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5 interior designers on how to successfully launch a product line

For many leading interior designers, launching a signature product line seems like a logical next step. But is it right for all of them, and how is it best handled? Effect Magazine sat down with leading interior designers who reveal what they have learned about the process and what they advise.

Private clients at the top end of the market don’t want the same furniture as their friends – they want a one-off. That either means an ultra-rare period piece, or something that’s specially designed for them. That informs the route of travel for many interior designers: creating a piece for a specific project because “we couldn’t find anything on the market that would work in that corner/room/penthouse/mansion.” The next move is to add to that piece and voilà!, it’s a collection. This is great for one’s ego, and for one’s PR machine. But is it great for one’s bank balance? Possibly, if you get the costings right with your craftspeople and manufacturers, and find a receptive audience. But not necessarily, particularly if your discerning clients love your pieces, but want each made-to-order item tweaked to suit them. Still, the lure of their own collection is too much to resist for some. Here, five interior designers describe what they’ve learnt from their experience.

Lind + Almond

Hotel Sanders in Copenhagen, designed by Lind + Almond and featuring furniture designed by the studio

When Pernille Lind and Richy Almond completed Hotel Sanders in Copenhagen, they felt that its bespoke furniture “would be of interest to a market beyond just the hotel guests”, says Lind. Almond already knew this market – prior to Sanders, he had set up the artisanal furniture company Novocastrian. All the pieces in their collection are made to order by artisans in the UK and Europe, and are customisable.

Lind + Almond negotiated a deal with the original manufacturers of the hotel’s furniture to continue producing the range for sale. “From the start we were very conscious of the pricing, as we wanted the range to be accessible, while still aspirational – in order to sell them in reasonable quantities,” says Almond.

Decipher your target audience, the price points you’ll target, and what the underlying idea for the piece or range of furniture is.

Pernille Lind, cofounder of Lind + Almond

They initially had to buy the pieces in batches to keep production costs down. “But this put quite a risk on us, as with multiple size and finish options, we had to navigate building up a considerable amount of stock,” says Lind. So they moved production to a manufacturer who allowed them to order one-offs without a huge surcharge.

The duo advise embarking on such a venture by “deciphering your target audience, the price points you’ll target, and what the underlying idea for the piece or range of furniture is”. Then you have to make sure all those elements work in harmony. Upon developing a design and pricing it up, “the price can still come out much higher than the target you had in mind; here you will need to go back and tweak the design to get a bit closer,” says Lind.

The Sanders Sideboard by Lind + Almond in oak and rattan, created for Copenhagen’s Hotel Sanders

“If you end up with a range full of lovely pieces but extortionately expensive, you’re narrowing your market to a tiny fraction of a per cent of people,” Almond warns. “If you haven’t got access to those people, then it could be a waste of time.”

Lind + Almond have now found a sweet spot where pieces are not immensely expensive, but at a significant enough price point to make a decent profit and generate a reasonable income – without needing to sell thousands of pieces, they add. Almond notes that large-scale interior projects often involve substantial fees over a significant length of time, whereas “the revenue from selling furniture tends to offer a more predictable profit margin.” However, to match the value of an interior design project, “you typically need to sell many pieces of furniture.” Ultimately, the profitability of either depends on factors like project scale, resourcing, duration, and the volume of furniture sales versus the production costs.

Tatjana von Stein

From a business perspective, Tatjana von Stein thinks it helps to diversify: “Both sides of the business can support each other and drive new opportunities.” Her firm’s interior work so far is mostly in hospitality, and its year-old collectible design range, Mise en Scène (pictured above and top), “is starting to open us up to a new audience, including our own design community”, she adds.

Von Stein is about to sign with a gallery who will launch Mise en Scène on the US market during New York’s Salon Art & Design fair in November, and she’s working on new additions to this collection.

The firm has seen “a huge number of bespoke enquiries,” so von Stein advises finding workshops with the capacity to customise and to future-proof the business. “I also made sure I selected workshops that have the capacity to take large orders (why not aim high!).”

