Marshall Erb reports from High Point Market (Fall 2020)—and dishes on the artisans, furniture and trends that are shaping the future of design.
By Elise Hofer Shaw
If you’re in the interior design industry, then High Point Market is your Paris Fashion Week. Held biannually in High Point, North Carolina, it’s the largest home furnishings trade show in the world. Spanning more than 10 million square feet of High Point’s historic downtown with roughly 2,000 exhibitors across 180 buildings, it’s where the artists and makers converge—and the not-to-be missed, see-and-be-seen summit if design is your métier and muse.
Thus, each year in April and October, for two weeks in the spring and one week in the fall, the world’s top designers descend on the market for the scoop on upcoming trends and the best of the best in furniture, fixtures, textiles and more. “High Point Market is a visual education,” says Marshall Erb, lead interior designer and architect at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “It’s an exploration of what’s available. It’s like going to a gourmet market for the fresh catch of the day and then deciding what recipes you can make from the components. For the same reason Anna Wintour sits front row for the Balmain show, designers are here to take in the emerging trends and merchandise coming out of the finest design houses.”
But not just anyone can attend. The High Point Market Authority coordinates the to-the-trade exposition. (High Point is invitation only; all attendees must be licensed designers or highly vetted craftspeople.) From the perennial vendors that occupy large footprints—the Theodore Alexander and Universal Furnitures of the design world—down to the micro booths for up-and-coming specialty artisans (think bespoke linens or hand-forged drawer pulls, for example), it’s a meticulously mapped out maze of wares and inspiration. And then there are the spotlight events for continued education like keynote speaker series, CEU-accredited seminars, networking parties, trend-forward design challenges and more… Make no mistake, it’s a well-oiled machine for big business. (Each market, there are some 80,000 attendees from more than 100 countries contributing upwards of six billion to the area’s economy alone.)
But this year things looked a little different courtesy of COVID… Held last month from October 13-24, the organization rolled out a strict set of pandemic protocols to keep visitors safe, enforcing everything from social distancing, mandatory mask wearing and capacity limits to daily temperature checks and enhanced sanitizing. The Authority also brought in more open-air noshing options and set social media ablaze with the hashtag #hpmktSAFE. But it was the vendors themselves that brought about the biggest experiential changes, including live virtual showroom tours, immersive virtual designer events, 3D tours and more.
“Stacking your showroom appointments was more important than ever this season,” says Erb, who cautiously opted to attend virtually this fall. “For those attending in-person, capacity was an issue. But I have to hand it to the brands for embracing technology and upping the virtual offerings for those of us who wanted social distance. You can log in and virtually tour the showrooms at your leisure. And the tech is top drawer. You can stop, pause and look at products in 3D, all styled within their vignettes. Unlike staring at a flat photograph, we were able to experience the scale and proportion that you just can’t get looking at products against the white background of a printed catalog. It’s wonderful that the industry was able to find a way to keep what makes the market so special: the ability to see how different design elements will live within a space.”
It’s worth emphasizing how High Point Market is an opportunity for designers to educate themselves about quality, construction and comfort—and, if you’re Marshall Erb, how to translate that knowledge into hyper-personalized design for your discerning clients. “Like with high-end fashion shows, we get to see the products in advance, things that won’t be available for public purchase for six months,” says Erb. “As industry insiders, we’re able to flag spring products and learn as much about them as we can so that we’re prepared to show our clients the latest and greatest when it goes live. For me, it’s also really important to sit-test the furniture or have a trusted rep do it for me. You might see the most beautiful chaise in the world, but if it’s uncomfortable then it won’t work.”
According to Erb, the two showrooms with the biggest buzz this market were Theodore Alexander and Gabby. “Ralph Lauren Home signed an exclusive partnership with Theodore Alexander this year to be the manufacturer of its complete portfolio, and did a big reveal with a 10,000-square-foot showroom,” says Erb. “In other big news, Gabby and Summer Classics unveiled its new 20,000-plus-square-foot showroom. They recently purchased Stanford Furniture, took over their showroom, and completely redid it. It was an amazing renovation and absolutely stunning showroom that integrated the beautiful indoor and outdoor product from Summer, Gabby and Stanford all in one place.”
And despite not being able to attend in person this fall, Erb more than did his virtual homework. “From showroom to showroom, we saw that yellow, gold, bronze and orange hues are adding oomph to textiles and accessories, so expect to see these colors more in 2021,” says Erb, sharing that azure, teal and turquoise are having a moment, too. He’s also predicting a rise in mixed materials. “Marble with metal, wood with metal inlay accents, gesso mixed with hammered metal, leather with metallic embroidery… We’re seeing a lot of contrasting textures across both furniture and accessories. Hurtado, for example, launched its new Emerald collection that pairs exotic veneers in intricate patterns on case goods—and it’s stunning.”
All things considered, Erb is excited to get back to work without restrictions. “While in many ways the fraternal aspect was lessened this year—meeting up, dining together, socializing over drinks—no one is complaining because business is good for everybody,” he adds. “With everyone at home focusing on the function and design of their dwellings, we’re having a banner year when so many other industries are suffering—and for that we are all grateful. This is especially true for the furniture industry. Whereas overseas inventory is scarce, custom made-in-America furniture is still available and running on time. It’s a boon for the U.S.”