Designing Your Life – Part 1 of 3

I was on vacation recently with a good friend, spending a week at her house in a part of Nova Scotia that I can only describe as idyllic. A few houses perched sparsely around a horseshoe-shaped private beach, in a cove snugly protected from the violent Atlantic surf. Sandy-coloured reeds covering dunes descending gently into calm clear (and cold) water. At night, the sound of loons punctuates a night sky painted by the broad glittering brush strokes of the Milky Way. And we were there in the midst of one of the most intense meteor showers in recent history. Startling one-second burns, bright yellow, would scar the sky as we sipped our spiked coffees and mused about the age of the ancient stars above us.

We go there every year, but this time we had a big contingent of guests with us. Our mutual friend Tom, a Torontonian who has recently transplanted to Paris, brought with him an entourage of creative class Parisians. One gentleman was a renowned choreographer, a court jester, part Cirque du Soleil, part Martha Graham. His partner is a designer at Dior Homme, recently having fled the coke-sniffing halls of the crazy house of Saint Laurent (YSL). And their best friend was a successful interior designer, with offices in all the major cities in France. In such illustrious company, it was noteworthy how they ooh’d and aah’d about my friend Mary’s kitchen.

It’s a splendid kitchen for sure, a big standalone counter that looks like a giant cutting board, plenty of well-appointed cupboards in blonde wood and stainless steel handles. An oven you could cook wild boar in (of course I have no idea how to cook a wild boar, it just sounds good). When the designers asked who had done the kitchen, Mary said in a matter of fact manner, “Well I did. Five grand at Ikea. I just chose the elements and made a kitchen out of it.”

Stunned silence followed. It’s not easy to get a bunch of artsy Frenchman to zip it. But they were amazed at her ingenuity, her talent. What? $5,000 for all this? C’est pas possible! They looked around the house and learned that all of the design and décor, from the flooring to the walls to the shelves and every last object on every little end table, had been chosen by Mary, and not by a decorator or designer.

While she doesn’t have a design degree and is not a professional decorator, Mary represents a large and growing contingent of people who aren’t satisfied with merely watching design and “DIY” (do-it-yourself) shows. She does it, and does it well.

The U.S. home décor market is measured to be at 65.2 billion dollars and is estimated to grow 3% each year. Canada with a market size of 4 billion has seen some constrained growth (1.4%/yr) in the last 5 years due to the economic recession, but is expecting to mirror US growth as the housing market conditions improve in the next couple of years. The increase on both sides can be attributed to the accessibility and popularity of home supply stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. This business is becoming more lucrative and competitive, especially in Canada, with Lowe’s recently acquiring Rona and looking to pass Home Depot in sales revenue (7 billion/year) in the future. Additionally, the DIY movement has been fueled by not only the HGTV network but by the online social services like Pinterest providing people like Mary with the confidence and guidance to take on any design project.

Mary later whipped out a colour swatch book, a good 4.5 inches thick, with endless colours from Benjamin Moore. And another book from Dulux. And then showed us her Pinterest account, where she collects ideas and curates her next project.

This led to a conversation around her kitchen table where we talked about how much the notion of “designing your life” has infiltrated the mainstream. And as there were several marketers in the room, we started hypothesizing about the psychographics that segment this broad trend into specific types. In next week’s post, we’ll explore these segments and muse about what this means for several categories of brands.

– W.