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To end 2021, a trip around each sector in the interior design industry. To give insight into which have a rosy future. Or those, for whom the next few years are likely to be an uphill struggle. However, the assessments aren’t overly precise economic indicators. Derived using lots of maths. In preference, they’re predictions based on what’s happening in the world around us. And the behaviour of our fellow humans.
This piece is longer than usual. An unfortunate consequence of the number of interior design sectors to delve into. Additionally, some sectors are now so large and diverse it’s necessary to split them into smaller groups. For example, this article separates residential interior design into 3 groups. High-end private resi, mid-range private resi, and property developer resi.
To speed things up for you, there’s a traffic light infographic immediately below. Where a green light means it’s likely to be a lucrative sector. Amber means it’s probably best to stay in it, but be cautious about going in. A red light, think about getting out. Similarly, it’s a sector you’ll do well to avoid.
High-End Private Residential Design
The flagship of the interior design industry. Where interior designers to the stars can become celebrities themselves. Much of the interior design industry’s focus is on this sector. Owing to the prestige, the luxury, the massive budgets. There’s lots of demand. Plenty of reports tell us the rich are getting richer. And they need ways to spend their money.
Although demand is high, so is supply. Not least with design schools pumping out designers for prestige design firms. To the extent the market might be becoming saturated with high-end residential interior designers. Another fly in the ointment, luxury firms don’t just have projects in the UK. Their clients are worldwide. Including Europe. And this year it got trickier to do business there. Which means European clients might look for designers closer to home.
Regardless, it’s not a sector that should worry us. If you’re in the high-end private residential sector, stay in it. If it’s a sector you’re considering, be aware that competition is fierce. And could get fiercer.
Mid-Market Private Residential Design
This sector was the subject of a design business insight earlier in the year, The Rise of New Interior Design Clients. Its theme, Homes and Gardens’ readership isn’t only those who can afford the services of the featured interior designers. Rather, the magazine owes its popularity to our admiration, aspiration of the wealth and luxury enjoyed by others. What’s more, lifestyles are changing.
Professional people increasingly want interior design services. For a variety of reasons. Our spending is more extravagant. Revealed by expensive coffee houses, pet-pampering parlous. Digital technology has reduced the cost-to-serve and increased accessibility of interior design services. And tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Zs are swelling the professional ranks. Who place less value on the face-to-face interaction that comes with a traditional design approach.
Not only does this group provide opportunity, its clients are easier to serve. The DIY tendency of younger people means demand will be less for full design services. And more for concepts, even e-design. Neither requires project management experience. Or a network of contractors and suppliers.
In brief, if you’re in it, there should be more projects coming your way. If you’re not in it, consider getting in it. The low setup costs make it an attractive possibility for interior design start-ups.
Property Development Residential Design
Interior designers that service property developers, both large and small. Show home styling isn’t new. Now potential clients are recognising its importance more and more. Which means smaller, and perhaps one-time, developers now appreciate the benefit of a well-presented property. Furthermore, the HMO (house in multiple occupation) market has grown from student digs to shared homes for professionals. In addition, these spaces pose their own interior design challenges.
And it’s not just property developers. Private sellers are picking up on the trend in the US where interior styling can make homes sell quicker. And for more. An earlier barrier to getting into this sector was the need for large FF&E stocks. A problem diminishing as more furniture rental companies pop up.
This sector is at the interior styling, not the interior architecture, end of the spectrum. Which means the lack of chunky projects might put some off. On the other hand, this interior design sector is expanding. So, stay in it if you’re in it. With less upfront investment needed, it’s also worth considering a move into this space.
Office design has dominated the workplace design discussion recently. Not least because the remote working debate rages on. Hence, giving office design its own section.
A mass return to the office is, in effect, a return to the way things were. Which in turn suggests Coronavirus, or more accurately Coronaviruses, are a temporary problem. As SARS, MERS, Bird Flu have shown, infectious viruses are a permanent feature of society. Nevertheless, it’ll take time for the office-working stalwarts to accept this. In the meantime, uncertainty will continue to restrict projects in the sector. Moreover, the uncertainty could last for several years.
Once uncertainty evaporates, hybrid / flexible working office models are likely to dominate. And bring abundant opportunities for office designers. Both in corporate offices and coworking spaces. Except it could be some time before we see those opportunities.
For now, if you’re in the office interior design sector, hang on. If you’re not in it, hold back.
Other Workplace Design
Notwithstanding the headlines, workplace design isn’t only office design. People work in shops, hotels, bars and restaurants, healthcare establishments, schools, colleges, and universities. And the retail, hotel, food and beverage, healthcare, and education sections explore these environments. Instead, let’s spend a moment on a niche workplace design subsector: lab design.
Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical funding has gone through the roof. Now that battling infectious diseases is electorally relevant. Simply put, vaccine rollouts can win votes. Hence, it’s probable that drug funding will remain high for the next few years. And the likely outcome is abundant lab design projects.
Lab design is a specialist branch of the interiors industry. Consequently, convincing clients to take you on without a track record will be tough. Equally, if you’re already supplying lab design services, make hay while the sun shines. And the sun is likely to shine until at least mid-2024.
To first discuss one aspect of the interior design hospitality sector. Based on the share prices of some of the largest hotel chains this sector could be full of opportunity. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, much of their fortunes are the result of factors other than filling hotel rooms. Rather, the big hotel chains have benefited from cost cutting and buying up other struggling hotel companies.
