While most of the girls in her grade school chose to babysit to fill their coin purses, Janice Feldman opted for a job with a higher pay grade: selling exterior siding. After finishing her homework, the 13-year-old would spend the rest of the night spinning the rotary of her robin’s-egg-blue Princess telephone, cold-calling prospective clients. Having made $10.50 an hour compared to the 50-cent wages of her babysitting counterparts, Feldman has long been making smart business decisions.
Not much has changed about Feldman, whose outdoor lifestyle company, Janus et Cie, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The brand was acquired by Poltrona Frau Group in 2016 and has since been expanding its international footprint.
Amid the expansion, how important is preserving brand independence within a family of brands? Are multibrand showrooms the future? Call her old-fashioned, but Feldman is firm in her belief that some brands are meant to maintain autonomous.
Properly delineating Feldman’s persistence requires going back to her California high school—to her home economics class, to be exact. “I came from a very sophisticated Hungarian grandmother who taught me how to make soufflés when I was a little kid, so [when the home economics instructors] were teaching me some simple little cinnamon toast, I was super bored in school,” she shared in a recent presentation. “So I wanted to take woodshop.” There was only one problem: Girls weren’t allowed in woodshop. Feldman’s mother fought the school board to get her daughter’s name on the class roster—an early example that shaped her pioneering spirit.
Feldman eventually enrolled at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, where she studied several areas of design, from industrial to interiors to graphic. Growing disinterested in earning a degree, she traded in college for a spontaneous move to Europe, where she painted portraits of tourists to earn money. Ask her how long it takes to earn a degree and she’ll joke: “38 years.” (She was awarded an honorary doctorate in fine arts from ArtCenter last year.)
Feldman eventually made her way back to California, bringing with her a newfound passion for antique dealing. She rented a booth at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and after saving enough capital and at the encouragement of her late husband, Murray Feldman, developer of the Pacific Design Center, she signed a lease at the West Hollywood institution. In 1978, Janus et Cie opened in the PDC as a representative firm sourcing casual furniture and textiles.
“When I started my company, the market for outdoor furnishings was very small,” Feldman tells BOH. “I entered the industry at a turning point, and the design trade grew very quickly as a profession. Economic shifts opened up new markets just when experts predicted we would all have more leisure time. I figured the people who had it would be spending more time at home outdoors—that was the catalyst, and it all came together.”
Her theory—and timing—were right. With little competition in the outdoor category, Janus et Cie established itself as the clean-cut and contemporary outdoor furniture designer, a vision perfectly encompassed by the topiary trees that still welcome guests to its showrooms to this day. As the company grew, Feldman began debuting collections of her own design, as well collaborations with designers like Jorge Pensi, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, Paola Navone and Piero Lissoni.
“Embarking on this journey required ambition, wit and an entrepreneurial spirit. I knew we had to create memorable environments that inspired designers and architects all over the world with an unmatched, high-quality service,” says Feldman. “Janus et Cie was ahead of its time in the outdoor industry—when I started out, there was just a handful of styles and materials. In a way, creating the desire for luxurious spaces outdoors was the biggest opportunity, and our products truly paved the way for thinking about high design in the exterior.”
Four decades later, Janus et Cie has grown from one showroom in the PDC to 19 flagship locations throughout North America, Singapore, Sydney and, most recently, Milan. The company employs more than 300 people and counts 6,000 exclusive textiles, accessories and furnishings in its inventory. The brand’s contract-grade designs can be spotted at luxury resorts and commercial settings, namely the Four Seasons Hotels and the Los Angeles International Airport, and it has also garnered attention for its industry innovations in material and environmental initiatives, earning honors like the Red Dot, Best of NeoCon and Good Design awards.
Hers is a lineup that left few queries when two years ago, Haworth’s Poltrona Frau Group acquired a majority stake in Janus et Cie, which had earned an annual revenue of $100 million the previous year. While the purchase price was not disclosed, the acquisition marked a new opportunity in the outdoor furniture category for Haworth’s Lifestyle Design division, made up of Cassina, Cappellini and Poltrona Frau.
“What appeals to me most is Janus et Cie’s enormous potential for expansion, as today, the brand is mostly present in North America and still to be substantially developed in Asia and Europe,” said Dario Rinero, CEO of the Poltrona Frau Group, at the time of the acquisition. “The value of this acquisition will therefore be reflected in the advantage that Janus et Cie’s products will benefit from Poltrona Frau Group and Haworth’s international sales and distribution platforms.”
As brand portfolios expand, the opportunity for an alliance or merger exists—neither of which interested the Janus et Cie founder, who remains CEO of the company. Multibrand showrooms have gained momentum in light of industry shifts, as seen with House of Rohl’s first North American showroom opening in Chicago as well as B&B Italia Group’s Windy City unveiling earlier this year.
Despite the shift, Feldman felt strongly that Janus et Cie needed to operate independently from its new sister brands. “I wanted very much to ensure the future of my business, so that my life’s work will be cared for and regarded with admiration and respect,” she says. “Poltrona Frau Group is so incredibly respectful of the autonomy of their individual brands, and this is deeply important to me. I truly felt honored to be the little sister of their group, a bastion of luxury furniture. Our visions for the future of the industry are well aligned, and this collaboration has been invaluable. It is indeed a fantastic experience when you find the right partnership.”
If what they say is true—that 40 is the new 30—then Feldman would make a fitting spokesperson. “I am not interested in slowing down!” says the founder in light of her company’s four decades in business. “As long as there are opportunities out there, I will continuously challenge myself to innovate.… I am so inspired by how the company has grown and will continue to grow.” Just like Janus, the two-headed Roman god for which the company is named, she looks to the past and to the future.