All the Furniture is a Stage

All the furniture’s a stage,
And all the products merely players;
They all have their exits and their entrances;
And one product in their time has many parts. 

A play on words adapted from William Shakespeare’s famous Speech “All the world’s a stage” the suggestion being that we often use furniture as a stage to highlight, show off and sell other products. Metaphorically the arrangement and design of furniture within a space can allow you to set the scene or create a certain atmosphere like how a stage might be set up for a theatrical performance.

Setting the scene - how important is furniture?

Furniture plays a crucial role in our lives, it provides us with seating, storage, workspaces and more! But we often take our furniture for granted and don’t actively think about its presence in our living spaces. It is so ingrained in our lives that it becomes a background element, only being noticed when it serves a particular purpose or when we need it for a particular function. Despite this furniture significantly influences the way we interact with and experience out our living spaces.

Billy Bookcase

One of the pieces of furniture that is really influential in my life that I often don’t really think about has to be the large billy bookcases in my living room. If you look at them, they will tell you a lot about me and my household, however they are also hidden in a corner of the room and so full that you can’t really see much of the shelves themselves! I have filled them with boardgames, video games, books, treasures, mementoes, and memories. The shelves form a stage for these items that show my identity to anyone who visits! The Billy Bookcase is one of Ikea’s most successful products and one that is so versatile that it was intended to suit every home. (Cunningham, 2023)

Retail Furniture as a Stage

We might sometimes forget about the furniture in our homes and workplaces, but one place that we almost never think about the furniture in is retail spaces. In fact, many people wouldn’t even perceive it as furniture in the same sense as what they have in their domestic or office spaces. Several reasons for this may be:

  • The temporary nature of certain displays or items in showrooms. Retail furniture is primarily used to showcase and sell to customers but often won’t be a permanent fixture.
  • The Association of retail furniture with sales. It is more about the process of buying and selling that the actual utility or function.
  • There is limited personal connection. With it not being part of a personal living environment, we are unlikely to connect with it emotionally or functionally in the way we might do with the furniture in our homes. It is something very separate from our daily lives.
  • There is such a variety. Not all retail furniture is the same as it is all doing different tasks, each piece of furniture is showcasing a different product and therefore this will impact the style, the size, and the personality of the pieces.

A piece of retail furniture I never really thought of as “furniture” is the clothing rails that you get in clothing stores. For example, think about going instore somewhere like Next or John Lewis, all the clothing is on rails or shelves. The shelves, because they are similar to household versions, I see as furniture, the rails aren’t like anything I have at home!

Retail furniture, such as display shelves, racks, and showroom setups, all serve as a stage for the product they are selling. The arrangement and presentation of the furniture and products within a retail setting are all carefully designed and curated to showcase and highlight the items for sale. There are several key reasons for this:

  • Visual appeal – a well-designed display should make products more appealing, they should draw the attention of shoppers, but also not detract from the product being sold. 
  • Organisation – retail furniture helps to organise and categorise products so that it is easier for customers to browse and find what it is they are looking for. Different types and styles of displays will help differentiate between different products and different areas of the retail space. In some cases, it also helps to keep products tidy, but we all know this doesn’t always work!
  • Atmosphere and Experience – How you stage a product will contribute to the overall atmosphere and shopping experience that customers have. It can also help to communicate a Brand’s identity and message, as well as the potential identity this will give the customer.
  • Accessibility – Retail furniture is and should be designed to make products easily accessible for customers to examine, touch, or try out. This can then enhance the shopping experience and encourage customers to make purchases.

The Customer Experience

Thinking about these key reasons, it is clear how marketing and sales strategies will use retail furniture to help set the scene for the products being sold, making them more appealing and engaging to potential customers. The furniture helps the product to tell a story by becoming the backdrop, the stage. In this way, it can be seen as a way of influencing consumer behaviour and facilitating shopping.

IKEA is a prime example of a company that uses the idea of staging in the way they display and use their retail furniture. They create beautiful room set ups that help customers imagine the products and the furniture in their lives, the retail furniture providing scenes and ideals. But how many of us, as customers ever think of those aspects as being furniture?! One of my favourites has to be walking through the kitchen room sets! The way they set up the experience so you can really immerse yourself into the imaginary world where you own that space is just amazing and something that really helps them sell many of their products!

So, if all the furniture’s a stage, and all the products merely players, does this make the brands the director and the customers their audience? We don’t naturally take much notice of the stage and scenery within a play unless a character interacts with it. much like this we don’t take a huge amount of notice of the large array of furniture that surrounds us in our day to day. You might say that this is the mark of a good piece of furniture, on the other hand, it really depends on the effect or feeling you are trying to create!

The Body Shop, it has a fantastic story behind its creation and the way they feature their products in store helps to show a little of this. They want you to see the furniture behind the product, to notice the materials being used. They are selling their customers a way of life, not just conscious products. I love going into the Body Shop because everything is so tactile, including the furniture! For me, their furniture is not just a stage, it’s part of the narrative, the conversation alongside the products it is showing off.

How does sustainability play a part?

Now, considering sustainability, how does this affect the metaphor? In a way, it is about changing the narrative that goes along with the furniture, with the products. Consider the story that you are trying to tell. This is where material considerations and finishes come in. 

Where practicality and longevity need to play a role and the whole team behind the production needs to work together! Product displays, office spaces and domestic furniture all needs to be repairable, storable, adaptable and consciously considered. 

The dc Circular Design Certificate allows companies to report their carbon footprint, but more importantly it benchmarks their carbon efficiency and encourages manufacturers to offer more circular products, products that can reduce carbon impact by allowing for reuse or recycling. 

To find out more about carbon efficiency see the link below.

Katie Furmston

Katie Furmston

Head of Design & Research