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John Gidding, panelists discuss post-recession design at High Point Market press breakfast

HIGH POINT, N.C. - HGTV design personality John Gidding moderated a panel discussion themed around design i

press breakfastJohn Gidding moderated a discussion among designers (from left) Robin Wilson, Michelle Wiebe and Lori Dennis, and realtor Zan Monroe at High Point Theatre Monday morning.
n the post-recession economy at a Monday morning market press here. Sponsored by the High Point Market Authority and American Home Furnishings Association, panelists included interior designers Michelle Weibe and Lori Dennis, based in Florida and Southern California, respectively, eco-friendly New York designer Robin Wilson, and N.C. realtor Zan Monroe.

In providing a snapshot of the real estate market, Monroe said home sales fell 30% from 2006 to 2008, rose last year by 9% and are expected to rise this year by 10 to 12%. He's seeing about 30% of homes being purchased as cash sales as buyers move more of their wealth out of other investments, a trend he thinks will continue. The market is in "a true supply and demand" period right now, with the average home sold in the U.S. measuring approximately 1,900 square feet and selling for $190,000.

In discussing how all this fuels the home furnishings business, the designers agreed on some points and disagreed on others.

Dennis, who described the "typical starter home" in Southern California as a $1.5 million 900-sq.-ft. house, said that when home sales dropped, furniture buying increased as more of her clients stayed put and invested in remodeling.

Wiebe said homeowners are less drawn to higher-end heirloom furniture - quality pieces they can leave for their children - as they become more transient and less inclined to stick with one style. She cited the example of clients who after five or six years decided to completely replace their traditional interiors with Mid Century modern, and will likely replace that with something else in a few years.

In the case of the Baby Boomer empty nesters, Wilson is seeing a lot of downsizing while Wiebe is seeing the group upsize to bigger manses, perhaps somewhat attributable to their geographic locales (Wilson is in New York, Wiebe is in Florida).

The trend of postponing marriage until later in life may be contributing to a new (and strengthening) consumer group - men, especially those 30 and older. All of the designers said they are seeing men becoming much more involved in the design, selection and purchasing process, and have seen more menswear-inspired products and interiors in High Point this week.

As everyone in the group has had varying degrees of exposure in HGTV programming, some of the talk turned to the effect of the network on today's consumer as well as how design-for-television visually influences the designers' projects. Wilson, for example, spoke to a three bedroom redesign in Harlem for which she selected a neutral sofa but surrounded with lots of color, pattern and texture for good visual effect via television broadcasting. For a magazine spread, the selection might include a deep blue sofa or an alternate color and texture that would translate better in print; one that, added Gidding, "may not look so great in the home ... A lot of it (television design) is about bridging the gap between what we want to do and what the producer wants us to do."

Dennis said the HGTV shows are now providing consumers with scenarios that are more realistic, like showcasing a good $40,000 kitchen redo versus a $1,000 makeover, for example. Monroe noted that real estate shows are on the upswing and design shows are on the downswing.

As for this week's market, Wiebe said she hadn't seen much new, and felt there was a lot of Belgian linen and distress woods with the addition of some color. Wilson said she would like to see more manufacturers address the trend of college grads moving back home, in young adult furnishings lines specifically geared to that market. Children's furniture is "huge" for all of the designers, whether high-end or budget, with more "adult" styling (armchairs, higher-quality fabrics) being offered.

Overall, the designers expressed optimism going forward and say they see a lot of opportunity in the next 10 to 20 years.

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