Work from home continues to fuel home office segment
The popular Trellis lift desk from Aspenhome features adjustable height, which allows the user to sit or stand.
HIGH POINT — The spike in demand for home office furniture that began with the onset of the pandemic in 2020 does not appear to be letting up.
With more people working from home and with more companies adopting remote work, the market for home office furniture continues to see strong consumer interest.
“Last year,” said Tim Newlin, vice president of product management at Flexsteel, “people were buying just about anything they could get their hands on. It was almost a knee-jerk purchase.”
“The spike in home office sales has really morphed into a long-term positive trend for the category,” added Christina McIntosh, marketing manager at Aspenhome, a major producer of home office furniture. “We believe the way consumers view and value their workspaces in the home has fundamentally changed for good.”
The labor shortage is playing a role in that consumer demand, and since it’s an employee’s market, one way to attract really good workers is to offer them the ability to work in the comfort of their home.
“Based on the increase in attachment rates of file cabinets and similar organizational items, we believe people are focusing more on dedicated space they intend to use for some time,” said Mike Harris, president at Hooker Furniture. “They are purchasing furniture to create a long-lasting and defined workspace that fits their needs and styles.”
Because of this long-term trend, Hooker Furniture and most other home office resources have ramped up product development, and they say new products go far beyond simply designing a desk. Storage and file space are critical, as are features such as wire management, charging stations and space for multiple computers and monitors.
Harris said Hooker had very positive reaction to a modular collection called Linville Falls that was unveiled at last month’s High Point Market. The 10-SKU lineup creates 44 different configurations for a variety of workspace needs.
Hekman Furniture has also added to its home office line with eight new desks and the new Linwood collection unveiled at the October market.
“We are bullish about what we see in the future in the category,” said Neil McKenzie, director of product development at Hekman Furniture. “Lots of companies are making permanent decisions to allow workers to work from home. Getting proper labor and workers is becoming more and more difficult. An attractive tool for keeping workers is allowing them to work from home, especially workers with children.”
The company produces accent desks, adjustable height desks, filing cabinets, office chairs, open shelving and bookcases for the category.
All about flexibility
McKenzie says Hekman is focusing on flexibility. “We see customers wanting more flexibility. That means rooms that adapt. That means more areas to work rather than one large, dedicated office space.”
Longtime category leader Martin Furniture echoed some of the same.
“We offer both residential and commercial office furniture in wood veneers as well as laminates,” said Gil Martin, company founder and CEO. “The key is versatility. We produce very functional office furniture scaled for any environment; from the person working from home to a full office setup.”
Items currently most in-demand at Martin include sit/stand desks with both 110 power and USB ports.
“We produce small ‘anywhere’ laminate sit stands desks that are 24 by 48 inches to hardwood sit stand desks with three drawers that are considered a true piece of furniture,” said Martin. “Bookcases, files and desks with pedestals remain in demand as well.”
Twin Star Home, which remains committed to the category, refers to today’s home as “blended.”
“With the abrupt shift to most consumers working and learning at home, the spaces in their homes have become blended,” said Lisa Cody, Twin Star senior vice president of marketing. “The home office for many is also the dining room. The kitchen is also the classroom.”
Jofran Furniture — a recent arrival to the home office scene — also sees customers moving away from the dedicated home office.
“Each of our collections is focused on offering style-driven, small-scale solutions as the new work from home environment has opened up opportunities throughout the house, not just what was once a dedicated room,” said CEO Joff Roy.
The company’s desks, which all include power and USB charging, come from its Vietnam warehouse and distribution centers in Boston, Los Angeles and a soon-to-open location in Charleston, S.C. Estimated retails range from $199 to $399.
“It’s been a great category for more than a year,” said Roy. “We expect the demand to continue to accelerate.”
Century Furniture took it a step further, saying the home office really isn’t about an “office.”
“The nature of work has changed tremendously as less tethering and physical paper is required to be effective,” said Century’s Vice President of Marketing Comer Wear. “One can work from home off a laptop or tablet with a cell phone.
“Moving forward, we feel like the majority of homes will incorporate a space for working from home, but this does not have to be a set-aside home office. People are utilizing spare bedrooms or other rooms where a desk can live. As such we have leaned into more decorative desks that can work in a living room or bedroom.”
And key resource Legends Furniture will be launching three office groups in 2022 that are based around modest-sized writing desks, items that sold briskly early in the pandemic and continue to do well. The new groups include a matching bookcase and filing cabinet that are suitable for virtually any room of the house, said Tim Donk, director of marketing and business development.
“Demand has been strong across the board, but we’re definitely seeing an uptick in writing tables,” Donk said. “That suggests they’re not being used in a dedicated office space. If you have a dedicated office, you wouldn’t need a writing table.”
“It’s the age of anti-corporate furniture,” said Dave Adams, vice president of marketing for longtime home office resource BDI. “Consumers who now find themselves in semi- or permanent work-from-home situations are shunning the boxy, corporate look and embracing the ability to express their personal style. … Sure, they need storage and comfort, but they get to bring their personality into their workspace more than ever before.”
