Welcome back! Today in The Lounge we’ve got another special episode recorded from High Point Market at Universal Furniture: “The Breakfast Show,” a live talk on everything design from television and Mercanteinfiera to advice for students! For this show, Nick and co-host Trish Semmoum, host of The Student Lounge, got together with designers Michel Boyd, Robyn Baron, and Toma Clark Haines, as well as Cynthia Ferguson and Billy Ceglia.
Today in the Lounge, Nick chats with Sarah Willet and Jeff Segal. Sarah and Nick discuss how she got into product and retail design and how she runs Patina Vie. Nick and Jeff talk dive into everything that entails Mystic Crystals.
Today, I’m sharing a blog post by interior designer Christa Pirl all about incorporating antiques into interior design. She is an interior designer in New York and also started Christa Pirl Furniture, a custom vintage, and antique restoration consultancy. This was followed by a custom fabric line, developed with her father, based on both traditional French and Japanese motifs.
SELLING ANTIQUES AND INTERIORS
By Christa Pirl
I was lucky enough to get my first job out of college in Hawaii. I worked on stunning vacation properties, but boy, was it a sourcing nightmare. Pretty much everything had to be shipped, took months and months to arrive, and items were often endlessly delayed due to dockworkers strikes in LA or Shanghai or who knows where. Needless to say, my boss liked to use the same few suppliers she knew would deliver.
After I left Hawaii, I continued to work the same way, as many designers do. It was easier to work with furniture suppliers that I had a relationship with and that had an easy-to-use catalog I could keep in the office. I ended up sourcing lots of furniture that looked the same from the comfort of my desk. And I had a continual, nagging feeling that I was missing out on sourcing really fantastic, unique pieces. And the thing is, I was raised by an antique collector and had an appreciation for antiques. I wondered how I ended up designing like this.
So I made a conscious decision to shop dusty antique stores and flea markets. What I found was an endless supply of things that were different and special. I was hooked. Hooked but feeling out of my depth after years of looking at new, contemporary furniture, I took the drastic step of going back to school to get my masters degree in furniture history from Sotheby’s. Armed with probably more knowledge than most designers ever need about carved Newport claw feet and the like, I felt ready to really make antique and vintage pieces a part of my design business. Over the past six years, I have been steadily selling more antique and vintage furniture and have been able to increase profits to boot.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury or desire to go back to school and study antiques in such depth. Nor is it necessary to. I hope to impart some useful knowledge to get you started down this path if you are so inclined.
- Learn your stuff, some basic books will help you understand what you are looking at if it’s been a while since your school days. A few good ones:
by Joseph T Butler
by Judith Miller
by John Bly
- Visit museums, auction houses, antique stores and flea markets on weekends. Books are great but seeing things in person is even better. Compare these pieces to repros; you will see the difference. And always look at price tags, you will learn the market too.
- Find a style or period that speaks to your design style and business branding. Use these pieces in projects regularly so clients see them as part of your aesthetic.
- Most designers don’t have time to visit endless estate sales or small country auctions. Develop relationships with dealers and let them know what you are looking for. They can do the dirty work and will happily sell to you with lower markups with the promise of quick sales and repeat business.
- Use the fantastic resources available online- Chairish, 1st Dibs, InCollect and The Highboy are all curated and easy to navigate which means less time online and less time stressing about the purchase. And if you know your stuff and want to dig the depths of the internet, there are lots of great non-curated sites like Tias or Ruby Lane.
One aspect that was tricky when I first started selling, was convincing clients of the very idea of having vintage and antique pieces in their homes. Of course, I had clients that already wanted this aspect in their projects, but I had many that never really thought about using antiques. While the use of antique and vintage is certainly on the rise, many people still perceive antiques as very expensive and vintage as old junk. Educating my clients was the first step in selling to them.
Some effective tactics I recommend are:
- Remind them they will never find their neighbors with the same piece!
- Spin a story when you show them an antique. Get them excited about a previous owner, the exotic land or thrilling time period the piece comes from.
