Interior Designers shop a lot. It seems like a dream job right? Picking out a lamp here, finding a rug there. Is that all we do for home design? Furniture and decor shopping is, admittedly a fun component to my job. But like you, Chicago traffic annoys me. So while on TV it seems like interior designers know of some shack filled with French armoires, the reality is that majority of our time is spent figuring out how different “ingredients”  work together to create a beautiful home design.  And where we shop for these ingredients are places that sound kind of snobby, members-only and keep out places: what are known as “trade-only” design centers. They’re not scary places that require a secret handshake at all, but they’re also not traditional furniture stores.They’re kind of like old fashioned general stores for designers, but instead of butter, flour, and sugar, we’re there to find fabrics, furniture, decor, flooring, etc. ,  e.g. the “ingredients” that go into creating a beautiful home design. Please excuse the upcoming analogies, but they’re the best way by which I can explain why home design centers have the ominous sounding warning label, “trade-only.”

A Beautiful Home Design is Like a Cake

Say you want a cake. You can go to the grocery store, buy all the ingredients, research Croquembouche recipes online and make it yourself. Other times you may want a cake from a great local bakery because A) you don’t want to devote a whole day to baking and B) the local bakery cakes are always jaw-droppingly delicious. Of course they are, they make cakes for a living and bake them every day. So just it wouldn’t make sense to go the bakery for their cake ingredients, it’s also the reason it doesn’t make sense for you to go to a trade home design center for you to buy forty yards of fabric, some lining, 32 rings, 2 poles, 4 finials, 6 brackets and two wands in a platinum silver finish when you just want some nice drapery. OK, time for an analogy break.

Outside, trade home design centers often look like nondescript offices, not stores.

Arlington Design Center

Where’s the fountains?

Inside, there’s a bewildering amount of choices that tend to overwhelm people. Remember this is a place for working and browsing.

 home design center fabric wall
Home design center lighting display
Interior Designers shop for a lot of trims

Sometimes, looking at these “working walls” freaks people out,  so we ask you not to stare too long. Scary!

Don’t worry, there’s prettier displays too!

home design center furniture display at Design D'Vision

A room setting at Design D’Vision

Kravet fabrics and furniture home design showroom for interior designers

Kravet fabrics and furniture

CAI Design trade home design showroom for interior designers

A view at the CAI Designs Showroom

Sue and Mark Hermann proprietors Design D'Vision interior designers showroom

Sue and Mark Hermann, owners of Design D’Vision. They’re also our neighbors!

Who’s Minding This New General Store?

Trade home design showrooms employ people to help order samples, check furniture stock and contact factories with product questions. There’s often also people making things, and people constantly moving things. There’s no one trying to urgently sell you things because it’s a holiday or something. Everyone here respects that both big and small projects take time. That’s refreshing.

Arlington Interior Designer Home Design Center Claudia Mitroi

Claudia and her assistant making draperies

What Happened to Home Design Again in 2008?

The economic crash in 2008 played havoc to small independent furniture stores as well as larger well-known stores like Plunkett’s, and many closed their doors. Macy’s eliminated their entire design departments and opted instead to emphasize cheaper imported furniture, or what I call “fast furniture”. A new type of furniture store started to appear that emphasized low cost above everything else. No home design was offered, it was just cheap. And the established quality brands that weren’t being shown as prominently any more at traditional stores started appearing now instead in trade showrooms. So that gorgeous $8000 handmade sofa sitting pretty at the trade home design showroom had to move over and share the floor now with an also very nice $2000 sofa.

The New Compact in Home Design

Clients wanted assurances that if they were going to spend their hard earned money on better things, they wanted them to look very good in their homes (cue the designers). Interior designers were reluctant to open retail stores after the bloodbath of 2008 and the advent of internet shopping. And fewer people were lining up to buy uber luxurious furniture found at trade home design centers like the Merchandise Mart. So it’s like everyone decided to play a game of musical chairs. Some home design stores weren’t left with a chair, and that’s where we’re at today. The traditional ways people bought furniture pre 2008 were disrupted and the landscape has changed. It’s like Mayberry after a makeover!

Trade Showrooms After Their Makeovers

Today, trade home design centers serve as collective showrooms, lending libraries and meeting spaces for independent designers and their clients. Registered Interior designers can go to one location, draw from thousands of components and use a space to show you a unique and personal design solution.

interior designers Dean Alan Design, Elgin home design picture

The sectional is from is from Precedent, the swivel chairs from Lee Industries, the club chair from Kravet , the cocktail table from Vanguard, the petrified wood drink table by Palacek, the driftwood sculpture by Interlude Home, the pillows custom made by Claudia Mitroi and Jaipur, the lamp from CAI Lighting, and all brought together from the Arlington Design Center

You get to see large items in person instead of on a computer screen, not get hassled by salespeople, and a designer will listen to your feedback and adjust accordingly. Warranties, service, and deliveries are coordinated between the showroom and the design firm and all involved parties have incentive to make sure everything goes smoothly and without surprises.

You now can have your cake and eat it too!

Dean Malambri

Dean Malambri

President and Principal Designer, Dean Alan Design

Dean Malambri is President and Principal Interior Designer for Dean Alan Design Inc, a residential interior design firm primarily serving Chicago and the Chicago suburbs.

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