The meaning of home is changing. The home of 2020 has become a squeezed-in office, an improvised classroom, a reluctant gym, and a spontaneous family restaurant all at once. And in this time of makeshift living, rented furniture may well be the only thing we can commit to these days.
Furniture rental had been on the rise before the pandemic, but since COVID-19 shrank the world to the size of our homes, renting furniture has emerged as a viable—and more sustainable—solution to a world in flux. Say hello to commitment-free furniture—such is the motto of Fernish, the premium furniture rental company that lets you binge TV on that velvet sofa you always wanted, until you decide to keep it, return it, or swap it out for that sectional sofa you’ve always wanted.
“Everything is so fluid now, and that level of flexibility speaks very well for our service,” says Michael Barlow, the company’s cofounder and CEO. With the rise of remote working and temporary setups at Mom and Dad’s house, Fernish has seen a rather predictable 315% increase in home office orders, but also a surprising rise in decor and soft goods: Pillow and throw orders have increased by 80% and mirror and wall art orders have jumped by 105%. “You’re trying to refresh your space now that your home is not just your home,” says Michael.
Furniture rental isn’t exactly new. Since 1986, Rent-a-Center’s rent-to-own model has taken in billions of dollars in U.S. revenue. But unlike Rent-a-Center, which targets cash-strapped consumers, next-generation furniture rental services like Feather, Furnishr, and Casa One were designed for a younger crowd with a penchant for good design. The typical Fernish customer is in their early 20s or 30s, and 90% of Fernish customers had also never considered renting furniture before.
Fernish lets you try out anything from accent chairs to bar carts to plants. But its most popular feature is the Curated Room, which allows you to pick and choose from a selection of predesigned rooms that vary in style from midcentury modern to industrial modern to California chic. The luxury of no-commitment comes at a price— you’re charged less the longer you rent a piece, but if you fall in love with that dresser and decide you’re ready to commit after all, you can apply your previous monthly payments to the purchase price and own it outright.
And when that desk is rendered useless because your office is back, and life is back, and the pandemic is nothing but a speck in your rearview mirror, Fernish will relieve you of it free of charge. Except that unlike the 10 million tons of furniture that go to landfills every year, your desk will be revarnished, repainted, and disinfected through an 11-step sanitation process, and any damaged parts will be repaired. Your old desk, now good as new, will then be shipped off to grace someone else’s home office. “Everything we put into circulation has to be durable, modular, and refurbishable,” says Michael. “We have thousands of products in their third cycle and [people] can’t tell the difference.”
The appeal of furniture rental in times as nebulous as these is not surprising. It’s convenient, it’s flexible, and it fits right into a lifestyle where everything, even goats, can be delivered to your doorstep. And while there is still work to be done with the carbon footprint of a supply chain reliant on back-and-forth deliveries and pickups, renting your next set of bedside tables remains a greener alternative to disposable flatpacks you’re bound to get rid of when the world reopens. “The circular economy is the future of consumption globally,” says Michael. “What we’ve been focused on is bringing that to furniture.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest