As technology continues to become a larger part of our daily lives, the spaces in which we eat, sleep, work, and play will need to accommodate more digital tools and offer a greater degree of connectivity. Several furniture companies are already harnessing emerging technologies in order to meet this challenge, working to create attractive, comfortable, and functional pieces that blend seamlessly into modern lifestyles. At the same time, technology is poised to have a significant impact on the way that home furnishings companies market and sell their products. Following are three technologies with exciting applications for furniture retailers and designers.
The increasingly mobile nature of technology is beginning to have a noticeable impact on furniture design. Gone are the days when we only surfed the Internet at our desks or watched movies on the living room TV. Now, it is common to browse the web, stream media, and work on tech-reliant projects from virtually any room in our house. Since our technology is now untethered from the furniture that supports it, furniture designers have more reason to consider how each piece accommodates technology use, implementing features such as charging ports, cable management systems, and adjustable mechanisms.
The impact of mobile technology on furniture is perhaps most evident in the office furniture sector. Employees are becoming less tied to their individual workstations and even to their offices, and office layouts are beginning to reflect this shift with a move toward open floorplans and versatile, collaborative workspaces.
Mobile technology is also creating new opportunities in furniture marketing and retail. Its applications are vast. An app developed by innovative minds at the tech firm Grokstyle will soon allow consumers to explore details about furniture items and home accessories—including where to buy them—simply by taking a picture with their mobile phones.
Browsing a showroom has long been an integral aspect of the traditional furniture-buying experience, and companies are beginning to leverage mobile technology to bring this practice into the 21st century. A number of virtual showroom apps allow customers to browse furniture retailers’ products conveniently from their mobile devices, communicating with the cloud to provide a constantly updated selection of home furnishings. The apps not only transform the customer experience, but they can also help furniture sales representatives to operate more effectively and efficiently. In the case of the family-owned company Bernhardt Furniture, replacing its cumbersome paper-based ordering process with a virtual showroom provided the firm’s employees with more time to focus on client interactions by eliminating the need to print, compile, and flip through binders filled with product information. For Bernhardt, adopting a mobile virtual showroom yielded an incredible 196 percent return on investment, presenting an average yearly benefit of over $789,000.
Augmented reality is poised to have an even greater impact on the way that people shop for furniture. While the ability to browse home furnishings online and via mobile apps has added a new level of convenience to the furniture-buying process, shoppers can only learn about their prospective purchases through website text and 2D images. Emerging technologies could soon enable shoppers to peruse furniture at practically any time and from any location while still granting them the full visual experience of a showroom setting. In fact, augmented and virtual reality tools will soon surpass the showroom experience, allowing consumers to actually explore how a new product will fit into their homes. Although this technology is still in the early stages of development, it could very well allow shoppers to upload images of their homes and decorate them with virtual objects, testing out different styles, colors, and orientations before they make a purchase.
As this technology becomes more advanced, it could allow furniture companies to play a more significant role in the overall interior design process. As noted by Wayfair Next Director Mike Festa in a recent interview with High Point Market, the advent of true virtual reality, which would allow users to manipulate virtual images with their voices or hands—could inspire a “new interest in do-it-yourself design” supported by furniture retailers’ VR tools.
Internet of Things
Aptly named, the Internet of Things refers (IoT) to the increasingly vast network of interconnected objects linked to computer systems—and each other—by embedded sensors. The term often appears in discussions of smart homes, which allow inhabitants to monitor and program features such as security, lighting, and air conditioning from a smartphone app.
Although IoT technologies are far from fully developed, they are beginning to enter the furniture sector, introducing beds, desks, chairs, and even kitchen surfaces to the ever-growing Internet of Things. A recent partnership by SK Telecom and Hyundai introduced Smart Furniture, a line of dressers, cabinets, refrigerators, and other large furnishings with embedded touch screens that seamlessly integrate technology into customers’ daily lives. Users can look up the day’s news and weather while getting dressed, search for recipes while standing in the kitchen, or even make phone calls from the tech-enabled furnishings.
Other applications for IoT technology in the furniture sector include bedding. Sleep Number’s take on the smart bed uses biometric sensors to track numerous metrics that include heart rate, breathing rate, and restfulness. In addition, it can link with other applications (such as a calendar or fitness tracker) and can automatically adjust the mattress for maximum comfort. Elsewhere in the house, Lift-Bit’s smart sofa is equipped with mechanized modular pieces that can shift to offer adaptive seating arrangements. Tentative plans unveiled by IKEA at Milan Design Week hint at a future in which a kitchen table can choose to automatically warm your plate using a combination of smart cameras and embedded induction rings. When it comes to the future intersection of furniture and technology, the possibilities for enhanced convenience and functionality are seemingly endless.