// BarryBlog //

A creative dumping ground for issues that interest me personally and professionally, with the thought they may interest you too. Issues such as the business of design, the design of business, the design of objects, design strategy, creative direction, innovation, creativity, thought leadership, observations, as well as recommendations, mid-century modern decorative arts and architecture, and the state of my thinking (and currently the state of my heart).

Monday, September 10, 2007

DWR: Are We Out Of Our Materialistic Minds?

Lifestyle of the rich and famous store Design Within Reach now has a blog. It's called Design Notes. I have always appreciated their Design Bio site on the DWR main site. It's free. But as a normal Joe, somewhat representative of the typical designer salary-type who is rather design goo-goo, I have a question. I suspect it might be something you've thought about to.

It's about the Name. "Design Within Reach." Come on, it can't just be me? Isn't their name worth reconsideration? Currently, I find it to be a bit of a kick in the teeth.

An example: On their blog right now is featured the Herman Miller Eames Soft Pad Management Chair in Espana Leather at a mere $2,948. Now perhaps this chair at this price is Within Someone's Reach, but not mine. Now as some of you know, I do own one of these beauties, having been at the right place, at the right time, and paid the right price at a tag sale. Now if I could only get similarly lucky seven more times, because if I were to pay DWR's price for the conference room down the hall from my office with eight chairs, it would set me back just shy of 24 thousand dollars ($23,584, for 8 chairs!).

Seriously. Who buys this stuff? Are we out of our materialistic minds? I assume the name DesignWithinReach indicates their ability to bring high design products to the masses, but the name feels like the rabbit that races about 15 yards ahead of the race dog. We all know he's never gonna catch it, even though it is "Within Reach."

No one wants to admit they can't (or shouldn't) afford a $2,948 chair, right?
I would love to hear your comments on this under-blogged reality.

( I thank Nate at Design Feast for the link to BarryBlog as well as Design Notes )

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Anonymous Liz Ness said...

For me, there is a limit to the price of things -- no matter how beautiful it is. It has a lot more to do with what else I could do with the money, rather than the "value" of the item. For example, I could feed a lot of people via the Oregon Food Bank with that money (KWIM). So, I'd probably just take a photo of the chair and keep the image where I could enjoy it, but buy a MUCH cheeper chair somewhere else.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Nathan Stock said...

I once read somewhere that the "Within Reach" part of the name is more about accessibility than cost. Before DWR you had to be an interior designer with credentials to even talk to a distributor if you wanted to buy serious furniture. Not only that, it would take months to get the furniture has it often had to be made to order and shipped from afar.

I agree that it's a poor name as everyone who's ever heard it (myself included) thinks it's talking about cost.

I do feel though that having a piece of furniture that's well designed and produced will double as art, and last the rest of your life. I think there's some value to that. That, plus the cost, makes you think more about the purchase. There's a mentality with the affordability of IKEA and Target that the $200 sofa you buy will break in the next year or two and you'll just put it in the landfill and buy another one. Not only are the consumers less picky about the actual design in this case (since they'll have a new one anyway), but the designers themselves don't have pressure to create something perfect or classic as they know within five years they'll all have been junked. I think if you look at the long term, people could buy something classic and sturdy for a large amount of money now, or buy several cheaper, cheaply made items over the same time frame. The cost would even out, though you'd probably derive greater enjoyment from the nicer furniture.

And as for the idea that a multi-thousand dollar chair might only cost $20 to make, IKEA recently released a line of furniture called Stockholm. The goal? Create serious, quality furniture without making it crazy expensive. And guess what? Their leather couch costs $2000. That's nearly in DWR territory and makes me think that quality pieces do cost more to produce therefore they'd cost more for the consumer (the designer's name makes up the rest of the price of course).

Dwell recently ran an article comparing the prices of design icons in past decades to the current price of the reproductions (taking into account inflation) and it turned out that they're actually a bit less expensive now then they used to be.

