The furniture store Çilek markets its products directly to children. Do parents feel the pressure to splash the cash?
Designs on children: home decor brands that target the kids
The BiTurbo set is every little boy's dream: a garage-themed bedroom featuring a bright red sports car bed complete with beaming headlights that strobe across the front fender, mock registration plates, brakes and door handles, and Knight Rider-style sound effects. Parked centre-stage in the front window of the children's furniture store Çilek, for the discounted price of Dh13,282 you get the bed plus a matching chest of drawers modelled on a fuel pump, a three-door wardrobe that resembles a garage, a desk with a mock console, a bedside table and a spoiler shelf. But if you want the matching light, duvet set and poof seat, you'll have to pay extra.
Spending so much on a boy's bedroom may seem extravagant, but the brand says it is giving children up to the age of 13 exactly what they want. "Kids today are very demanding," says the brand manager, Miles Young, from Alghanim Industries, the company that introduced the brand to the region. "They're constantly being stimulated by television, the media and walking around shopping malls, so we market our products straight to them."
The strategy obviously works. The Mirdif City Centre store is the second in the UAE and the 446th to open in 66 countries around the world - but what about the parents who have to shell out thousands of dirhams for the brand-new bedroom their child picks out? Peter Sawyer, a father of two who is wandering around the store as his children clamber on and off the colourful designs, says he is impressed by the quality and pricing of what's on offer.
"There's some good stuff here," says the 34-year-old IT consultant from Australia, "and it's much better made than a lot of the other options on the market. I wouldn't buy a whole bedroom but if you break it down into individual pieces, it's quite reasonably priced." While Çilek is not out to compete with the bigger furniture chains such as Ikea and Home Centre, it does face competition from other niche dealers such as Pottery Barn Kids, a US brand that offers children's furnishing and textiles and just opened its first store outside the United States in the same mall, and the high-end European brand Theophile & Patachou, which has two stores in Dubai offering co-ordinated furniture sets with matching accessories. Other kid-centric brands include JustKidding, an award-winning concept that allows new parents to envisage exactly what their nursery could look like. Located in Dubai's Al Quoz, the store caters to middle and high-end customers, with a complete nursery, including cot and changing table ranges, costing anywhere from Dh1,500 to Dh10,000, and an interior designer on hand to help them choose. It's a lucrative industry to be in: JustKidding's owner Patrick de Groot estimates the UAE children's furniture market is worth more than Dh300 million.
But for some parents, the idea of consulting an interior designer and spending Dh10,000 plus on a bedroom their child will outgrow within a couple of years doesn't add up. "Even though I could afford to, I would never spend that amount on my child's bedroom," says Louise Osborne, 33, who is expecting her second child. "Children grow out of things very quickly so, while my three-year-old son's bedroom has pictures, toys and bedspreads that are age-appropriate, I bought his bed from Dubizzle for Dh100 and the cupboard was already in the house when we moved in. I would like to design something and paint it on the wall but that's something we will do together as a family."
So what's the argument for investing in custom-made bedroom, nursery and playroom furniture? "Well-designed furniture not only looks better, but good design is also often practical and handy and, above all, safe," says de Groot. "A smaller bed makes a child feel safe, and a properly designed bed also provides actual safety to a baby or young child - think higher sides that prevent them from falling out.
"Another important aspect is the mattress, which should have the correct proportions to give proper support." The products at JustKidding and Çilek adhere to international warranty standards. "These standards take into consideration not only design, but also the use of paints and coatings free of lead and arsenic, sustainable wood and A-grade materials," explains de Groot. If parents don't buy the safety and quality argument - as the Dubai-based Osborne says, "What's wrong with a conventional bed with a safety rail?" - then the furniture retailers have another trick up their sleeves: psychology.
At Çilek, a consultant psychologist works alongside their design team to advise them on a room's atmosphere and the importance of designing furniture that is inspiring and, they claim, stimulates creativity. Some remain sceptical though: "Parents are being sucked in," says Osborne, who works in grants management for an Abu Dhabi organisation. "If ideas are always being put into children's heads, it's harder for them to be creative on their own."
But Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical psychologist from the Human Relations Institute, says using psychologists to help market children's furniture is important for both the retailer and the parent. "Developmental psychologists are usually involved in consulting to manufacturers of children's products," he says. "Their direct concern would be the ergonomics, size, height and general setting of items. Car racing, animal and cartoon characters give psychological security, especially during younger years."
Çilek's Young adds: "At the end of the day you need to have furniture for your child and what we're offering is something a little bit different, with incredibly good quality, that is designed with a child's health in mind and comes with an internationally recognised warranty. If you're going to spend some money on your children you want to make sure they're actually safe."