After just six months on the job, Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman (EF+LM) CEO Crans Baldwin has begun writing the next chapter for the furniture company, which he calls "Functional Luxury." As part of this story, EF+LM has rolled out a collection of “things we hate to love”— furniture clients want, but designers have a hard time finding in the style and luxury that matches their aesthetic—such as recliners, storage ottomans and headboards. With this program, Baldwin is filling what he believes are the gaps in the furniture industry.
Baldwin has spent the past 35 years working in the home furnishings industry—from fabrics and furniture to floor coverings and lighting, across the residential and commercial sectors. This reporter talked with him about his fresh ideas, vision for the brand and why now is the time for EF+LM to turn the corner.
Tell us a bit about the idea of "filling the gaps" in the industry. What are some examples of the "gaps" and how have you addressed them?
The gaps in our industry in terms of product design are often caused by the difference between what product designers want to design, and what clients actually want to buy. An example that we have started working on is the rectangle that is often a cocktail table, sometimes an ottoman, and sometimes a chest with storage capability. Same space, different end use. So we have launched a line of cocktail storage ottomans at the luxury end of the market.
The same is true for recliners. Design clients want them, but interior designers do not want them for their clients in many cases. So we set about creating attractive recliners and incliners, filling a gap. It is this sort of niche-based thinking that will close the gap between what clients actually want and what is available, or so we hope. There are many other niches as well that we will develop in the coming months.
It sounds like you are going for more of a practical angle. Can you speak to that?
Practical yes, but possibly glamorous as well. What I have experienced is seeing collection after collection being brought out in our industry with little regard to what everyday working interior designers actually need for their clients. EF+LM, under the guidance of Steve Mittman, has had much better luck than some companies in this area, but our thought now is to identify niches that require attention, and then develop product to fill those niches that help designers to complete projects.
Take us through your overall vision for the brand.
As our industry comes back in this post-recession era, it is much different. Competition is different, and so vision has to reflect what actually is rather than what wistfully was. We see a path forward that combines purpose-built niche-based design with American craftsmanship coupled with the flexibility of bespoke manufacturing capabilities. Add to this pretty aggressive lead times and we begin to create a reason for EF+LM to be a “go-to” supplier for the working interior design professional. One such example is our new fast track custom headboard program, which mirrors the company’s very successful fast track custom sectional program.
What are some of the core qualities of the brand?
Everything is American-made and less expensive than other companies of equal quality because we own our own 90,000-square-foot factory in North Carolina. Upholstery deliveries can be expedited to as little as 15 days. EF+LM offers complete custom capabilities in upholstery and wood products. The company is family-owned for over 70 years and has extremely caring customer service personnel and salespeople.
This video, produced by Editor at Large, offers a tour of the EF+LM factory in Greensboro, NC, and a first-hand look at the American furniture manufacturing process. Editor at Large also stopped by the New York showroom to take a look at the finished product: Part I, Part II, Part III.
How do you want designers to think of EF+LM?
“I will go to EF+LM because they will say yes and solve my design problem, or help me to get to a solution to that problem.” One quick example—I helped a client who had to move a 10-year-old sleeper sofa that we had made for her—of course we helped her.
What other companies (home or non-home related) do you see as models for the growth and brand building of EF+LM?
We are watching the smart phone companies and the world of products being developed for the concept of “Aging in Place” in America. Both areas identify needs first, and then build products.
Why is now the right time for the brand to turn a corner?
We really are coming out of this economic downturn, but nothing is the same. However growth is upon us again, and we are studying the new “rules of the road” and getting ready.
What partnerships do you have with designers currently and what's coming down the pipeline?
Design partnerships are critical along with the above plans. Most of our best sellers came from some of the designs of professionals like Marshall Watson, Roger Thomas and Jamie Drake. That being said, we will look for different solutions to different problems going forward.
If you had a crystal ball, where do you see the brand in 5 years?
In 5 years, I would like to see EF+LM be the leading go-to solution provider for professional interior designers in a wide variety of design areas. I believe in the future success of the interior design industry, and look forward to helping them with their success just as they will help us with ours.