By Larry Thomas
Almost left for dead after the Great Recession, the home office category is in the midst of a robust rebound, thanks to renewed interest in working at home and a revival of styles that look nothing like the massive executive desks that once dominated the grouping.
Producers say that, while relatively few homeowners are setting aside a dedicated room for a home office, home office furniture is being purchased for family rooms, great rooms, bedrooms and other spaces that can be partially devoted to an office. That trend, in turn, has caused a move away from large office furniture collections and into more eclectic looks, which mirrors recent trends in upholstery and casegoods.
“There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for the old 12- to 14-SKU home office collection,” said Karl Eulberg, executive vice president of sales, marketing and merchandising at Martin Furniture. “We’re selling a lot of the smaller collections with no more than six or seven SKUs.”
Eulberg and other executives said that, in addition to a desk, current collections now commonly include a credenza, a hutch, a couple of file storage pieces, a bookcase, and not much else.
“Products in demand are bookcases that are as fashionable as they are functional,” said David Petersen, vice president of marketing at Stanley Furniture. “They serve to disguise a home office inside of a family room.”
According to research conducted by Impact Consulting, parent company of Home Furnishings Business, the home office category accounted for $3.28 billion in sales in 2015, which was a healthy 4.54% ahead of 2014.
The growth rate wasn’t quite as fast as total furniture sales (excluding bedding), which grew 4.89% last year, but the category’s share of total furniture sales essentially remained steady at 4.18%.
For the first three quarters of 2016, the home office growth rate hasn’t been quite as robust -- 3.17% -- but the category maintained a 4.15% share of the total furniture market with $2.5 billion in sales.
Producers say that desks remain the most popular home office item, although writing desks and other smaller-footprint models are increasing in popularity.
Research by Impact Consulting shows that, among consumers surveyed in the past year, 23.9% said they preferred a writing desk – the same percentage as executive desks. The next most popular was a desk with a hutch, preferred by 20.3%, while an L-shaped desk was the choice for 17.9%. The venerable roll top desk was preferred by a mere 1.6% of those surveyed. (Graphic 1)
Hank Long, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Hooker Furniture, said that while the traditional 72-inch executive desk continues to outsell 66-inch models by about 3 to 1 when being purchased for dedicated home office rooms, desk sizes as small as 48 inches are gaining in popularity.
“These work well in bedrooms and other smaller rooms,” Long said of the 48-inch models, noting that 60-inch models, especially in writing desks, also are good sellers because they’re suitable for a family room or other larger multi-purpose spaces.
“Traditional with updated finishes still is our strongest category,” he said. “But we are having success with transitional and contemporary with more sophisticated finishes.”
Long and other executives said non-brown finishes with names such as graphite, stone and gray also are gaining ground.
The Impact Consulting survey showed that 50.4% of consumers have traditional-styled home office furniture, followed by 37.4% with contemporary. All other furniture styles scored in the single digits, with country/rustic at 4.1%, transitional and mission/shaker at 3.3% each, and cottage at 1.6%. (Graphic 2)
Eric Shupack, president of Furnitech, which sources its products from Brazil and sells primarily through the e-commerce channel, said one of his company’s hottest looks is an engineered graphite Italian veneer finish that recently was added to some transitional home office pieces.
“We can’t keep it in stock,” he said of the graphite finish. “I’m thinking of making it an option on every desk in the line.”
Although Furnitech’s home office products are largely transitional and contemporary styles, Shupack also said he has noticed less interest in large, multi-piece collections.
“People just don’t seem to have the space for a full office ensemble,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity for multi-function pieces that can go into apartments and other smaller living spaces.
Despite Furnitech’s success in the e-commerce space, the Impact Consulting survey showed that nearly half of consumers said they would most likely shop for home office furniture at an office product store (26.4%) or a traditional furniture store (22.7%). A specialty store was the choice of another 15.4%, while a warehouse club was the choice of 13.6%. (Graphic 3)
Department stores were the choice of only 8.1%, while value merchants were preferred by 7.3%.
