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Design & Designer: Interview with Julie Smith Vincenti

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Trends, Themes & Stories

INTERVIEW WITH JULIE SMITH VINCENTI

Editor, curator and trends watcher Julie Smith Vincenti explains how she identifies and presents design ideas to retailers and designers in advance of the High Point and Las Vegas shows.

For this installment of Furniture World’s Design & Designer series, we spoke with Julie Smith Vincenti, well-known in the home furnishings industry as the owner and editorial/creative director of Nine Muses Media LLC, a boutique media and communications company that specializes in custom content and trend forecasting. Smith Vincenti collaborates with International Market Centers (IMC) to produce trend content for their Las Vegas and High Point shows.

Back Story

Smith Vincenti’s journey into design began with her parents, who were avid collectors of antiques, especially furniture. She and her siblings spent many days at shops, estate sales and fairgrounds. “We each had collections of our own,” she recalled. “For me, it was antique salt-and-pepper shakers, and later, vintage linens and antique cameras—so we scouted for great finds and slowly developed our personal styles. I believe those adventures helped shape the work I do as an editor, curator, and trends reporter. My passion for fine art, especially painting and photography, is j¬¬¬¬ust as relevant.”

Following graduation from the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications, Smith Vincenti accepted a position as an entry-level editor covering the furniture industry. “I rose through the ranks to become the editor,” she said, “and traveled extensively around the world for 14 years, combing trade shows for new and noteworthy products and trends.”

In 2009 Smith Vincenti started her collaboration with Las Vegas Market. Each year since, the project has evolved and grown.

Today, FIRST LOOK and TREND WATCH are multi-channel programs under the IMC Marketing team, led by Renee Loper-Boyd, IMC’s Vice President of Marketing—Gift and Home. Included are webinars, CEU seminars, publications, at-market tours, and a series of product displays.

"The program charts a course for buyers and interior designers who source products at the Las Vegas and High Point Markets,” she explained. “The biggest difference between TREND WATCH for High Point Market and FIRST LOOK is that the gift and housewares components at Las Vegas Market are reflected in the types of trends, themes and stories we tell. For High Point, we focus almost exclusively on home furnishings, zeroing in on a pattern, motif, texture or room type.

“We consider how home furnishings products will enhance consumers homes’ look and efficiency, reflect their principles, create a sense of comfort and offer meaningful value to them and their loved ones.”

Benefit for Retailers

At Market, a priority for retailers is to work out programs with their current suppliers. That doesn’t always leave enough time to source new companies and investigate trends. “The benefit of presenting trend ideas at strategic High Point and Las Vegas Market locations,” said Smith Vincenti, “is that retailers can see an overview of between 30 to 40 brands represented in our displays. In High Point, displays are located near the entrance to IHFC’s Green Wing, between Commerce and Showplace, and at Suites at Market Square.“

Pictured are the themes for summer 2022 FIRST LOOK. The images reflect gift and housewares products featured at the Las Vegas Market. TREND WATCH, in contrast, focuses almost exclusively on home furnishings categories.

The Process

Furniture World asked Julie Smith Vincenti to describe how she distills the myriad design trends and influences from among thousands of exhibitors representing product categories including furniture, rugs, wall decor, lighting, table-top, gifts and more.

“About three or four months prior to each show we’ve already identified the themes, trends, and stories we want to tell,” she replied. “These are shared with tenants in all IMC owned buildings who are asked to submit imagery that meets criteria spelled out in design briefs. I recall that the high watermark for submitted entries was close to 2,700.”

Purples and reds set a stage for a range of sentiments and moods described by ‘Purple Prose.’ Referenced colors include these Pantone colors: Anemone 19-2033, Sparkling Grape 19-3336, Phalaenopsis 15-3216, Rose Violet 17-2624 and Very Peri 17-3938.

Julie Smith Vincenti said ‘Overlay’ captures nuanced details and captivating textures, such as linear patterns and bas reliefs. It features warm, especially gold metal, finishes. The referenced color is Sherwin-Williams’ Woven Wicker SW9104.

Beach Bound is characterized by luscious pastels, revitalizing aqua hues and tropical mainstays. Referenced Pantone colors include: Aqua Green 15-5421, Porcelain Rose 17-1643, Atomizer 14-4514, Goldfinch 12-0737, Peach Pink 15-1530, Lilac Breeze 15-3720, Shell 13-1405.


