MILAN — In Italy, your kitchen is something you take with you, which presents a real bummer for young professionals in the rental market, hard-pressed to come up with a deposit and/or the money for a kitchen that fits into challenging spaces.
Solving this conundrum is how and why Northern Italy-based firm Very Simple Kitchen was born. Colorful, inviting and retro, Very Simple Kitchen claims it has charmed the U.S. market (now its second-largest in terms of sales) with its easy online configurator system that enables a completed kitchen to be shipped to a customer in about six weeks. About 30 to 35 percent of its clients are Millennial young couples who are design-literate and digitally native but are struggling with small urban apartments.
The firm’s most basic bread-and-butter Made in Italy kitchen is still about 10,000 euros. When asked if financing plans are on the horizon à la Klarna or Satispay, founder Riccardo Randi said post-purchase options are a near-term goal.
“If they have a bigger budget, that kitchen can cost up to 25,000 euros with enhancements like marble accents and higher-end Inox appliances,” Randi told WWD.
The son of a Bolognese restaurateur, he said he grew up understanding the importance of having a comfortable, functional, long-lasting kitchen. Randi, who studied industrial design, said the light bulb went off after designing his own kitchen.
At the last Design Week in Milan, VSK created a buzz at the Convey event with a packed spaghetti party in the courtyard of the hipster BasicVillage compound where its showroom is housed. With chef Davide Longoni, they raised brand awareness through a bread-making demonstration on the marble countertop of one of their higher-end kitchens and collaborated with another like-minded brand, Scandi firm Form Us With Love, to develop a system of accessories that is modular and functional. Client, PR founder, entrepreneur and influencer Luisa Bertoldo is a fan, and took it upon herself to enhance the system, placing it next to a custom-made, ultra-modern cabinet in dark wood and dividing the two with a Corinthian column in between.
“I like to combine stuff and I love design objects that last. It takes some culture,” she said.
The same hipster vibe permeated through Copenhagen, where Vermland showed off its high quality, solid wood kitchens and furniture with bespoke bolts and fittings on the last day of Denmark’s 3daysofdesign. The company’s flexible modular system allows the customer to assemble the products with no background in the woodworking field for a final result that is “long lasting.” The products are flat-packed and delivered directly from the workshop.
“Kitchens are a little more complicated when there are pipes involved and stuff can go wrong. So we would like to have a bit more control; we need a contractor or somebody in the States to partner with. It’s something we need to do because we get requests every day,” cofounder Joakim Tolf Vulpius, a trained cabinet maker, said in a courtyard surrounded by friends and industry watchers sipping on beers.
The firm created a buzz in 2020 for covering 1,070 square feet of Hverdagen, a restaurant in Copenhagen, with furnishings and interiors made entirely out of the wood from a single Douglas fir tree. Since then its sales have been mostly generated in Europe through private meetings booked online, but the company is hoping to appeal to a broader public.
“We want to reach out to middle-income people, like maybe upper middle class but also make it accessible to middle class,” Vulpius added, noting the firm is focused on producing on a larger scale.
New York-based Sabai is also striving to appeal to the younger generations’ consumer values and budgets with its easy-to-clean, easy-to-repair, ship and assemble products. Founded by first-gen American and Forbes 30 Under 30 member Phantila Phataraprasit, the Millennial-helmed brand says it is reinventing what “Made in the USA” means.
With mortgage rates skyrocketing and home ownership becoming increasingly inaccessible, Phataraprasit realized that young people today want more out of their furniture but often fail to justify the price. “Many times, we buy furniture knowing that our living situation and apartments may look different in one or two years and it becomes hard to justify investing in quality furniture. We created Sabai to bring people accessible, high-quality, sustainable, and non-toxic furniture because we faced these exact issues ourselves,” she said.
Sabai prides itself on its modular furnishings for young people by re-engineering its pieces from the ground up. Not only can a customer buy modular pieces so that their sofa can grow with them from apartment to apartment, but through its Repair Don’t Replace program they can also buy component parts to replace singular elements, including legs, slipcovers and cushions.
With customers demanding more natural, sustainable materials in addition to recycled and upcycled options, Sabai’s response was the Evergreen and Elevate collections that incorporate Cocolok fiber — a byproduct of the food industry, made from coconuts — in the sofa frame. With it, the company released its first line of slipcovers made from hemp — an all-natural fiber that performs like linen cotton but is produced using far less water.
“By designing our pieces to be slipcovered, we’re offering people the ability to update their pieces without having to replace their piece or spend money on reupholstering,” she said.
Last month, ABC Carpet & Home, the New York destination since 1897, said that it was time to focus on expanding the omnichannel experience for its modern-day customers as the retailer launches its first customizable furniture experience.
The emblem of the new experience is its Cobble Hill collection, which is made in the USA exclusively for ABC Carpet & Home and features a variety of modern luxury furniture, including chairs, sectionals, beds and more. According to the company, shoppers can now digitally customize the fabrics and colors of each piece of the Cobble Hill collection with more than 80 colors and sustainably sourced materials and fabric options including cotton, velvet, linen and performance blends.
“This initiative was a strategic decision to invest in technology that allows our customers to grow with us and create truly unique pieces for their homes. Modern consumers care now more than ever about having furniture that fits their style and lasts a lifetime, so we wanted to provide them with a wide range of custom options to create furniture they love and can see in their homes for years to come,” the company’s vice president, merchandising and e-commerce Suki LaBarre told WWD. She added that this is just the first step in the company’s furniture customization plans.
Sector-wide, companies are focused on appealing to young consumers, catching their attention from university age. As a result, the broader design industry — including interiors and home — is rising to the influencer marketing occasion, pondering what sort of influencers make their sofas and tableware appear cool to a global public. Randi said that influencers are one way to draw young consumers to his products as students, encouraging them to make a lifetime purchase that can be passed down, sooner rather than later.
“This is a very important aspect. To teach these sort of values, promoting products that last involves a social media strategy based on spontaneity, genuine and not necessarily choosing influencers with lots of followers.”
Phataraprasit echoed this, explaining that social media is also a source of input for the brand, a litmus test for new trends and provides feedback on what this generation is actually looking for.
“With Instagram and TikTok inundating us with new trends and new design inspiration — we’re constantly looking for the next best thing,” she said.