28 January 2020
Zachariah Mohammed's living room is filled with things he does not own.
He pays $200 a month for the couch, side table, bar cart, dining table and four chairs in his living room. The cost is worth it, says the 27-year-old New Yorker.
Mohammed has moved two times in the past year. That is not unusual in places like New York City.
If he needs to move again, he will not need to carry a couch across the city or worry about whether it will fit in his next apartment. Mohammed's solution is Feather, a new company that lets renters change furniture whenever they want.
Mohammed is a social media manager who lives with his partner and their dog. He told The Associated Press, "We don't want to be stuck with a giant couch."
Feather and other companies aim to rent furniture to young adults who do not want to make big purchases or move heavy furniture. It and similar companies are part of a growing "rental culture."
Thomas Robertson is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He told the Associated Press that people who are using furniture rental services likely move and change jobs a lot.
These companies target people who make good money, live in cities and want nice furniture – but only temporarily. The quality of the furniture is a little higher than that of Swedish brand Ikea.
"I'm 32 years old and have lived in 25 different places, five different countries, 12 different cities," says Chan Park. He helped launch the online furniture rental company Oliver Space last year. Before starting the company, Chan often bought and then threw away low-cost furniture. Then, he moved to a rental apartment in Singapore that already had furniture in it.
"It was probably the first time my adult life that I felt like I was truly at home," Park says.
Such companies mostly only operate in a few coastal American cities. They offer furniture from Crate & Barrel, West Elm and smaller brands.
Others have begun renting home goods, too. The high-end clothing rental company Rent the Runway recently added West Elm pillows and quilts. Ikea is also testing a rental service in several countries, including Switzerland and Belgium.
Renting may make sense for a generation that sees life as always moving, says Hana Ben-Shabat. She is the founder of Gen Z Planet, a research and advisory company that studies the generation born between the late 1990s and 2016.
Moving her furniture from New York to Los Angeles would have cost Clarissa Wright $3,000. Instead, she gave away most of what she owned, traveled through Europe for two months and then rented a couch, bed and other furniture in her new place. She pays $255 a month. Feather delivered the furniture and put all the pieces together in one day.
Wright is a 28-year-old marketing advisor for clothing and beauty brands. She says she can change the furniture, add more things or move to a new apartment or city. But right now, she is not sure what her future holds.
"I don't think too far ahead," she says.
That comes at a price. Critics have called the furniture-rental business exploitative. Stores like Rent-A-Center target poor people who cannot pay full price for furniture or home appliances. And the company charges higher prices overall than competitors.
For some of the newer furniture rental companies, there are membership costs. There are also costs if furniture is badly damaged.
Margot Saunders is with the National Consumer Law Center. She said, "If people think this is the best way to buy a couch, they are wrong." Saunders added, "They should recognize that they are paying for the convenience of renting."
I'm Alice Bryant. And I'm Susan Shand.
Joseph Pisani reported this story for The Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
couch – n. a long piece of furniture on which a person can sit or lie down
dining – adj. used for eating meals on
giant – adj. very large
brand – n. a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name
pillow – n. a bag filled with soft material that is used as a cushion usually for the head of a person who is lying down
quilt – n. a bed cover with stitched designs that is made of two layers of cloth filled with wool, cotton, or soft feathers
deliver – v. to take something to a person or place
exploitative – adj. making use of a situation or treating others unfairly in order to gain an advantage or benefit
convenience – n. the quality or situation that makes something easy for someone by reducing the amount of work or time required to do it