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Rental furniture embraces modern style

The subject of furniture rental might bring back odd memories for some. Maybe it was you or a friend who rented an outdated couch that looked like it belonged in your grandmother’s house. And there’s likely no shortage of stories about stains, unpleasant smells and other rental furniture dysfunction from decades past.

Fortunately, the furniture rental world has come a long way, especially in the past 10 years, and the image of the more than $700 million industry has certainly improved, too.

“It used to be seen as an industry with a lot of very old and beat-up stuff, but that’s not at all the case anymore. I think social media has helped, too, with people talking about it (the upgrades to new, sleek styles),” said Debbi Somers, founder and CEO of Somers Furniture in Las Vegas. “For us, we try to make furniture that doesn’t look anything like rental furniture.”

Because of this change, rental furniture is becoming more widely accepted for a variety of customer types. In fact, if you visit a hip downtown condo, you might be surprised to learn you’re sitting on a rental piece.

Events, staging

Somers has been in the furniture rental business for decades. Her early work primarily involved serving Las Vegas conventions. However, after 9/11, she shifted to renting to nightclubs and pool clubs. Her company also started constructing its own furniture.

She found that the same crew that for years maintained the furniture she bought could build its own. With that, she could better control costs and quality and even create custom pieces rather quickly. Eventually, she branched out into the luxury home market. While she still works with resorts and clubs, she also does her share of staging for homes being sold and for events and parties.

“We learned that some people don’t have the right furniture for hospitality,” she added. “So, we can take out what they have and move in our furniture to give the place a completely different look for a fundraiser or party.”

Prices for these rental packages can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, Somers said, depending on the number of furniture and decor pieces and size of the event.

Moving with the times

For Somers, her teams don’t just build pieces, they can rebuild existing furniture into a different style. Craftsmen will take off chair arms, modifying the size of a chair’s back or reupholstering a piece with different fabric or leather. This flexibility has allowed her company to keep up with changing interior design trends.

In the past decade, the furniture rental industry has been influenced by the same contemporary design many homeowners desire, according to Jennifer Wright, national sales director and interior design consultant for Express Furniture Rental, which serves Arizona, California, Washington and Oregon.

Wright visits the Las Vegas World Market twice a year to place orders for contemporary offerings. With furniture rentals, interior designers like herself also create curated rooms. The company’s Urban Upgrade option offers a contemporary, fresh look that goes beyond simple neutrals but adds pops of vibrant colors such as orange or red.

These curated settings have also moved away from all furniture pieces matching throughout the home. Instead, just as they have in modern condos and homes that are owned, more eclectic styles have filtered down into rental furniture packages, too.

“With today’s design, the bedroom furniture doesn’t have to be the same as the dining room, and the end table can even be different from the cocktail table in a room,” she explained.

Express serves the temporary housing market, everything from short-term executive stays to workers and students who might live in a space for several months or a year, even longer. Her company has worked with executives in homes and condos and short-term apartment living situations, even professional athletes who only live in a city for a season.

The company requires a three-month minimum commitment, and rental packages can include furniture, housewares and decor items. Introductory furniture and decor packages for one-bedroom apartments start around $500 a month.

“It’s a turn-key situation where you really have everything you need, and when you’re done, just call us and we’ll come and get it,” she said.

The mobile worker

Entrepreneurs and other professionals who move around a lot also make up a growing market for furniture rental. The on-the-go entrepreneur demographic shaped the company Fernish, which is based in Los Angeles and recently expanded to Seattle. Its founders are looking at other markets to the east after fewer than two years of operation.

Fernish founders Michael Barlow and Lucas Dickey were entrepreneurs who moved quite a bit and dreaded the experience.

“Instead of moving being fun and exciting, they found it was just cumbersome, and then you had the cost associated with moving furniture that might not even fit in the new space,” said Scott Goldblatt, director of marketing for Fernish.

So, the idea of renting something that was contemporary and of high quality for several months or a year worked for them, and it became the impetus for the company. Fernish partners with companies such as Crate &Barrel, CB2 and other high-end manufacturers to offer modern and upscale furniture.

There is a monthly membership fee with whatever rental items you choose. You can rent an accent chair for as little as $19 per month, a Perrier bar cart for $13 a month, a bar stool for $3 or $4 a month or a large sectional for $64 per month. The company also recently added fully curated room options too.

“I would also say that the most important thing for our customers is that we make this entire process simple, easy and flexible,” Goldblatt said.

The Fernish company philosophy also has a green tinge, as it avoids “fast furniture,” or low-quality offerings you might discard after a single use.

“About 9.7 million tons of furniture ends up in landfills every year, and to us that’s scary,” the spokesman noted. “If we can do our part to make sure that doesn’t happen, we’re proud of that. … For us, the idea is to bring access to really nice high-quality furniture but with the flexibility to keep it only as long as it’s needed.”

Fernish requires a three-month minimum commitment and offers customers the option to buy the furniture. Payments then go towards the item’s retail price.

“That happens sometimes. The customer just loves it and wants to keep it,” he said.

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