Dezeen Magazine

Design brand Hem sold to private investment company

Business news: startup furniture brand Hem has been acquired by a private buyer in a deal that will see designer and co-founder Petrus Palmér become CEO in place of Jason Goldberg, who will leave the company.

Details of the deal remain secret, but Dezeen understands that the two-year-old company has been acquired by Ormand AG, the little-known parent company of Swiss furniture brand Vitra.

Hem will move its headquarters from Berlin to Stockholm, Palmér's home city, where it already has offices.

"On 3 February 2016, Hem Design Inc will undergo an asset acquisition led by co-founder and head of design, Petrus Palmér, with backing from a private investment company," the company said in a statement.

"As part of this next step, Petrus Palmér will assume the role of CEO and chief creative officer, shifting Hem's headquarters to Sweden and centralising design and operations in Stockholm. Founding CEO Jason Goldberg will depart Hem to pursue other endeavours."

Hem – which allows customers to customise their products online and focuses on creating affordable designs that are easy to ship – is understood to have had a number of suitors, with Vitra emerging as a potential purchaser at the end of last year, according to TechCrunch.

Customers can customise Luca Nichetto's modular Alphabeta light for Hem by choosing from coloured elements
Customers can customise Luca Nichetto's modular Alphabeta light for Hem by choosing from coloured elements

Ormand AG is the holding company that owns Vitra. The two companies share offices in Birsfelden, a suburb of Basel in Switzerland. If confirmed, the acquisition will be the second time Vitra has bought a Scandinavian design brand, having purchased Finnish company Artek in 2013.

"It is with great enthusiasm I announce Hem's return to its Scandinavian roots," Palmér said in a statement. "Having launched the brand less than two years ago, it has been truly inspiring to see Hem capture the imagination of our customers worldwide."

He added: "It has been a privilege to share the first chapter of Hem with Jason and I look forward to continuing to grow the company in collaboration with the many talented designers who have contributed to Hem's success‎."

The Artek deal brought Vitra a back catalogue of products designed by Alvar Aalto, the Finnish modernist architect who co-founded the brand with his wife in 1935. But with its latest acquisition, Vitra is buying a forward-looking, web-savvy operation.

Hem was launched to bring together several innovative approaches to design retailing. It sells customisable products that are sold online, with many of them engineered to pack flat for efficient shipping and warehousing.

The brand's story began in 2012 with the launch of One Nordic, a Finnish startup that made high-quality products designed to be sold online, and shipped efficiently and cheaply. This earned the firm a reputation as a "luxury Ikea".

One Nordic founder and CEO Joel Roos felt that furniture retailers were stuck in the past and failing to spot the potential of the internet.

"I just feel that this whole industry is terrible at seeing that many people are moving online and willing to buy furniture online," Roos told Dezeen in 2013.

Hidden hinges allow the Hai Lounge Chair by Luca Nichetto for Hem to fold flat for efficient storage and shipping
Hidden hinges allow the Hai Lounge Chair by Luca Nichetto for Hem to fold flat for efficient storage and shipping

Palmér, who co-founded Stockholm design studio Form Us With Love and had designed products for One Nordic, left the studio in 2013 to join Roos as One Nordic's creative director.

Goldberg's involvement began when online retailer Fab, which Goldberg co-founded with Bradford Shellhammer, bought One Nordic in 2014. The move was part of Fab's shift away from selling other people's products to becoming a "full-stack design brand" that controlled its entire supply chain. The acquisition brought them the design skills they needed for the pivot.

Palmér, Roos and fellow One Nordic founder Stefan Mahlberg then launched Hem with Goldberg, taking some of One Nordic's products with them, while Shellhammer left Fab to set up his own online retail brand Bezar. Goldberg then sold Fab to supply-chain giant PCH in order to concentrate on Hem.

In an unrelated move, Shellhammer's Bezar was sold and subsumed into online store Ahalife earlier this week.

Hem ships products to 35 countries, and it products include collaborations with designers including Luca Nichetto, Max Lamb, Nendo, Form Us With Love, and GamFratesi.

"Over the past two years, we have established Hem as a credible and significant innovator in the design industry," Goldberg said. "The Hem brand is beloved and highly valued worldwide by people who have welcomed Hem into their homes, offices, and public spaces."

He added: "It has been important to me that Hem continues to grow and thrive with the support of financial backers who are committed to a strong Hem future. Petrus has a compelling vision for the future of Hem. I am confident that Hem's customers, designers, and partners will benefit from these exciting new developments."