New spins on the classic showroom business model
Design centers: they’re where the magic happens. But a changing industry is raising new questions about their role in today’s market. Even if no one has landed on the perfect way forward yet, many are seeking solutions. “In my estimation, there will always be a place for a physical showroom where the designer and their client can sit on, touch, and play with custom furnishings options,” says Kimberly Toonen, director of the newly renovated Laguna Design Center in Laguna Niguel, California. “What we have to get better at is meeting our designers’ need for digital access to online inventory, pricing and delivery information.”
In major markets, designers may take for granted that they have access to hundreds of showrooms within a few square miles. But in smaller markets, professionals looking for the same level of service are taking matters into their own hands. Just a year after the debut of the city’s first-ever Design Week, the Nashville Design Collective is set to open this fall. The building has ties to an unlikely founder: Matthew Quinn, principal of Atlanta-based kitchen and bath firm Design Galleria, who set out to expand his firm to Nashville with a stand-alone showroom—then fell in love with a 50,000-square-foot space and decided to open a design center too. His focus will be on community building as much as on design resources: “How do you take all the designers moving there and the existing community and make a tight-knit community like we have in Atlanta?” For four decades, Design Galleria has been a fixture at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center, which now offers co-working space and buying service resources for interior designers. “I’d like to help foster that in Nashville,” says Quinn.
Pennsylvania designer Betsy Wentz—whose closest design center required a plane ticket—got into the showroom business in 2016, when she opened Studio B in her Pittsburgh suburb, Sewickley. The space carries the bulk of brands New York’s design centers rep—and, unusually for its relatively small footprint, stocks lines in full. “If someone comes in and says, ‘I saw this in House Beautiful and I really want to use this fabric,’ nine times out of 10, I don’t have to order the memo, I have the book right there,” she says. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, designer Arianne Bellizaire was similarly stymied by the lack of a design center in her area. Without the option of taking clients to showrooms and exposing them to new products and ideas, she struggled to get them to try anything the least bit daring. “I’d go to trade shows, cultivate all these relationships with brands and see things I loved, but then I’d get back home and I wasn’t able to provide any sort of tactile experience to sell those brands to my clients,” she says. So Bellizaire bought a house as an investment property, then outfitted it with vendors that she’d always wanted to work with, like Brizo and Hudson Valley Lighting, to create her own showhouse.“When you’re in a place that lacks the resources you need, you have to get creative,” says Wentz.
These prominent Chapter 11 filings shook the design world in Q2
Robert Allen Duralee Group
After months of layoffs and budget cuts, the beleaguered fabric giant filed for bankruptcy in February. In early May, the company was sold for $19 million to RADG Holdings, an LLC created by Knoxville, Tennessee– based real estate developer Brant Enderle; he quickly laid off 36 employees, including CEO Lee Silberman and most of the executive leadership team. Sources tell BOH that some employees remain optimistic about the company’s future as they await Enderle’s plans.
Founder and CEO Chuck Comeau said he’d failed to understand the “right-sizing” of the company following the recession. The filings revealed the company owed between $10 million and $50 million to more than 200 creditors, including major designers and architects Michael S. Smith, Suzanne Kasler, Mark D. Sikes, Robert A.M. Stern and Steven Gambrel. Comeau’s personal finances are also tied up in the process, with two creditors bringing a foreclosure suit against his holding company and attempting to freeze his personal bank accounts and secure inventory.
J. Robert Scott
Sally Sirkin Lewis’s Los Angeles–based home furnishings and textiles company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 5, with liabilities exceeding $5 million, after closing its Chicago and Dallas showrooms and halving the footprint of its L.A. flagship in an attempt to reduce its rent payments and cut overall costs.
Top stories from the BOH news desk.
- In late March, 1stdibs announced a $76 million round of funding that CEO David Rosenblatt told BOH would go toward “acquisitions to help create better buying experiences for consumers and designers.” He wasted no time making good on that promise: In early May, the company acquired project management software Design Manager.
- Kerry Joyce canceled his outside furniture and lighting licenses in April, bringing the manufacturing of his 130-piece collection in-house. Once the lines have been consolidated, Joyce plans to expand the collection and open a showroom in Los Angeles.
- The latest iteration of the Elle Decor A-List affirms that “design’s future is female.” Stewarded by editor in chief Whitney Robinson, the list expanded to include designers of all types and styles, but also swelled to 151 individuals. And while it’s not about quantity over quality, this story is very much about the numbers: With 76 female honorees (34 of whom are newcomers), this year marks the first time more women are represented than men.
- Former Veranda EIC Clinton Smith, who left his post at the Hearst glossy in September, will take the helm at New England Home in July 2019.
- In May, former Benjamin Moore creative director Ellen O’Neill joined The Shade Store as senior vice president of creative and visual, where she’ll help the brand develop its messaging as it focuses on its relationship with the trade.
Homepage photo: The kitchen in Bellizaire's showhouse, courtesy of Arianne Bellizaire Interiors