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Design for dwell: UK furniture design competition and more from the man behind the brand: Aamir Ahmad

Design For Dwell design competition: 

Furniture designers and design wannabees in the UK can now enter “Design for dwell” to submit their ideas for furniture’s next amazing trend for a chance at winning an iMac, a £ 1000 cash and possibly even have their design produced by dwell. Entries must be received by September 12, 2012. 

There well be a public vote to determine a shortlist and a panel of some impressive folk including Ben Spriggs, Associate Editor of Sunday Times Style, Giles Kime, Deputy Editor of Homes & Gardens Magazine and Jennifer Morgan, Editor of Style at Home Magazine to pick the winner. Dwell then aim to  put the winning design into production so it can be sold in their stores across the UK.  The  competition is open to UK residents only.

Aamir Ahmad, founder of British high-street home retailer dwell is an interesting man. Indeed, dwell are an interesting organisation. Modenus talked to Aamir about dwell’s design competition.

'design for dwell' 2011 winner - Dumbbell 2

'design for dwell' 2011 winner - Dumbbell 2

Last year’s winner Jonathan Warren, a student from London, so impressed with his original ‘dumbbell’ storage unit that he was invited to join the dwell product team on a permanent basis.

Aamir tells me that the idea for the competition came about because dwell used to receive a lot of unsolicited designs, many of them very good. “Lots of people have the design bug in them”, he says, “a lot of people have a good design eye.” Categories for Students, teenagers and children were introduced in the second year after a couple of schools made the competition a class project.

Aamir also wants to raise the profile of furniture design. “90% of design students want to get into fashion”, says Aamir, ‘we want more to want to get into furniture.”

Aamir believes fashion has a lot to teach his industry. “People used to keep their furniture for a long time”, he says, “and companies would be very slow in updating their lines. “We introduce 100s of new lines every year with at least four big launches a year. Products are introduced and deleted quickly.  If something doesn’t work we just delete it. It’s no big deal.  We are more like a fashion company than a furniture retailer. We can take a product from concept to being in store in three months. You can do things quickly.” He believes customers have changed as well “a lot of people want to have something fresh and exciting”, he says, “they treat furniture as a fashion item – they want something hot and fresh”.

Dwell is nine years old and has continued to grow despite the UKs economic difficulties.

“It hasn’t been easy,” says Aamir, “but we found  people still want something new,  something different. People are fussy and demanding but they are still spending. When the recession started we found more fashion, bolder, worked. People want something really exciting, they want a thrill.

We do draw inspiration from early 20th century designers,  the likes of Eileen Gray and Corbusier were astonishing. You can’t imagine some of those designs are over 100 years old.  In our wildest dreams we hope something we could produce would still be relevant in a hundred years.“

We talk a little more about Aamir’s business model. He is keenly aware of the need to get the balance between quality and price right. “We don’t sell cheap stuff for the sake of it – it wont last and people will bring it back.  It has to be affordable”. And Aamir is proud of his return customers. 50% of customers who buy from dwell buy again within twelve months.

As a relatively new firm dwell have always traded in an environment in which customers expect to be able to visit stores, shop on the web and order by phone. All of this means having the firms delivery service is critical to their success.  Interestingly, when Modenus was preparing to interview Aamir we checked his customers’ comments on the web and his delivery service was widely praised.

“We toyed with using a third party but brought it in house”, says Aamir, “it has to be right – people have been let down so much –  and that’s something we had to get rid of. We have our own warehouse and delivery. And  drivers who don’t want to bring things back.  The web is very important for us and the driver is often the only dwell employee customers will see. So it matters that they are lovely.”

Aamir is clearly someone who doesn’t like to be bored. I ask him if he will catch any of the Olympics. “”We have a store in Westfields (the big shopping centre by the Olympic Park,  so I am rather caught up in logistics .” he laughs, “for me the Olympics is not really a leisure event.” He does, however, admit to being on his way to a party that evening.

I wish Aamir well. His model of producing furniture as fashion, with implications for greater product obsolesce wont be to everyone’s taste but there is no doubting his commitment to customer service, to raising the profile of British Design and building a successful company which, although he says it si not a priority, we suspect will find its way into the rest of Europe and across the Atlantic before long.

More details of the Design for Dwell competition are available on the dwell website. The closing date is in September.




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