Highland House is also seeing a rise in the desire to customize.
“This market we had quite a few customers requesting more desks and chairs with casters,” said President Nathan Copeland. “The goal is to have the functionality of a desk chair, but our customers want it to look like a dining chair. Our Jacques by-the-inch custom table program allows our customers to make a table desk any size they need. They are able to select their veneer and hardware finish as well. We have seen a boost in this part of our business.”
Parker House also remains dedicated to the category, citing across-the-board demand.
“People want more function,” said Marietta Willey, the company’s vice president of product development and merchandising. “They want the ability to add on to their desk: be it an L; be it a functional file. They want lifts and slides. They want more flexibility. They want unconventional. They want multi-functional files. Tops that lift up. They want more modular. Different needs for different people.”
Willey noted that her company’s signature library walls continue to sell well, and those that can “float” to serve as de-facto room dividers are among the top sellers. “We focus on personalization. We believe it’s not one size fits all.”
Parker House is focusing some of its attention on women, as is Martin and Vanguard.
“We haven’t addressed the female user in the past,” Willey continued. “But now we’re seeing it. Bookcases are more decorative; more attention is being given to shapes and finishes. We’re doing more decorative features and fabrics.”
“Many women are looking for smaller scale and stylish footprints befitting to their individual sense of style,” added Aspenhome’s McIntosh. “We have also increased development of collections that span different furniture categories … which affords the opportunity to place a desk or bookcases in a living room or bedroom without it looking out of place.”
Martin Furniture said its offerings are “useful for the mom who was working on her kitchen table and now needs a permanent workspace to multi-office needs.”
Vanguard Furniture said its furniture is more feminine than what its competitors offer.
“Like everything Vanguard manufactures, our home office offering is positioned as truly custom furniture designed by the customer and benchmade one at a time,” said Vanguard CEO Andy Bray. “Our products tend to be sleeker, smaller in scale, multi-functional and more feminine than typical home office products.”
Bray says there’s significant demand for office furniture in the upper-end, particularly for customization. Under its Make It Yours program, Vanguard customers can choose everything from top sizes, different leg options, material choice, finishes and custom embellishments.
And he expects the home office trend to continue for at least five more years. “The work-from-home trend is here to stay and is especially important to working women who balance childcare and work.”
Millennials are also a key demographic for the category. According to a Furniture Today Strategic Insights consumer survey sent out in June and July, nearly 39% of people in their twenties and thirties added an office over the pandemic. Less than one-third of Millennials already had a home office, much fewer than the 54% of Gen X and 81% of Baby Boomers.
Desk chairs, desks, decorative accessories and lamps topped the list of purchases, with more than one-third of respondents buying a new chair.
Riverside Furniture is targeting those younger consumers.
“Being a full line office provider, we try to provide options to all demographics but lean a little towards the younger generation with space- conscious designs and styling and finishes to appeal to the tastes of younger consumers,” said Harrison Kelly, Riverside’s vice president of product development.
Millennials also are spending more. Around 36% of all consumers invested $100 to $499, but nearly one-fourth of Millennials said they spent $500 to $999, and 7.5% of people in this demographic shelled out $2,500 or more to furnish their offices. In contrast, nearly 40% of Baby Boomers and about 25% of Gen X spent less than $100.
On the horizon
There is nearly unanimous agreement among the home office segment’s biggest players: The home office trend is going to continue.
“When we realized that working from home was likely to be a long-term phenomenon, it influenced our launch plans for the coming year,” said Stickley Furniture President Edward Audi.
Stickley expanded its Origins by Stickley program to include a dedicated 36-SKU home office category that it says was well-received at the October market.
“As the scope of the pandemic and its impact on our work lives became clear, we knew our Stickley home office products would fill an important need,” said Audi. “In addition to the new introductions, we highlighted desks in our marketing campaigns at every opportunity and produced a video of one of our best-sellers, the mission-style Hi-Lo Standing Desk, showcasing its versatile function and power-lift technology.”
“I am certain that interest in home office will continue,” said Adams at BDI. “Of the employees who have been working from home, 65% have stated they want to continue to do so, indicating that the need for home office furniture is not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, there is only more opportunity to develop creative work solutions.”
Manufacturers and retailers also are excited about the growing popularity of height-adjustable desks (also called lift desks or sit-stand desks) that allow users to sit or stand. Such ergonomic features are especially important for those who must be in their home office eight hours a day or more.
“Three years ago, I didn’t have a single sit-stand desk on my floor. Now I have seven on display, and they all do really well,” said retailer Bobby Watson, president of Hoot Judkins Furniture in Redwood City, Calif.
Goergen said Martin Furniture also has been a significant increase in sales of height-adjustable desks, and he believes the momentum will continue into 2022, albeit at a slower growth rate than the previous two years.
“We’re not going to see the growth in 2022 that we’ve seen in 2021, but I still believe it will be double-digits next year, and I’ll take that anytime,” he said.
Contributing editor Larry Thomas contributed to this story.