All of that said, yes, $3k for the Eames Soft Pad Management Chair is far too much for me to ever justify. That's three times the cost of an Aeron which is already considered to cost too much by many companies (though when looking at ROI it would probably save them all in insurance costs down the road for all the chiropractors their employees will need).

3:03 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Well put. I agree for the most part with your perspective, yet I still find the $3,000 price out of line even with this thinking.

The long term quality and enjoyment defense for high cost for high design rings true for me up to a certain threshold. A $3,000 expenditure on a single chair in my book is poor stewardship. All the arguments for the quality, durability and eco benefits noted, I still see a chasm in the cost-to-value ratio here. And though it's less important to this particular issue, and indeed only my personal perspective, I feel that the person who takes an honest interest in spending that kind of money for a single material item of utilitarian function might derive equal or greater joy or benefit by considering the more important and perhaps significant use of that kind of monetary resource, say, to share joy with others.

I still think a more fitting name could be developed and a greater conversation started if they were to consider a more fitting name. If so many people don't see the immediate story you have shared today, perhaps that says something about it's overall effectiveness. They of course have no mandate to do so, but it's just so often discussed and from my perspective not doing so is a missed opportunity to connect with a design community—a large percentage of which may not be able to afford their products.

I appreciate and value what you've added to this discussion.

6:03 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Liz, I replied to Nate's post before reading yours. Obviously we are on the same page. And for the record, I know Nate from the past and he is of the highest character, and isn't someone I consider materialistic. Hope that shows in my response.

Living in North America, it's apparent high value is placed on things, and money rules in business. Let good products and services be valued based on their, well, value to consumers. I am all for this, and believe it's a portion of what makes America great. It's just that I always hear DWR this, and DWR that, which always makes me feel passionate about good things being profitable, valued and cherished, but at more realistic process, since I find NOTHING at DWR to be affordable, period.

In the big picture, my initial post was in way meant to make DWR a poster child for material gluttony, but it's hard for me to not consider this with a name which in some way suggests, even if it's a misconception, that the furniture is somehow within my reach. There's no denying that it communicates cost as or more quickly as it does accessibility.

It would be great to have others discuss this in a larger context. I can't find a similar discussion on my main stop blogs. If they did, I would hope that DWR isn't vilified, rather that they use the discussion to their advantage by listening to a design community who loves their products, and for the most part can't afford them. (I can hear it now as all the designers in the world write in to say they can). If handled correctly this discussion could play into their hand in terms of how people feel about their name.

I think this is an interesting discussion and appreciate your contributions to it. I also appreciate your heart for others.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Liz Ness said...

Ooops...I didn't mean to come off sounding so judgmental. And, as I read Nathan's comment, I thought he made a lot of good points.

Truly, I was answering the question from my point of view today -- a point of view that has changed a lot over the last few years. I have had my share of spendy purchases in the past...expensive couches, beds, etc. -- I even have a baby grand piano (that could have fed a lot of people!). But, at 40 yrs. old, I think I have enough beautiful stuff. Now, it is time for me to think beyond myself.

Sorry about the "tone" of my previous comment. Didn't quite mean it the way is sounded.

11:07 AM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

I didn't sense a tone in your comment at all. You were speaking from the heart and my comment about Nathan's character was just so he knew I admire his perspective. I feel the DWR name is an interesting conversation and both of you have added greatly to it. Ironically, DWR does not seem to feel this is worth discussing as they have zero comments on any of their posts. I have made a comment and they are not publishing them. I find that interesting.

5:02 PM  
Blogger ToKissTheCook said...

Hilarious... we literally took up this exact conversation at lunch yesterday. The EXACT topic and then I popped up here by way of What About Orange by way of Creature Comforts via decor8 found by Whipped. God I do love the blogosphere.

Anyway, my arms are nowhere near long enough to shop at DWR. Great for tear sheets, bad for budgets. I'm still in my "Can I make this CB2 knock-off work?" phase.

7:41 AM  
Blogger studiosmith said...


Thanks for stopping by. I like CB2 as well. As you look around my blog, you'll see I have better luck at garage sales and flea markets.

Here's to stretching our budget.

8:04 AM  

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