Licensed products include items such as: wall coverings; bath, bed and kitchen linens; drapery fabric and window treatment hardware; accessories; upholstery and accessory textiles; rugs; two- and three-dimensional reproductions of artwork; tableware; telephones; tissue holders; clothes; and, of course, toys.
ROOM(S) FOR FUN
Picture this interior: a room with delightfully juvenile (bright) colors, cartoon-like patterns or images of animated characters featured in products and accessories. Much planning, effort and expense has been required to accomplish this complete look. The question is, why would an adult want to expend valuable time and resources to create a fantasy play land, a room that evokes pure fun and imagination?
Is this an adult version of I-don't-want-to-grow-up, where the child can live in the environment the parent always wanted? Is it for the benefit of the parent/adult to enjoy each time he or she enters the room, a vicarious I-want-my-childhood-back experience? Or is it the child-indulgence approach to furnishing a child's room, my child deserves this and I can afford to give it to him/her?
Perhaps the answer lies in a little bit of each. And perhaps there's more to it than that!
The mushrooming selection of juvenile and purely-for-fun decorative products has found a tremendously positive response among consumers. We could call it funstyle decorating, and predict that it is much more than a passing fad. In fact, it is a major decorating trend, and it appears to be here for some time to come. Here are some reasons why funstyle is now on the scene and escalating in popularity.
• The Two Big M's, Media and Marketing: Artists working in the media/entertainment industry have created a uniquely American sub-culture of animated characters-both visual and auditory images. Cartoon characters from Saturday morning television and animated motion pictures have become a part of our consciousness thanks largely to successful marketing plans of manufacturing and distributing companies who specialize in licensed products.
This is a relatively new phenomenon and learned through the school of experience. For example, when Disney created "The Little Mermaid" it became apparent that the public clamor for the delightful characters created for the full-length animated movie exceeded availability of the licensed products. In short, timing was way off. The products appeared for the public about a year after the movie debuted.
Since then, licensed products-including dolls and action figures, bed and bath linens and table service pieces-have hit the shelves at about the same time, or possibly before, the local theaters open their doors to show the newest animated "classic." Rumor has it that certain animated films actually have been held for release until the licensed products hit the shelves.
Within about five years, the astounding success of licensed products has opened a new avenue of decorating consciousness. The themes are well developed, storybook characters with a story line (thick or thin) that has resulted in these characters becoming "real" to us. Of course, much credit must be given to the talents of pen-and-ink artists, computer animators and the enchanting and sometimes even breathtaking quality of computer scenery and movement.
It was only a short jump from the movie screen to the wall covering and textile market, which is, of course, slower to adopt themes until the trend is well established and sales are somewhat fool-proof as they are now. The result? Increased sales and the possibility for custom designed interiors that go beyond a single licensed product.
Along this line, funstyle themes can be more generic but also more specific within a category that is without a major animated motion picture character. Custom designs for window treatments with a favorite childhood theme such as dinosaurs or Raggedy Ann and Andy may be the basis for funstyle design. Often a generic medieval theme, a general or specific sports theme, or themes such as nature motifs begin with a copyrighted design in a wall covering or border, which forms the foundation for the room's decor.
• Fantasy Decorating: One impetus for licensed funstyle design is that it takes us out of the ordinary and mundane world and into a fantasy world where surreal dreams become possibilities. This is not a new idea. Over the centuries, people have tried various ways to escape reality. This approach, however, is good, clean fun. It is moderate in cost compared to, say, a luxury cruise and certainly a lot longer-lasting.
Escaping today's world is perhaps even more important than at any point in the past. Although we do not now live in fear of war, we do live in dread of higher stress as a daily fare than at any point in history. Escape into a fantasy world may be just the ticket to help us to cope with reality when we return from our voyage-our voyage into the next room. It's safe, it's relatively inexpensive in terms of life-cycle costs, and there are no long lines, heat or bugs as we would otherwise endure in queue for a ride at the entertainment or theme park. And we do not have to plan our vacations around this escape into fantasy land.
• The New Heroes: With a seeming lack of human heroes other than music or sports stars, many people seem to be bonding with a favorite animated character and want him and his entourage a visible and decisive part of their decorating plans. Adorable creatures are considered good old friends, delightful creatures that always can be counted on to be there, smiling that familiar smile or portraying those silly qualities that make these characters lovable.
