Designer Thom Filicia, seen here in his own home, said clients are thinking about their homes in a different way now, and need them to function as office space, a place to do yoga, to meditate and to spend time with their families. All that plays into wellness, he said.
Before interior designer Cheryl Luckett started her career in home furnishings, she was a registered dietician, and she remembers when the concept of “wellness” first hit the scene many years ago. She also saw that concept evolve from a focus on food and exercise to a more holistic understanding of overall well-being.
The quest for optimal health and wellness, a drive that began several years ago and accelerated during the pandemic, has now become centered on and in the home.
“[It’s about] the way we live and the importance we put on our home to support the way we live,” said Luckett, a self-described homebody. “Eyes have been opened, and I’m hoping that doesn’t change.”
According to The NPD Group, a market research firm, nearly two years after the pandemic hit the U.S., retail sales of products in health and wellness categories continue to match peak growth rates. That includes products like air purifier filters, massaging appliances, free-weight equipment and sound machines. Sales revenue in each of these categories more than doubled in 2021, compared to 2019, according to NPD. Many categories related to cleaning, fitness, food preparation, storage and preservation continued to grow by double digits last year, as did books about home, gardening, crafts, hobbies, self-help and cooking.
“This growth seems to indicate that health and wellness is an enduring pandemic trend, which could provide opportunities for continued consumer spending,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry advisor for NPD.
Designer Libby Langdon of Libby Langdon Interiors said she sees more clients wanting to bring items into their homes that feed them in a nurturing and satisfying way. “I think the quest for a healthy home these days can be as much from a mental approach as an organic eco-friendly approach,” she said. “People want to be gentle with their time at home so they feel recharged and re-invigorated when they head back to their office or out into the world.”
Luckett, whose North Carolina firm is called Dwell by Cheryl, said she has seen this play out in her clients’ requests for room in their homes to play games, meditate, relax and recharge, and entertain friends and neighbors. “I can’t tell you how many lounges we have done,” she said, referring to adult hangouts with amenities ranging from bar cabinets to pool tables to cozy seating for four or five friends.
Luckett has also created plenty of game rooms with tables especially suited for jigsaw puzzling and board games. Meditation spaces are another popular request. Luckett described those as “Zen spaces” where people can read, listen to podcasts or actually meditate. “Right now, I’m converting a wine room into a meditation space,” she said. Other people want their home office to double as a yoga space.
Designer Shayla Copas of Shayla Copas Interiors concurred. “Clients are asking for workout rooms, yoga studios, meditation spaces and water features to reduce stress,” she said.
This need for multifunctional spaces requires home furnishings and accents that are flexible and truly multifunctional. “The details really matter now,” said Luckett. It could mean simple, practical product features, like lids on storage baskets to hide the yoga mats inside, or tables and chairs on wheels so they can be pushed to one side when a different activity is taking place in a room. Products that used to be deemed appropriate for small-space living are now suitable for homes of all sizes, Luckett said.
She will also be keeping an eye out for these types of products at High Point Market this month. She acknowledged how hard it is for manufacturers to get any products into the pipeline with all the supply chain hurdles they face, but said she wanted to see more intentionality in how products are developed for multifunctional rooms.
Luckett will be on the hunt for a desk that moves up and down “and doesn’t look like it came from Office Depot,” and for great upholstered desk chairs, which are easier to find, she said.
Designer Monika Nessbach, owner of Charlotte, N.C.’s designbar, will also be looking for multifunctional products, like adjustable side tables that can accommodate a laptop. She is particularly interested in everyday furniture pieces, like dining room tables, with integrated tech features that also look good. “People want their house to look like a house, and not an office,” she pointed out.
Color is also an essential element to creating a mood. It can transform the way you feel when you enter the room, noted Langdon. “Color has the ability to make us feel an emotion in our homes —orange and red equal energy, green and brown connect us to nature, blue and yellow bring in a coastal vibe and pale aqua and icy blue offer a relaxing, spa-like feeling,” she said. “I always recommend that people decide how they want a room to look and function for their lifestyle and then choose their design scheme. Color is truly a transformative design tool.”
Luckett said she always starts a design project by asking her clients how they want the space to feel: Warm and cozy? Clean and invigorating? “Those things speak to color,” she said. “Getting that right is more critical than ever.”
The biophilia trend, the love for plants which encompasses everything from green walls to an abundance of houseplants, to an organic vegetable garden in the backyard, also feeds into the health and wellness trend, said Nessbach.
Morgan Bills, owner of Southern Chic Interiors, agreed. “I have currently been using lots more greenery in homes, which helps clean the air,” she said.
Designer Victoria Sanchez spent most of her 40-year design career on the East Coast (in the Washington, D.C. area of northern Virginia) but recently relocated to Santa Fe, N.M. where she owns Victoria at Home, a design firm and showroom. In the Southwest, she said, there is no humidity, no mosquitoes or flies, and the focus is on outdoor pursuits like hiking in the mountains. Health-conscious wealthy retirees flock to the area for the air quality and the outdoor living.
“That’s what brings them here,” said Sanchez. “Their homes reflect that.”
“Wool and sisal are the only two rugs I sell,” she said. If she offers a stain-resistant product, customers ask what kind, and if it has a chemical element, they say no, Sanchez said. “They ask about poly fills and want to switch to down.
“People want the handmade natural. I love that. In the process, I’m learning.”
Her awareness of health and wellness and sustainably-minded products has grown more important since moving to Santa Fe. “I want to get on the bandwagon,” she said. She planned to check out Design Works International Creative Director Nancy Fire’s Sustainability Soiree — a presentation of sustainable home furnishings during High Point Market — and will seek out members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council while in High Point.
Bills is likewise going to look for more unique, organic wood pieces that bring the outdoors inside, while Copas said she is looking forward to seeing HempWood at market. “Their ultra-low VOC [volatile organic compound] lumber made from hemp is intriguing to me,” she said.
“Definitely, the new focus on a healthy home has shaped what I’m shopping for when I’m at market,” said Langdon. “It sounds like simple thing, but I will be opening doors and drawers of case goods products when I’m visiting showrooms in High Point. I will be looking out for pieces that might give off a bad smell — that for me is one of the biggest complaints from clients who are looking to create healthy spaces for their families. They want to make sure there isn’t a strong, bad smell when new pieces are brought into their home.”
Designer Thom Filicia, who is co-master of ceremonies with Langdon for the Sustainable Furnishings Council’s 15th anniversary celebration at High Point Market this month, said he has watched consumer awareness of sustainable home furnishings grow in recent years, similar to the way people pay more attention to food ingredient labels. It’s become more a part of everyday thought and conversation, he said.
“I think that has had great effect on the home furnishings market — in a good way,” he said. He cited the use of more home products, such as rugs, made from recycled plastic, the use of vegetable dyes, 100% wool products or natural fiber blends, wall paint and adhesives for wall-to-wall carpeting that are low VOC, and more interest in locally-sourced products and practices that ‘lean in’ to being green, whether that mean more eco-friendly manufacturing processes, the use of energy-efficient lighting or other practices. “It’s not just the product, it’s the bigger picture,” he said.
Enabling clients to spend 20 minutes a day meditating or enjoying other wellness-related activities that are important to them is a luxury that has come to the fore, Filicia said. “Mix that with low-VOC paints, 100% wool rugs with natural dyes, and all of a sudden, there is a conversation,” he said.
Over the past two years, we have all had time to stop and listen and decide what is important to us, Filicia added. “For a while, we were all running and not hearing,” he said. “Hopefully, we can learn from COVID … and do things better.” —Lauren Roses contributed to this story