Joan Muller Property writer & columnist
A man examines a bed in Ikea, famous for its flat-pack, DIY furniture. Picture: REUTERS
A man examines a bed in Ikea, famous for its flat-pack, DIY furniture. Picture: REUTERS

Last Saturday at upscale homeware retailer Weylandts’s huge three-level showroom in Joburg’s Fourways shoppers formed long queues at the till points.

The store was humming – which wasn’t quite what one would expect amid a deep recession and job losses upwards of 3-million.

But then again, it could be that dough that many would have dished out on booze, cigarettes and cross-provincial getaways was being spent on sprucing up tired home interiors instead. Anything to make the lockdown more cheery, I suppose.

It’s a pandemic-driven phenomenon that JSE-listed mall owner Liberty Two Degrees, owner of Sandton City and Eastgate, among others, has picked up on. Following the release of the company’s financial results for the year to June last week, CEO Amelia Beattie told the FM that homeware stores across its seven malls have been doing brisk trade in recent months. It’s a no-brainer: people are spending more time at their homes, so they want them to be well-equipped and comfortable, she says.

When the likes of Mr Price and The Foschini Group report their results for the second quarter, it will be interesting to see to what extent furniture and homeware sales have rallied there.

The trend isn’t unique to SA – the pandemic-related lockdown is boosting home-decor sales across the globe. In the US, major furniture retailers such as Ikea, Crate & Barrel and Home Depot, as well as online site Chairish, are reporting a significant uptick in turnover. In this New York Times article, Alyson Krueger looks at which home-related items are raking in the most money.

Unsurprisingly, home office furniture and desk chairs top the best-selling list. Ikea’s Billy bookcase has apparently become a hot commodity as millions of Americans now require an office set-up for working from home.

Utensils and kitchen appliances that can improve one’s culinary skills are similarly in high demand. Believe it or not, Crate & Barrel has sold more bread makers in the past few weeks than during the entire 2019. “They were never best-sellers in the past,” says Crate & Barrel vice-president of merchandising Samara Tuchband.

Americans are also stocking up on hot tubs, trampolines and pool toys to add some zing to outdoor recreation areas.

In the UK, too, shoppers are spending their extra cash on home comforts. In fact, the post-lockdown market for interior accessories made by artisans is booming.

Handmade design and crafts are now all the rage among London’s trendy set, according to UK property and lifestyle site Homes & Property, which says the lockdown has fostered a sense of community, prompting more Britons to buy locally manufactured goods. Read about it here.

What your Zoom background says about you

In another fascinating account of the rapid shift in consumer buying patterns, Livingetc, one of Britain’s most influential décor magazines, highlights eight ways in which Covid-19 is shaping design and decorating trends. The humble abode is no longer only a place to lay one’s weary head: houses will have to become far more adaptable to create flexible, multi-functional spaces.

“We’ll start to see the incorporation of desks and work spaces into bedrooms and living rooms as part of the norm, because even those who continue to work in an office will likely have more flexibility to engage in remote work,” says Ryan Prince, founder of UK property rental management company UNCLE. “Creating multiple work spaces throughout the home means that two people can work from home at the same time without bothering each other.”

In a similar vein, Livingetc predicts that stylish and ergonomic desk chairs will become a must-have item on décor buying lists as demand rises for chairs that fit in with the rest of a home’s aesthetics. Bold colours will come to the fore, with “safe” neutral palettes likely to be rejected as people crave something bright and sunny to counter pandemic-induced dreariness.

Also, there will be an increased gravitation towards unique home spaces, as more people start to consider what their backgrounds are saying about them in Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings.

Kitchens, too, will be reimagined. Already UK kitchen manufacturers are reporting increased demand for larger islands with integrated seating that can be adapted for various uses, including cooking, eating, games evenings, family gatherings, homework or Zoom calls.

Creative storage will become another key consideration for home design. Livingetc argues it’s become all about low-level storage units in multiple rooms – ottoman-style furniture, sideboards and cabinets – that allow “tired parents” to quickly pack away games, toys and books.

But upgrading one’s primary residence may not be for everyone. If you have a few bob stashed away, and want to flee the pandemic altogether, why not consider buying your own island? That’s what the world’s uber wealthy are doing, according to this report in the Financial Times.

Trayor Lesnock, founder of Platinum Luxury Auctions, which is marketing Fiji’s Mai Island with a price tag of just over $4m, says there’s been a sharp increase in demand for “safe haven” private islands in recent months.

“Owning an island has long been considered cool and desirable, but it’s often been a whimsical dream,” he says. “But with Covid-19 it’s starting to look a lot more practical as people rush to find private spaces for themselves.”

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