Harth furniture-and-art-rental platform heralds a revolution in interior design
Co-working spaces, Air BnB, NetJets and Zipcar – from globetrotting HNWIs to millennials with a lifetime of renting ahead of them, there has been a sea change in people’s attitudes to ownership across the globe. Some call it the sharing economy. But whether it’s purely down to economic necessity, smart technology, ease of use, or a byproduct of ethical thinking about the environment and sustainability – or all of the above – it seems we are all borrowers now.
Aiming to tap into this flexible, itinerant zeitgeist is Wallpaper* editor-at-large, writer and curator Henrietta Thompson, who together with her entrepreneur husband and business partner Edward Padmore, is launching Harth a furniture, interiors design, art and sculpture rental platform. Partnering with contemporary high end brands such as Lee Broom, Stellar Works, Talisman Aarnio Originals and more, Harth will lend pieces to its members for either long-term home furnishing purposes or short-term situations such as pop-ups, events, weddings and show homes.
Sounds intriguing. Wallpaper* caught up with Padmore to discuss the concept and how it works.
Rug, from the personal collection of a Harth member and ‘Ball Chair’, by Eero Aarnio
W*: What inspired the Harth concept?
Ed Padmore: Technology is changing the way we live our lives in so many ways, and yet the interiors industry hasn’t really caught up. But it needs to. We came up with Harth as a way to solve our own problems but also those of the industry.
I’ve met so many designers, manufacturers, makers, and artists who are frustrated with how unsustainable and inaccessible the world of design often is, and they’re often conflicted about putting out more things into this world where we don’t really need them. It just seemed like there must be a better way. A way to bring a circular economy to interiors…
Meanwhile we actually needed Harth on a personal basis – we’ve really built it for ourselves and our friends I guess. We’d moved house and office a few times and we always seemed to paying for storage – our problem was never not having enough stuff, but having too much of the wrong sort.
W*: Can you explain the concept as succinctly as possible?
EP: Harth is a sharing platform – the first in the world – specifically for interior design and art. Through it, members can rent furniture, interior design, art and sculpture directly from the world’s best brands, makers, galleries, and also each other.
W*: What are the benefits of renting in this industry?
EP: By making it possible to change any space in whatever way we like, for as long as we like, quickly, easily and with complete peace of mind – you can be much more flexible and experimental. We can be more environmentally conscious and we can enjoy a lot more design.
It makes us free to own less stuff, yet surround ourselves with things that inspire us. You also become free of both long lead times and long-term commitments, whether it’s the latest designs fresh from the furniture fairs, a simple armchair or a grand chandelier, this way you can have it all, on your own terms, and then give it back when you feel like it.
W*: What demographic are you aiming Harth at?
EP: It’s for those who appreciate and love great design and art and those who are not willing to compromise, or don’t want to compromise – either in terms of putting up with something that’s not perfect, or just wanting to have bit more fun with their interiors. It’s also for those who care about the environment and the impact of their consumption.
We’ve been surprised at the different segments that it appeals to. Property developers, interior designers and pop-ups are obvious markets that already often have a need for temporary design solutions, but as attitudes change towards ownership ultimately this is for the end consumer. From those just looking to spruce up their space on a seasonal basis to aficionados looking for a stop gap piece or a showcase item.
W*: Love the name, who came up with that?
EP: Henrietta came up with the name. We knew we wanted a unique name or word, that we could claim and make our own. It also helps with domains and trademarks but it stems from the original for ‘hearth’ around which most of the furniture in an important room of the house sits.
W*: What have been the main challenges is setting up the business?
EP: How long do you have?! Insurance, logistics, property access, and pricing have all needed a huge amount of research and development. Also setting up a new business is hugely time consuming, and we were already pretty busy as it was… but once we’d mapped it out we couldn’t not do it.
W*: Are brands confident it will work, which ones were the first to sign up?
EP: We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from brands – very few have said it’s not for them – possibly put off by the old connotations with the word ‘renting’. The first brands to sign up were Aarnio Originals, Established & Sons, Tom Dixon, Lee Broom, Cox London, Talisman but there are so many more.
W*: Which pieces are you most excited to have available via Harth?
EP: There are some wonderful pieces we can’t talk about yet, but some of the most exciting range from bespoke and storied pieces from prestigious private members clubs and pieces that have appeared in major Hollywood films. Then there’s the eclectic flamboyance of Aynhoe Park’s Modern Grand Tour pieces, and some wonderful art from both up-and-coming and well established artists.
W*: What percentage of pieces available from Harth would you describe as ‘collectables’?
EP: It’s hard to put a figure on this as we’re bringing more lenders on board daily and a lot of them are galleries and dealers of antiques. When it comes to collectables, too, we’ll often source an item specifically if requested.
W*: What’s the most affordable piece and the most expensive you currently have?
EP: Most affordable would be ceramics sets and small accessories, and the most expensive would be artworks. We have items that are very accessible but also some paintings that are several hundred thousand pounds and design pieces that are either side of six figures.
W*: Is it UK only to start with, or global?
EP: The focus is London first, with other cities to follow. Hopefully it won’t be long as we’re already receiving all kinds of requests from around the world.
W*: And can people eventually purchase furniture or art that they borrow?
E: That’s up to the lender and borrower to negotiate between themselves (Harth doesn’t own stock). We expect that most often it will be possible to buy a piece should you want to. HP has very negative connotations and Harth is not meant as a replacement for ownership. If you’re replacing an eight-year-old sofa and want another one for another eight years, Harth isn’t for you.
W*: What’s in it for brands or individuals who are loaning pieces and how do you insure against damage?
E: Some brands are accessing new markets via the platform. Others are trialing new products. Others are just keen to see products come out of storage. Owners retain ownership so effectively they can sell something several times over. Who wants stock sat on a shelf? Insurance is mandatory and included in the price, provided for by Harth.
We also have a comprehensive ‘Wear and Care’ programme and, depending on the type of item, we will always endeavour to repair, restore or replace items if anything should happen.
W*: How do you see the brand developing over the next five to ten years?
EP: We’d like to see people Harthing entire spaces and to be in cities all across the world. Whether that’s a hotel changing its lobby, a collector sharing his collection and making some money from his investment, or an individual treating themselves to that one amazing piece that have always wanted for their lounge, we’re excited about the endless opportunities.