NEW YORK—Apartment Therapy’s 2022 Small/Cool Experience did more than just set home design trends—it was a case study on how key takeaways from pandemic-induced virtual experiences, along with post-event surveys, have the power to inform decisions and create a successful event. Every weekend between April 22 and May 15, the lifestyle website and home design and decor brand hosted Small/Cool NYC at a raw space in SoHo.
The physical space was all about “inspiring our audience to live a more beautiful and happy life at home,” Lauren Murphy, senior vice president of marketing and brand strategy at Apartment Therapy, told BizBash—only fitting for a post-pandemic world and evolved workforce.
The home design theme was selected with working from home in mind, and leaned on people’s reinvigorated need to “see and touch home items before you buy them,” Murphy noted. “After all, these are the things that you’ll look at, use, maybe even sit on every day—we knew that this theme would resonate,” she added.
The Small/Cool Experience showcased 12 different home design trends in 12 separate, 120-square-foot rooms.
“Our editors forecasted the biggest home trends of 2022, and each designer was assigned one to use as their inspiration,” Murphy explained.
With a list of “40-plus brands and retailers to choose from to curate their space,” highlights included a “Memphis-Deco” room, designed by Jessica Davis of Atelier Davis, with funky, striped wallpaper, a squiggly shaped mirror, and green, velvet-upholstered swivel chairs. Meanwhile, the Sourya Venumbaka-designed “Bespoke Style” room showcased a unique floor plan, modeling how a small space can be both a living room and office when divided in half with an artfully decorated shelving unit.
Guests were encouraged to make reservations, but the live event was also open to passersby, welcoming more than 3,000 attendees in the first weekend alone, and eventually reaching the attendance goal—Apartment Therapy’s main key performance indicator (KPI)—of 15,000.
Murphy attributed the success to “a combination of organic and paid social promotion, SMS, email, and influencer marketing to spread the word.”
The range of efforts were in response to last year's Small/Cool post-event survey. After 2021’s hybrid edition, “one thing was clear: our readers were dying to see the spaces in person after taking the virtual tour,” Murphy said. “Based on qualitative feedback, we felt completely confident that readers would be eager to attend an IRL event.”
And for Apartment Therapy fans who couldn’t make it to the real-life experience, the brand preserved hybrid elements from last year, which were also adapted following lessons learned from two years of virtual programming.
“Seventy-five percent of virtual event attendees made or planned to make purchases through the Small/Cool site, and the same number said they were satisfied with the ability to shop the rooms online. So, when planning for 2022, there was no question that shopping had to be a major component of the program again,” Murphy said.
Cue QR codes in each room, which linked back to Apartment Therapy’s e-commerce site for purchase. In fact, no items could be purchased on-site, but codes pulled up a product list of at least 20 items per room, where Apartment Therapy fans could utilize discount codes to buy, or listen to an audio tour from each designer. A particular piece that made people stop and scan? A nearly $7,000 two-tiered, all-white sofa that anchored the black-and-white “Wanderlust Fulfilled”-themed room, designed by monochromatic interiors master Miles Wills McDermott.
Murphy noted of the adapted, hybrid experience: “We kept the shopping components that readers loved and made some changes based on things they told us they didn’t. For example, we reduced the number of hotspots on the 3D tour and simplified the navigation experience based on what we heard.”
The best part about integrating digital? “It allowed us to bring a local event to a national level,” Murphy said. “So even though we were able to open our doors to a big, IRL audience this year, we kept the hybrid component in tact for a different reason—to allow our readers anywhere across the country, or even the world, to see and shop the spaces.”
Five main sponsors were featured: BEHR Paint, Chasing Paper, Toyota Motor North America, Yogi® Tea and Ashley, which was utilized to decorate Alvin Wayne’s “Take It Outside” room in its entirety. (Yogi® Tea and Toyota Corolla each held a mid-week workshop to engage guests even more.) And the event—which included a bouquet bar on Mother’s Day and a “Small/Cool Haikus” event for National Poetry Day—also benefited Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County, a nonprofit that works to transform communities by building affordable housing for families in need.