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A Frenchwoman walks into The Market

Two months ago, a client offered me the opportunity to attend a furniture exposition in North Carolina. They set up registration and I thought with one months notice, I could handle my accommodations.

I soon discovered, every hotel, motel and airbnb in the area was completely full. After days of searching, I managed to get the last reservation in a 6-room boutique hotel. A last minute cancellation, no-doubt.

I had flown across the country to attend The Market. For one weekend, every April and October in High Point, North Carolina, there is the world’s biggest furniture exposition. With over 80,000 attendees, it nearly doubles the towns population and brings in over 5 billion dollars in revenue. The largest showroom is astonishing, stretching city blocks, topping out at over 10,000,000 square feet.

I’ve lived in the US for nearly 40 years, I’ve been to most states, served on juries in remote areas but the breadth of this country never ceases to amaze. Interior design is not a far jump to architecture, how could I have not known about The Market!

I arrived late Wednesday night, even though the first official events weren’t until Friday. I would soon find that parking lots that were empty Thursday night would be overflowing on Friday, with new prices were slapped on signs. The government even subsidizes shuttles to get attendees from their hotels to the showrooms.  There are locals, like Wesley Hall, a brand specializing in bright, upholstered furniture and boutique lines like Sho Modern, which embraces the macrame kitsch thats very in with modern sensibilities.  There was an especially interesting emphasis on outdoor furniture, from Elk Group‘s outdoor lighting to Modway’s line of outdoor rugs. There were also impressive lectures and workshops—from building a brand and business (over mimosas, I love!) to understanding growing trends. I heard a lot about how weathered white is making a comeback (unsure who to contact about nixing that!).

Since the the beginning of the 20th century, High Point, NC has been focal point of furniture manufacturers and showrooms. The first official showroom was built in 1921 for an incredible $1 million dollars, which is no drop in the bucket nearly a hundred years later! And while this show is clearly the highlight of the industry, High Point hasn’t necessarily got all the benefits, yet.

The showrooms are impressive and modern, impeccably kept but a salient juxtaposition to the four minute drive in any other direction, which brings you to rows and rows of nearly all empty shops. The average median household income is nearly $20,000 lower in this city. And even the 3 story “World’s Largest Chest of Drawers” don’t help with the feeling that this city gives more than it gets.

Flying back out, through Greensboro Airport, we were greeted by banners welcoming attendees and mini-exhibits of furniture to expect at The Market, as well as a reminder of the October dates. And in case you were wondering, registration opens in July but all the hotels are already booked!

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