Theme Development Criteria

Smith Vincenti noted that the theme criteria is developed from multiple sources. “I look to industries outside of home furnishings to get inspiration for the stories we want to tell. The apparel industry is one of these, though I feel that at times the home furnishings industry has become too dependent on apparel trends. I also follow the contract furnishings, housewares, gift and hospitality sectors, as well as consumer behavior, including their travel destinations. Other meaningful sources of information are home furnishings trade shows.

“Aside from domestic shows, the International Consumer Goods Fair Ambiente is one of my favorites because it offers a mix of textiles, a great assortment of tabletop, a European home furnishings aesthetic and covers emerging styles. The tabletop market is an excellent category I look to for both emerging patterns and motifs.

“It’s my job to winnow the entries down to the assortment presented in our displays. It’s similar to the work I did, as a magazine editor for a product and trend publication for many years, by identifying the different inspiration sources.”

Smith Vincenti further explained that her displays often look at trends through the lens of a specific room type, the evolution of an ongoing trend, or a place. “It’s all done,” she said, “with the intent of telling stories that help retailers and interior designers connect the products they sell through good storytelling.

“I often visualize a specific consumer as I build stories with the intention of having them resonate with the current moods, shopping habits and references that easily translate to retail environments. These can emphasize attributes, aesthetics and core values. Our ‘She Suite’ home office vignette, for example, was created at the same time the #MeToo movement was capturing headlines. Our ‘Urban Alignment’ theme looked at the convergence of both baby boomers and their children moving to the city at the same time, although each was at a different life stage.

“I also visualize ‘place’ for our TREND WATCH and FIRST LOOK themes. One good example was ‘Las Islas Bonitas,’ based on the concept of an island home that seamlessly mixed indoor and outdoor furnishings. It championed a feeling of ease, bringing materials to the fore. It’s one of the first displays I did for TREND WATCH when we started seeing the influence of tropical destinations—island living set in a modern context. Las Islas Bonitas is an oldie, but it’s a goodie because we are still talking about tropical influences. Part of that has to do with an interest in renewable materials, woven materials and fast-growing plants like rattan.

“The broad stroke transformation I most enjoy in the home furnishings space is the emergence of confident consumers who don’t shop for what matches or what’s predictable.”

“Our trend coverage also journeyed beyond our planet in ‘Beyondaries,’ a modern interior concept featuring surfaces, finishes and textures with higher shine and mirrored effects. Linear forms and abstract patterns that resembled a lunar or planetary surface were incorporated as well. The concept was born from products seen at trade shows combined with the idea of space travel as a timely inspiration, coinciding with news of the latest Mars rover mission.”

Building on Themes

“Because this process plays out every three months for FIRST LOOK and TREND WATCH, we are constantly building on ideas explored in previous shows. It’s an opportunity to tell design stories that develop over time, bringing up ongoing topics in light of what’s currently going on in our business.

Design Confidence

Smith Vincenti has covered the furniture industry since 1996. “As in many other industries,” she observed, “the changes are palpable. But the broad stroke transformation I most enjoy in the home furnishings space is the emergence of confident consumers who don’t shop for what matches or what’s predictable. I love layered design stories—room designs that speak to personal experience, incorporating mementos. The result is interiors that are interesting, but not too perfect.

“Here’s another reason why I’m so excited about the ways we are able to talk about trends and design today,” she continued. “There’s been an increase in the ways consumers engage with and experiment with pattern, color and motif. That allows us to take a break from talking about coordinated furniture groupings and introduce concepts like maximalism as a design direction.

“We’ve been following maximalism as a trend for a long time. Interior designers can pull off some amazing maximalist interiors by combining bold colors and patterns. And while consumers have trended toward becoming more design confident over time, maximalism is a tall order. In spite of this, the maximalist approach has filtered down to everyday homeowners who are passionate about the items they purchase for their homes. It’s less about filling every inch of space and more about creating a curated experience. I call it a minimalist approach to maximalism. It’s a livable and accessible approach.

“The concept of design confidence is reflected in the way we present FIRST LOOK and TREND WATCH. We hope that retailers will pick up these layered stories and present them to their customers by adding new resources and additional, previously unconsidered product categories. We believe that it is an opportunity for retailers to adjust their product sourcing accordingly, in interesting ways.”

FIRST LOOK Displays for Summer 2022

“For Summer 2022,” Smith Vincenti explained, “we will introduce three new concepts: Purple Prose, Beach Bound and Overlay. These emphasize color trends, especially palettes from PANTONEVIEW home + interiors 2023 and Sherwin-Williams’ Colormix® Color Forecast for 2022.”

