Contemporary homewares are increasingly the same continent-wide and the same is true for merchandising trends for the category.
There are trends that are national and there are trends that cross borders and currently, homewares seems to fall into the latter camp.
Whether the collections originate from Sweden or Spain, much less the UK, there appears to be a convergence as far as taste is concerned and the same is broadly true of the manner in which the products are displayed.
It would be something of a challenge to identify the store if pictures were shown with the relevant names removed.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that there is intense competition for the most winsome visual merchandising (VM) and it is more or less the case that if you don’t have room sets you aren’t in the game.
Price also matters, although the best VM is about mood creation and trying to foster a ‘hang the cost, it looks good’ mentality.
Habitat, Tottenham Court Road
Not so much room sets but rather more rooms, the Habitat flagship on Tottenham Court Road conforms, to an extent, to the idea of democratic product design.
But in the basement, by some way the larger of the two floors, connected rooms afford the retailer the opportunity to display its product by commodity, rather than artfully assembled as modish domestic vignettes.
There are, naturally, also room sets in the open-plan part of this floor, but if shoppers are in search of kitchenwares or lighting, for instance, there are dedicated rooms set aside for this.
This is Habitat, however, so ‘commodity’ does not carry with it some of the negative associations that the word occasionally carries.
In this store, where products of the same kind are grouped together, they are done so in a manner that is eye-catching, rather than dull.
H&M Home, Westfield Stratford
Located on the ground floor of H&M’s recently opened three-level behemoth (the UK’s largest H&M store), this department that may be at the back, but it is clearly visible from the entrance.
“Like many of its competitors, it relies on a plethora of tables and open-fronted wardrobes to make the VM point”
Like many of its competitors, it relies on a plethora of tables and open-fronted wardrobes to make the VM point and there are four clear merchandise areas across this semi-discrete part of the shop.
As is the case in a number of homewares retailers, the lavish-looking tables, groaning with deliberately plain stock, use plants to accessorise the offer.
This leads to signs stating that the plants are not for sale, which is a pity.
That said, it would be quite hard not to be tempted to buy something as the combination of low price and simple (which typically means expensive) design and display make this a winner.
Muji, Tottenham Court Road
The Japanese retailer has been doing roomsets and artfully contrived floor-to-ceiling perimeter displays for years and does provide an object lesson in how to do that which others have come to rather more recently.
“Green plants, feature strongly, as do water atomisers, which give the space a misty Japanese feel”
Practically, this means the mid-shop set aside for homewares, has enclosed roomsets on the first floor, while the perimeter is reserved for light wood open-front wardrobes that allow volume presentation to be realised.
Green plants feature strongly, as do water atomisers, which give the space a misty Japanese feel. Despite this, the individual items are exactly what you’d expect of cross-border contemporary homewares.
Along with Habitat, this is perhaps the most urban of the homewares offers along Tottenham Court Road.
Marks & Spencer, Marble Arch
Homewares in the M&S flagship are on the top floor and arriving by escalator there is the immediate sense that the product displays are aimed at a mildly more mature audience than many others in the West End.
That said, the visual merchandising does consist of a scattering of roomsets, all of which have been carefully accessorised, and green plants used to soften the whole and add a sense of sophistication.
If a criticism were to be levelled here, it would be that the walkways are almost too broad and the lighting is not sufficiently differentiated across the floor to create the drama that tends to be the hallmark of interior displays currently.
West Elm, Tottenham Court Road
West Elm, a big name in the US, arrived in the UK a few years ago and opened this store to much acclaim. It has not, however, expanded beyond a single store, although it does have an efficient website.
“If clues about how to put things together are needed, look no further than West Elm”
All of which does not detract from the fact that this may be an American retailer but looking at the interior of this store the shopper could be anywhere from Barcelona to Buffalo.
It also happens to look very good, is densely merchandised, and if clues about how to put things together are needed, look no further than West Elm.
The retailer from across the pond exemplifies what is best about homewares visual merchandising at the moment.