John Conrad’s career in home furnishings has spanned nearly five decades. From furniture rep to executive director of the International Society of Furniture Designers to design podcast host, he’s worn many hats and still has his finger on the pulse. In conversation with DNN Editor in Chief Courtney Porter, John Conrad discusses what’s changed and stayed the same in the industry, what it’s going to take to make the industry attractive to young talent, and what keeps him excited about the industry. Click play on the video below to watch the discussion:
10 takeaways from DNN’s conversation with John Conrad, former executive director of ISFD
The days of the design dynasty are over. They became the days of the brand and now that’s evolving yet again: the companies that will survive and thrive are those that have great stories to tell. This is in great part to the democratization brought about by digital advertisement. The ability to reach more people at a faster rate means brands and designers can share smaller stories and messages quickly.
- The industry has become more collaborative and inclusive. Conrad recalled the days when the furniture industry was a boys club, exclusionary of women and people of color. While we’ve made tremendous progress, there is still room to go…
- There are not enough people entering the industry. If we don’t make home furnishings sexy and continue to make it more inclusive and collaborative the industry will not be attractive to young talent. Furniture manufacturing jobs will continue to go overseas.
- Groups like High Point X Design are seeking to make High Point a year round design destination. Part of their efforts are focused on developing educational programs for local high schools in North Carolina that present a clear career path in home furnishings.
- What do new people entering the industry need to do? Observe and absorb everything. Let nothing go – everything is potential inspiration.
- Deviation is the norm. Of the many designers Conrad has interviewed on his podcast Design Between the Lines, something remains constant: everyone has a different entry point to the industry. He shares two examples in our conversation: one guest who was living in his car before attaining success and one less dramatic, who segued from graphic designer into interior design.
- Increased globalization means there is more distance between the first draft of a design and its execution in a factory that was at one time behind the designer’s office but is now 18 hours away by plane. That can lead to some funny mistakes. You’ll have to watch the interview for Conrad’s funny anecdote.
- Manufacturers are better about understanding the role of the interior designer than they used to be. Retailers still aren’t quite there yet. Interior designers play an increasingly important role in manufacturers’ research and development because they are talking to people everyday about what they want in their homes.
- “New traditional” is the aesthetic trend on the rise, driven by millennials and gen Z’s nostalgia and craving for social order. Think: medium brown furniture and chintzy florals. (“grand millennial” furniture, “Coastal grandmother” style and “TradCath” memes are part of this same cultural zeitgeist)
- Conrad wrote to me after our discussion saying he was thinking more about his answer to my question about a dream guest. He added a two names to his wish list, in addition to Oprah: Stacy Garcia and Alexa Hampton.
About the four new Design Between the Lines podcast episodes hosted by John Conrad:
- In the first episode, aired May 10, Conrad interviewed interior designer DuVäl Reynolds, owner and principal designer of full-service interior design firm DuVäl Design and co-chair of the High Point Market Diversity Advocacy Alliance.
- In the second podcast, aired May 24, Conrad interviewed Bryle Henderson Hatch, Head of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, along with Raven Jefferson, Community Resource Coordinator for the Guilford Educational Alliance.
- The third episode Conrad interviewed local High Point furniture artisans Caleb Collins and Jeremy Kamiya, aired June 14.
- Wrapping up the series, in episode four, which aired on June 21 Conrad interviewed past ISFD INNOVATION+DESIGN™ winner George Gezzani Hall from Greensboro.