Smart Furniture: The Future of Apartment Furnishing


Healthy lifestyles and smaller living quarters have stimulated interest in the last decade to market furniture or equipment that interacts with users or has dual functionality or both.

Few may remember much about 1984, but that was the year that a Chrysler salesman had to be pretty pumped. Rolling off the assembly line were the first minivans as we know them today. The van that felt like a car, the four wheels that launched a new generation of Saturday afternoon chauffeurs, America’s soccer moms.

Inside the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager awaited the ultimate creature comfort in the cup holder, conveniently securing beverages while rolling down the highway. Today, the minivan has lost its luster and fallen behind SUVs, but car cup holders are as essential as 87 octane. Those that aren’t used to hold drinks are repositories for spare change and cell phones, a prime example of how our preferences continue to change.

Manufacturers are working on the next wave of gotta-haves, particularly home furnishings that are lapsing traditional divans.

Smart furniture like charging tables and sofas and chairs with plug-ins, Murphy beds that go beyond cots that fold up into walls, and treadmills and exercise bikes with work stations are becoming très chic. They are the hot amenities to trick out apartments, says one furniture executive. “Our world is changing,” says Tamela Coval, an executive strategist for CORT Furniture. “The way we think is changing, our work cultures are completely different.”

Treadmill and bike desks are transforming the workplace, exercise rooms and the home office

Numerous studies suggest that healthy employees are better workers, and sometimes cost the company less to insure. Sitting for long periods of time is as dangerous as smoking, say some health experts. So, why not build that spreadsheet – or give a presentation – while getting in a few laps on the treadmill? Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff catches up on email and returns phone calls while walking from his treadmill desk at the company’s Seattle headquarters.

Treadmill and bike desks come in various shapes and sizes, with room for keyboards and monitors, plus Bluetooth hookups to track everything from fitness activity to the stock market. “Moving while you work is the ‘in’ thing,” Coval said. “People are looking for ways to stay in shape and multi-task while they work. And people are working differently today, from home, in the office and on the road. It is all about being as productive as possible in the time you have. CORT’s new Standup Desk and adjustable monitors are a hit in the workplace already and prove that people want to move while they work. ”


Momentum picking up as companies introduce new furniture

CORT, a Berkshire-Hathaway Co., is concept testing to gage interest in furnishings for home and the workplace. At the recent Apartment Internet Marketing conference, the company had a bike desk and a treadmill desk on display. Coval said the company’s booth was “absolutely covered up with interest,” and that CORT plans to collect more feedback at future industry events. The company is among vendors for June’s National Apartment Association Exposition in Las Vegas as well as RealPage’s RealWorld user conference in San Diego.  CORT’s demonstration at AIM is part of a movement by some companies that are marketing toward flexible workplace, social and home environments to reflect changing demographics and culture. Furnishings and fixtures that charge personal devices and adjusts to the user’s needs is gaining momentum.  The move follows Starbucks’ implementation of wireless charging tables that began last year, at stores in the San Francisco area. The company that made Wi-Fi synonymous with a heady shot of caffeine has designated areas on tables and counters where customers can power up their devices without plugs.

In April, Italian furniture company Clei showed how much the Murphy Bed has grown up from its days as a simple wall pullout in dingy New York studio. Comfy double beds drop from a cabinet or large bookshelf that’s part of a sofa set. When not in use, Clei Wall Beds are stowed in the cabinet over the sofa.

‘Possibilities are endless’ to outfit an apartment community for today’s lifestyle

CORT, which leases furniture within the apartment industries, is watching the latest trends closely. Coval said the company plans to continue to show concept pieces in the future and get feedback.“CORT is testing the market,” she said. “It’s a way of engaging our consumers and really understanding what they want and need.”

With today’s technology, Coval says the possibilities are endless to outfit an apartment community with furnishings that are more than a place to sit, or a collector of broken potato chips between the cushions. She believes Millennials and Baby Boomers will drive demand for these amenities. “Customers today are changing, and that’s a total game changer. Nothing is as it was.”

Incidentally, the bike and treadmill desks we observed don’t have cup holders. But you can bet they’re coming.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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