The smell of marijuana. That pungent, foreign, and intoxicating smell. It stings in the nose as much as it does in the lungs. You probably first smelled that smell when you were in middle school or high school. My first memory of eau-du-Mary Jane is, well, a memory of a memory.
I remember it clearly: a waft of pot smoke from a passing Chevy Nova at the age of 15 and — like Anton Ego in Ratatouille — I was instantaneously transported to the age of 9. I was at a friend's house and Raiders of the Lost Ark was playing on laser disc, raucous laughter erupting from the other room with a predictable cadence.
I remember walking out of the bedroom, down the hall. At the end of the hall was a lounge with blue rattan papasan chairs. Between them was an ivory-colored, corded, telephone — the rotary dial type — and a well-read copy of Stephen King's IT.
I make my way to the kitchen table, and the source of the laughter. My parents, and their best friends, Jim and Yvonne, dealing in a new round. This was a near-weekly scene: back-alley bridge, and them rolling their own "cigarettes". They would carry on late into the evening hours. Joyous gatherings, a doobie or two, accompanied by music and laughter. My parents and their besties gathering at home, creating deeper friendships.
This brand of home entertaining was lost in the 1990s. Friends came over less, and we started going out more. Weekend evening gatherings with Bob Seger on vinyl from our Fisher home stereo became less frequent as life got busier, and the world outside more alluring.
The drapes and carpet in that old Central Florida home, and its layout: the sunken living room, the rattan and macrame — an environment created to entertain others rather than to entertain yourself — is one that I can sense is making a comeback.
So, in the spirit of "everything old is new again" I'm going to make a prediction: starting this year, and over the next decade, we will see a return to home entertaining, homemaking, single-income families, and the desire to safely escape.
So you've heard of The New Normal; I humbly present The New Formal.
The return to in-home entertaining
The experience economy isn't going away, no no no; it's changing home field. The scarier the world outside, the more appealing our homes become.
Architecture trends are telling - the Formal Living Room and the Formal Dining Room have fallen out of favor with the modern American family. We just don't spend enough time at home to justify the additional living space. Or, we didn't. The more time that we spend in our homes, and then more time our family and neighbors spend in theirs, the greater the appetite will be for a change of scenery. The experience economy will drive us into the homes of our friends once more, where we will gather for food, drink, gossip, and a few rounds of bridge. The longer COVID carries on the larger our "disease bubbles" will become. Your disease bubble is the ideologically-aligned group of friends who are as cautious as you, and who you trust to let inside your 6-foot circle of trust.
Not convinced? Don't take my word for it - furniture purchase is on the rise, as are electronics, according to the most recent data from the Commerce Department. Tableware, glassware - maybe even some doilies or plastic to cover the "nice couch" - they all have their place in The New Formal.
The under-25 set is equally as prone to spend on home entertainment in 2020. Sony is increasing its production run of Playstation 5 by 50% due to intense demand. In 2020, people will spend money, even if it's money they don't have - for the purpose of gathering, whether online or IRL.
The top post on Instagram in the #furniture hashtag in the past 24 hours is a mid-century modern credenza for storing vinyl albums. Furniture is a runaway railcar and repeat purchases for the indecisive among us seems to be driving additional incremental spend.
Meanwhile, "Cuspers" like me are using credit to improve their living spaces. Rather than spend their credit on installment payments for goods, they're using it to refinance their homes and tap equity to make their abode a place for entertaining. In May 2020, consumer intelligence platform Surge.ai saw an uptick in Pool Design.
Homemaking is now a profession
Do we have much of a choice when it comes to homeschooling? My county in Florida just announced that all schools will be virtual when we resume in the Fall semester, with an option for some families to transition to distance learning full-time for the 2020/2021 school year. As we've detailed in our forthcoming Retail Rebirth report (launching in 2 weeks), the seasonality of retail is disrupted. Back to School 2020 will look very different from years past, with an over-index on cleaning supplies and PPE.
For those choosing to stay at home, The New Formal will present an opportunity to create more permanent spaces for education and learning. Rooms will be repurposed, internet packages will be upgraded (if they hadn't already). Textbooks, home libraries, and the accumulation of stuff will make Marie Kondo weep in mourning. As Brian wrote in last week's essay:
Naturally, we begin to see a trend toward Maximalism. The collection of trinkets and knick-knacks from our former travels into The Outside are now trophies of a former life. We’ll begin to declutter less, and horde more, and it will melange into a mix-matched collage, purposely, ironically, clashing. Move over nordic minimalism, enter American Maximalism. As we spend more time in our homes, images of our maximalist homes will replace images of our travels on Instagram. Maximalism is a reaction, and brands are here to help you.