- Remind them they are designing ‘green’ when they reuse furniture
- Show them how similar pricing can be by comparing the cost of a newly manufactured piece with something vintage
- Show them examples of restored pieces that are clean, tidy and smell fresh as a daisy so they don’t think you are trying to sell them grungy, old used furniture
Once I was able to get my clients on board, I regularly sold antique and vintage pieces to clients. At first, I loved sourcing pristine pieces from high-end dealers that looked fantastic and were an easy sell to my clients. However, I found by selling such high-end and fully restored antiques I really wasn’t doing any better financially than when I purchased new items for clients. I also spent huge amounts of time looking for just the right piece with the right fabric in the right finish. I was tempted to go back to catalog shopping.
Then it struck me. The best way to keep control of my time, the design and the profits was to select pieces that needed repair, refinishing or re-upholstery. This meant I was able to customize a piece specifically to a project and still use something with history and uniqueness. I didn’t have to worry about finding the perfect piece because I could make it perfect with a bit of tweaking. It was almost like creating a custom piece, but cut out much of the initial design work since the good bones of a piece was already there to work with. I was also able to keep much more of the profit by contracting directly with individual craftsmen and purchasing materials myself.
As I developed this side of my business and featured restored antiques and vintage pieces more regularly in my work, I found my clients asking me for antiques much more often. I also began gaining new clients who were looking for help restoring a piece they already owned or looking for a specific piece, and these relationships often developed into additional work. By selling antiques through my interiors business I set myself apart from many designers and offer an additional service that not only adds to my bottom line but also draws in new clients for larger projects.
Christa Pirl Bio
Raised in New York City and Norway by antique-obsessed furniture and wallpaper designers, Christa’s design education began early. Her hands-on childhood education was followed by one more formal, including a BFA in Interior Design from the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City and a Masters of Decorative Art History from the famed Sotheby’s Institute. Throughout her education, Christa gained expert and intimate knowledge of the furniture and interiors business, studied abroad in both London and Paris and experienced life behind the scenes at notable antique events such as the Armory Winter Antiques Show.
Upon graduation, Christa established Christa Pirl Interiors and worked on projects in cities around the world, including New York, Honolulu, Oslo, Auckland, St. Louis, and Park City. Christa creates eclectic, modern, livable interiors which incorporate singular antique and vintage pieces that speak clearly to her own highly evolved aesthetic, as well as meets her client’s needs and design desires.
If you want to connect with Nick May and The Chaise Lounge, please do so on our website at TheChaiseLounge.com where we talk the business of interior design.
Bunny Williams: 2016 Kip’s Bay Decorator Show House
This year, there is an exciting list of interior designers that have been selected to work on the Kips Bay Show House. Designers include:
Alex Papachristidis Interiors, Benjamin Vandiver Interiors + Lifestyle, LLC, Clive Christian Interiors, Daniel Richards Design, David Collins Studio, David Kleinberg Design Associates, Drake/Anderson, Eve Robinson Associates, Garrow Kedigian Interior Design, Gil Walsh Interiors, Groves & Co., Harry Heissmann Inc., Hollander Design|Landscape Architects, Kati Curtis Design, Les Ensembliers, Olasky & Sinsteden, Phillip Thomas Inc., Sawyer | Berson, Suzanne Kasler Interiors, Timothy Whealon Interiors, and Victoria Hagan Interiors.
“Doing a Kip’s Bay room is a lot of fun because you don’t have a client and you don’t have to worry about a budget, you can do anything you can think of, I always learn from Kip’s Bay, I always see something I haven’t seen before,” says Bunny Williams, Chairman of the Kip’s Bay Show House for the past five years. Today we will be talking to Bunny about the prestigious show house that raises funds for the Kip’s Bay Boys and Girls Club, specifically benefitting kids from the South Bronx area of New York.
Bunny got her start working in an antique shop at just 20 years old, doing anything she could find to be around all things interior design. Bunny started as a secretary for the established design firm of Parish Hadley, after paying her dues she moved up in the firm, although she states, “You have be willing to carry shopping bags and make beds to get your foot in the door.” Bunny has had her own design business since 1984, has a successful furniture line and has had extensive licensing opportunities with several major home décor and furnishing brands.
