As most of us are currently self-isolating at home, it seems like a good time to take a look at licensing and brand extension opportunities in the housing space. Occasionally over the years, licensors have focused not just on the traditional home goods categories, such as furniture, dishes, and décor, but have also lent their names, signature looks, and aspirational lifestyles to the homes themselves.
These sorts of programs take several forms, from architectural home plans, to kit homes, to residential communities. Much of the activity tends to involve magazine brands, artists, and celebrity-driven lifestyle labels:
- Magazine-centric brand Southern Living has sold architectural home plans since the 1980s and has become one of the broadest efforts in this arena. The Meredith publication (since Meredith’s acquisition of Time Inc. in 2018) started by offering homes that recreate the southern lifestyle featured in the magazine and has since expanded to more than 1,000 plans in a number of collections, from Craftsmen styles and tiny houses and to mountain and summer homes. Architectural Overflow has been its partner for over a decade. The brand also offers a custom builder program, Southern Living-branded communities, and an interior design service.
- Martha Stewart and KB Homes paired in 2007 for Martha Stewart housing developments. The house plans were inspired by Stewart’s three personal homes, with optional features based on her own possessions and licensed products. More recently, in November 2019, Martha Stewart IP owner Marquee Brands announced it had paired with Brand Labs International to look into developing residential communities, including townhomes, condos, single-family houses, and assisted living facilities, in North America, Europe, and Asia.
- Luxury car brand Aston Martin partnered with real estate developer G&G Business Developments to put up a 66-storey residential building featuring luxury living spaces. The project is on the waterfront in Miami and is a of curvilinear steel-and-glass design.
- Artist Bob Timberlake has offered home plans since 1997, in four categories, from vacation to manor homes, all in an arts-and-crafts-influenced Piedmont style. They are distributed by Southern Living. Like Southern Living, Timberlake’s brand also partners with builders to create homes and communities, typically using construction products from Timberlake-authorized manufacturers.
- Winterthur, the home of Henry Francis du Pont, licenses Connor Mill-Built Homes for kit houses that are based on American historical homes and architectural styles and elements featured in the Winterthur estate and archives.
- Meredith’s Better Homes and Gardens brand partnered with The House Designers on its house plan program; The House Designers also offers branded plans with This Old House, Professional Builder, and Energy Star.
- Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville brand works with Minto on Latitude Margaritaville communities for active adults. These are large projects; the third community, announced in 2018, had plans to open with 3,000 homes and had the ability to expand to up to 170,000 units, including, potentially, assisted living facilities.
- Late artist Thomas Kinkade had a community of custom homes in Idaho, bringing to life the Victorian-, French provincial-, and New England cottage-style homes depicted in his paintings. Not only were the houses similar to those in his work, but streetlamps, cobblestone roads, and other neighborhood features completed the look for which the Painter of Light is known.
Some of these programs—along with others like them over the years—no longer exist, with periodic declines in the overall housing market often one of the reasons cited for their demise. But others have been ongoing for decades. Not all IP represent a good fit for house plans, kit homes, or housing developments, of course, but the category can have significant revenue, brand-building, and experiential potential for the right property.
It should also be noted that a few of these licensors, not to mention other property owners, have entered segments that are adjacent to houses and housing developments. These include the currently active segment of hotels, with Karl Lagerfeld and Laura Ashley among the many examples, as well as real estate services such as those under the Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens banners.