Renting apartments: A fact of city life. Leasing cars? An easy way to maintain that new-wheels aroma. But what about temporary furniture?
For indecisive and transient types, renting tables and couches could cushion the blow of commitment. Until recently, however, rental furniture was the provenance of companies such as Rent-A-Center and Cort, considered corporate and straightforward — classic, functional items for people in transition who didn’t want to watch television in a lawn chair.
Now, however, the temporary furniture business is becoming stylishly mainstream. New companies such as New York-based Feather and Los Angeles-based Fernish market themselves toward millennials who move frequently and don’t want to be weighed down by a sofa. Established companies such as IKEA and West Elm also are breaking into the business. In some international markets, IKEA allows customers to return furniture to stores for resale after use; West Elm has partnered with clothing company Rent the Runway to rent accessories such as pillows and quilts.
We can swipe right for new dates and better jobs. Why not our home decor, too?
(Designers weigh in on which trends should never make a comeback.)
“There’s a movement for people to be untethered from their stuff emotionally. Think Marie Kondo,’’ said Charlestown-based stylist Donna Garlough, author of “Your Home, Your Style: How to Find Your Look & Create Rooms You Love.’’
These days, Garlough said, “Our habitations are more episodic. We don’t buy a picket-fence home, get married at 22, and stay until we’re 80. … People prepare for the possibility of something else.’’
Of course, baby boomers never had the same opportunity to swap their avocado green appliances or mahogany dining sets. But even they can get in on the action, thanks to rental companies.
Norwood-based Kadeema has rented furniture since 2015, and much of interior designer Kristen Bender Daaboul’s inventory comes from downsizing baby boomers, antique shows, online vendors, etc. They’re eager to offload the furniture that their transient millennial children just don’t want to own.
They are eager to rent pieces, though. Most of Bender Daaboul’s clients are students or young working professionals between 25 and 40. They might not want to commit to Grandma’s heirloom loveseat, but they’ll try it on for size.
“They want good style on a budget for a temporary time frame,’’ Bender Daaboul said. “Plus, a lot of foreign students come to Boston, and they aren’t going to make the effort to buy furniture for their dorm, so they rent it,’’ she said. (Enter our Dorm Decor Contest and get cool tips for decorating one.)
A typical sofa rents for about $375 per month. Many similar sofas could retail for upward of $5,000. Fold in the cost of delivery and the burden of moving it from apartment to apartment, and it adds up.
“For millennials who have student loans, this is more economical,’’ she said.
Among other items, Kadeema stocks mid-century sofas with pops of color, 18th-century settees, bohemian Moroccan poufs, and buttery leather stools. Customers often rent for four to six months, and the company handles delivery, installation, and return — no need for U-Hauls, desperate Craigslist ads, or curbside abandonment. (Yes, “Allston Christmas’’ might soon become a thing of the past.)
The idea of temporary furniture also appeals to eco-minded customers, said Jay Reno, founder of Feather. The company doesn’t yet operate in Boston, but Reno, a New Hampshire native, said he’d love to expand here.
Reno likens millennial furniture to sneakers — used for a set period of time and then disposed of like an old pair of Nikes. Feather, he said, is a sustainable alternative.
Feather operates on what Reno calls a subscription model, wherein members pay a $19 monthly fee, plus the monthly furniture payments ($29 minimum; $99 for nonmembers). Members have the ability to swap items once every year during their membership at no cost. After a member’s free delivery and assembly and one free swap, members can change their furniture at any time for $99 per trip. There are Feather-branded pieces, as well as furniture sourced from companies such as Pottery Barn and West Elm; a West Elm tree stump table, for example, costs $12 per month. And if someone has grown to love his or her loveseat? Well, it’s also available for purchase, with the monthly payments applied to the balance.
Renting art is another economical, low-commitment way to try on a look, said property stylist Julie Chrissis, who operates throughout the Boston area. An unexpected splash of color or a larger statement piece can transform a room with minimal effort, no assembly required.
“Find local artists. Go to open studios. They’re often eager to get their art out and more than willing to rent it,’’ she said.
“There’s something about hanging things on the wall that makes it feel like, ‘I’m staying,’ ’’ she said — even if you aren’t.
And, let’s be honest: You probably aren’t.
“The average millennial moves 12 times between going to college and buying their first home,’’ said Reno, the Feather founder. “Each time you move, you experience the pain of ownership,’’ which often involves disposing of furniture that might not fit a new lifestyle: roommate, new lover, or a larger living space.
This transience dovetails with what’s happening in the Boston rental market, said Jason Gell, a real estate agent specializing in Boston rentals with Keller Williams Realty.
“We’ve noticed with a lot of the bigger apartment buildings that there used to be no such thing as a six-month option. They all wanted 12 months or more. Now, there’s a lot more flexibility in what a lease term is,’’ Gell said. “Our perception is that there are more vacancies than they lead on, which can be masked with short-term deals.’’
Speaking of masking: What about bed bugs? Mysterious upholstery stains? Finding a stranger’s old snacks wedged into the couch cushions?
Not to worry, said Feather’s Reno.
“We have an 11-step cleaning process. And steam-cleaning is involved.’’