“As a young designer I was just in awe, I can remember some of the great rooms I’ve seen over the years.” Kip’s Bay is celebrating the 44th annual show house this year; listen in to hear Bunny discuss the history behind the show house and how it has changed over the years. We are excited to be talking to Bunny today as she has direct experience with the show house, as she has designed rooms in the show house on a few occasions.
Nick and Bunny talk about the process involved in procuring a space for the annual show house and about this year’s new townhouse that was selected. Bunny talks about the benefits of the clean palette of a brand new space for the designer to work with, and why this year’s show house will be so interesting. The show house has approximately 25,000 visitors each year, “Everyone gets promotion from the show house, for young designers, it’s often how they get their start,” says Bunny.
Nick asks how designers are selected for the space, and Bunny talks about the balance they try to achieve between established firms and up and coming talent in the interior design field. Bunny talks about the timeframe the lucky designers have to create their space, “The designer has a very short window of opportunity, you have 20 designers all moving furniture in right now, this year they had 5 weeks to do their room start to finish.” Of the design process, Bunny states, “they don’t submit what they are going to do ahead of time, there’s no theme, sometimes there is a flow to the house and sometimes there isn’t and that’s ok, that’s what makes it exciting!”
Nick and Bunny talk about the tremendous amount of funds the event raises and also a design shop that is associated with the Kip’s Bay show house, where any designer can donate items, consumers can get a great deal, and all for a good cause.
To learn more about this year’s show house be sure to listen in for upcoming podcast’s from the show house directly and visit the website at kipsbaydecoratorshowhouse.org. If you can, we urge you to go see the most well known and prestigious show home in the country. The house is open from May 12 to June 9th.
Mitchell Hill: Michael Mitchell and Tyler Hill
We continue our interview with the talented designers of Mitchell Hill in the second half of today’s podcast, with an interview conducted at the 2016 Spring High Point Market, if you didn’t catch the first half, you can find it in the High Point Market Episode 5, to learn about the background ‘s of Michael and Tyler. Today we will learn more about their retail showroom and some more background into their interior design business, Mitchell Hill, a design firm and showroom.
The pair have backgrounds that include work in the retail space, Nick asks, “what did you learn in retail?” Tyler responds, “You learn customer service, you learn how to follow up with people. You have to make your customer feel important.” Nick and the pair talk about the importance of the sales component within the interior design field, “if you can’t close the sale, implement it and get it into the client’s home, and make them happy, then you will fail.”
The pair talks about the status of their business, which currently has seven employees and a few interns. The team focuses mainly on residential design but has branched out into hospitality, restaurants, and other commercial design in the past. The pair is very excited about the growth they have seen in the retail showrooms that they have curated over the past 6 years or so. Listen in to hear about the pair’s influence in the New York design market and the retail storefront in the destination-city of Charleston, South Carolina. The pair talks about how the showroom component of their business got started and how it has fed their interior design business. As if the successful design firm and retail showroom, the pair has recently branched out into creating their own lines, “We moved into a home and were looking for this perfect sconce, but couldn’t find it, so I started designing my own sconce and it grew from there.” Tune in to hear what other items you can find in their collection.
“When we opened our store, we decided we are only working with nice people if you can play that way you can play with us.” One to three times a month they will have an event in store, and Nick talks about the opportunities that exist with event marketing.” Mitchell Hill recently hired a PR firm so Nick and the team talk about the power of networking, Nick states, “that’s how we met, and it’s helped both our businesses.
We would like to give a shout-out to a few of our favorite sponsors of The Chaise Lounge, VA Staffer, Design Manager and Benjamin Moore paints. Listen in to find out what these fantastic sponsors can do for you and your design business, and specifically, if you’ve had a great experience with a design representative from Benjamin Moore, send Nick an email that he will read on air, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!
My second interview for the day is with Michael Mitchell and Tyler Hill based out of Charleston, South Carolina, who own Mitchell Hill, a design firm and showroom. I interviewed this duo while at High Point Market. But we abbreviated the interview to just give some highlights. This time, you get to hear the full story. How did they start their business, and how do they run out of two locations: Charleston, SC, and New York, NY…and why.