Marc Szafran started his role as Holly Hunt’s new president under strange circumstances—his first day was March 16, 2020, only days before COVID shutdowns started cascading across the country. But even without a global pandemic to contend with, Szafran’s new gig was always going to be a rigorous challenge. It’s never easy to take over for a legend of the industry, especially one as respected and admired as Holly Hunt herself.
On his first day, Szafran shares with host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast, he walked into his office to find a beautiful portrait of Hunt waiting for him with a Post-it note affixed to the frame. “It said, ‘Be good. I’m watching … ,’ he says with a laugh. (Hunt is not only watching—her new design firm, House of Hunt, has a forthcoming furniture line set to debut with her former company.)
Szafran comes to the role with plenty of experience under his belt. After an early career spent as a lawyer in the video game industry (there’s a pivot-to-design story you don’t hear too often), he began working with his college friend Thom Filicia during the height of the designer’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame. After developing Filicia’s business operations, he decamped to Los Angeles to occupy a similar role for a different designer: Michael S. Smith.
The early days of Szafran’s tenure at Holly Hunt were mostly spent dealing with the craziness of the pandemic. Now that business has returned to some semblance of normal, he’s got a full docket of new developments to unveil. Some are already out in public, like the recent acquisition of window treatment workroom Conrad Imports. Others are set to debut shortly, including a new Los Angeles showroom, Holly Hunt Highland, in Hollywood.
The space, designed in collaboration with architecture firm Johnston Marklee, will operate in tandem with Holly Hunt’s showroom in the Pacific Design Center, but will offer what Szafran calls a more “experiential” vibe. “It’s intended to be a design destination, and we want it to be a place where the community can come to be transported and be inspired in a way they have not before in a to-the-trade showroom,” he says.
Holly Hunt will also be sharpening its e-commerce game. The company unveiled a new site last summer, but an updated version is debuting shortly—one that will present designers with a more comprehensive suite of tools to buy online, including transactional e-comm. “Times have changed. What are other ways that designers are doing business? What’s important to them?” he says. “We listened to designers. We knew that their projects were fast-tracked, and what’s important are things like [knowing what’s] in stock. Now ... designers for the first time will be able to transact for a purchase of an item without having to go into a showroom if they don’t want to. … They can spec it online, they can get samples online, they can close a transaction online. Our shipping timelines are going to be two to three days. It’s really the advent of something different.”
Another big development: Holly Hunt’s parent company, Knoll, merging with Herman Miller to create a design behemoth. It’s too soon to share precisely how it will affect Holly Hunt, but Szafran says that one thing’s for sure: Holly Hunt is definitely not going to be targeting end consumers. “We are a different business than retail. We’re not one of those brands out there looking for mass consumption. That’s just not our business model. Our business model remains what it’s always been, which is about luxury,” he says. “There are [retail] companies, these conglomerates out there that talk about luxury and the high-end. Honestly, to me it’s a joke. It’s like McDonald’s refreshing their restaurants and claiming that suddenly they’re not in the fast-food business anymore. To be luxury, you can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”
“It’s about supporting designers and the trade,” he adds. “Helping the trade grow their business, that’s what we want to do.”
Homepage photo: Marc Szafran | courtesy of Holly Hunt