Some of you may have noticed in the fashion magazines and on Instagram that there is talk of renting clothes – usually for big events where you might not want to buy an expensive dress or suit as you don’t know when, or if, you will wear it again. Case in point I bought a gorgeous green suit that matched the cover of my second book 101 Interior Design Answers, for its launch party on 25th March 2020. And yes, you guessed it, the country went into lockdown on 23rd and that suit has been worn once – for a brand collaboration where I was asked to style a room and it may not be entirely coincidence that the resulting room was green. How much easier it would have been to have rented an outfit (or not as the case would have been) and returned it after the event. People are now also renting designer bags for a few weeks at a time and it’s an idea that’s catching on.
So, Sophie and I decided to look into this for the latest episode of our podcast The Great Indoors.
Renting furniture for whole rooms is nothing new. Companies have been hiring sets for developments they want to see or estate agents for empty properties that are languishing on the market. But it has, in general, been a fairly bland, corporate look designed, if you like, to illustrate the space in terms of size and use rather than for real people living real mismatched lives.
First off the blocks into this space is Harth, founded by Henrietta Thompson in 2018. Her aim, simply, to bring the circular economy into interiors by allowing you to buy, rent and/or sell pre-owned furniture.
“In Britain alone, people throw away more than 300,000 tonnes of re-usuable furniture every year. A third of UK adults throw away furniture which could be recycled or reused. A growing culture of “fast furniture” is compounding this,” she told me.
“We want to provide customers with access to high quality furniture at affordable prices and to keep well-made design in circulation and out of landfill. We want to help our customers reduce costs, waste and their carbon footprint, while keeping their homes and businesses inspiring, on-trend and meaningful. This way we aim to tackle overproduction, free you from clutter and provide a more fun, free-spirited way to bring your space to life.”
The site works piece by piece. You decide if you want to rent or list an item. You can rent it for a month, three months, six or longer. There is also an option to buy and Henrietta says 40 per cent of customers do go on to buy what they have rented.
While it’s a practical solution to fill a rented home with rented furniture or good for someone who moves often and finds furniture is the wrong size for the new place (the reason Henrietta founded Harth) it’s also great for those who are settled in their homes but want to try something new without commitment. Imagine you needed a new sofa and fancied yellow but were scared to commit. This way you can try before you buy and either return it if you tire of the shade, or realise it’s not for you.
At the time of writing there are no yellow sofas to rent but you get the idea. You can also rent designer pieces that, again, might be outside the purchasing budget, but allows you to have a really spectacular piece in your home for a while without worrying that you have to justify the cost. You can currently rent an Aarnio Ball chair for £140 a month instead of paying £5,500 for a new one (one of the rented ones was bought for £4,000).
Initially Henrietta wanted the site to be community-based (like Narchie, selling vintage furniture which I wrote about recently) but is now about to relaunch as she and her team have realised they need to be more involved in the transportation. Certainly if I was renting a designer piece I’d want to make sure it was being looked after and not having to try and cram it into the back of a dirty hire van. Harth will also have items like rugs professionally cleaned and photograph them for you if you are wanting to list your own things.
Now if that sounds too high end for you – you don’t need a designer chair to look swish but you have people coming for supper and not enough space to buy and store the extra chairs then Shelff might be the place for you. Launching next month it was the brainchild of Julia who lives in a one bedroom flat in London and wanted some Christmas decorations but had nowhere to store them so she came up with the idea of rental. It’s a great solution for people in small flats with no storage.
But you know it’s a thing when the high street gets involved. Step aside for John Lewis & Partners, that stalwart of the high street who have come up with another idea.
They have teamed up with Fat Llama, who rent out everything from a drill to a camera, who are doing the logistics for JLP. This is where you can rent out new, perhaps more trend-led, pieces from John Lewis with the option of returning them.
You can rent a Herman Miller office chair for £123 a month and I have been talking about the benefits of a proper office chair for months/years now! Or you can rent a John Lewis office chair for £20 a month. The point being that if you are still working from home but will be going back to an office at some point then renting decent furniture can be a good solution. And, of course, you would expect the high street to cater or all budgets and styles.
Talking of office furniture Ikea are testing a similar idea in Switzerland, purely for office furniture. This comes after the success of their buy back scheme; if you have something which you no longer want or need you fill in a form and explain its condition and they give you a voucher for up to 50 per cent of the retail price for you to buy something new while they sell on your old piece in the bargain corner.
Finally, there is the idea of renting art, which is not new but which might benefit from the current chat around the idea. Buying art is hard and expensive and can be a massive financial commitment. But going to somewhere like Modern Art Hire so you can try things out and discover new artists is a really good idea.
So is renting the future? It’s good for the planet and it’s good for anyone who is unsure of their style or easily bored, or who moves around a lot. Have you? Would you? What do you think?
You can listen to the full episode of the podcast here.