The house for a woke generation: how home decor brands are adapting to millenials’ tastes

The millennial home is an expression of their heightened socio-political engagement, annd design and home decor brands are catching on

At the recently concluded India Design ID, an annual luxury design week in New Delhi, ‘Adulting’ — a term used in context of millennials and their inability to perform traditionally adult responsibilities — was the name of one of the four home décor trends of the year. Announced by the paint company Asian Paints, each of these is a package of colours, patterns, material and textures.

The predictions for ‘Adulting’ were a sombre ash-and-ivory colour palette with organic-yet-bright coral and lemonade pops, with repurposed wood as the material of choice, telling in its concern for the environment. The highlighted pattern was typography, a nod to how the millennial generation connects with languages and scripts beyond their aspect as a tool of communication. Last year, the last of the millennials graduated from college and started work. Presumably by now, the generation has settled into some form of pay cheque-generating employment — a 9-5 job, a string of freelancing assignments, a start-up, or what have you.

But this is a largely mobile generation, valuing experience over older notions of stability. In some industries, they have more market value when they’re moving jobs, and possibly cities, every couple of years, sharpening skills and expanding their network along the way. In others, it’s not the title or the corner-cabin they’re after — it’s the initiatives they start, ideas they put into motion, and the changes they lead.

In short, millennials are a self-aware and restless bunch, whose lives have been shaped by global economic downturns, the Internet boom, increased political polemic, and the pin-prick awareness of shifting seasons. And no space reflects their sensibilities better than their home.

A private space for social expression

Kulture Shop, an e-commerce portal for affordable art that was part of the ‘Adulting’ display, curated exclusively graphic art by contemporary artists. Its young team’s sensibilities, claims its website, is shaped by the sharp, yet fun socio-political engagement of the likes of Mario Miranda, and dairy cooperative Amul’s daily advertisements. This is the art that this generation has grown up with, and continues to engage with even today.

“We see the millennial generation less concerned about buying art for investment value. Rather, we see them buying art for expression and decorative purposes,” says Arjun Charanjiva, co-founder of Kulture Shop. “And given that our art is affordable (it ranges from Rs. 800 to Rs.25,000; with a median of Rs. 4,000), the barrier for owning art is now much lower than it ever was before.”

Likewise, designers in the demographic too are creating home décor that comes from a space of self-expression rather than the perfunctory needs of a market. In fact, they have realised that this niche is their growing market. For instance, the collections at Safomasi, a Delhi-based handprinted textile design and décor studio, result from 33-year-old co-founders Sarah Fotheringham and Maninder Singh’s life of extensive travelling. With words like “wanderlust” or “flâneur” featuring prominently on many a millennial’s social media bio, and with a whole growing crop of travel-and-food bloggers in this generation, being a traveller (as opposed to a tourist) has sealed itself firmly as a millennial activity and/or aspiration. It is this market that Safomasi has — unwittingly at first — tapped into.

“For each collection we’ll pick a destination that we feel will have visual appeal to inspire us, and that our customers will feel a connection to, either through having been there or experienced a similar landscape, or where they might be curious to go,” says Fotheringham. Their latest line, called ‘Indian Ocean’, includes towels, rugs, cushions covers, place mats and beanbags, among other household items. It was inspired by the duo’s travel to Mauritius, “but it could also relate to other island holidays,” she stresses.

As consumers, Singh and Fotheringham invest in pieces “slowly and consciously”, and always prefer to buy from small businesses over big brands. “We are not into fast fashion and trends,” Fotheringham adds. This commitment to an idea or cause in their everyday choices is another defining marker of the millennial. Tangibly, it has resulted in a wide resurgence in interest towards contemporising India’s handloom and handicraft sectors, especially for their inclusion in fashion and home décor. In line with this, Charanjiva of Kulture Shop says: “With the trend of people staying at home more versus going out, their personal space becomes that much more important as a definitive statement of who they are.”

Space, over things

According to the United Nation’s World Population Prospects: the 2017 Revision, the highest population of millennials globally is in Asia. Specifically, the millennial population in South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, is high relative to each of their overall populations.

Tapping into this market, Swedish furniture firm IKEA has been sending out feelers to inform their forthcoming collection, possibly out in 2021, targeting Asian millennials. Akanksha Sharma, the 26-year-old Indian textile designer who the company hired in 2017, recently ran a survey through her Instagram account towards this. “It cannot get more millennial than to do an Instagram-based survey,” Sharma says. “But there was no goal-setting per se. I wanted to know what young people wanted to see in their homes, almost in a way that it didn’t feel like a survey,” she adds.

Having recently moved home in Delhi, it’s the idea of space more than furniture that instantly occurs to her when talking of the millennial home. The millennial is looking for private spaces that they would’ve lacked growing up in Indian homes, she says. But they also have the need to connect with the outside. A place like the balcony or terrace — often unthinkingly used as storage or as an area for clotheslines — is perfect as a semi-private space that also lets them connect with nature, giving a fair share of urban-farming millennials space to grow their own greens.

The quintessential Delhi barsaati — a one- or two-room quarters on a building’s terrace, with entrances to each room exposed to the elements like the barsaat (rain) — would be an ideal space for a younger millennial, Sharma adds.

“It’s true that the millennial’s general awareness of the state of world around them is higher. The idea of investing in quality… and things that reflect your beliefs… is higher,” says 31-year-old actor, designer Lekha Washington, whose designer furnishing brand Ajji’s ‘dot chair’, a 20kg seating installation,was part of the Adulting exhibit. She agrees that the generation’s consumption patterns, especially for their home, are driven by their heightened social, political, and environmental awareness. “Where it’s going to go though, is anyone’s guess,” she says.

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