In Conversation with Dims. Founder Eugene Kim
Don’t Call This Design Startup the Warby Parker of Furniture Design
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Dims. founder Eugene Kim would rather you didn’t call the new direct-to-consumer furniture design company the Warby Parker of anything. “No disrespect to our forebearers, they’re great, but what we’re doing is different,” he says.
Kim thinks the key difference between his company and the tidal wave of other direct-to-consumer companies is design. When he set out to decorate his first post-Ikea furniture home, he was frustrated. “It was almost impossible to afford anything I really wanted. What you find very quickly if you walk into a showroom that offers really nice furniture, it’s almost always designed by independent designers,” Kim says.
That’s Dims.’s calling card — it applies designers to furniture regular people can buy. The company launched last fall with a side table, coffee table, dining table and bar cart. The pieces are just the start of a catalog full of realistically priced, original, well-designed pieces for your home, Kim says, and each is designed by different designers or design studios. He believes that there should be something to fill the gap between Ikea, big-box retail and luxury-priced high design. We caught up with Kim to talk about why that gap exists, and how he plans to fill it moving forward.
Q: What is Dims.?
A: If you’re in the direct-to-consumer space, everyone wants to call you ‘the Warby Parker of X’ you know? We don’t really see ourselves that way. Yes, we’re cutting out retailers and the intent is to bring something typically out of reach for younger, less affluent people into reach. But we’re doing it differently. We’re not just making an expensive product affordable — this isn’t a luxury brand for the masses. This is a design brand. The two are often mixed up.
Q: What’s the difference between a design brand and affordable luxury?
A: You can find good design in Ikea. You’ll have to do some looking, but there are gems in that yellow and blue warehouse.
Look at food. In the food world, authenticity, originality and creativity can be shown in luxury environments, but it’s also there in street food — in stuff that’s more low-brow. It’s still amazing, it’s still delicious and that’s how we look at Dims. We’re still working with world-class talents, but we’re working on something much more accessible to people with regular means. We still use great materials, we still work with high-quality designers, we’re just delivering it in a more palatable way.
Q: What makes Dims. different than what’s already out there?
A: Our approach. We think furniture isn’t just a thing in your life, they are your life. Every morning, you wake up and you look around and see what’s around you, the things you see have the power to inflect your day for better or worse. So the more pleasing and gratifying your environment, the better you can be. That’s why it matters to us — every designer we’ve worked with so far has been hand-picked by out of hundreds or even thousands of possible options. Who we work with is our special sauce.
And designers are a bit like chefs, you know — the best chefs in the world will never work for TGI Fridays, Subway or McDonald’s. They’ll only work with design brands that have a level of care and investment in original work. That’s why when you walk into a big box store you’ll find it hard to find anything interesting. It’s all re-hashed and re-published versions of products that did well for them in the past — totally derivative. We want to work with the highest caliber of designers we can — great designers on the cusp. Not like the famous Naoto Fukusawas or Jasper Morrisons. There are a lot of super-talented furniture and object designers in the US, but there are not many avenues for them to create in the US.
Q: What about price? Yours aren’t quite Ikea-level cheap, but they are surprisingly low — what’s the tradeoff?
A: Good design and good materials don’t necessarily overlap — you can have something made of plywood be incredibly well-designed and something made of the world’s finest mahogany that looks like a box. There are brands that are doing great design, but if they want to cut the price, they have to cut corners on production and material quality. We deliver the best materials we can afford — GreenGuard-Certified finishes, organically sourced wood, sustainability measures, all that. We’ve invested in materials and craftsmanship that’s commensurate with a much higher retail price. If lots of people can’t afford our products, I’m not doing my job.
Q: You lowered some of your prices after launch — why?
A: We lowered prices on the Caldera [coffee table] and the Barbican [trolley]. Sometimes you just get too close to things. Once you’re in it for so long you lose perspective. We were pricing in a way that we thought was appropriate but once we got feedback from people that it still wasn’t affordable, it lifted the wool from our faces. So we brought it back in line with what more people would consider reasonable. People liked it.
And look, I’ve been advised, I don’t know how many times now, to raise prices. ‘You have to raise your price, you’re not going to make any money this way.’ I’ve steadfastly refused — I’m calling bullshit. They’re telling me there are two buckets of customers in the US for design-focused furniture — they think wealthier people and the interior designer customers are the only ones with more advanced taste. They ask why I’m messing around with prices when neither of the customers I can get is really all that price-sensitive.
I don’t believe any of this is true. People with less money don’t have less taste. You have to give people something they can afford to see if they have or don’t have something.
Not everything in your home needs to be (or can be) of the absolute best quality. Read the Story