But she points out that as Mise en Scène only launched last year, “we’re really still learning ourselves.”

Bryan O’Sullivan Studio

A Paris townhouse by interior designer Bryan O’Sullivan (photo: James McDonald)

“In terms of business, having a furniture and lighting company is certainly more scalable than a design studio.” That’s Bryan O’Sullivan’s recent experience.

In terms of business, having a furniture and lighting company is certainly more scalable than a design studio.

Bryan O’Sullivan Studio

The London and New York City-based studio’s first collection of furniture, lighting and objects debuted last year. O’Sullivan says: “We found ourselves creating signature pieces time and time again for our projects – now we can open up our world to a wider audience.”

Design pieces by Bryan O’Sullivan Studio include (top) the Schurmann table lamp and (bottom) the Boydell cabinet

The firm’s gallery is next to one of the studio’s major London clients: Claridge’s. Some of its customers are private individuals, so this location has been invaluable, he says, as “guests of the hotel can shop their rooms.” Much of the collection is made by artists and makers in O’Sullivan’s native Ireland, and some pieces are named after them. West Cork ceramicist Cormac Boydell’s artwork is featured in the Boydell credenza; and glass artist Killian Schurmann has hand-blown the base for the Schurmann light. Each item is made to order and can be customised. Hence the version of the Carlo high stool made to match a client’s wooden floor.

O’Sullivan cautions that it can be tempting to become excited and rush a product, but “it is all in the detail, and it’s always worth pausing and reflecting. We always test a product ourselves, to really understand its form and function.”

Alfredo Paredes

An East Village duplex by interior designer Alfredo Paredes

Formerly head of global store design and architecture at Ralph Lauren, Alfredo Paredes set up his eponymous New York and Miami-based interior design firm Alfredo Paredes in 2019, the same year his debut collection launched.

The pieces target interior designers and private individuals. Many are customisable, with personalised finishes, upholstery choices and dimensions. “We use top-tier materials such as woven leathers, wood, resin and fine upholstery,” says Paredes, who collaborates with hand-crafted furniture company EJ Victor in North Carolina for sourcing and manufacturing.

The design pieces by interior designer Alfredo Paredes exhibit his signature style

Paredes advises staying in constant communication with the production team and factories, “to ensure that the products are of the highest quality and echo the studio’s craftsmanship.

“I’ve found that a consistent challenge is understanding the limitations of certain factories with specific materials. What works well with one production team may not be the best option for another.” When this happens, deciding upon alternative solutions is an exercise in collaboration that requires a lot of communication with multiple teams “to ensure the outcome reflects the studio’s design vision and brand”.

Rabih Hage

The living room of Rabih Hage’s Baltimore Wharf project in Battersea, London

At the collectible end of interior design, “people don’t want to have the same dining chairs as their neighbours,” says Rabih Hage. “Duplicating is wrong – leave that to furniture manufacturers, and to clients who don’t mind having the same chair.” He believes it’s important to have the capacity to do bespoke furniture “because that’s what clients at this level want”.

But this is where things can fall down. “The perception is that it’s a better money-maker (than interior design), but you don’t make as much as you think, because you have this professional deformation – the client wants the sofa to be a bit different.” Interior designers should be “the ambassadors of the great craftsmen they have found – the curators of those craftsmen.” And he suggests that these craftspeople should be on your payroll.

Paris and London-based, Hage has worked with French craftspeople for 30 years. He rates Atelier Saint-Jacques in Paris for their wood and metalwork. For upholstery, he employs Les Ateliers Jouffre in Paris, Lyon and New York.

“It’s very rewarding when people buy a piece, but it’s not a business model,” he admits. “An interior designer – because of his ego – will keep a piece in the catalogue even if it’s not selling.”

Read more: Interior Design | Interior Designers | Design | Furniture | Interiors | Makers