counter-trend,” she explained. “A smaller, though a still significant set of people have reacted to the same stimulus by looking for bold forms, bold colors and a bold point of view. To appeal to this customer, retailers need to consider pieces with elements that feel almost exaggerated or give the impression of being inflated. These same strong components can be contrasted with others that could be characterized as skinny. This can happen in a single piece (think bold seating with thin legs) or within an environment (statement upholstery alongside a trim table).”

Trend Notes

Display: “If a store has display windows, it can present a real opportunity to send a trend message to shoppers. Trends can also be presented in display areas seen by shoppers as soon as they enter a store. These are the two places where consumers look to get cues about a store and where it lives on the bell curve for trend.

“Recently while doing some trend spotting at a mall in Southern California I walked past a Crate and Barrel window that featured a chair, table, and a screen. This little vignette with five items including a lamp and rug was an education in trend. It’s something that just about any retailer can do in a window or floor display.”

Partitions: “How long has it been since we’ve seen screens displayed at retail? Screens are back because when the pandemic began, people noticed that the same open floor plans that provided a feeling of spaciousness were not so great for dividing up spaces for schooling, home office work and crafts. So, we have seen a fabulous return of screens and room dividers that can help us define smaller spaces.”

On the topic of room dividers, Lamb related the flex room trend in new home construction. “Before the pandemic, homes that might have included a home office, extra bedroom or craft room now include what’s called a flex room. What can you do with that room? Anything you want or need. We’re also seeing more home builder options for multi-generational suites that include some sort of a sitting or living room, bathroom and bedroom area. The homebuilder Lennar reported that during the pandemic people started buying a version of their multigen floorplan to separate work from living areas.

“Consumers are partitioning off nooks, such as bay window areas to create places for private reading or study. They are also looking for twin beds that can stack or be rearranged to create activity spaces in bedrooms. And, where children might each have had their own bedrooms, parents are doubling them up to free up a bedroom to become a school/play/exercise/craft room.”

Quantitative Trend Analysis

Lamb uses the bell curve as a metaphor for a trend’s life. She pointed to seven behavioral stages that define each color, style or motif trend (emerging, incoming, pre-peak, peak, post-peak, outgoing, decline). These are illustrated in the chart on page 20.

“The life cycle of a trend is part of every presentation I give. Once retailers identify the stage at which they want to engage with a trend, other crucial decisions become easier to make. Specifically, the curve can help them figure out when to bring a trend into their store’s assortment. Just as important, it can help them determine when to phase it out. Understood and used wisely, the bell curve is an important tool for reducing risk.

“Even though certain trends can be popular early on, most furniture retailers don’t need to jump in at the beginning of a trend cycle unless that’s what their shoppers are looking for. If not, it may be best to wait a while. When it comes to trend, timing matters to both sales and profits.”


Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.

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