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Wanted

New From Target And Dwell: Chic, Modern Furniture For $400 Or Less

Modern design finally within reach?

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Today Target and the the shelter magazine Dwell announced a 120-piece furniture and home accessories line. Available in late December, the collaboration is a marriage of the brands' strong suits: Dwell’s aesthetic and Target’s ability to mass-produce products most of us can afford. With prices ranging from $16.99 to $399.99, it’s modern design finally within reach.

Target sees the collaboration as an evolution of its business and as an avenue to better serve a growing customer base that's hungry for modern furniture. Market research and interviews with Target shoppers revealed that "Target is well known for democratizing style and creating accessibility to great design," Mark Tritton, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Target, says. "We were thinking about how we bring this in a more cohesive way to our guests in a single story that really showcases modern design."

As for Dwell, the partnership signals the brand's ambition to evolve from a magazine into a lifestyle brand. "It's a natural next step for Dwell, as we move from media company to a design and technology brand that is connecting the modern world," Dwell president and CEO Michela O'Connor Abrams said over email.

Building A Partnership

The collection's aesthetic is cool and urbane, from the copper-accented barware and tableware to punchy throws and compact storage, seating, and accent pieces. And it's priced to move: candle holders for $17, terra-cotta planters for $20, prismatic throws for $40, a height-adjustable stool for $75, an upholstered pouf for $80, an LED pendant light for $100, a hand-tufted wool rug for $190, a minimalist bookshelf for $250, a lounge chair for $250, and an outdoor sofa for $400.

This "cheap and chic" approach is a classic Target move. The company has worked with designers and brands like Nate Berkus, Isaac Mizrahi, Missoni, Jason Wu, Toms, Marimekko, and Lilly Pulitzer. But it hasn't kept up with contemporary furniture trends as fanatically as, say, Ikea. The Dwell collaboration is a foray into the modern furniture business with an influential brand to show Target means business.

Target noticed a trend among consumers. More than half who participated in interviews and surveys expressed a strong interest in integrating modern design into their homes. Additionally, to establish itself as a credible purveyor of modern furniture, it wanted to team up with a company that already had brand recognition in the contemporary design world.

Dwell is in audience-building mode and has experimented in the past with broadening its scope and building new revenue streams. Most recently, it relaunched its website as a social network for the design-obsessed, dipped its toe into the real-estate business, and licensed its name to a line of prefab houses. With respect to home furnishings, it designed a collection of tiles with Heath Ceramics and ventured into contextualized e-commerce with OpenSky, AHALife, and its own online store.

While Target views the collaboration as a way to generate revenue, the financial motivations for Dwell are vague—both companies declined to state details about their business relationship, like if this is a profit-sharing or licensing deal. What is clear is that it is a brand-building endeavor for Dwell.

"We are seeing now more than ever that there is an interest in how people are living today—how they’re adapting new technology in their homes and how they spend their time—but it goes beyond just talking about it or looking at beautiful images in a magazine," O'Connor Abrams says. "It’s about . . . playing an active role in people’s lives."

Designing Dwell x Target

The collection was the brainchild of co-creative directors of product design at Dwell: Chris Deam—a professional architect and Dwell founder Lara Deam's husband—and Nick Dine—an RCA-trained industrial designer and former creative director of the contemporary furniture brand Dune. (His own home was once in the magazine.)

"When we started the project, we thought this was about giving a physical form to the voice of Dwell," Deam says. "We started thinking about what Dwell’s brand attributes are, and we came up with a list of vocabulary—it's smart, fresh, innovative, friendly, and culturally relevant. Then we thought about how we embody those attributes. We also identified some things that we’re not going to do, like we’re not going to be too edgy."

After creating the initial sketches, Deam and Dine presented the ideas to Target and the two companies worked together to shape the products for Target's customers.

"With global trends moving toward more Scandinavian-modern organic forms and simplicity, as well as densification of population [in cities], we’ve merged all those things together into a bucket that says this is a really interesting and viable intersection for us to explore more deeply," Tritton says of the consumer insights and market research that Target used to inform the collection.

Ease and cost of manufacturing also informed design decisions; Target's expertise with mass production and its large supply chain drove some of the designs. For example the original concept for a pendant made from ultra-thin sheet metal and LED film turned into a strip of LED lights embedded in an acrylic halo. "We have a lot of experience with manufacturing, but when you work with a company at the scale of Target you understand there’s a lot of force that comes with that," DIne says. "There was a shift to achieve an almost identical aesthetic and purpose, but we found a more pragmatic way to bring the idea a price point that was realistic."

Mainstreaming Modern Design

As a retailer, Target is using the partnership to remain competitive among design-minded consumers. As a brand, Dwell is using the partnership to stay relevant with younger audiences—a challenge that all shelter titles are facing. Domino, a legacy interior design magazine, relaunched in 2013 with a focus on millennials and e-commerce. Industry stalwart Architectural Digest recently named a new editor in chief who came from Teen Vogue. Dwell, too, is looking to its next generation of readers.

"Working with Target allows us to reach an entirely new and larger audience than ever before," O'Connor Abrams says. "Furthermore, we feel that it is something that is appropriate for the market at this time. The millennials are just entering their nesting phase. They will have a lot of sway over how the home and the home market evolves. We see them as a group that is attracted to modern design, but, as with most of us, they need options around price."

While the Target and Dwell collaboration is intended to bring more people into the world of modern design, it runs the risk of brand dilution. Will Dwell lose some of its cache as an arbiter of aspirational design?

O'Connor Abrams doesn't seem concerned. "[The collaboration] underscores Dwell's original mission statement—bringing modern design to everyone anywhere, anyplace, anytime, and in any form—and furthers our collective goal to raise awareness of good design. Since Dwell's inception, we have championed accessibility, whether by giving language to design process without being instructive or by highlighting quality products at various price points. Target is known for great design, and with this partnership we chose a brand with the largest reach and the ability to produce a product at great scale and at a quality that our audience expects from Dwell. Like Target, we believe that everyone deserves an entry point."

Dwell deserves a good chunk of credit for keeping midcentury design—a clear influence in the collection—alive; it's a trend that won't die. In fact, it's become so popular that you could compare its neutral modern aesthetic and ubiquity to a pumpkin spice latte. That Target is now selling a budget line that traces its lineage to midcentury modernism uproots the style from design snob territory and plants it firmly with the masses, where it was intended to live in the first place. Welcome home.

related video: From Apple To Zara, Designers Like To Steal. So What?

[All Photos: Target]

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