‘E-tailers’are changing home decor landscape

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Weaving personality into home decor while making it relevant regardless of style requires a honed eye, spot-on instincts, the expertise of a trusted designer and imaginative resources. Color, a deft mix of beautiful fabrics, and well-chosen art and accessories, layering and texture add punctuation. And vintage, one-of-a-kind or handcrafted pieces really bring generic sofas, tables and chests to life.

The thrill of the hunt is everything for some shoppers, especially when you land that special piece. So is a good sale. Whether you’re shopping Portobello Road in London, a Marrakech souk or a dazzling bazaar in Mumbai, part of the fun is exploring global marketplaces. When you find a bargain among precious items that are barely affordable, it’s a real treat. And sometimes you don’t even have to worry about having enough cash: Vendors in the flea markets of Florence and Paris make it easier by taking credit cards.

In the last 15 years, “e-tail” sites have been game-changers, changing the landscape of furniture buying. They allow you to scroll through thousands of “curated” antiques and unique pieces, in addition to well-known furnishings and designer brands, 24/7. Some of the products are part of “flash” sales, where the added allure is the savings off a suggested retail price for a short window of time. Like retailers and catalogs trying to set themselves apart, the websites now offer engaging features on a variety of design topics.

For luxe goods, there’s nothing quite like 1stdibs (1stdibs.com), which covers furniture, lighting, fine art, jewelry, fashion and vintage haute couture from top dealers around the world – “the most beautiful things on earth.” It’s like a tour through art history and design museums. Where else are you likely to find a 17th-century polychromatic horn lice comb ($9,500), an English Civil War Parliamentary helmet ($4,500), a rare 17th-century Dutch rosewood, ebony and tortoiseshell cabinet ($390,485), or a specially priced Tiffany Russian table lamp?

It’s as valuable an asset for interior designers as it is consumers browsing over coffee on a Saturday morning. “For one-of-a-kind items for the high end, it saves scouring antique malls or searching around the country,” says Tobi Fairley (tobifairley.com), a Little Rock, Arkansas-based interior designer who also designs products for CR Laine and Woodbridge Furniture. “It could take days or years to find what’s all in one place.”

Launched 15 years ago by Michael Bruno, a luxury real estate dealer, his focus on Marche aux Puces was brilliant, bringing the famous Paris flea market online, starting out with 100 new items per week.

It’s no wonder that other e-tailers have kept pace.

One of the newer sites, Dering Hall (deringhall.com), filled a niche for connecting the interior design trade and consumers looking for high-end design. Besides the 500-plus curated products it sells, Dennis Sarlo, Dering Hall’s editorial director, recognizes the need for value-added with features such as Lookbook.

“Basically the edit is what draws a lot of people,” says Sarlo. “We might cover a particular architect or designer’s project. There’s a mix of content, ideas. If we do a feature on ottomans, we shop the site like consumers and choose the most striking to talk about. The goal with all is to keep (the look on the page) crisp, focused pretty much on the product – not overwhelming with a lot of stuff everywhere.”

An uncluttered visual presentation clearly is a draw. When One Kings Lane (onekingslane.com) came on the scene in 2009, designers flocked to the site largely because they liked the fresh presentation: crisp photos often cued up according to color, with lots of air in between. Another instant winner: vintage and flea market pages and tag sales from designers and style visionaries like Paige Rense, former editor for Architectural Digest magazine. Her sale featured her own furniture, art, books, jewelry and several Hermes Birkin bags.

You need to do your homework when you’re buying high-ticket items without professional advice. Studying the websites themselves is a good start.

Blogs, of course, have become such an integral part of retailer and manufacturer websites; consider Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn or a lifestyle brand such as Aerin Lauder. Beautiful, inspirational images and storytelling are compelling; readers crave the insider tips.

Content on e-tail sites covers an enormous range, from how-tos (organize your closet, dress your bed), 10 best (pendant lights, bar carts, etc.), entertaining (mouthwatering food shots and recipes), personal tips from designers, even travel destinations like one in the Italian Dolomites on The Study, 1stdibs’ blog. Wayfair (wayfair.com) recently called out four ways to entertain on game day, including images for building your own panini station; and, of course, for sale access to all the components.

One of the more recent entries to the e-commerce world is Bezar, now AHAlife (ahalife.com), founded by Bradford Shellhammer. This marketplace for modern design covers art, house and jewelry, and has digital pop-up shops from handpicked designers who sell products in three-day “bursts.” Simple premise: “where people who design special things connect with people who desire special things ... authentic and (with) a story ... a little bit bizarre ... things with heart.”

Such connectivity seems to resonate – even when buying a hip, well-designed portable grill.


■ Bezar, now AHAlife, 855-848-3778, www.ahalife.com

■ Dering Hall, 917-512-6900, www.deringhall.com

■ 1stdibs, www.1stdibs.com

■ Madcap Cottage, 917-318-0006, www.madcapcottage.com

■ One Kings Lane, www.onekingslane.com

■ Tobi Fairley & Associates, 501-868-9882, www.tobifairley.com

■ Viyet, 844-924-8717, www.viyet.com

■ Wayfair, www.wayfair.com