RENOWNED FOR HER CLASSICALLY BEAUTIFUL INTERIORS, designer Tracy Morris has a sixth sense of sorts when it comes to investment pieces for the home. “I never try to push an entire room of super expensive pieces on a client, but I want to give every room something very special,” she says. “The homeowners understand that those pieces are intended to be such a standout that no matter what in the room changes later, whether it’s the rug, the curtains, the bed, it’ll still be the best piece in the whole room.”
Conversely, the fast furniture phenomenon encourages homeowners to buy of-the-moment styles over practicality and quality. Like fast fashion, fast furniture is built using poor-quality materials, enabling manufacturers to sell at more accessible price points, and capitalizing on ever-fleeting design trends. Not only is this wasteful, it’s also simply not a good investment because these pieces were not built to last.
“If you’re interested in sustainability, good design and good quality are the best place to start,” says David Sutherland, founder of the eponymous multiline collection of furniture, fabric, and accessories, who adds that longevity has been the backbone of his ethos from day one.
“My whole philosophy from the beginning has been that I want a grouping of pieces that feel comfortable, familiar, and collaborative, and I could reach back to a collection from twenty years ago and the pieces still look new, look fresh,” he says. “I don’t see our products as flashy. I see them as things you live with and things you hand down for generations.”
One of the design hallmarks of Sutherland is their use of King of the Woods teak, which the founder calls “the best species for outdoor furniture.” It’s sourced from Indonesia and Thailand, and according to lore, when adventurers pulled capsized boats from the bottom of the ocean that had been there for 300 years, they saw that the only thing left was the teak structure.
He describes the classical modern style Sutherland is known for as “humble,” which speaks volumes about the leadership behind the furniture behemoth with an anthology of furniture, fabric, and accessories, which all could easily be defined as quintessential quiet luxury. “I think good products, good design, good quality, they all have sort of a humble nature about them that makes people gravitate toward them,” Sutherland says. “And when you focus on excellent quality,” he adds, “you’ll never need to make apologies for what you create.”
“Sustainability really starts at home,” says Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, a designer in New York City. “In design, there seems to be a lot of waste, but where I grew up, people inherited furniture from their parents and kept it, but changed the fabric or the finish of the frame. But the key is that you have to start with really good pieces that are made with durable materials.”
Unlike furniture that was built to last, it’s more difficult to repair or update fast-furniture pieces because of the low-quality materials. For example, most contractors can easily sand and refinish a mahogany hardwood table, but a damaged coffee table with a laminate finish would likely be more expensive (not to mention harder) to restore than simply buying a new one.
“I like to look for investment pieces that can grow with my clients’ lifestyle,” says Morris, who adds that the grand millennial style trend is allowing rooms to reflect more of a person’s personality, creativity, and heritage.
“A grand millennial is someone who inherited their grandparents’ furniture and they’re making it work in their first home,” she says. “They’re young, but they have all these older pieces that they’re mixing with newer, modern items. For example, if I have a client that has a fabulous rug their grandmother gave them, we use that as the base for the room, and add on from there.”
It’s true that all beautiful, functional furniture and décor reflect a person’s current lifestyle, and a major furniture purchase, if chosen well, will be worth the investment. “Start with a few good pieces that are really important and save for them, and then just fill in slowly to build out a room,” says Noriega-Ortiz. “You spend two percent of your time at home. It’s where you live and it’s not trivial; the energy of a home goes hand in hand with mental health, and where you live should make you feel good.”