Cartoon characters are especially good at taking the bumps and grinds of life and coming out of experiences basically intact and ready for more adventures. Many of us need this message of resilience today. And they seem never to take life too seriously. Life in the cartoon and funstyle world is just too short to stay uptight. This philosophy seems to strike a chord with many people today.
• Niche Marketing: Niche marketing is targeting a particular audience. Funstyle decorating seems to be well accepted among a number of audiences. Downaging, as defined by futurist and trend tracker Faith Popcorn, means "40 is what 30 used to be; 50 is what 40 used to be, and 60 is the beginning of the second half of life!"
This phenomenon has several reasons for being a generally accepted fact. One is that more people are healthy, living not only longer but better quality lives. They simply don't feel older and certainly don't want to act that way.
The Baby Boomer generation, now approaching or just past 50, has been a rebellious bunch from the beginning. Whatever was considered normal or accepted was rejected; they did it another way, and aging is not in their plans. Baby Boomers will be the first generation to enter old age kicking and screaming in protest. One important way to manifest their perpetual youth not only is not to act their age, but to decorate and live in a youthful environment. Boomers also make doting and indulging grandparents who love spending money (something they have learned to do well) on their darling grandchildren.
The younger-than-Boomer sets also have jumped onto the bandwagon and seem to be enjoying every minute of it. We live in a society of continual and ageless youth. Because of the influence of media and successful marketing techniques, we are witnessing an era of ego-indulgence. We all want to be young and svelte. We exercise, we eat right, we keep our weight manageable, or if we don't, we think about it with passionate guilt. Although we still seek medical help for our aches and pains, more and more we rigorously seek self-help and alternative health methods to assist in our quest for eternal youth.
If the Boomers are accurately accused of refusing to grow old, then it can be said that the following generations have mastered the art of eternal youth. The 20- and 30-somethings, Generation X and especially the youngest consumer group-the Millennium generation (born after 1980)-are a computer-savvy bunch that has decided funstyle is definitely for them and their Baby Gap children. It's easy to accomplish, and makes them feel there is never a need to grow up-they just can be children with their children.
In particular, the age groups that have been exposed to or immersed in computerized games and computer graphics feel very much at ease around bright, stimulating, even strident colors.
CUSTOM DESIGNED FUN: HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
Funstyle decorating begins with a fantasy theme. But a few rules may help the scheme to be bearable in terms of color. It is generally more successful to keep the backgrounds neutral-using beige, gray, clean whites or tinted off-whites. Keep the window coverings light and neutral. Remember, the alternative window treatment will likely outlive the thematic decorating.
Likewise, neutrals on the floor will be more workable for the next style to take up residence in the room. Accents can be bright, but usually kept to smaller areas such as pillows, artwork, accessories or toys and, of course, the licensed design itself.
Bright colors also can make a dynamic impact on a larger scale-painting a single wall one intense color from the color scheme and perhaps a table, chest, chair or other medium-scale item in other vibrant hues found in larger quantity in the licensed product. Remember, good taste often is defined as stopping just short of excess. Stop before you overdo it. Some electric punch is fun and stimulating; too much is obnoxious, overbearing and, yes, trite.
Beware of bright, dark or loud colors on the floor. They are acceptable in area rugs, but never in large quantities if you can avoid it. Also avoid putting intense colors on the ceiling-it can be psychologically disturbing.
Lastly, remember that funstyle decorating is not necessarily for the long run. The entertainment media thrive on new products, new movies, new characters, new themes. On the other hand, some characters have been around since the Baby Boomers were children, and have become modern classics not likely to fade into the background-perhaps because they have been continually featured in cartoons, licensed products and even movies for a number of decades.
Keep in mind, too, that some new products are very well designed from a critical decorative design point of view-focus on these. Others are silly and arbitrary. Be a keen and perceptive judge. Your client's emotional attachment to a licensed character may be the key element in decorating a room and that must be respected if you want the sale and the return business. After all, you won't live in the room; they will. Above all, have fun!
Benefits to offering licensed products Susan Meek, vice president of licensing for Imperial Home Decor Group (IHDG), says there are important benefits to consumers for using licensed collections and product lines.
• Reputation and trust. These attributes are crucial in the home decorating industry where consumer apprehension generally is high. Known and trusted licensed products help gain a consumer's confidence and lower barriers to decision-making.
• Familiarity. Consumers generally are drawn to products that convey a look or image that captures their current or desired lifestyle.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.