PURPLE PROSE: “The first featured trend is ‘Purple Prose.’ The name references Pantone’s color of the year in a way that looks at purples and reds that set a stage for a range of moods—festive and vibrant to regal and healthful.”

The “Growth” display showcased brown neutrals and nuanced textures. Featured were a hand woven Area Rug in Beige-Brown by Exquisite Rugs, the Driftwood Lamp by Pacific Coast Lighting, the Lotus Table Set in Antique Brass by Regina Andrew Detroit, the Adkins Exposed Wood Chair by Sam Moore and the Mystic Forest Wallcovering by York Wallcoverings.

The power of color and positivity were on display in the “Elation” TREND WATCH display of upholstery, accent furniture, wall decor, accent rugs and more. Products included the Enara Sculpture Collection by Accent Decor, the Jessa 5 Light Pendant by Crystorama, the Chloe Media Lounger by Four Hands, the Melange Patrisha Bar Cabinet by Hooker Furniture and a Life Styles Lime Blue Throw Pillow by Nourison.


Pantone® describes its Color of the Year 2022, Very Peri, as a ‘”warm, happy and empowering new shade.” “In practice,” observed Smith Vincenti, “this color has been a tough one for furniture manufacturers to feature. We will see how the accessory companies continue to work with that hue. Even in housewares there’s been some resistance to using Very Peri in a big way.

“Purple Prose is relevant beyond just being Pantone’s color of the year. It has to do with the continued popularity of pastels and addresses the current interest in reds.”

BEACH BOUND: “Beach Bound,” said Smith Vincenti, “is a nod to what Pantone calls ‘saltwater healing’ and ‘mellow escapism.’ It also refers to a destination many consumers couldn’t enjoy during the recent pandemic. We describe Beach Bound’s color palette as ‘luscious pastels, revitalizing aqua hues and tropical mainstays.’ Product categories for Beach Bound are outdoor dining and lounge furniture; textiles including beach towels, throws, all-weather pillows and area rugs; personal care products, fragrances and candles; accessories including beach bags, sunglasses and hats; hostess gifts; dinnerware and glassware; destination wedding essentials; stationery; and wall decor that evokes beach scenes, ocean vibes and atmospheric light effects. The Beach Bound theme speaks to outdoor living, spending more time with families outside, sunlight reflected on water, the juxtaposition of sand and water in texture combinations and linear patterns.”

OVERLAY: “The final category for summer 2022 is FIRST LOOK’s Overlay. It’s a theme, much like an ‘Insta’ filter that lends softness to both cherished photos and casual snapshots. It’s minimalist maximalism that’s livable and reverential.” Smith Vincenti also described Overlay as capturing nuanced details and captivating textures, such as linear patterns and bas relief details. Product categories for Overlay are leather and fabric upholstery; accent tables and pedestals; shelving solutions; area rugs with lustrous effects; lighting fixtures; barware; and wall decor.

Other Current Trends

Additional trends Julie Smith Vincenti wanted to bring to the attention of Furniture World readers are:

  • Decorating with plants: There are ways to take advantage of the fact that homeowners are loving to live with and care for living things. And so, it isn’t a stretch to imagine more furniture retailers going a bit deeper into integrating decorative planters into displays. These are popular home accessories that are consistently gaining market share.

  • Lightweight, renewable materials.

  • Sensibly sized homes with beautiful appointments.
  • Handmade accessories.

  • Continued used of florals. Rather than enjoying popularity for a season or two, designers are exploring additional ways to use florals in terms of scale, color and pattern.

Conclusion

In her concluding remarks, Julie Smith Vincenti mentioned her passion for mentoring the next generation of interior designers and visual merchandisers. “I’m really proud,” she said, “to share that we have invited UNLV to bring aspiring designers from their Interior Design program in to be part of IMC’s display setup process for 2022. We are happy to give them this hands-on experience. They will work closely with me and FIRST LOOK’s visual merchandiser, Addie Jones of Greensboro, NC-based Twine & Twill. Students will view the home furnishings and gift market up-close, gain professional experience and see their efforts realized in the Summer 2022 displays.

FIRST LOOK and TREND WATCH have grown to include publications, webinars, seminars, displays and tours, but being able to help a new generation of aspiring designers is especially gratifying.”


Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.

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