NEW YORK—Last year, Apartment Therapy was forced to rejigger its inaugural Small/Cool Experience into a virtual event due the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the home design and decor site was able to host a hybrid version of the experience—in a raw space in Soho and online.
Held from June 11-13, the event featured the top 10 home trends of 2021, each showcased in curated rooms—120 square feet of space—by designers including Bobby Berk and Ayesha Curry. Each of the designers handpicked furniture and home decor pieces, according to their chosen trend, such as Warm Minimalism, Bringing The Outdoors In, Serenity Now and Flexible Spaces. The designers also provided smart tips and DIY ideas for optimizing limited square footage, such as faking a window with a mirror and drapery and hanging curtains higher to visually elongate a room.
During the three-day IRL event, over 170 influencers, designers, media members and brand representatives visited the pop-up studio. As for COVID protocols, masks were required at all times, and upon entry, guests scanned a QR code that launched a COVID-19 screening waiver.
“We strategically created five daily one-hour sessions to ensure that guests would have enough time to explore the trend rooms and interact with the products,” explained Tara Swansen, Apartment Therapy's special projects director. “After accounting for a core group of Apartment Therapy executives and editors and labor crew, we capped the attendance of third-party guests to ensure that the space was comfortable and allowed space for content capture, while still taking into account social distancing measures.”
Additional measures included hand sanitizer stations at check-in, social distancing floor decals at the entry, regular sanitization of the restroom and overnight cleaning crews.
As for the virtual experience, instead of playful graphic illustrations like last year, the brand offered up a realistic look of the IRL rooms by using Matterport, an all-in-one platform that turns real-life spaces into immersive digital models.
Rebecca Blumhagen, executive producer and director of originals for Apartment Therapy, explained that “once the build-out was complete, our video team utilized Matterport 3D technology, often used in real estate tours, to create scans of the completed space. The 3D capture was completed in one continuous shoot, since all of the spaces had to connect cohesively to allow users to walk through the entire space at once.” She added that over 180 scans were taken and edited down to create the experience.
Also, since the rooms were designed to be shoppable, 100-plus product hot spots that triggered purchase information and descriptions were included. At the in-person event, attendees were able to scan a QR code posted at each designer’s room to launch a list of shoppable products.
“Knowing that we couldn’t have a mass consumer presence at the space due to COVID restrictions, it was important to us to find a solution that really made our readers feel like they could experience it,” said Lauren Murphy, VP of brand innovation and strategy for Apartment Therapy, about the brand’s decision to use the 3D tech. “After exploring several options, we landed on Matterport 3D space capture as the best way to make consumers feel like they were truly there, allowing them to virtually tour each room, move from vignette to vignette, zoom in on products and easily click to purchase them.“
Similar to last year, Apartment Therapy also hosted a full roster of related programming on social media, some of which was broadcast from the event site, using IG Live, IGTV and IG Reels. “Our goals for the social programing were to give our followers a behind-the-scenes peek at the designers’ inspiration for each trend space, provide service through actionable tips to help our readers maximize small spaces in their own homes and inspire them to shop,” Murphy said.
Based on feedback from the 2020 experience, this year’s social media programming included more “serviceable content that provided actionable how-tos,” Murphy said. “Readers also told us that they wanted to see real photos, which we delivered on, and that they wanted more tours, so we did a ‘Teeny Tour’ of every space along with a designer Q&A.”
Going hybrid not only allowed more folks to view the experience, but it also provided more opportunities for sponsors and partners, including Overstock, BEHR Paint and Tuft & Needle. At the IRL venue, brand-exclusive designers curated the sponsored spaces, while the virtual rooms included highlighted products and multiple shopping calls to action.
For example, BEHR Paint, the official paint partner of the Small/Cool Experience, sponsored the “Bringing the Indoors Out” vignette, which was curated by designer and muralist Liz Kamarul. On social, the brand presented a “Paint Cam” that offered daily updates from artist Ann Chen, who was painting a mural in her home, and the BEHR 2021 Paint Color Forecast IGTV panel discussion covered paint techniques and tips, use of color and more.