How wealthy Chinese shop for home decor in 2024
Why “buying agent economy” represents the future of Chinese consumer market growth
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In the historic district of Beijing, within the lanes of a Hutong, lies a testament to modern luxury - an old residence transformed into a vibrant home art gallery.
A Hutong 胡同 is a type of narrow street or alley commonly found in northern Chinese cities, especially in Beijing. Hutongs are formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences known as Siheyuan 四合院, which are arranged side by side. However, living conditions within Hutongs have become increasingly outdated. As a result, some Hutongs have been demolished to make room for modern development, while others have been preserved and renovated, transforming into tourist attractions and trendy spots such as house cafes, shops, and boutique hotels.
I recently visited SunS Living Gallery, hidden in the historic Hutong district of Beijing. It was once an old Siheyuan residency and has now been transformed into an artistic space showcasing contemporary artworks and home furnishings tastefully selected by the gallery owner. While the old house beam and bullet hole remains on the wooden door are still visible, the space has been thoughtfully designed to seamlessly combine the art galleries with the practicality of the home furnishings.
What is a home art gallery?
The concept of a home art gallery, which combines art exhibitions with the shopping experience for home decor, is a departure from traditional art galleries. SunS Living Gallery is just one example of the many similar galleries that have been emerging in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai in China in recent years.
The allure of these galleries is not only found in their unique setting, but also in the meticulously curated selection of home furnishings and artworks. Prestigious designer brands, both international and domestic (Baxter, Driade, Cassina, BD Barcelona, you name it), are showcased here, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a comfortable home.
Seasonal exhibitions featuring contemporary artists further enhance the gallery's appeal, blurring the boundaries between art and living space and ensuring that each visit is a unique and refreshing experience. These exclusive galleries, often accessible only by reservation, are typically discovered through word-of-mouth among those who appreciate an artistic lifestyle and share similar tastes.
The essence of these spaces is the luxury of experiencing designer furniture and decor in a setting that mirrors a real home. This immersive shopping experience, enriched by the taste and vision of the gallery curator, fosters a sense of community among visitors—affluent consumers who appreciate the finer details of living well. Moreover, the convergence of art and living space in these galleries offers a new venue for art collectors and connoisseurs to discover contemporary works.
P.S. I recently started a personal newsletter in which I review creative scenes happening in China. If you are interested in checking out what kind of artworks are being displayed in the gallery I visited, I recommend subscribing to my personal newsletter "Amber Sealed"!
What broader shift in consumer values does the emerging home art gallery tell?
As traditional galleries seek new ways to engage with their clientele, the concept of the home art gallery has emerged as a popular choice. This trend reflects a broader shift in consumer values: Chinese consumers are increasingly looking for guidance not just on WHAT to BUY but on HOW to LIVE.
The narrative is no longer about the brand of the bag one carries but about the lifestyle: and that includes choices such as which shows to watch, what books to read, where to travel, which artworks to collect, and what kind of diet to follow …
This shift towards personalized, lifestyle-centric consumption has given rise to the "buying agent economy" (买手经济). Home art galleries are just one example of this trend. Given the expensive price points of home furnishings and artworks, they currently remain popular among the affluent few, especially in first-tier cities. However, other types of "buying agent economy" are on the rise. Consumers are increasingly relying on influencers whose taste and lifestyle they admire when making purchases, particularly those that resonate with their own lifestyle and well-being.
On Xiaohongshu, influencers like Teresa Cheung attract consumers with their elegant lifestyles and can generate over 50 million Yuan in sales through live streams in just one day.
In the offline space, "buyer's shops" are emerging, displaying products personally selected by the shop owner in specific scenes, such as a living space or a coffee shop. These shopping venues allow consumers to experience the personal lifestyle and aesthetics curated by the buyer.
Who you are is what bag you carry, still true in 2024
In the past decades, we often judged a person by the bags they wore — and a luxurious designer logo almost said everything. In today's China, we still pay attention to the bags people carry, but instead of focusing on the designer logo, many people opt for canvas bags with customized messages or bags that are exclusively sold at specific events such as exhibitions, shows, or book signings.
Just by looking at the canvas bags that are handed out at the shows and exhibitions, you can easily tell what kind of social and cultural events a particular person attends, be it a photography exhibition, a show, or a private gallery tour. This immediately rings a bell among others who can identify the artist, the events, and the names that are popular only within a certain community. The secret pleasure of following similar tastes in high art and aesthetic standards now quietly overrides the hubris of carrying a designer logo bag, which tells nothing more than the monetary status and no longer suffices for the consumer.
Why “buying agent economy” represent the future of Chinese consumer market growth?
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