How Trump’s tariffs are affecting the furniture industry

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How Trump’s tariffs are affecting the furniture industry

Автор: Diana Budds

For the past eight years, San Francisco-based furniture designer Ted Boerner’s Thicket coffee table has been a reliable seller and a foundation for his livelihood. Inspired by Northern California’s redwood forests, it has modern lines, an oval glass top, and a base made of richly patinaed steel. Come March of this year, the perennial piece’s future was suddenly in jeopardy.

The Trump administration’s announcement, on March 1, of proposed steel and aluminum tariffs caused steel prices to rise and supply to shrink—destabilizing the market via a hint of uncertainty, but no actual implementation.

Boerner’s Los Angeles fabricator had to start sourcing raw material from a new source. There was no guarantee that the metal would receive its patinated finish, as it had in the past—since electroplating involves precise chemistry, and the exact composition of steel affects the results— and Boerner, whose three-person studio makes pieces to order for high-end clients and retailers like Design Within Reach, couldn’t gamble on quality or consistency. In order to make it work, he had to redesign the piece, invest in more product development, find new fabricators, and switch to powder coating, since it’s a “more forgiving” finish than plating and easily replicable by more vendors.

“Every decision I make comes down to some sort of material,” Boerner tells Curbed. His design and supply chain were affected not as a result of new policy, but just by the mere mention of tariffs. “We’re just now getting back into production. All the steps we have to do just because of a reaction to the market... For a small company, that’s a lot of money and we have to scramble.”

From independent studios to large-scale manufacturers and mass retailers, the furniture industry is already feeling the effects of tariffs, even if they’ve yet to be levied. Potential material shortages, rising manufacturing costs, slimmer profit margins, higher retail prices, and a general state of unease are forcing some American designers to evaluate their long-term design and manufacturing plans.

Why did Trump impose tariffs?

The Trump administration’s trade policy has vacillated since it began seriously discussing tariffs—another word for taxes—on metals in February. The reasoning behind tariffs is to make imported goods more expensive in order to, hopefully, stimulate the American manufacturing industry and protect American intellectual property, discouraging the production of counterfeit goods.

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