In early April of this year, an MIT survey of 25,000 American workers found that 34.1%, or just over one third of workers, had shifted to remote work. Add this number to the 14.6% of respondents that were already working from home, and the result implies that nearly half the US workforce is now working from home. Another 11% had been furloughed, which suggests that about 60% of working-age adults are home every day.
This new reality has obvious repercussions for work/life balance, but it also impacts our relationship with furniture. For example, in the past, most living room or great-room upholstery was used for a few hours each day. It had even less attention at times when owners dined at restaurants, exercised at the gym or went to a concert, so they didn’t use their upholstery at all.
In a COVID-19 world, however, there has been nowhere to be other than home for all but essential workers. Whether telecommuting from the recliner or curled up on the sectional binging Netflix, lots of consumers are giving their upholstery more wear in a week than it normally sees in a month, or perhaps more.
This accelerated wear on upholstery provides a teachable moment about quality. The upholstery industry has struggled for years to communicate that, even if a piece looks good on the outside, on the inside you get what you pay for. The pandemic may finally be getting this job done.
Pieces covered in leather that feel stiff or fabrics that stretch, with cushions that sag or frames that creak are not holding up. With 316 million people in at least 42 states, three counties, 10 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico urged or mandated to stay home (some who live in CA, as I do, were told to stay home as early as March 19), these signs of poor quality are beginning to appear. No wonder consumers are finding themselves disappointed in their current upholstery’s performance. My anecdotal survey has uncovered discontent around seating comfort and quality.
Consumers will likely have to live with their current sofa or chair until the economy restarts. But, as furniture stores reopen and consumers head out to replace their worn-out seating, I suspect this experience will cause them to ask as many questions about quality as style. I believe they will be seeking out pieces that not only look good, but also have a level of quality that means they will wear well, too.