Clearly, hotels benefit from our love, or otherwise, of travel. Leisure travel, at least within the UK is back to 2019 levels. At the same time, business travel is a fraction of what it was. And for good reason. If we’re averse to going to our own offices, why would we want to travel to someone else’s? And the hotel industry is very reliant on business travel. For this reason, hotels are likely to supply less interior design projects over the next few years.
In conclusion, I don’t suggest hotel interior designers should panic. Although, looking at opportunities in other interior design sectors is a good idea. Likewise, it’s a sector to enter with caution.
Other Hospitality Design
What about more leisure-orientated parts of the hospitality sector? Namely, spas and gyms. Both industries were steady before COVID. And there’s nothing to suggest these spending habits are likely to change significantly in the coming years. This means interior design projects for this sector are likely to be similar in number and size.
So, if you’re in the leisure-orientated hospitality interior design sectors, stay in. If you’re considering it as a new revenue stream, think about what will set you apart from other interior designers. From the client’s point of view.
Food and Beverage (F&B)
According to media reports, we’ve longed to get back to the pubs and clubs. To meet friends and socialise. Unfortunately, pub drinkers and young people on a night out aren’t enough to sustain the F&B industry. We saw this in 2007, when the smoking ban encouraged family diners back into pubs. And breathed new life into the industry.
The big question now is, has this all-important consumer changed their behaviour? For families, an evening meal out comes with cost and inconvenience that a new alternative does not. Restaurant quality food at home. With no need for babysitters and taxis. There’s no doubt that visiting a restaurant gives a better dining experience. And with more bang for buck and less hassle, the home-restaurant experience is competing with going out.
And it’s not just family diners whose behaviour could change. Bars, restaurants, and cafes in areas with lots of office space are hurting. If hybrid / flexible approaches dominate working practices, then the reduced business and commuter spending on F&B will become permanent. In such circumstances, some cafes may become coworking spaces, supplying fresh interior design projects. Many other F&B establishments may become nothing other than empty units.
To sum up, the F&B interior design sector isn’t the one I fear for the most. That said, it has an uncertain future. So, if you’re in it, stay in. At the same time, be mindful of other options. If you’re not in it, think carefully before you dive in.
Then to retail interior design. The retail industry is trying to talk things up. In reality, the large retailers are moving away from the high street, with disastrous consequences for small independent shops. Which means the current model, where a few big names supply the footfall draw for everyone else, is falling apart. What’s worse, other than occasional isolated examples, local councils don’t seem to have a response to the rapidly unfolding calamity.
I’d love to see a revitalisation of our high streets. Besides an explosion in co-working spaces, which has its own challenges, I don’t know what’s going to trigger the transformation. More importantly, nor do any of the retail experts I’ve reached out to. Yes, there’s still retail parks. Although it’s likely the high street’s fate is an omen for them too.
In a nutshell, this is an interior design sector to avoid. And to consider getting out of.
Public money often finances the interior design of education establishments. For this reason, we’re unlikely to see any dramatic changes in funding. Nor the number and size of interior design projects. Looking further into the future. An increased use of remote learning in further education is likely to result in less demand for physical space. And less interior design projects from further education.
Coincidentally, birth rates are falling. And have been since 2012. Despite the emotive headlines to the contrary, immigration has a negligible effect on the reducing population of little people. Which means there is less demand for school education. An effect already seen in infant and primary schools. With reception year entry lower than in previous years. More importantly for interior designers working in the education sector, much lower than its capacity.
So, if you’re in this space, stay in it. And it you’re not, go into it by all means. Just make sure you have a plan B for about 10 years’ time.
Even though funded in the same way as interior design for education, the healthcare interior design sector is growing rapidly. Not only that, it’s also an interior design sector that’s likely to keep on growing.
And that’s down to the baby boomers. Older people. This generation has undergone unprecedented gains in wealth during their lifetime. As a result, they’ve become accustomed to the finer things in life. Consequently, the grey, drab care home of yesteryear won’t cut it. They want a care home they can enjoy, not have to endure. With a homeliness feel and luxury combined. Perhaps this is an opportunity for those in hotel design?
There could also be cross over into residential interior design. Not only because people want to stay in their own homes in their twilight years. Increased awareness of hypersensitivity conditions could also lead to more demand for functional, sympathetic, and aesthetic design in our homes.
Put simply, if you’re in the healthcare interior design sector, the future is bright. If you’re not in it, it’s definitely a sector to consider.
Marine and Aviation
To discuss both only briefly. Firstly, on account of they’re so niche. Secondly, despite their unique challenges from a design perspective, the market forces influencing them are the same as other sectors.
For instance, economic and social factors that influence high-end private resi also affects demand for luxury marine design. In the same vein, downturns in leisure and business travel don’t only harm the interior design hotel sector. Aviation design suffers too.
As such, the situation and outlook for these sectors are similar to high-end private residential and hotel interior design. That’s to say, possibly becoming saturated and uncertain respectively.
The Future for Your Interior Design Business
To wrap up, if you’re looking for new opportunities, mid-market private and property development resi are worth looking at. Healthcare is really taking off and likely to keep going on its upward path. Lab design is another to consider. If you want something niche.
At the other end of the scale is retail interior design. Sadly, there aren’t any positive signs for this sector.
As for all the other interior design sectors, they’re likely to have their ups and downs. Sometimes it will be tough, other times less so. It’s the interior design industry, so what’s new?
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