Walker Edison’s Midtown
At just 48 inches long, this streamlined writing desk is functional without taking up a lot of space. It is constructed of solid wood and the pullout, drop-down drawer converts into a keyboard tray. It is available in six colorful matte finish options, including Dusty Blue shown here. Others are Slate Gray, Brick Red, Canary Yellow, Black or Classic White.
Somerton Dwelling’s On Your Six
From the company’s iMPROV in G collection, this popular and versatile desk features warm oak veneers with a center drawer front that flips down to accommodate a laptop at a moment’s notice. It also doubles as a console table or server. At 54 inches wide and 22 inches deep, it has a cerused grey oak finish with a blaze red accent inside the drawer.
Designed by Marc Boudreau, this Pinnacle Award finalist in the home office category features sleek contemporary styling and is made of walnut melamine. Available in a black or white desk top, the collection comes fully assembled, except for casters or legs, and the desk features cord management. In addition to the desk, the collection includes a side return, and a two-drawer file cabinet that’s available in two configurations. As a space-saving feature, the desk legs can be removed and a file cabinet can fit under the desk to be used as legs.
Sligh’s Cross Effect
Crafted from quartered white oak veneers in a rich mocha finish, this collection from Lexington Home Brands’ Sligh brand offers an innovative fusion of contemporary and industrial design, featuring striking metal bases, decorative accents and custom hardware in a burnished bronze-finished silverleaf. Asymmetrical styling offers a slight urban edge to the look, enhancing its modern aesthetic and sophisticated appeal.
Legends Furniture’s Joshua Creek
From the domestically produced Joshua Creek collection, this 54-inch writing desk has all the understated charm and appeal of contemporary furniture featured in a Barnwood finish. Designed with simple lines and knotty alder solids and veneers, the company says it is appealing because it imparts a simple, yet elegant state of mind. And at 21 inches deep, it’s designed for compact work spaces.
Furnitech’s FT56CDG writing desk
From the Signature Home collection, this three-drawer, 56-inch writing desk features graphite Italian engineered veneers and a solid Brazilian cherry wood base and leg elements in an ebony finish. Functional as it is visually appealing, the desk features clean contemporary lines. It has three full extension drawers and a generous writing surface.
With layered base moldings, a tone-on-tone wood finish, and an open design, Eastchester has an antique yet timeless style. Cherry veneers and poplar wood round out the solid, durable construction, while customizable storage options make it ideal for any modern or urban space. The company says Eastchester is an ideal choice for those who want practical home office furniture with timeless elegance. Shown here are the 72-inch executive desk, and the accompanying 72-inch credenza and hutch.
Martin Furniture’s Hartford
This collection combines bold lines with a weathered, vintage finish and classic style elements. The warm, two-tone rubbed finish gives Hartford the relaxed feel of old world wood and the sophisticated turnbuckle and wire mesh details add a formal element. The collection is suitable for either a classic formal setting or a more relaxed, eclectic home. It includes a power center with two AC power outlets and three USB 2.0 connections.
Stanley Furniture’s Welton
From the Crestaire collection, this bookcase is designed to be fashionable and functional. When combined with the Crestaire desk, it is designed for use in a family room or other room that is not solely dedicated to a home office. The bookcase features two full extension drawers and four fixed shelves.
Hooker Furniture’s Rhapsody
The distinctive base and top design have combined to make this 66-inch desk a best-seller. In addition, the dry wire-brushed finish is on-trend. When used with the matching bookcases and lateral files, it makes for a complete small office without the heavy look of a double-pedestal executive desk.
Parker House’s Hickory Creek
The 60-inch writing desk features a refined rustic finish, built out of New Zealand pine solids and veneers. The desk is wire brushed before a multi-step finishing process gives it a distressed look. This desk is one of eight items that are part of the Hickory Creek modular office group, which allows creation of a multitude of room solutions.