West Elm Showcases Its Universal Expert

By Allison Zisko

West Elm Universal ExpertAt a launch party in New York, Sebastian Conran, left, celebrated with Jeremy Sacher, his business partner on the Universal Expert brand.

Last month West Elm Market launched an exclusive housewares collection called Universal Expert by British designer Sebastian Conran.

The hallmark of the collection, which encompasses small electrics, gadgets and other non-electrics, is its form-meets-function approach to design. "Universal" refers to its flexible use, affordability and visual appeal, Conran said, while "expert" signifies quality and performance. The collection makes use of natural materials such as wood, stainless steel, glass and ceramic and is meant to easily integrate into its environment. Conran, who is the son of famed designer Terence Conran and who grew up stacking the shelves at Habitat and then running Studio Conran, said, "I wanted to design my own collection of homewares that reflected my experience as a keen cook as well as my personal design ethos of simple, elegant products that are designed to function better and last both in terms of aesthetic and manufacturing quality."

The collection, which ranges in retail price from about $15 to $250 (the price of a six-piece knife block set) will complement West Elm Market's existing housewares assortment, which includes Green Pan cookware, Schmidt Brothers cutlery and small gourmet food items. And though the collection is slated for West Elm Market, a chain of stores offering community-sourced products in the kitchen, garden, care-and-repair and personal-care categories, with two stand-alone stores, in Brooklyn and in Vancouver, it will also be featured in West Elm's shop-in-shops, said Abigail Jacobs, vice president of marketing for West Elm. "This is a big collaboration for us," she said.

Jacobs said the retailer was drawn to the collection's approach to design. "It's incredibly smart design," she said. Each piece is unique, she continued, noting that the hand mixer has built-in storage for the attachments, and the knife block and utensil set combo is designed so that you can grab the individual pieces easily. This attention to detail should resonate with the West Elm customer, which is defined more by its interest in design than by a certain demographic. "I do think this collection will appeal to a broad customer," Jacobs said.

"We aim to create useful things that do the job well, and will continue to do so, growing old gracefully as they do," Conran told HFN. "Multi-functional use is an important aspect of the collection--we understand that space and budget in the home is limited, and have designed the product with this in mind."

Allison ZiskoAllison Zisko | Managing Editor/Tabletop Editor

After 15 years of covering the tabletop industry, Allison Zisko is still as enthusiastic as ever about the dinnerware, glassware and flatware categories. An in-depth analysis of how the category works intrigues her just as much as the latest fashion trends. As managing editor, Allison oversees the daily e-newsletter and works behind the scenes to help produce the print issue each month. She also directs HFN’s housewares coverage and covers the cutlery category. An avid reader, Allison is eager to talk to anyone and everyone about the latest book they are reading.


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