The more the outside world has access to our homes via video chat or in-person entertaining, the more they will become trophy cases of the former world. Maximalism in the home will serve many purposes: from "Zoom backgrounds" (books and trinkets, and paint, and built-ins) to education (whiteboards and star-charts, and maps, and posters), nordic minimalism will be crushed by American Maximalism.
We're also faced with a difficult choice to have to educate our children ourselves and, in turn, give up a stream of income. David Brooks makes the argument in *The Atlantic's* "The Nuclear Family was a Mistake" that: "If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children."
Thankfully, technology platforms are here to rescue the stressed-out parents who have to wrangle the kids for some, if not all, of the school year. Primer is one such platform, which is using a content marketing model to help elevate the profile of a typical homeschooler. Their mission: "free the next generation of kids to be more ambitious, more creative, and think for themselves — starting with homeschoolers." Using technology to "prime" kids for learning and discovery one-to-one seems like a revolution when compared to the typical classroom environment. This isn't the forum to air my grievances with traditional homeschooling (myself having been homeschooled from 6-10th grades) but let's just say that the system can be drastically improved. Parents need all the help they can get, now more than ever, especially if they're being forced to trade income for their children's safety and security.
Parents are cooking more, too. While prepared food delivery has seen an uptick in 2020 so have boxed meal kits like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Home coffee, home cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing — homemaking — looks different now to what it did in the 1960s and 1970s, but it's making a comeback. The skills you never learned as a latch-key kid are being taught to you as a consumer. These skills will breed a sense of escape, even mindfulness, that will transform this generation's family unit forever. The tools we use to engage in this newfound skill will also need a refresh, as suggested by the cast iron trend.
Luxury and Escapism in The New Formal
Haus (#9 in New Luxury category of the Nine by Nine report) has a notable tagline, "For how we gather". I think that's novel in this time as the way that we gather has shifted from out-of-home in bars, clubs, and restaurants, through a digital-only moment via Zoom, now to a new phase in each others' homes. Like Jim and Yvonne, the dining table provides a place for laughter and fellowship, and it often centers around food and drink.
In our forthcoming Retail Rebirth report, respondents to our nationally-representative survey suggested that they're not spending on traditional large purchases like trips, dining out, or buying a new car. Instead, they're spending more on higher-quality versions of daily consumables - food and beverage. Luxury CBD edibles and drinks, and cannabis, represent a modernized version of my childhood memory of that card game - the modality may have changed, but its effect is the same.
It's not just alcoholic escapism. As we're embracing sobriety in our culture, a non-trivial amount of spend on premium seltzer and soft drinks of the DTC-variety is taking up a greater share of wallet. The snobbery that once was reserved for wine, whiskey, and other aged brown liquids is now transferring to coffee and seltzer. The high-value customer is branching out to other categories, and they're taking their disposable income with them.
The act of gathering and sharing stories has also changed modes. Instead of photo albums and slide shows we use Apple TV and Chromecast to display their digital equivalents. Rather than gathering around the 6pm game shows, we watch Youtube videos. Rather than playing board games, we're playing Quiplash. The date on the calendar has changed, but the activities are very much the same.
The longer we are confined to our homes the greater the desire will be to escape. Our home theaters are about due for a refresh to be more immersive. Larger televisions and surround sound systems will be lusted after. Expect to see more VR content that will take you far away from your home in a way that Calgon could only dream about. Immersion will help us forget that the end is not yet in sight, and The New Formal will cause us to spruce those up to be spaces shared with those closest to us.
Remembering my parents around the card table with their friends gives me warm fuzzies. Their time and attention with their friends eventually turned to time and attention spent with me and my sister as children. I want to experience that same joy, that sense of friendship and community. It's like I now ache for something I didn't know I had missed, and right now we have the opportunity to recreate that in our own homes.
I'm convinced that The New Formal will change the categories which attract capital, the types of brands founders will create, the architecture of the homes that we build, and the entertainment that we seek out. Everything old is new again. Because if macrame wall-hangings can make a comeback, anything can.
This is life, in The New Formal.