South China Morning Post: “Furniture rental offers flexibility and a green solution for short-term lets”

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  • Buying ‘fast furniture’ you will only throw away is as wasteful as shipping your possessions whenever your job takes you to a new location
  • A new player and two established furniture rental companies offer a range of options for expatriates who may move on soon, and residents who like to be flexible

Shipping one’s household effects around the world to take up a position in a new country – and later back again – makes as much environmental sense as buying cheap stuff when you get there, then throwing it away when you leave. Particularly in these times, when nothing is certain, renting life’s daily necessities may be more practical.

Foerni is the latest to provide this service in Hong Kong. Launched in July, the furniture rental-via-subscription company is the second venture of entrepreneur Pauline Wetzer, who in 2017 co-founded co-living concept we r urban, later acquired by Singaporean brand Hmlet.

“By offering well-made furniture that can be refurbished, withstand multiple owners as well as look fresh from home to home, Foerni is helping to reduce the waste often associated with fast furniture, only a fraction of which is recycled,” Wetzer says.

“We enable subscribers to say ‘no’ to fast furniture, and instead give them access to high-quality products, which we make affordable for them through the monthly payments.”

Foerni founder Pauline Wetzer launched her company in Hong Kong this month.
Foerni founder Pauline Wetzer launched her company in Hong Kong this month.

This gives customers a beautiful home, even if they end up leaving Hong Kong after only six months.

The rental period ranges from three to 18 months, with no deposit required. Customers choose from an online catalogue of international and local furniture brands, extras such as lamps, and necessities including air purifiers. If you’re unsure of what will fit or how to style a room, help can be provided free of charge. Payment rates depend on the items chosen and the rental duration.

Rental bedroom furniture from Foerni.
Rental bedroom furniture from Foerni.

“During your subscription period, you can choose to swap items, and you can always opt to buy the items you fall in love with,” Wetzer says.

In that event, whatever the subscriber has already paid is deducted from the brand’s current retail price, which for transparency is posted on Foerni’s website. “No matter the rental period, people never pay more than the retail price,” she says.

“If you choose to return an item for whatever reason, we pick it up, and it goes through our quality control and cleaning service. We use the same cleaning service as five-star hotels in Hong Kong.”

Home Essentials rental living room furniture.
Home Essentials rental living room furniture.

With millennials moving frequently in the gig economy, Wetzer believes furniture subscription can be the new normal. “We wouldn’t have thought we’d be sharing cars and flats, back in the day,” she points out.

Christopher Exline recognised the potential when he opened Home Essentials in Hong Kong in 1998. Started in Singapore a year earlier, the company now operates in nine countries.

Exline says one key point of difference is that his company rents not only furniture but all “home essentials” – right down to the linen, cookware and cutlery. Another is that Home Essentials runs a physical store, so customers can see and feel the items before they commit.

If you choose to return an item for whatever reason, we pick it up, and it goes through our quality control and cleaning service. We use the same cleaning service as five-star hotels in Hong KongFoerni founder Pauline Wetzer

The usual lease terms are 12 to 24 months, but Exline says the company offers packages for customers wanting to rent on a month-by-month basis. After 24 months, there is “an option to own title”, which Exline explains as the customer taking ownership of an item by forfeiting the security deposit.

“This year a lot of customers have left Hong Kong early, and many asked to buy out some of the items ahead of time. We’ve gladly accommodated those [requests] as well,” Exline says.

Home Essentials manufactures most of the furniture it rents, favouring solid wood through to veneers, as well as natural fabrics such as cotton and linen.

Indigo Living dining furniture.
Indigo Living dining furniture.

After a customer returns furniture, it is restored or reupholstered so it can be rented to someone else. “We always disclose that these items were previously rented, and that is reflected in a lower price,” Exline says, adding that items go through rigorous cleaning before the next rental. Mattresses are the sole exception: since 2018, all customers have received new mattresses.

Home furnishings retailer Indigo Living launched its leasing division in 2004, initially to provide a temporary solution for incoming expats waiting for their furniture shipment to arrive. Rental terms range from one month to two years for furniture, kitchenware, bed linen and electronics.

A design consultancy service to help clients furnish their flats includes a site inspection, floor plan arrangement and a mood board. “Or, before a client arrives in Hong Kong, we can fully set up a turnkey solution so they can move right in,” says Gloria Cheng, senior consultant at Indigo Living.

The brand designs and makes its own furniture. Depending on the lease term, customers can rent by room, by piece, by curated package or a tailored selection. Cheng says that for long-term renters of 12 months or more, all items are new. To allow for flexibility, two-year contracts have a breakable clause – one year minimum.

Apart from expatriate clients, Cheng says more local residents are now choosing to rent furniture rather than buy, for flexibility when they move, or to avail themselves of a professional design service. Landlords also use the service to equip furnished flats, and developers to present a show flat.

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