Instead of filling their apartment with cheap furniture that feels disposable, a growing number of people are simply renting posh couches and throw cushions by the roomful.
The latest addition to the so-called sharing economy of subscription services, such as Rent the Runway for high-end clothing and Hourcar for vehicles, are furniture and home goods subscription services like Feather, Fernish and Inhabitr. They target millennials and Gen Zers who value mobility, flexibility and sustainability over owning things.
“Whenever I moved, it was always like, ‘Why are we buying furniture, and moving costs even more than the furniture, but we end up giving it away or even throwing it in the alley?’ ” said Inhabitr founder Ankur Agrawal.
Agrawal plans to expand his Chicago-based startup, which is already available in eight other cities, including Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., into the Twin Cities this year. Feather and Fernish are available in a few West Coast and East Coast cities so far.
The concept is growing — and established companies are also getting involved.
Furniture giant Ikea is testing leasing programs in Europe, with plans to expand into the U.S.
And through a partnership with West Elm, Rent the Runway subscribers across the country can now also rent living room or bedding “bundles” — which include options like several accent pillows and a matching throw blanket, or a quilted coverlet and coordinating shams. Subscribers who pay the $159 a month “unlimited” rate can rent the bundles as one of four selections they can check out at a time.
“It’s an exciting time. People have started to buy furniture online. Millennials are moving a lot, they’re moving three to five times before they decide where they’re going to live,” Agrawal said. “And there’s a lot of industries like Airbnb, co-working, where there’s a lot of need for flexibility and renewal. And, honestly, we get bored looking at the same furniture. It’s like fashion.”
The furniture subscription services have different fee structures and minimum rental times, but all basically allow subscribers to select what they want by perusing photos online. Furniture styles and brands vary — from West Elm and CB2 favorites to midcentury knockoffs and clean-lined, Scandinavian-style pieces — but skew much more fashionable and easy to select online than traditional furniture rental places.
Customers can either rent items like chairs or end tables individually, or pick out a room package of coordinated furniture. The services allow customers to either put rental fees toward purchasing the furniture, swap it out for something different or send it back at the end of the rental period. The companies say the furniture then gets inspected, cleaned and refurbished before it goes back out into the rental pool.
Inhabitr’s customer base is largely ages 22 to 29, people who aren’t sure how long they are going to live in their current home and are seeking flexibility, said Agrawal. Subscribers also include Airbnb hosts, real estate stagers and companies that own apartments that they want to rent furnished.
Sangeetha Kolla and her husband are in their 50s, but were in need of flexibility as they plotted a move from Rockford, Ill., to Madison.
“We have a big house to sell. So we decided to keep the house as it is, so that it shows well,” Kolla said.
They decided to wait to buy a home in their new city until their old house is sold — but the apartment they found to rent in Madison is not furnished.
So Kolla started searching online, and found Inhabitr.
She clicked around to select one living room package, a bedroom package and a small dining room set; two “very polite” workers delivered it all and set it up for them, she said.
Now, the Kollas, whose two children are in college, are fully furnished — at least for their six-month rental period.